January 27, 2023

The Difficulties In Managing Wildlife

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Black BearI am as guilty as the next guy in second guessing any and all wildlife management agencies. This is not necessarily a bad thing as you and I are passionate about our hunting. Along with this, debate and opposing views on any issue is what makes ourselves and our wildlife departments that much stronger and better represented. We know that with any democracy, what makes it work is the effort, debate with respect and making decisions based on what a majority wants based on sound principles.

One of the difficulties we are faced with in any debate about wildlife management, is not having access to or the knowledge needed to make solid debate about scientific data. You and I aren’t scientists but we are in the field all the time and we bring to the table a perspective from the hunter. Biologists, although many times are hunters as well, come to the table armed with scientific knowledge, statistics and information. We are at their mercy to accept their findings. Pooling both resources is a good combination.

With these two differing perspectives, consensus is often reached in a sane and rational approach. What many of us either don’t know, forget, or don’t care about are all the variables, controllable and uncontrollable, that affect wildlife management. Often times, the best laid plans for game management, are cast aside when factors insert themselves into the equation.

For instance, let’s take a look at the black bear as an example of management difficulties and because the bruin is a hotly debated animal between hunters and animal rights groups.

In very simplistic terms, our bear management gurus use formulas and tactics to determine what its’ state bear population is and where it is located. From this data, a plan is devised to maintain a previously set goal of total numbers of bears the biologists think will constitute a healthy and thriving population.

In this vast unstable equation, they attempt to factor in as many things as are known to help in the overall management plan. Some, but not all, of those factors are, birth rate, health of habitat including feed, estimated reduction do to hunting, poaching and natural causes, improved hunting tactics and technical advances in equipment, influences by extreme weather changes, as well as rural development and a slew of other factors. The more stable these influences become, the easier the job of the wildlife biologist to manage the bear.

In attempting to determine how things may affect the bear, the longer the time span that good data has been collected, the easier it is to come up with averages. But what happens when an unusual string of events occur that throws off those averages?

Birth rate of bears is affected by many things. Perhaps one of the biggest factors is food and habitat. Bears can’t reason like humans. They rely on what Mother Nature is telling them to do. When a female bear is healthy, she produces healthy cubs. To be healthy, she needs abundant and easily accessed food. Food or lack of it, determines how many, if any, new cubs will be born in a given year. Sometimes if there is little available food, a sow will not even give birth.

Some of the food supply is determined by natural factors. Acorns is one food that bears like and are nutritious. A bumper crop of acorns will make for fat and happy bears. A fat and happy bear will produce many offspring. A sparse acorn crop combined with little of the other vegetations that a bear eats, and we have an unhappy bear. If this happens several years in a row, birth rates can drop drastically. A continued long term reduction in food and habitat will obviously result in no bears.

We can’t control how nature provides crops but we can control how much good habitat we destroy. I don’t think we are doing a very good job in controlling the destruction of animal habitat. Money seems to be winning out.

In a normal bear management cycle, wildlife professionals will determine how many bears need to be harvested to maintain that ideal population number. It is with this information they determine how long a bear season will be or how many tags to issue.

Pennsylvania is a good example of how management plans don’t run the ideal gamut. Although wildlife experts say that this year’s bear season remained within the management goals, it was a record breaking year for number of bears killed and sizes too. Officials credit the success mainly to a bumper crop of fine foods for the bear. Food was readily available and plentiful.

In the reverse, officials can set season dates and tag numbers but circumstances may dictate that very few bear get harvested. This may or may not have a direct affect on the population of the bear, short or long term. There are still too many variables that affect it.

Weather patterns can have both long and short term affects on bears. One extremely harsh winter or one season where weather destroyed mast crops can have a short term affect for that season’s birth rate, limiting population growth. A series of several years in a row of the same kind of weather, can be devasting. If weather patterns are such that food supplies are destroyed and/or good habitat, bears will eventually disappear.

As a society, when we keep building bigger and better homes on larger and more rural plots of land, we are encroaching on very valuable bear habitat. When we eat up that land, we are forcing the bear to do things that are not in their natural repertoire. We often hear about bears rummaging garbage cans, getting hit by cars, etc. If this trend continues, the bear becomes dependent on garbage for food and run the risk of being killed by automobiles, again depleting the population. Their natural survival skills become diminished making for poor genes that get passed down from generation to generation weakening the species.

I have only touched on a few of the multitude of things that make managing wildlife diffucult and challenging. I’m sure you can think of many more that I have overlooked. The next time you enter into an argument about wildlife management, try to remember some of these issues and it will help you better understand that it’s not as easy a job as some would lead us to believe.

Tom Remington