Lead bullets versus Wildlife Conservation Coalition: When environmentalists, conservationists, hunters, anglers, and animal rights groups coalesce, they can form a strong coalition to support protection of wildlife conservation. However, the issue of prohibiting lead bullets to protect wildlife shows why it can be so difficult to attain solidarity among these disparate groups despite their interest in wildlife. A recent Wall Street Journal article discusses how Dan Ashe, the outgoing head of the US Fish and Wildlife agency, banned lead bullets in national wildlife refuges on the final day of the Obama Administration. The article notes that Administration had proposed a ban on lead ammunition in national parks in 2009 but it backed down when the NRA and ammunition industry opposed it. There is substantial scientific evidence to show that many species including endangered species are harmed when they consume lead as a result of bullets or angling equipment. For example, the article cites a Raptor Center of the Univ. of Minnesota as stating that 90 percent of the bald eagles they treat suffer “have elevated lead in their blood” and other reports show lead is a major threat to species such as California Condors. Hunters could use copper bullets but they are more expensive. The NRA and other gun rights organizations view any kind of restriction of ammunition or guns as a threat to the right to do what they want with their guns—a kind of “foot-in-the-door” assumption against any compromise whatsoever. The article points out that state wildlife agencies get much of their funds from hunting and fishing licenses so they generally fail to support these bans. Less clear is how the rank and file hunters and anglers view the issue. My book cites survey data that a large portion of hunters and anglers are nature-lovers and often make visits to view wildlife that do not involve hunting or fishing. Wouldn’t a conservationist-minded hunter or fisher be willing to spend a bit more money to preserve wildlife? I suspect that is the case but as long as hunting issues are dominated by groups like the NRA, this possible support never materializes or has an effect on the policy debate. It is time for conservation-minded hunters and anglers to form their own organization to speak for a more conservation-minded position on lead ammunition and angling equipment. Check out the article at http://www.wsj.com/articles/donald-trump-is-likely-to-lift-curb-on-lead-bullets-at-wildlife-refuges-1485518406
Does Killing Bears Increase Tolerance and reduce conflict with them? Harvesting of black bears may help improve tolerance for bears. Research by J.D. Raithel et al. in J of Applied Ecology suggests that harvests of black bears tends to affect “nuisance bears” (e.g., those that destroy property and visit garbarge) somewhat (7%) more than other bears. Thus the authors suggest that the result of the harvests may be fewer human-bear conflicts and increased tolerance for the bears in New Jersey (and hence an increase in the “carrying capacity” of the habitat for this species. See http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1365-2664.12830/full
Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) dominate much of the international conservation policy research. As I note in my book, the concept is popular in developing countries because of the weakness of the states in their ability to their limits resources and weakness of their control over their countries. The PES concepts can be implemented but they often involve private entities (e.g., international NGOs) that have the funds and staff lacking by developing countries. Theoretically, PES represent a voluntary agreement where some “buyer” (e.g., could be government or third party NGO, etc.) signs an agreement with a “provider” with the proviso that the provider will perform some environmental service for which they will be compensated. A recent article titled “The political dimensions of Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES): Cascade or stairway by Hausknost, Grima, and Singh in Ecological Economics” (vol. 131, 2017, 109-18) argues that PES schemes of necessity have “political dimensions” and that the involvement of providers may not be voluntary. They also cite the fact that PES often attracts support from economists and conservatives because of its emphasis on use of market mechanisms, PES can and often do involve significant “transaction costs.” Indeed, in my book, I cite examples of how complex and potentially hard to obtain “indicators” of provider services must be collected and used to determine if the provider has provided the promised services—if this monitoring is not done, then there is no assurance that the promised benefits materialize and PES may be worse than ineffective governmental services. The authors cite two cases of successful use of PES—one of them concerns rubber tappers in Brazil and the Chico Mendes Law passed in 1999, the Acre state government established the Chico Mendes Law to provide subsidies for rubber tappers The rubber tappers must be registered with the government and belong to regional associations which report to the government. In this case, it is notable that it is the government doing the funding and this PES was established only after a social movement organized by Chico Mendes and others struggled against landowners with several rubber tappers including Chico Mendes murdered. Indeed, it was his murder and the involvement of international environmental organizations which helped to build momentum for the law. For a brief discussion of the Chico Mendes law, see http://moderncms.ecosystemmarketplace.com/repository/moderncms_documents/rubber_tappers_final2.pdf
In short, although the contract with payment mechanisms do represent partially market mechanisms, PES often involve heavy doses of politics.
Implementation is the key issue in wildlife conservation policy and politics. As far as legislation and formal policies are concerned, wildlife would be in much better shape if these policies were enforced but research (and my chapter on implementation in my Wildlife Politics book) shows that implementation is often weak even in advanced countries like the U.S. and nearly non-existent in much of the developing world. Gettleman’s recent New York Times article makes the same point about China’s recent decision to ban the legal trade of ivory: if it is enforced, it could have a major impact on protecting elephants but it depends on whether they take action against the “much larger illegal trade of ivory” and whether China’s neighbors such as Vietnam and Laos take similar action—if they don’t, the article says Chinese may simply buy from these countries. Unfortunately, these other countries do not have a good reputation for enforcing wildlife conservation policies. Read the article at: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/31/world/africa/africa-ivory-china.html?emc=edit_tnt_20161231&nlid=10365419&tntemail0=y
The importance of implementing laws is well illustrated by a recent journal article concerning Indonesia’s failure to protect endangered species that are covered by the nation’s “protected species legislation.” The species included many molluscs such as the chambered nautilus. The researchers found “400 shells of legally protected species displayed openly for sale in large quantities” for sale in luxury resort areas. Moreover, they report that “…the Bali Natural Resource Management Agency, responsible for enforcing protected species legislation, has in the past made several seizures, but these are few and far between, and we were not able to find any reported seizures after September 2009.” They conclude that “The open, illegal sale and consistent presence of protected species in Bali’s major tourism areas points at a clear neglect of duties of the Indonesian wildlife conservation authorities and suggest a lack of pressure on the authorities to treat these illegal sales as a priority issue.” The full article by Vincent Nijman and Paige Lee is available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/311466511_Trade_in_nautilus_and_other_large_marine_molluscs_as_ornaments_and_decorations_in_Bali_Indonesia
Increased Funding Needed for Endangered Species Act but Trump Is Coming!: Noah Greenwald and collaborators at the Center for Biological Diversity recently released a report detailing the inadequate the funding for protecting and restoring endangered species. They point out that more than 60% of the funds spent are going to just 35 species. Of course, previous research shows that charismatic species tend to receive the lion’s share of funds though this report argues that the most direct reason for the concentration of funding in a few species is due to the fact that much of the money is going to protect species that are threatened by large federal water projects such as those run by the Corps of Engineers and the Bonneville Power Administration and the authors acknowledge that these expenditures are warramted to ensure the survival of these “impacted species.” However, the report cites how relatively reasonable additional amount of funds could be very effective in preserving additional species if they were modeled on the on the Hawaii Plant Extinction Prevention Program which, the authors claim, have an annual cost of only about 5000 dollars per species. The sad aspect of this report is that it comes just as the Trump Administration is about to take over the USFWS and, far from considering additional funding for the USFWS and endangered species (as would have been the case if Clinton had won), the new priority for wildlife conservation will be to preserve the Endangered Species Act at all much less hope for increased funding for it. See the report at http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/biodiversity/pdfs/Shortchanged.pdf
Multiple Causation of disappearance of game and other species and the Blaming of Animal Predators: A Jan. 17th article in High Country News discusses the plan of the State of Colorado’s Parks and Wildlife department to kill mountain lions and black bears in order to “boost mule deer.” This plan is similar to those enacted by Alaska, Wyoming, and Idaho to kill wolves and boost caribou, moose, and elk populations. As the article notes, the plan is controversial because these populations of game species are affected by other important causes of mortality such as loss of habitat, disturbance of habitat by development and extractive industries, and weather conditions such as droughts that analyses suggest are more important causes of population declines than predation by animal competitors to human hunters. The fact that Colorado, a state run by a Democratic governor, is conducting such a campaign demonstrates the fact that wildlife politics are not necessarily dominated by partisan forcess but are more subject to institutional factors. In particular, state “wildlife” departments are dominated by interests of hunters and anglers who provide much of their funds via charges for hunting and fishing licenses. These departments and other wildlife-related state policymaking bodies are dominated by these interests and, because of their independent source of funds, they are often independent of controls by state legislatures. Indeed, many polls (I discuss these in detail in my Wildlife Politics book) show that the general publics in western states are generally supportive of predators such as wolves, bears, and mountain lions but this support is overwhelmed by the institutional factors and the fact that the intensity of feelings on the part of the smaller hunter-angler coalition wins out over the views of the majority in the state. Indeed, the same situation extends beyond these customary predators to other species such as ravens. When threats to tortoise populations in California, the Bureau of Land Management took steps to kill ravens that prey on tortoises rather than direct attention to highways and off road vehicles that are more important causes of the threat to tortoises. In short, predators do kill and consume threatened species but their “take” is small compared to human-causes of threats to species. But the nature of wildlife politics dominated by hunter-angler and developer-extractive industries have been consistently successful in focusing attention and “solutions” on animal predators because they are easier targets than powerful human interests. This case illustrates my thesis in my book that wildlife politics is a distinct subset of environmental politics and requires different analysis than environmental policies that affect humans such as clean water and air. Check out the High Country News story on Colorado’s actions at from http://www.hcn.org/articles/colorado-state-study-kill-mountain-lion-cougar-black-bear-predator-for-mule-deer?utm_source=wcn1&utm_medium=email
Wildlife Conservation under the Trump Administration: As I completed ten years of writing my book Wildlife Conservation, I noted in the concluding chapter that if a Republican were elected president and they controlled the Senate, House, and presidency, that the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the entire framework for protecting wildlife would be changed. Since 1992, Republicans have wanted to “defang” the Endangered Species Act. In case after case in the Federal courts, property rights and extractive industries have lost cases based on the strong language of the ESA and it is clear that this Act will be front and center for revision. The Act could be entirely abolished but more likely it is to be rewritten so that now efforts to protect species must be weighed against the rights of landowners with the presumption in favor of landowners when there is a conflict. Likewise, a revision is likely to delegate to states the right to make decisions about controversial cases such as when development interests conflict with wildlife conservation with the presumption likely to be in favor of development. I don’t have any record of how Ryan Zinke, Trump’s proposed Secretary of the Interior, feels about the Endangered Species Act. According to the Washington Post, Zinke received a score of 3 by the League of Conservation Voters on the environment (100 = pro-environment) so that is not promising. He has opposed (unlike many Republicans) selling Federal lands to states so that is positive. An article (in Policy Sciences) by Martin Nie titled “The underappreciated role of regulatory enforcement in natural resource conservation” makes the point that the regulatory threat of listing under ESA is needed to provide incentive for landowners to participate in “voluntary” efforts at conservation. This is a point that my book emphasizes too in my case studies of the implementation of conservation agreements such as habitat conservation plans. I also wonder about what will happen to the current agreements such as those reached to save the sage grouse—can landowners-extractive industries cease adhering to the restrictions agreed to if the ESA is radically changed? Take away the threat of the “hammer” of listing under ESA, and conservation interests will have a hard time obtaining interest in conservation agreements that force them to sacrifice profits.
Wild Horses and Wildlife Politics: No other species illustrates the complexity of wildlife politics better than wild horses. There have been numerous battles over the species throughout the West and also on the East Coast. Now, a new case is occurring in northern California, where animal rights groups are fighting restrictions placed on where wild horses “can roam.” These restrictions are supported by the Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Forest Service, and ranchers who want the land for their grazing sheep and cattle. The restrictions on the wild horses are being challenged in court by an interest group defending wild horses, the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign. The government agencies claim that the area can only support about 400 horses but it is estimated that some 2,500 now are in the area. This case illustrates that the divides in wildlife politics are not based on a simple left-right spectrum because coalitions can switch among government, private landholders and extractive industries, environmentalists, hunters-anglers, and animal rights supporters depending on the specific issue at hand. Read the Jan. 11th story in the Wall Street Journal by Sara Randazzo in the Wall Street Journal at http://www.wsj.com/articles/in-a-switch-ranchers-government-find-an-issue-to-agree-on-1484053201
Controversies over the “Sustainable” Harvest of Polar Bears: On Dec. 20, 2016, the USFWS (Region 7, Achorage, Alaska) issued its Polar Bear Conservation Management Plan. This plan illustrates some key emerging issues of wildlife politics. First, in regard to charismatic species like polar bears, the concept of “sustainable harvest” is controversial and USFWS seeks to avoid the controversy as much as possible. For example, in its summary of changes made to the Final plan compared to the previous draft,” the USFWS said that they “removed nearly all uses…referencing subsistence harvest from the main part of the report and moved discussion of “harvest management” of polar bears to the technical appendices. The report makes the point that “Polar bears are important as a nutritional, cultural, and economic resource for indigenous people around the Arctic” and that the Marine Mammal Protect Act (MMPA) specifically allows “Alaska native people to harvest threatened species”…even for populations that are declining due to environmental effects—as long as the harvest is responsibly managed… and does not in itself become a driver of declining ability to secure long-term persistence (P33). Indeed, the report often refers to “removals” rather than harvests of polar bears—the removal term is a bit more general and includes “the combination of subsistence harvest, defense of human life kills, and other mortalities.”
The polar bear case also illustrates the international nature of conservation of species like polar bears and the issue of failed implementation of conservation policies. The U.S. and Russia signed an agreement that, if implemented, should protect the Russian population of polar bears because it defines a sustainable harvest level as a “harvest level which does not exceed net annual recruitment to the population and maintains the population at or near its current level, taking into account all forms of removal, and considers the status and trend of the population, based on reliable scientific information. However, the problem as the report admits is that “information on bears removed in Russia was not available for their analysis” and that poaching of polar bears in Russia, though it was banned in 1956, rose to high levels during the collapse of the USSR and may well be unsustainable (see page 70). Indeed, data availability even on poaching in Alaska is lacking or of questionable validity because of the remoteness of the areas inhabited by polar bears. Finally, the report views climate change as a major threat to the long-term survival of polar bears but, as we know, the Trump Administration is not likely to accept climate change as a serious threat that would warrant protections from “harvest.” The report as well as summary of changes made in it and a question and answer sheet concerning it are all available from: https://www.fws.gov/alaska/fisheries/mmm/polarbear/pbmain.htm
Problem for Conservation Coalition: Animal Rights versus Conservationists & how to deal with invasive species that kill native species. An Associated Press article details how feral cats in Hawaii are threatening the monk seal (and other species). While animal rights groups are aligned with conservationists on some issues such as protecting wolves, they do not accept euthanization as a method to solve the feral cat problem—they only accept non-lethal methods. Here is the link to the Associated Press article:
I have just completed a book titled "Wildlife Politics" that is scheduled to be published by Cambridge University Press on March 30, 2017. The book covers broadly all major aspects of wildlife conservation policy worldwide. During my research for the book, I noticed that there was no blog available for sharing informaton on wildlife conservation and thus I set up this blog to accomplish this purpose. Please share any informaticoncerning issues related to wildife policy and politics. I welcome feedback from users concerning this blog and website.