August 6, 2020

Best Available Guessing

Most like to call it “Best Available Science.” I prefer to recognize it as cherry picking what best fits the plan of garnering monies and promoting agendas. However, perhaps we can call efforts in making decisions in wildlife management as best available guessing.

Case in point: In an area of Connecticut officials are setting up study areas in hopes of learning more about the best ways in which to reduce or eliminate ticks that carry Lyme disease. It seems that there is some disagreement over how many deer live in the area.

The “official” counting method has determined that within the four study areas, there are approximately 29 to 30 deer per square mile – a high amount when it is considered that the management goal is around 10 deer per square mile. However, an independent effort at counting deer, has determined there to be 7.42 deer per square mile.

Is this significant? Well, when you consider that the effort to control ticks has evolved into reducing the number of deer to accomplish that task, I think it might be safe to say that those differences of estimated deer populations are highly significant and detrimental to arriving at reliable data from any study.

Bill Hyatt, bureau chief of the bureau of natural resources for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), said, “The counts we’ve been doing are accurate to the level we need them to be.” I’m not sure I understand that statement. Two things that scientific studies depend on are constants (control) and accurate data from within the control area. Without these how reliable does any study become?

If a proposed theory is that the density of the population of deer is a driving factor behind the spread of Lyme disease, it only seems prudent that a count of deer must be highly accurate and not “accurate to the level we need” it to be. To make that statement, in my mind, is saying that deer densities from two different counts showing a wide disparity in numbers isn’t an issue of concern. I think it should be. There are other influencing factors that can become part of the overall equation depending up deer densities to begin with. Are those being calculated? How could it be if they don’t know the population density to begin with?

To further complicate this study and effort, in addition to having to question any results determined from this study, are the results of recent studies that birds may be the biggest factor of all in the spread of ticks that carry Lyme disease. Can you accurately determine the effect of deer on the spread of Lyme disease if birds within these four study areas are contributing to the spread?

We all must question whether or not best available science is being used here in making decisions in wildlife management and disease control. If methods used to count deer end up with such vast differences in outcomes, then how can any method be anything more than best available guessing? Or is this another one of those studies whose main purpose is to grab grant monies and/or tax dollars to keep people employed with the government?

ReddingCT

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Habitat Blabber and Carrying Capacities

Environmentalists, used as a title to describe those more focused on an agenda of the hatred of man, combined with unnatural desires to steal away a person’s pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, which may actually involve human population destruction, beat the incessant drum of man’s destruction of habitat. If one would dare mention that a certain species of animal (let’s randomly select the whitetail deer and put it in the state of Maine.) was struggling to sustain itself, inevitably an environmentalist will exclaim, “It’s loss of habitat and it’s all man’s fault!”

According to Dictionary.com, habitat is defined thusly:

hab·i·tat
[hab-i-tat] Show IPA
noun
1.the natural environment of an organism; place that is natural for the life and growth of an organism: a tropical habitat.
2.the place where a person or thing is usually found: Paris is a major habitat of artists.
3.a special environment for living in over an extended period, as an underwater research vessel.
4.habitation ( def 1 ) .

A “natural” environment? So do we now have to define “natural”? Let’s try something not created by man or uncultivated. Oh, darn! Isn’t the overwhelming majority of “habitat” “cultivated” by man, at least to some degree? Let’s not get off topic.

In Maine, where the whitetail deer lives, is called habitat. Environmentalists claim that the problem with the lack of deer in Maine is habitat. They also claim that the lack of Canada lynx is habitat. They claim the lack of the piping plover is habitat. They believe that the caribou up and beat feet out of the state because of lack of habitat. And of course with this all purpose, generic excuse, comes the claim it’s man’s fault; they have cut down all the trees and encroached on the animals. (let’s not forget a few plants too.)

If a person is determined to discuss habitat, or lack thereof, isn’t it imperative to also speak of “carrying capacity”? What is carrying capacity? The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), in their science-speak way defines carrying capacity as such:

In population ecology terms, it is “the density of organisms (i.e., the number per unit area) at which the net reproductive rate (R0) equals unity and the intrinsic rate of increase (r) is zero” (Pianka 1974:82). Pianka goes on to explain………blah, blah, blah. Read all about it by following this link.

I would prefer to shorten this up and use their own words and define carrying capacity in this fashion:

“Strictly speaking, carrying capacity is a population concept with underlying theme of number of animals supported by some unit of area. It is the quantity of the specified population for which a particular area will supply all energetic and physiological requirements for a long, but defined, period of time.”

In other words, carrying capacity, although complicated, is how many deer can live in a specified habitat.

In theory then, if, let’s say, the whitetail deer in Maine was at carrying capacity, aside from “chance events” – those things that cause the population to fluctuate “naturally” – the population of deer in Maine becomes a slave to habitat.

In theory again, the population of whitetail deer in Maine is directly proportional to the amount of habitat that can support it.

For clarification purposes, readers should understand that wildlife management isn’t carried out in large sections of land, i.e. habitat. Maine has Wildlife Management Districts (WMD) in order to better focus on regions, much for the reason that the amount of existing habitat is not necessarily continuous and is broken up by numerous natural and unnatural obstacles, i.e. rivers, mountains, cities, farmland, etc.

Is Maine’s deer herd, statewide or regionally, at carrying capacity? In other words, does there exist all the deer that our forest and fields can “supply all energetic and physiological requirements for a long, but defined, period of time?” Not even close. But let me be fair and say that the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW), whose job it is to “manage” the state’s deer herd, does not necessarily manage deer up to carrying capacity. They have population goals and objectives. I should also point out that there exists in Maine a few small pockets of habitat where deer are at or above population density goals; realizing that a population density goal does NOT mean carrying capacity.

If MDIFW is not interested in managing the state’s deer herd to carrying capacity and are attempting to advocate for the deer as prescribed in the state’s deer management plan and achieve population density goals, then how specifically does habitat even play a factor in the demise of Maine’s deer herd?

The excuse has and remains the frontrunner that no deer in large swaths of the state’s habitat is due to a loss or lack of habitat. While some wildlife planners will, albeit reluctantly at times, admit that there are other factors, at the top of the list remains loss of habitat; I suppose mostly because the great influence environmentalism has had on the fish and game departments nationwide. And with that comes the hatred of man and the foisting of all blame upon them.

While it would be difficult to factor in accurately the percentage that all those other “chance events”, that cause deer populations to fluctuate, at the same level, it becomes just as difficult to determine how much loss of habitat is affecting the herd, especially when the current population isn’t even approaching density goals, speak nothing of carrying capacity.

What transpires in deer management debate becomes excuses of convenience. If I point out that habitat cannot be as big a problem as some advocate, because the deer population remains drastically below density goals and far from carrying capacity, excuse du jour is implemented, i.e. it’s weather/climate, hunters (humans) are killing them all, loggers destroying deer yards, predators, fawn recruitment, lack of money, vehicle mortality, etc.

While we shouldn’t remove any focus and effort into finding ways of sensibly protecting the habitat for all creatures, blaming lack of habitat, disguised as dislike for humans, is disingenuous at best. It is my belief that when the deer herd in Maine is not at density goals (and I don’t recall that the state on average has ever been AT density goals) or even carrying capacity, blaming the problem on habitat, which includes deer wintering areas, has become a bad habit.

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