In fact, the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation that WoW upholds as nature's savior has recently come under fire from critics who argue that the approach is both historically and scientifically inaccurate.
One of the first critiques of the model was published in 2011 by an ecologist and environmental ethicist out of Michigan State and Michigan Technological universities. The report, written by M. Nils Peterson and Michael Paul Nelson, argues the model is not inclusive enough of diversity among both wildlife species and stakeholders. For example, its approach often only seeks to manage wildlife deemed valuable to hunters (at the expense of other, less-desirable trophies) and minimizes the contributions of other sources of wildlife management, those done by non-hunters, National Park visitors and recreational bird watchers. It also states, "The principle of past behavior is not, by itself, an appropriate justification for future behavior," asking the proverbial North American Model supporter, "Would you argue that society should perpetuate slave labor or gender discrimination simply because such practices are a part of our history?" Is it a stretch to conclude that hunting should play a central role in modern conservation efforts just because it has in the past?
The report also asks, What counts as a legitimate reason for killing? How does modern-day trophy hunting fit into the North American Model's criteria? And what does it really mean for a population or ecosystem to be considered healthy in the first place?
A March 2018 study "Hallmarks of science missing from North American wildlife management," published in Science Advances, attempts to answer that question. After evaluating 667 wildlife-management systems across 62 states, provinces and territories across the U.S. and Canada, its researchers claim that the actual science behind this model of conservation is rarely defined.
For the study, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Victoria, Simon Fraser University, the Raincoast Conservation Foundation and the Hakai Institute evaluated conservation models on four criteria considered essential to scientific legitimacy: measurable objectives, evidence, transparency and independent review. They discovered that 60 percent of management systems contained fewer than half of those criteria.
Ultimately, measurable objectives are only present in 26 percent of today's conservation systems, calling into question how these wildlife-management systems are judging the efficacy of their efforts. Only 11 percent of systems studied described how their hunting quotas were actually set. Just nine percent of those surveyed reported any form of review for their research, deviating substantially from common scientific practice, where external peer review is a core requirement.
"In particular, we suggest that implementation of external review would be important for facilitating the adoption of other aspects of a scientific approach," the report concludes. "For example, deficiencies in use of evidence, measurable objectives, and transparency might be easier to detect -- and avenues for improvement more likely to emerge."
What this emerging criticism means for museums like Wonders of Wildlife and its neo-historic view of wildlife management is uncertain. Will folks like Morris step up to the plate and seek to improve their conservation techniques for a modern audience, or will they continue to raise billions of dollars for the environment despite not having a viable scientific framework?
We press Ziehmer and Stephenson again on the issue of scientific inclusivity while strolling past the "Hall of Fishing Presidents." "Does the museum have any sort of information about climate change?" we ask.
"I think that we aim to address all issues," Ziehmer responds, taking control once again. "One example here that you'll see is our shipwreck-reef habitat. We address the decline of natural reefs in our oceans and the importance of counteracting that to maintain species through artificial reefs."
But will sinking Morris' old boats at the bottom of the ocean and inside a high-tech aquarium really help save the planet? Perhaps. Though it's not clear what that has to do with addressing climate change.
We later returned to Wonders of Wildlife for a second run-through of the museum, resting our feet for a moment while the inspirational music of the museum's welcome video swelled once again. "You know, the nature that you're immersed in is no accident. This comes from the guy upstairs, our creator," Morris muses. "To be immersed in nature and connected to fish and wildlife, it's kind of like going to church. The church of nature."