Wildlife and Modern America...give me a primer.
November 14, 2012 1:58 PM   Subscribe

Do you know of any good resources providing data on how industrialization, urban expansion and / or hunting affects wildlife populations and ecosystems in the United States? Also interested in how conservation efforts do or do not produce a stabilizing effect.

I have recently been interested in learning more about the wildlife management debate in the US. I am interested in good resources - pdf papers, websites, books, etc... - that provide comprehensive overviews of the effects of urbanization and modern expansion on ecosystems within the United States - particularly with regards to native wildlife populations. I am especially interested in how expansion / hunting might be affecting wildlife stocks in public lands / national forests / national parks. Historical trends would be desirable too.

I am familiar with the decline of buffalo, grizzly bears, and wolves; the decline of pronghorn and elk populations in many areas of the US; the extermination of the California grizzly, the passenger pigeon and the Carolina parakeet - but I am less familiar with the conclusions drawn from these facts and the hard data behind decline. I am also interested in what we have learned regarding patterns of decline. How does hunting / vehicular traffic / expansion / mining / fracking etc affect patterns of wildlife decline in existing public lands? Is conservation possible? What does wildlife decline mean for our ecosystems and what are the costs?

You get the idea.

I like The Wildlife News but would really like resources that take aggregated information into account to provide a top-down more general look at trends as a whole. What is the current "snapshot" of human impact on native wildlife stocks remaining on US public lands and forests - where have we been, where are we going? Any ideas?
posted by jnnla to Science & Nature (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have no particular knowledge here, but as I read through I kept thinking "this is exactly what Ducks Unlimited is about", at least as it applies to waterfowl.
posted by straw at 4:40 PM on November 14, 2012

So, this is an aspect of what I study and this is a huge field. First, hunting isn't allowed in national parks, and in national forests and refuges I believe the hunting regulations are the same as the state or more restrictive. Development is also highly restricted in those areas though national forests are logged. Currently national parks and forests (and military bases) provide the greatest refuge for species - compared with private land, which is kind of how the US is divided up.

I'm on my phone currently but if you provide me with a couple more details I could probably help more. Are you interested in hunting generally (off protected lands) or the negative effect of hunting (it is used to manage populations who have lost their natural predators, e.g. deer, so it's not all bad)? Development, road and traffic issues are a different question - part fragmentation and part mitigation. Either of those sound interesting to you? Do you want journal articles or book recommendations?
posted by hydrobatidae at 5:30 PM on November 14, 2012

Here is a good place to start on the negative effect of hunting and why we have fish and game departments.

In general modern wildlife management has saved several species. Elk have been reintroduced across a huge portion of their range from refuge locations in national parks and forest lands. Big horn sheep have been reintroduced from refuges in nevada into isolated parts of the mogollon rim in Arizono after a century of being hunting to extinction. Several large ranches in new mexico and arizona (and probably elsewhere) have turned hunting into an important source of revenue and employment for their hands such as the diablo trust outside of flagstaff. This has made the wildlife as important as and not competition with the livestock. Herds both in and out of the ranches on nearby public lands have greatly expanded.

The bad days of hunters going out and killing till dark are over. There is some poaching going on but it is usually small scale enough it doesn't actually harm populations. In general hunters and their organizations are a real force for conservation and rehabilitation of natural landscapes. Some of this is from an excise tax on all firearms and ammo, fishing gear and archery equipment that funds national and state fish and game departments.
posted by bartonlong at 6:10 PM on November 14, 2012

I'm sorry to say that even after a night thinking about likely resources, I can't think of a good primer for what you're asking about. It's kind of embarrassing really because I have a lot of opinions about these issues but no summarizing literature to cite.

These questions "Is conservation possible? What does wildlife decline mean for our ecosystems and what are the costs?"* are pretty much the field of conservation biology. The textbook Essentials of Conservation Biology has a section related to applied uses for conservation biology which covers protected areas and management.

Conservation biology is not longer really concerned with hunting in the United States. Most of the extinctions due to over-harvesting happened long enough ago that we've significantly changed the laws and/or lost the sensitive species. In fact, several of the over-harvested species now need to be managed (i.e. killed by people) to keep their numbers down - deer, alligators, various ducks/geese - because their numbers have recovered so well.

On the other hand, fragmentation and the effects of urbanization (or suburbanization or exurbanization) are of huge concern in conservation biology. Importantly the benefit of reserves on animal populations has declined because the human impact outside protected areas (e.g. pdf). My first conservation biology teacher told us that conservation wasn't about managing the animals, but managing the people.

Here's a neat paper (pdf) about the causes of endangerment for species in the US (overall, not just on public lands). The top five are: interactions with non-native species; urbanization; agriculture; outdoor recreation and tourism development (doesn't include hunting); domestic livestock and ranching activities. It's out of date but I would assume the pattern holds except that climate change has emerged as an issue.

This paper (pdf) discusses how national forests and grasslands are being managed for both species diversity, ecosystems services and human use. It's also pretty old but you can get the idea of how the Parks Service and the Forest Service approach conservation.

*the short answers - "I hope" and "Oh, God, it's going to be horrible and so expensive and mostly hopeless"
posted by hydrobatidae at 8:26 AM on November 15, 2012


Thanks so much for your input! This is just the kind of data I was looking for. I will definitely take a look at those pdfs. I was not aware of how little an impact hunting had on conservation efforts but certainly had an inkling about the impact of areas just outside protected areas. I read all the time about how animals will wander outside of protected areas only to be hit by cars, killed by ranchers / hunters etc... I imagine this really limits the genetic diversity of said wildlife if there are no available protected corridors for them to traverse. I guess this is what is meant by "fragmentation." In answer to your previous question I suppose I am interested most in how both hunting and fragmentation affect wildlife conservation in a general context, and in what order they impact it the most. To that end I would be curious to see if there is any hope for a sustained robust population of native species in today's modern society...or whether we are simply repeating the eighteenth century only more slowly.
posted by jnnla at 6:21 PM on November 15, 2012

Here's another pdf about setting conservation targets, i.e. deciding how many animals we should try to save or increase a population to.

Genetic diversity in conservation is another huge area! It's not really what I do (which is mostly on the other end of things - populations and landscape issues) so I can't provide any references off the top of my head but I know there is a lot out there (and it's an emerging issue).

Good luck in your research!
posted by hydrobatidae at 7:53 AM on November 20, 2012

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