24 Oct 2008, 10:40am
Cougars Deer, Elk, Bison Homo sapiens Wolves
by admin

Beware of “Natural” Wildlife Management

by Dr. Valerius Geist, posted by Tom Remington at the excellent Black Bear Blog, February 24, 2023 [here]

Dr. Valerius Geist, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Science at the University of Calgary in Alberta, is a renowned expert in wildlife management and conservation practices. In addition to teaching, writing about, and lecturing on the subjects, Dr. Geist has performed years of in-the-field research on big game species. He has authored 16 books, seven documentary films and contributed 40 entries to various encyclopedias.

The management of reintroduced wolves is not merely a matter of wildlife management but a clash of deeply held values. It could be called a rural versus urban clash in which some ecologically based philosophies, if one can call them such, are fostered on the country at large by urban based nature “protectors.”

They proclaim two myths as self evident or as scientific “truths” to the general public: that predators in general and wolves in particular are an “ecological good” no matter how many; and that “wilderness” is the “natural” pre-Columbian state of North America, then presided over by noble natives who selflessly maintained its ecological integrity which ecologically insensitive Europeans subsequently destroyed. In addition, they operate on the assumption that wildlife is a free gift of Nature, a gift of God, and not a resource painfully restored by human hand over the last 80 years in North America.

The wildlife we currently enjoy is not wildlife that was left over from the past, but wildlife restored by a continental system of wildlife conservation that arose after its near destruction a century ago. It is one of the great cultural achievements of North Americans in the 20th Century, the greatest environmental success story of that century, and a highly successful system of sustained development of a natural resource.

Since wildlife was financed on a “user pays” basis, the restoration fell on the fraction of North Americans who hunt. The rest of society got a free ride in their enjoyment of wildlife as an important component of the high quality of life we enjoy.

Few North Americans are aware of the excellence of the wildlife conservation system developed here by the dedicated public-spirited efforts of three generations of their ancestors. Unfortunately, this ignorance extends to professional wildlife biologists as well. Americans are, after all, not keen on history, following Henry Ford in considering it more or less bunk.

I cannot go into great detail here concerning why predators in low abundance are a benefit to wildlife populations, but are also capable of severely depleting such with unfortunate and unexpected consequences. It’s analogous to sugar: a little in the coffee is great but ingested by the pound it becomes a significant health hazard.

Put another way, if someone proclaimed that deer, as predators of plants, eat only the sick and decrepit plants, sparing the vigorous growing ones in order to insure the health and well being of the range, that individual would not be taken too seriously. Moreover wolves, as Siberian immigrants unlike mountain lions or coyotes, are not expected to be co-adapted with North American species and can be incredibly efficient in removing other species.

For instance, wolves that entered Vancouver Island in the early 1970s are spread across the island now. The deer kill by hunters has plummeted from about 25,000 to less than 4,000 today. Deer are found in reasonable abundance only where they live in suburbs and cities juxtaposed to human beings.

Blacktailed and mule deer are notoriously susceptible to pack hunting wolves. It is ironic that wildlife biologists who reported the severe depletion of deer by wolves on Vancouver Island were not considered quite professional by some academic biologists. Ingrained beliefs can be hard to challenge, no matter what the facts.

Now to the wilderness as an argument for letting nature (and wolves) run its course, unimpeded by interfering human hands. The argument is that wolves must be introduced in a hands-off fashion so as to restore aboriginal pre-Columbian wilderness ecosystems.

Current research indicates that pre-Columbian North America was a well settled, quite severely exploited land, with native people practicing highly skilled horticulture. The latter is a development to escape starvation brought on by food shortages in native ecosystems.

Instead of maintaining wilderness, native people manipulated the land to make it yield sustenance, no different from people on other continents. When European diseases devastated native tribes rapidly in the 16’ Century, thus lifting the heavy hand of red man off the land, “wilderness” was the result.

Far from being the natural state of the land, wilderness is an artifact of European colonization. The ecology of North America was not “natural” in pre-Columbian days. Not only because of agriculture and skillful landscape manipulation by fire, but also because native people had all but destroyed the mega fauna in colonizing the continent.

The lesson from this is that we need not be slaves to some pre-Columbian fiction but may do just as pre-Columbian natives did - generate our own land use and conservation practices in which the maintenance of bio-diversity is the only bottom line requirement. Yes it is quite all right to have areas with minimum predation to raise bountiful wildlife for broad public use.

Not less management as wilderness proponents proclaim, but more management is the more desirable state of affairs.

To let predation go unchecked, “letting it be management,” is bound to diminish much more than the game herds that were built up from next to nothing over the past 80 years. It risks our public system of wildlife conservation and the great Public Good that flows from it.

As game herds drop so do license sales and revenue to game departments. The public guardians of wildlife have less and less wherewithal to do their job, and ultimately have no job.

Despite all the controversies about public wildlife management, it is on the whole infinitely superior to private management of wildlife for the marketplace. Superior in conservation achievements and far superior in economic returns or as a creator of wealth or employment.

There is little doubt that with the loss of significant public participation in the harvest of wildlife, most public land will lose its political clientèle and, as sure as the sun will rise, will slide into defacto private ownership. There will be little wolf conservation under private condition, or cougars, grizzly bears, etc.

Letting predators run down game herds will indirectly weaken the framework of wildlife conservation. Together with other opponents of public wildlife such as game farming and the anti-hunting and animal rights movements, this may succeed in destroying the greatest environmental success of the past century - the return of American wildlife.

It would be replaced by a mixture of European, South African and shooting preserve type wildlife management - if one can call it such.

Note: Tom Remington’s Black Bear Blog [here] features the latest news, events, and politics effecting the sports of hunting, fishing, and all outdoor activities in North America.

25 Oct 2008, 7:04pm
by Val


The misconception of “balance” in an ecosystem is actually quite simple to debunk.

In an individual’s body all functions are closely controlled or balanced, by negative feedback. If your blood sugar rises, insulin is secreted and excesses are removed into fat-storage, liver or are burned. If it is too low, glucagon is secreted raising the blood sugar level. That level is set by specialized cells in the hypothalamus, that is, the brain stem. And so it goes with all functions and organs. If you cut off a piece of liver, the liver will grow back to exactly its old size. If twin rats are joined by a common blood supply and the liver of one is removed, the liver of the second grows to exactly twice its former size. Here you see control in action.

An ecosystem is a collection of populations that compete with one another, coveting at least some of the same basic resources. Hold one population back and other populations will increase to fill the vacuum – as best as they can. The tendency to grow, to take up space and resources to the limit of one’s ability, is an example of positive feedback. The population grows till it runs out of resources, and each population does it. When there is a stalemate, its similar to two wrestlers locked against one another in a deadlock. That’s not control! It may be followed by the collapse of one, and victory of another. Many populations locked in deadly competition, one against the other, do generate the kind of stability described for the wrestler, but only a temporary one, as little collapses here and there lead to new short-term stability. And so it goes on. That is, ecosystems are constantly in change - one reason a given species exists on earth only a given time and then dies out, unable to competed as its adaptations were fit for competition to past ecosystems.

Positive versus negative feed back! Ecosystems run by positive feedback, individuals by negative feedback! Balance happens under negative feedback, not under positive feedback. Gridlock is not balance!

Enter man the manager. By selectively cutting back one population or another, or enhancing such, he can, indeed, create true “balance”. But that’s a human artifact.

A “let it be” philosophy by romantics, the “nature knows best” arguments are not rooted in science or scholarship. Nor is the common notion that pre-Colombian North America was a “Wilderness”. It was not. “Wilderness” is a post-Colombian artifact of European colonization based initially on the almost total collapse of native American populations from European/Asiatic/African disease. When the heavy hand of red man came off the continent (an example of negative feed back!) “Wilderness” erupted. That’s positive feed back.

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