BY PAUL N. GRAY, PH.D.
Dr. Paul Gray is a wildlife biologist in the Waterfowl Management
Program of the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. The
editor of this magazine met him at the Atlantic Flyway Council meeting
in Tallahassee in February, where she went to document the waterfowl
management process. She was impressed by Dr. Grays candor regarding
wildlife management agencies. He bravely shares some of his views
I write to comment on some of the things we discussed, and offer
ideas for what I think could be fruitful avenues for you to pursue
to meet some of your goals.
We agree on the importance of maintaining biodiversity--the earth
and our civilization need it. However, state conservation organizations
often work only sparingly on projects specifically devoted to biodiversity.
As you have pointed out, correctly I think, state (and federal) conservation
agencies work predominantly on game species and game issues. Contributing
factors to the present overemphasis on game species include: funding
sources (the old sports-sponsored-conservation-through-license-fees
argument); interests of agency biologists (many hunt and fish); and
the fact that the sports [hunting interests] have been interactive
participants in agency programs. The latter point was evident as
you were about the only person at the Flyway meeting who wanted anything
other than hunting.
No matter what the extenuating circumstances are, most government
conservation agencies have a mandate to maintain all plants and animals.
When agencies work primarily on game management, I think they are
violating their mission statements. Game species constitute less
than 1% of all species (including inverts). If you want to seriously
curtail game management, point this discrepancy of time allocation
out to legislators, agency personnel, and the public, loud and long.
Ultimately, biologists are public servants, and it is our job to
fulfill the publics mandates.
When pressed about how good game management really is for biodiversity,
you no doubt have heard agencies fudge when answering. The common
argument is that management areas are good for all species. That
usually is an overstatement. A good example of this is St. Marks
National Wildlife Refuge (in Tallahassee) where managers put freshwater
impoundments in almost pristine salt marshes, effectively replacing
the salt marsh habitat with freshwater habitat.
Strangely, that increases biodiveristy in the sense that the manager
can say that there are more ducks and wading birds present than were
possible before, but that is a bastardization of what conserving
biodiversity really is about... Things like salt marsh snakes and
seaside sparrows, and saltwater crabs and such, that depended on
the salt marsh, were driven extinct in the actual area of the impoundments.
I, for one, do not think that is sound conservation practice. I do
not think that destroying one kind of wildlife to have another is
Some National Wildlife Refuges plow prairie grasses under to grow
corn and wheat fields, that geese love, but the row crops really
damage resident species; I cannot justify this in my mind. When managing
habitats, government agencies should manage for the maximum good
of everything possible, which means managing for natural ecosystems.
Another aspect of game management that usually does little good
for larger conservation issues is harvest management. Agencies conduct
extensive surveys to try to estimate the populations of game animals
and the effects of harvest (to protect them from overharvest). It
is prudent and imperative to protect hunted species from overharvest,
but while conducting surveys and working on harvest monitoring, we
are not actually doing anything for the animals (i.e., there is no
more habitat protected or restored when you are done counting). Enforcing
game laws is another pursuit that takes a lot of agency time and
money, and does little to protect or enhance habitat (although rampant
poaching will deplete a population and should be prevented).
When our agencies spend time on hunting regulations, it leaves less
time for habitat conservation.
I must caution you to not confuse game management with other appropriate
forms of management. For example, preservationists often think that
by excluding people from an area, and doing no management, they can
save the plants and animals. This is intuitively an attractive idea,
but it is surprisingly misguided. Humans have impacted every single
corner of this world, and it is stunning to learn of the myriad impacts
that off-site conditions can have. For example, if a dam upstream
of our management area gives us water in an unnatural pattern, our
wetland species suffer. It often is a difficult task to get people
to understand the pejorative effects of a hands-off management strategy.
Dr. Batt, Director of the Institute for Wetland and Waterfowl Research
of Ducks Unlimited*, gave a good example of that at the Flyway meeting.
He detailed how a management area in the Dakotas only had about a
10% nest success rate for ducks (in spite of intensive efforts by
managers to provide good nesting cover, protection from predators
and so on--more game management). When the 11,000,000 acres of conservation
reserve grassland were planted across the U.S. (as part of the 1990
Farm Bill), farmers replaced row crops around the management area
with grasslands, and duck nesting success rose to about 25% on the
management area, and in the surrounding grasslands (25% success sounds
bad, but actually is good for ducks). If ducks are an indicator of
ecosystem health, we can get several messages from this lesson on
1) Even though the management area was saved from
agriculture, things OUTSIDE the border of the management area heavily
impacted events (nest success) INSIDE the area (telling us that
we cannot just preserve an area and expect everything to be okay)
2) Government policy has far more impact on our ecosystems than
actions of managers on specific areas (credit especially Dr. Lawrence
Jahn of the Wildlife Management Institute with recognizing this
fact and negotiating the conservation provisions in the Farm Bill
and achieving, in one fell swoop, what hundreds of managers could
3) If we give animals suitable habitat, they can take care of
We do not have to manage for each animal specifically. Probably
the most important thing managers can do is try to insure the availability
of the most natural system possible -- and let the animals do the
rest. Luckily for us, nature is phenomenally variable and species
have adapted to this variability, giving us the knowledge that most
species can make it if we can create close to natural conditions.
We must work on ecosystem conservation/restoration. If animals (and
plants) do not have healthy ecosystems to rely on, they will go extinct.
As humans continue to develop more and more areas, extinctions are
becoming rampant. And if we planned it, we could develop in a sensible
manner and conserve virtually every species. In a nutshell: we need
fairly large natural core areas where all species should
persist fairly well (usually government-owned areas), and we need
corridors between the core areas where species can move and exist.
Corridors are needed because parts of populations apparently go extinct
on a regular basis due to myriad factors and, in theory, many animals
can move along corridors and repopulate the core areas (and maintain
gene flow to maintain genetic diversity). Corridor areas could not
all be public lands, which would require some sort of zoning (or
conservation easements, or other regulation) for our entire nation.
Zoning rural areas would be a bitter battle with land owners, but
it would pay off for society in the end because with a plan we can
save our species and our commerce (areas outside of the corridors
can be heavily used) and without a plan, we soon will have endangered
species everywhere, land use will get restricted anyway (and things
will go extinct, too). Zoning is accepted in urban areas, even through
it could be considered a taking, we need to get people
thinking this way for rural areas.
The above plan is overly simplified and I highly recommend a book
called The Fragmented Forest by Larry Harris that talks about corridors,
core zones, and landscape ecology in general.
However, youll rarely hear about this type of plan from a
state agency. The instigator would be shot (maybe). But, if the public
demanded a real plan to conserve biodiversity, that took human activity
into account, then some progress could be made. There are many biologists,
such as myself, in these agencies who want to start making these
plans and doing this kind of conservation work. Unfortunately, we
get no support from the administration or the public. We need you
to tell the legislatures and our administrators that the pubic wants
our agency to emphasize all species in the state, not a select few.
To summarize, I offer the following opinions:
1) Biodiversity should be the most important goal of our agencies
2) Extinctions and endangerments could be avoided if we planned
3) Game management appears to be a poor emphasis during the present
crisis of development
4) State conservation agencies will need more money and support
before they are able to meet the challenge at hand
5) The act of hunting is a non-issue in the biodiveristy debate**
6) Citizens need to learn as much as possible to help guide agency
Item number 6 is important. Recommendations I have gotten from the
public are often misguided . When it comes down to it, we must let
technical people do the projects. The public can and should participate
in decisions about what the goals of our projects should be, but
technical people must be free to implement plans. [For example, debating
biology with technically competent biologists may not end successfully
for you. I suggest you would have better luck debating the goals
of the programs than the way the programs are conducted.]
Your disagreements with the agencies are healthy and make the decision-making
process better in the end.
DR. GRAY CAN BE REACHED AT THE FLORIDA GAME AND FRESH WATER FISH
COMMISSION, 3991 S.E. 27TH COURT, OKEECHOBEE, FL 34974.
*Ducks Unlimited is dedicated to growing waterfowl for hunters guns.
The more waterfowl habitat, the more living targets. Habitat needs
protection, so do the inhabitants, consistent with the biodiversity
mandate. Sport hunting demands artificially increase populations
of target animals and plants at the expense of non-target
**Dr. Gray clarified his summary statement 5 above by saying that
he believed the act of hunting had little impact on species and is
merely a moral issue. He readily admits that management for hunting
is detrimental to biodiversity in that time taken for game management
is not better spent saving habitat. C.A.$.H. takes issue with point
5 and contends that hunting and management for hunting grossly impact
ecosystems, citizens rights, and the hunted individuals, thus
affecting the species to which they belong. We further oppose the
growing of animals to be used as targets for fun and profit on moral
grounds. We look forward to readers responses.
C.A.$.H. is grateful to Dr. Gray for writing the above article.
It allows us a glimpse of wildlife management agencies from an insiders
perspective. It offers hope that the agencies are not as stagnant
and adamant as they appear from the outside. Individuals comprise
the agencies, and within there are forces pushing for change. Granted,
it is not ideal from our perspective, but it is encouraging.
Opinions expressed by authors or organizations in the newsletter
do not necessarily reflect the opinions of C.A.$.H. Conversely, opinions
of C.A.$.H. are not necessarily the opinions of authors or organizations
appearing in the newsletter. The C.A.$.H. publication is in part
an experimental networking design offering a forum for discussing
and brain-storming planned, organized actions among groups and individuals
who o ppose hunting. In a more targeted sense, it is for those actively
involved, or about to become actively involved, in opposing the governments
management of everyones wildlife for less than 7% of the public
and less than 1% of the species.
National networking is the key to success. Although this issue is
weighted with articles from NYS, we are seeking announcements and
articles from all over the country. We ask that you meddle in other
states hunting affairs.