Wildlife management has been shifting to an ecosystem approach for 50 years. In the early 1900’s and before, wildlife management was done species by species. If more deer were desired, that was the focus of management. If more ruffed grouse were desired, effort focused on that species.
Aldo Leopold revolutionized management thinking with his 1933 Game Management textbook. He encouraged a shift from autecology to synecology. Autecology is narrowly focused on single species without concern for other species or impacts of its management on the ecosystems. Synecology is focused on the ecosystem with attention toward improving conditions for wildlife communities.
Today the Michigan DNR uses a synecology approach more extensively. It considers a multitude of species when making habitat management decisions but continues emphasis on selected hunted species. Changing the cultural mindset of the public and staff is a slow difficult process.
Howard Meyerson reported that a National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife Related Recreation found 39 percent of Michigan residents watch wildlife and 21 percent hunt and/or fish. The Michigan DNR spends 95 percent of its wildlife management budget for hunting and fishing management and 5 percent to support nongame wildlife management.
A 2011 survey by the US Fish and Wildlife Service found 71.8 million people engage in wildlife watching, while 33 million fish and 13.7 million hunt wildlife. Correspondingly watchers spend $54.9 billion annually, fishers spend $41.8 and hunters spend $33.7 billion.
Interest in wildlife is shifting toward watching from hunting. There is a management need for both to maintain healthy ecosystems. Deer and rabbit abundance damages ecosystems because we have reduced predator populations to unhealthy ecosystem levels. That was a result of autecology practices. The synecology practice of allowing wolves to survive in ecosystem is controversial to our traditional autecology mindset.
Unfortunately most people are not aware of autecology or synecology. Our culture remains focused on autecology game management instead of the synecology ecosystem management. Public focus is often focused on “What I want from the environment” instead of supporting healthy ecosystem management. Wildlife biologists strive for synecology practices but public pressure and support lags behind.
Leopold’s book is revolutionary but dry reading. What Aldo Leopold described almost 100 years ago is still a new idea compared with hundreds of years of wildlife management. We tend to follow practices and focus money on how things were previously done instead of changing our culture toward ecosystem nature niche management.
The question “why staff energy is devoted most heavily to hunted species,” when more of the public watches instead of hunts is not easy and creates uneasiness. Some hunters do not want money they spend on hunting licenses used on non-hunting programs. Some watchers do not want nongame money spent on programs that also supports hunting. Both are essential for healthy ecosystem management. We had an opportunity to approve a tax on sporting equipment like binoculars that would support watching wildlife management programs. The public voted no but hunters generally support hunting taxes.
Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at firstname.lastname@example.org Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433. 616-696-1753.