Friday, April 27, 2012

Ungulates in the headlights too

Management of carnivores generate alot of heat and steam (see here, here, here, here, and here). So it was a relief to see an ungulate, in this case moose on the island of Newfoundland, generating a bit of controversy. I nearly when there to live 9 years ago, so I have a small connection. I took a look around Gros Morne Park's management plan, but didn't see any mention of the Moose Hunt there; I found several references to a Hyperabundant Species Management Plan, but couldn't find a copy of it.

AM in the Murray Basin

The Murray River is part of the largest river basin in Australia. I just had the pleasure of meeting Dr John Conallin from the Murray Catchment Management Authority. His job is implementing an "evidence based process" for allocating environmental water. He built his process on the ideas of Adaptive Governance and "Strategic Adaptive Management" (which looks like Experimental Resilience AM to me). We had a great discussion this morning comparing the situation on the Murray with the Platte and Missouri Rivers, trying to figure out why they were able to (apparently) get to experimental pulse flows in an experimental approach, while things have struggled to get off the ground here. One key observation is that the CMA is essentially funded to act as a boundary organization, handling the transaction costs of creating a collaborative, participatory process. It's as if the USFWS had started the process on the Central Platte by setting up the Platte River Recovery Program, and then had the program run the negotiation process itself. Instead, there were years of difficult multi-lateral negotiations among all the stakeholders that lead to the Program document.
His last comment was that we need to do comparative studies of AM cases. I couldn't agree more.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Making Predictions!

I love this! A testable prediction! I wonder if the Wyoming Fish and Game Department specified what will happen if they are over or under their prediction? Oh, look! They'll use adaptive management (bottom of page 23):
The Department will use an adaptive management approach to employ harvest strategies to meet management objectives.
Hmmm, not many details on what that means however, and the peer review of their plan called them out on it. So on March 12, 2012 they released a clarification of the Adaptive Management plan. Let's see ... compare their plan to the Structured Decision Making checklist:

  1. Problem - Keep wolf numbers above the level that would trigger ESA re-listing and otherwise as low as possible. 
  2. Objectives These are present, and at least some of them are partially SMART, e.g. maintain > 10 breeding pairs and > 100 wolves in the state outside Yellowstone National Park and the Wind River Reservation. This is specific, measurable, a , relevant. Time frame? There's something in the original plan about the total Northern Rocky Mountain population meeting targets over each 3 year period, but not clear from my first read how that steps down to Wyoming. They also have objectives to maintain > 1 migrant per generation between Idaho and Wyoming subpopulations, and to minimize economic losses to the livestock industry. That last one in particular is very very fuzzy. There may be others, but there's no clear "objectives" section that spells it all out for us.
  3. Alternatives The primary alternative that is considered here is variations of quota and season length within the Wyoming Trophy Game Management Area, that is, hunting regulations. There are also variations on depredation permits and translocation is mentioned for helping with gene flow issues. The hunting regulations will be set annually, so this is an iterated decision that is appropriate for Adaptive Management. Apparently Wyoming does compensate land owners for livestock depredation, but higher or lower levels of compensation  doesn't seem to be called out as an alternative. 
  4. Consequences Consequences? There will be consequences to these actions? Nowhere do they attempt to examine how different alternatives will lead to different outcomes for the objectives, and as a result ...
  5. Tradeoffs there ain't no stinking tradeoffs to be made, we can do it all. Actually in the clarification they do point out, at length, that managing wolves to be next to the 10/100 level would reduce their flexibility to do depredation control, etc., so they won't do that. What they will do isn't clear either, but they won't be aiming to be at the minimum. 
Overall, I'd have to grade this as a D-. They're partway there, but it could be much more clearly spelled out. And someone IS predicting consequences, very precisely too, so I'd like to know how. 

P.S. I found it! 52 is the sum of the hunting quotas for the 12 designated hunting areas. So it would be more accurate to describe the prediction as a maximum, assuming that hunting closes down in an area exactly on time and no one accidentally goes over. To be fair to the story in the Ranger, only the headline suggests that 52 is a prediction, in the body of the text they say it is the number hunters are allowed to kill, not the number they will kill. Apparently all other sources of mortality will add up to 46. As far as I can tell, the total number of mortalities for 2012 is based on the assumption that a wolf population can sustain 36% annual anthropogenic mortality before declining - and LO! 0.36 (270) = 97.2, or approximately the total number of expected human caused deaths in 2012.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Redirecting Wildlife Services

The American Society of Mammologists put out a letter to congress calling for that body to redirect the efforts of Wildlife Services, "...specifically to substantially reduce its funding for lethal control of native wildlife species, especially native wild mammals." I should say up front that I think their requested change in Wildlife Services actions seems to me quite reasonable. I think where they are most off the rails is claiming that science doesn't support the use of lethal control ... again, it has nothing to do with science! The best arguments are political ones pointing out the expense and lack of documented effectiveness of predator control.  

That the society is interested in political gains through science is clear from this quote regarding the society's very first resolution:
The Society’s first resolution (1927) called for science, not politics, to inform government policy on predator control.
Connections between coyote control and rabbit outbreaks are speculation at best.

I followed up a couple of the references, e.g. Alcock 1990 (in the LA Times, a highly respected scientific outlet), who cites his colleague Gerald Cole as having "written a paper on this". The paper in question turns out to be a piece in the "Defenders of Wildlife" newsletter from 1970! Hardly a peer reviewed source! 

Now, their arguments may in fact be correct, but there certainly is no peer reviewed evidence supporting their assertions. If there was, they should be citing it! On the face of it, scientific or not, killing ~560 river otters per year while simultaneously trying to reintroduce them seems counterproductive, but if the animals are abundant in places where they are being accidentally trapped, then there isn't really an issue. In fact having them turn up in beaver traps may be an indication of stunning success!

The idea of mesopredator release is relatively well supported in the literature, although not specifically with coyotes and wolves. However, the society should pay close attention to the articles it cites, e.g. Prugh et al (2009) cited in support of mesopredator release, also say: 

" ... predator management is characterized by complex ecological, economic, and social trade-offs. While large predators present many ecological benefits, they can also pose a serious threat to species of conservation concern. For instance, cougars (Puma concolor) contributed to the near extinction of endangered Sierra bighorn sheep in the 1990s (Ovis canadensis sierrae; Wehausen 1996). Any proposal to protect or reintroduce apex predators must acknowledge the full range of trade-offs involved in predator management."
The key phrase is that there is a range of tradeoffs involved in predator management - what they don't say is that those tradeoffs are highly political, not scientific. The society's letter also cite Estes et al 2011 - a paper in Science - as support for apex predator effects. Again, no denying that trophic cascades have occurred, but also no strong evidence for the particular effects cited in the letter. In fact Estes et al say 

"We propose that many ecological surprises that have confronted society over past centuries—pandemics, population collapses of species we value and eruptions of those we do not, major shifts in ecosystem states, and losses of diverse ecosystem services—were caused or facilitated by altered top-down forcing regimes associated with the loss of native apex consumers or the introduction of exotics." 

The key word is PROPOSE. This is a plausible hypothesis, but far from a proven theory.

Stealth issue advocacy. Devalues the science and misdirects the political debate.

Weather != Climate

One of the things that is becoming irksome is the consistent drumbeat of folks mistaking weather for climate. Roger Pielke Jr. had this to say in a blog post yesterday:
Some advocates, including some scientists, seek to have things both ways when they assert that a particular weather event is “consistent with” predictions of human-caused climate change. The snowy period of early 2010 along the U.S. East Ccoast saw those opposed to action suggesting that the record snow and cold cast doubt on the science of human-caused climate change, while at the same time those calling for action explained that the weather was “consistent with” the forecasts from climate models. Both lines of argument were misleading. Any and all weather is “consistent with” predictions from climate models under a human influence on the climate system. Similarly, any and all weather is also “consistent with” failing predictions of long-term climate change. Simply put, weather is not climate. Given the degree of politicization of the climate debate, we should not be surprised that even the weather gets politicized.
This same phenomenon is present in applied aspects of ecology, particularly fish and wildlife management and conservation biology. We need to watch out for the pernicious effects of stealth issue advocacy in our own backyards.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Politicking again

As usual, hunting advocates are inadvertently politicizing science by suggesting that science be used to manage wildlife, rather than society's values. In this case, the political effort is aimed at preventing the use of hounds for hunting bobcats and bears in California. The Sportsmen's Daily writes:

The real story of this bill sets a terrible precedent. It demonstrates why wildlife management should not be political. Natural resources, including wildlife, are too important to be pawns in the dirty pool that has become common place in politics today.

They're really missing the point - the issue of using hounds is controversial, and therefore political. Saying that hunting should be managed using science is irrelevant, and ends up devaluing the science. If society's elected representatives decide hounds shouldn't be used, they won't be used, and there's no science that can argue against that.

It's pretty ridiculous that what a state official, not even an elected official, does on their holidays is used as a reason to force them out of office in the first place. If a 19 year old in a state where the drinking age is 21 goes to Alberta, where the drinking age is 18, and has a beer, is that controversial? Same legal situation.

Hunters should be reaching out to people with air quality concerns, who are now going to have to wait to get their needs addressed. Its politics, all the way to the bank. Leave the science out of it.