Wildlife Politics and Compromise: How well do Stakeholder Approaches Work?
I just read a very useful book by Julia M. Wondolleck and Steven L. Yaffee: Marine Ecosystem-Based Management in Practice. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2017. I found it instructive in providing some good examples of the difficulties of reaching compromise over wildlife issues that I discuss in my Wildlife Politics book. The book has detailed case studies of the process of marine ecosystem management such as marine protected areas in the U.S. (and in a couple of cases, Canada too). In every case, the stakeholder approach was employed in which a wide variety of stakeholders were involved in either advising and/or managing marine ecosystems.
The stakeholder approaches always employ the use of science such as the collection of data concerning the status of ecosystem and the health of fish and other species. Indeed, “adaptive management” is the term used to describe how most wildlife management agreements are supposed to be implemented which assumes that data will be regularly collected to determine how well goals are being achieved and then, depending on the results, adjustments will be made in the management approach. However, decisions are reached by consensus and thus science is not necessarily a determining factor. Indeed, the book cites an observation that Narraganset Bay Estuary Program managers and policymakers “often view monitoring as a black hole that absorbs a lot of money and energy without producing much management-relevant information” (p. 116). The book discusses “triggering” events that were the “tipping” point for action to be taken that convinced consumptive stakeholders such as fishermen and reluctant local and state officials to take potentially politically controversial steps such as no fish zones and other restrictions on consumption. In most of the cases cited in the book, the triggering events were not scientific data but the causes were consistently “mediagenic” events such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that made “cross-state” cooperation indisputable necessary (p. 45), “dead zones” that resulted in “dramatic decline in shrimp catch” and red tides along with “microbial pathogens in coastal waters” that threatened “local coastal economies” (p. 50), and the collision of 3 ships into coral reefs within a few days that made the media seized on. The fishermen were not focused on overall ecosystem health but tolerated actions when fishers themselves noted that “marked decline in coral fish” (p. 80) and the decline of sports fish (p. 92). Consumptive users often dispute the validity of scientific data. In my Wildlife Politics book, I cite several examples where consumptive users dispute official statistics on populations of fish but in these cases, their ability to find fish was enabled by greater effort & the better technology to find the fish. In short, it takes more than scientific data to convince consumptive users of the need for change—dramatic, irrefutable declines or and/or disasters are needed to provide the necessary trigger for cutbacks.
Another theme I noticed in the book is a deep fear, resentment and even hatred for the Federal government’s intervention in managing wildlife. In my book, I discuss how some landowners try to avoid threats such as restrictions to protected listed species by killing the species and/or destroying their habitat. The book contains an example of similar dramatic event that took place in the 1960s by opponents to the establishment of the Biscayne National Monument: “opponents …plowed a “Spite Highway” …across the forest on the island…hoping to cause so much environmental damage that the Federal government” would decide it was no longer worthwhile preserving (p. 88). Many fishers resent the environmental movement viewing it as elitist wanting to preserve areas as a “playground for the rich” rather than for “smelly fishermen” who have to make their living off them. (p. 88). This theme goes long back into U.S, history of wildlife management to the 1800s that I discuss in my book--wealthier sportsmen groups instituted restrictions on takes of deer and other prey and also pushed “ethical hunting” reforms that populists like Andrew Jackson ridiculed as elitist. A good part of the hatred for wolves of comes from their association with the Federal government’s role in their reintroduction. The book cites an example where the Federal government, rather than trying to police marine areas themselves, pays the State of Florida to do so because local residents have more trust in them (p. 87).
One key problem in all stakeholder approaches is how to decide on the proportion of representatives that will represent “consumptive” versus “environmental” interests. The book cites an example in the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Program where representatives of fishing, agriculture and local government felt that environmentalists were “overrepresented” (p. 118) and thus they withdrew participation or failed to attend meetings, thus undermining the legitimacy of the effort. In my book, I cite examples of the opposite situation—in some habitat conservation plans and other conservation efforts, environmentalists were often far outnumbered by pro-consumption members and this affected the nature of the decisions reached. There is no handy guideline for deciding on group representation and it is one of the inherent difficulties and complexities of the stakeholder approach. A related limitation of the stakeholder approach that I discuss in my book is that, in order for a compromise solution to be reached, stakeholders must be willing to compromise the demands of the groups they represent. I describe how this does occur occasionally as some representatives become invested in the success of the process and are swayed by information (e.g., science) or personal camaraderie that develops during the process so they want the outcome to be successful. The book cites an example of such a success where one fishermen acknowledges fear about the plan for the Tortugas Reserve but through the process he became “convinced” it would help “deal with overfishing” (p. 98). On the other hand, a member of Channel Islands marine reserve science advisory panel stated that most of the members were lobbyists “paid to have a particular position” and they were “not paid to change their minds” (p. 94). The book cites an example of the extent of differences between groups: representatives of consumptive interests would only support 12 percent of the [Channel Island] sanctuary to be devoted to “no take” while environmentalists wanted 29 percent (p. 94). In short, decisions about stakeholder representation is not a technical issue—it affects “Who gets what when how.”
Another point that struck me is that in all of these cases, there is an incredibly strong desire to avoid conflict. One would assume that groups set up to protect marine ecosystems would give priority attention to issues related to fish. But the book describes how groups such as the Gulf of Mexico Program and Gulf of Mexico Alliance both, after the “lengthiest discussion,” decided to not include as one of their issue areas “fisheries and living marine resources” which seems incredible to me but they justified it on the basis that others were working on this issue. Certainly, avoidance of the most controversial issue decreases stress and controversy but it also limits the relevance of the organization. Another example is the San Juan Marine Resources Committee that decided to rely on voluntary measures in order to avoid conflict with the result that their effort did not have much impact (p. 150).
Finally, while the marine ecosystem efforts did produce some positive impacts, as one reads about the underlying threats to marine life, it is clear that the most important involve humans and human-related development and industry (shipping as well as fishing) that are huge and inexorable in nature. Thus growing populations increase demand for fish, agricultural excess nutrients contaminate waters, increased global shipping results in strikes on whales and increased noise that harms marine life, and sewage contamination from populations and developments that cluster on highly-desired (by wealthy humans) coastal areas. The book provides examples of how improved sewage treatment resulted from some of these efforts and other measures have been taken (e.g., restrictions on ship speed in areas where vulnerable species are concentrated. But the issue of scale is worrisome to me—the restrictions are often very limited in size and the scale and pervasiveness of these threats are universal and likely to overwhelm these modest efforts to cope with them.
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