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. Gray’s candor regarding wildlife management agencies. He bravely shares some of his views with us.

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 public’s 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 appropriate.

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 habitat conservation:

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 not), and

3) If we give animals suitable habitat, they can take care of themselves.

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, you’ll 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 development

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 activities.

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.



*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 species.

**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 insider’s 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 government’s management of everyone’s 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 state’s hunting affairs.


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