Management Of Todays Predator Resource by Kevin Gardner
Managing our resources will always be a subject that will come under scrutiny from resource consumers. Management objectives are often unclear or the result of working with an inexact science. The goal in every ecosystem is balance.
Every ecosystem or habitat will need to have an achieved balance to be healthy and flourish for the good of the inhabitants as well as the resource consumer.
Years ago decisions were made to nurture a selection of game animals that produce certain desirable traits, or trophy remnants, for our pleasure. We eliminated all the big bad scary stuff that could harm us or competed very skillfully with us, in some cases often even preyed on us. We replaced them with desirable populations of certain animals that expand their population quickly, mature as fast as possible, grow antlers or horns at an accelerated rate and are very desirable on the dinner table.
Essentially, we rewrote the book on nature and grew our own communities of animals with our own prescribed densities to satisfy our own harvest objectives. When those populations become depleted or unglued in any way, we turn to our Wildlife Managers to do their job and make everything balanced again. The concept in itself is very arrogant. However it is what we have made of our resource strategy today. Today we have to accept this process as our tool for managing wildlife inventory, but only to the extent of restoring balance.
This balance can be achieved in a variety of ways: Trap and transplant efforts, which can be very costly and labor intensive, increases or decreases in tag allotments, and restrictions on maturity for harvest are all systems that Wildlife Managers can call upon to help restore healthy populations. One other “tool” that is occasionally implemented is the use of Predators.
If a particular geographical area is experiencing an explosion of certain animals and a lack of mortality from hunting, and this could very well be from a limited access to hunting, this tool may be a last ditch effort to naturally restore the balance.
Careful consideration must be given before such a tool is used, and particular care must be exercised when determining exactly which of the predator tools to use.
Controls that can be placed on the predator chosen must be a consideration. Natural immigration and emigration of the predator needs to be evaluated, the size and frequency of litters must be established and calculated. Population density analysis should be considered to assist in accurately determining when the brakes need to be pushed.
As you can see there are so many things to consider. Do we really take these issues in to consideration in the decision process?
I feel for the most part we are diligent in our decision-making. Not only from a management tool perspective but also in determining whether or not to facilitate a reintroduction initiative. There are a few select animals that we migrate toward in these two categories of managing or reintroducing and the repercussions can be very impactful if not carefully executed.
Wolves are an example of this point. Without a very good plan and careful managing a real nightmare can unfold before you. Let me explain.
A wolf is a predator that gains confidence and a declined sense of intimidation through a well-established hierarchy within a pack. They are opportunistic with no limitation upon themselves as being nocturnal or diurnal and truly acknowledge no boundary for expansion of range.
This formula creates a situation allowing these animals to expand their population to the maximum conceivable within the habitat and gain confidence in numbers, consuming at whatever rate they establish necessary, giving game animals very disturbed patterns of movement due to the wolves crepuscular nature (basically no safe time).
These animals will also gain confidence in dealing with human population, which will result in conflict and habituation. Small domestic animals become undifferentiated from prey, as does livestock.
Remote areas of North America support wolves well due to their remoteness and uninhabitabilty to humans. When these same animals are brought to populous areas the ultimate results may yet to be determined.
In the environment we have created, everything must have predation and we, as humans must be the highest levels of predator.
In theory the idea to use wolves to remove the sick, injured or unhealthy is sound enough. It’s like pruning a tree of its dead or undesirable vegetation. It spurs healthy growth. However, one would never prune the vegetation out of existence or they would find themselves looking for something new to prune or die in the search.
This exact scenario can become reality (and has) with a lack of serious focus on large predators in today’s Wildlife Management practices.
Whether these predators are indigenous or we have re-established them we need to keep a very close eye on our “natural” pruning device.
Management of our large predators is often ambiguous at best. Wildlife officials have so many issues on their plates currently with CWD and often-bogus population inflation statistics, that management of Predators often takes a back seat to other highly publicized issues.
Measures have been thrown (literally) in place to quell concerns over predation or lack thereof in many areas with little or no true research to back the decisions. Examples include elevated tag allotments for large predators such as Bears, to very liberal seasons or bag limits on coyote. This is what I like to call managing our Managers. As large predators are exactly that, wildlife managers.
Coming back to wolves, what is the formal “braking” mechanism to counter any unbalanced affect created by a reintroduction measure? Can we really afford to have these animals working the populations? Are we diligent in watching and reacting to the effects? What about our existing predator populations? What do we know about them?
Here is one opinion of the current state of affairs:
Accountability seems to be lacking in certain jurisdictions for intended or elevated result outside of prescribed population stabilization targets. This affects the field in a very wide array of ways. Population statistics become sku’ed.
The use of large predators to balance an ecosystem is something that should be of vital concern to every resource consumer. These initiatives can rewrite tag allotments for harvest and dictate land use restrictions for the furtherance of the predator.
Very commonly used Predators are the Grizzly and the Wolf. Both of which are very skilled at bringing out of control populations into tow. Some predators already exist in certain environments, but due to their shyness to humans, they are rarely seen. These would include the Black bear and the Mountain Lion. It can be challenging for the casual observer to determine a winterkill animal from one that may have been predated upon by a lion. Thus, true predation statistics can become unclear.
The shyness of these animals also adds to the dilemma of determining accurate population densities to help factor in projected “natural” harvest and couple with hunter success to determine or tweak tag allotments.
Where the careful consideration needs to come in to play is in the concept of introducing a predator and having a weak or nonexistent braking mechanism in place to control that animal’s expansion. This is particularly true of the wolf. Not as concerning is the Grizzly with a 9-Month gestation period, small litter and two-year rearing cycle. Not to mention its size and visibility.
Wolves on the other hand with an annual litter of up to 11 individuals and a short 63-day gestation period, coupled with the fact that they are social animals (as opposed to the grizzly, which is much more solitary,) form very skilled hunting groups. These groups flourish in an environment that is rich with deer or elk and limited human access. They will expand at a rate guided only by theories of ecology before expanding into the next habitat. The pockets of private land ownership with limited to no access to hunters will see an immediate response to the introduction and the populations will start to level. However, the line of “Level” will not be able to be determined or enforced without the braking mechanism referred to earlier to re-balance the scale.
Supporters of these types of activities will play upon non or limited resource consumers to rally support based on the “wild in Wilderness “ campaign and may wish to ballot or publicly hear the proposal and may receive extensive support from those who would benefit from population reductions. This may include the Auto Insurance industry for example, who may wish to see fewer animals to dent car fenders on rural highways.
As Hunters or Resource consumers, you fund the outdoors through permits and hunting license fees. Your Land Managers should be considering your position when these introduction issues start to become initiatives. I believe that for the most part they do exactly that, but I am seeing more and more panel discussions and public hearings surfacing to discuss these ideas. Our expansion into wild lands as home owners and developers have made many of these situations become an issue just by the nature of closures due to human existence in traditional migration or herding area’s. We plant the very best of grasses and perennials and these animals are drawn to these areas. Obviously we cannot allow hunting in subdivisions right? But who will inform the predators of these restrictions?
This is a very serious issue for each of us as outdoors persons as well as community inhabitants. We need to be better educated and analytical about them and get involved before we have a “situation” that we can only use our hindsight to evaluate.
Are we really involved and are we watching?
We are very skillful Monday morning quarterbacks, but where were we when studies needed to be done or meetings were held. We volunteer for our outdoor organizations in litter campaigns and other higher profile activities because they are “cool”. How often have we volunteered with the DNR to help with studies and under-funded activities that can impact these decisions? How can you help?
Population density studies for example. Simply counting animals in a specified area can be of considerable assistance to wildlife managers. Taking a specified area of wildland and adopting it and keeping the DNR abreast of what you see and find such as winterkills or predations, Doing habitat improvements or anything else that may help.
In conclusion, we have a very extensive “Adopt a highway” litter campaign and that is simply to make our highways more aesthetically pleasing, but we have little or no existing “adopt a wilderness area” program. Maybe this is an opportunity for organizations to get involved and take back some of the say-so in Wildlife and Wild Lands Management through more solid and science based information and leave Kentucky Windage to target shooting.
Enjoy your resources.