18 Feb 2008, 1:17am
Wildlife Policy
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How Many Wildebeest Do You Need?

Norton-Griffiths, Mike. How Many Wildebeest Do You Need? World Economics.Vol. 8, No. 2, April–June 2007.

Mike Norton-Griffiths, D.Phil. is a long-time resident of Kenya, where he researches into issues of land use economics and the economic foundations of conservation and land use policy.

Full text [here]

Selected excerpts:

So, how many wildebeest do you need? How many elephants is enough? And what do you need them for? These are not trivial questions, for they focus attention on the need for some hard decisions. A conservation biologist will maintain that while the actual number of wildebeest at any particular time is irrelevant, what is important is to ensure adequate space and habitat so the population can vary as it must in response to environmental vicissitudes. In contrast, a free market environmentalist would approach this problem secure in the knowledge that there is indeed a market for wildebeest which will deliver a socially and economically efficient number of animals. Naturally, neither of these views is wrong-which is not the same as saying that either is right.

Consider as an example the Serengeti migratory wildebeest population which, despite 40 years of scientific monitoring and research, has effortlessly grown from around 250,000 individuals in the 1950s to some 1.5 million today, going up a bit in good (rainy) years and down a bit in drier years (Figure 1). That this extraordinary phenomenon still exists is due to the vast 30,000 km2 area over which they are able to migrate, from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania during the wet season up to the Maasai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya during the dry season…

Here now is a problem to exercise both the conservation biologist and the free market environmentalist, for what is the optimal number of wildebeest given that tourists probably only need to see some 300,000 to experience the raw majesty of the migration? Kenya will balance the benefits to be gained from developing agriculture on what was previously pastoral land against any possible tourism losses, while Tanzania may still wish to have as many wildebeest as possible to enhance the international reputation of the Serengeti National Park. Difficult choices indeed…

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The Need for the Management of Wolves

Bergerud, Arthur T. The Need for the Management of Wolves-An Open Letter. 2007. Rangifer, Special Issue No. 17, 2007: The Eleventh North American Caribou Workshop, Jasper, Alberta, Canada, 24-27 April, 2006.

Note: A.T. Bergerud is former chief biologist of Newfoundland. He has been a population ecologist involved in research on caribou populations in North America since 1955. Along with Stuart N. Luttich and Lodewijk Camps, Bergerud authored the just released The Return of Caribou to Ungava [here].

Full text [here]

Selected excerpts:

Abstract: The Southern Mountain and Boreal Woodland Caribou are facing extinction from increased predation, predominantly wolves (Canis lupus) and coyotes (Canis latrans). These predators are increasing as moose (Alces alces) and deer (Odocoileus spp.) expand their range north with climate change. Mitigation endeavors will not be sufficient; there are too many predators. The critical habitat for caribou is the low predation risk habitat they select at calving: it is not old growth forests and climax lichens. The southern boundary of caribou in North America is not based on the presence of lichens but on reduced mammalian diversity. Caribou are just as adaptable as other cervids in their use of broadleaf seed plant as forage. Without predator management these woodland caribou will go extinct in our life time.


A major ecological question that has been debated for 50 years is: are ecosystems structured from top-down (predator driven) or bottom-up (food limited) processes (Hairston et al., 1960; Hunter & Price, 1992)? Top-down systems can vary widely from sea mammals such as sea otters (Enhydra lutris) to ground nesting birds. The sea otter causes an elegantly documented trophic cascade through sea urchins (Strongylocentrotus spp.) down to kelp beds (Estes & Duggins, 1995). Ground nesting waterfowl and gallinaceous birds are not limited by food resources but are regulated by top-down nest predation caused by a suite of predators, mainly skunks (Mephitis mephitis), red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) and crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) (Bergerud, 1988; 1990; Sargeant et al., 1993). Management decisions depend on understanding which structure is operational.

Discussions on top-down or bottom-up have been recently been rekindled with the introduction of wolves (Canis lupus) to Yellowstone National Park and Idaho in 1995 (Estes, 1995; Kay, 1995; 1998). The elk/wapiti (Cervus elaphus) population in Yellowstone prior to introduction were basically limited by a density-dependent shortage of food (Singer et al., 1997) but now is declining from wolf predation (Crête, 1999; White & Garrott, 2005). All three states, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, are litigating the federal government to get the wolf delisted so they can start wolf management to maintain their stocks of big-game.

We conducted a 30 year study (1974 to 2004) of two caribou (Rangifer tarandus) populations, one in Pukaskwa National Park (PNP) and the other on the Slate Islands in Ontario, relative to these two paradigms of top-down or bottom-up. (Bergerud et al., this conference). In Pukaskwa National Park, there was an intact predator-prey system including caribou, moose (Alces alces), wolves, bears (Ursus americanus), and lynx (Lynx canadensis). On the Slate Islands, our experimental area, there were no major predators of caribou. The PNP populated was regulated top-down by predation and existed at an extremely low density of 0.06 caribou per km2, whereas the population on the Slate Islands averaged 7-8 animals/km2 over the 30 years (100X greater than in PNP). In the absence of predators, these island caribou were regulated from the bottom-up by a shortage of summer foods and the flora was impacted, resulting in some floral extinctions. The extremely low density of only 0.06 caribou per km2 in PNP is normal for caribou populations coexisting with wolves (Bergerud, 1992a: Fig. 1, p. 1011). The top-down predator driven ecosystem of caribou in PNP also applies in Canada to moose, elk, and black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus) that are in ecosystems with normal complements of wolves and bears (Bergerud, 1974; Bergerud et al., 1983; Bergerud et al., 1984; Messier & Crete, 1985; Farnell & McDonald, 1986; Seip, 1992; Messier 1994; Hatter & Janz 1994; Bergerud & Elliott, 1998; Hayes et al., 2003).

Of all the predator driven ecosystems of cervids, the threat of extinction is most eminent for the southern mountain and boreal woodland caribou ecotypes, both classified as threatened (COSEWIC 2002, Table 11). These herds are declining primarily from predation by wolves plus some mortality from bears. From west to east the equations for continued persistence are not encouraging — in British Columbia the total of the southern mountain ecotype is down from 2145 (1992-97) to 1540 caribou (2002-04) and four herds number only 3, 4, 6, and 14 individuals (Wittmer et al., 2005). In Alberta, the range has become fragmented and average recruitment recently was 17 calves/100 females, despite high pregnancy rates (McLoughlin et al., 2003). That low calf survival is less than the needed to maintain numbers - 12-15% calves or 22-25 calves per 100 females at 10-12 moths-of-age to replace the natural mortality of females (Bergerud, 1992a; Bergerud & Elliott 1998). In Saskatchewan, populations are going down, ?=0.95 (Rettie et al., 1998). The range is retreating in Ontario (Schaefer, 2003) as southern groups disappear; in Labrador the Red Wine herd is now less than 100 animals (Schmelzer et al., 2004); in southern Quebec, there may be only 3000 caribou left (Courtois et al., 2003), and in Newfoundland, herds are in rapid decline from coyotes (Canis latrans) and bear predation (G. Mercer and R. Otto, pers. comm.). In Gaspé, the problem for the endangered relic herd is also coyotes and bear predation (Crête & Desrosiers, 1995). In Gaspé, these predators have been reduced and there is a plan in place to continue adaptive management (Crête et al., 1994). Do we have to wait until the herds are listed as endangered to manage predators?

Wilderness and Political Ecology: Aboriginal Influences and the Original State of Nature

Kay, Charles E., and Randy T. Simmons, eds. Wilderness and Political Ecology: Aboriginal Influences and the Original State of Nature. 2002. University of Utah Press

Selected Excepts:


Most environmental laws and regulations, such as the Wilderness Act, the Park Service Organic Act, and the Endangered Species Act, assume a certain fundamental state of nature, as does all environmental philosophy, at least in the United States (Keller and Turek 1998, Krech 1999; Spence 1999; Burnham zooo). Included in these core beliefs is the view that the Americas were a wilderness untouched by the hand of man until discovered by Columbus and that this wilderness teemed with untold numbers of bison (Bison bison), passenger pigeons (Ectopistes migratorius), and other wildlife, until despoiled by Europeans. In this caricature of the pristine state of the Americas, native people are seldom mentioned (Sluyter 2001), or if they are, it is usually assumed that they were either poor, primitive, starving savages, who were too few in number to have had any significant impact on the natural state of American ecosystems (Forman 2001), or that they were “ecologically noble savages” and original conservationists, who were too wise to defile their idyllic “Garden of Eden” (Krech 1999). As Park Service biologist Thomas Birkedal (1993:228) noted, “The role of prehistoric humans in the history of park ecosystems is rarely factored into … the equation. If acknowledged at all, [the] former inhabitants are … relegated to what one cultural anthropologist … calls the ‘Native Americans as squirrels’ niche: they are perhaps curious critters, but of little consequence in the serious scheme of nature.”

This view of native people, and the “natural” state of pre-European America, though, is not scientifically correct. Moreover, we suggest that it is also racist (Sluyter 2001). In fact, as Bowden (1992), Pratt (1992), and others have documented, the original concept of America as wilderness was invented, in part, by our forefathers to justify the theft of aboriginal lands and the genocide that befell America’s original owners. Even those who view native people as conservationists are guilty of what historian Richard White (1995:175) describes as “an act of immense condensation. For in a modern world defined by change, whites are portrayed as the only beings who make a difference. [Environmentalists may be] … pious toward Indian peoples, but [they] don’t take them seriously [for they] don’t credit [native people] with the capacity to make changes.”

Contrary to this prevailing paradigm, the following chapters demonstrate that native people were originally more numerous than once thought, that native people were generally not conservationists-as conservation is not an evolutionary stable strategy unless the resource is economical to defend, and that native people in no way, shape, or form were preservationists, as that term applies today (Berkes 1999:91; Smith and Wishnie 2000; Sluyter 2001). Instead, native people took an active part in managing their environment. Moreover, changes wrought by native people were so pervasive that their anthropogenic, managed environment was thought to be the “natural” state of the American ecosystem (Buckner 2000). In short, the Americas, as first seen by Europeans, had not been created by God, but instead those landscapes had largely been crafted by native peoples (Hallam 1975) …

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