The Netherlands is a densely populated nation, but could be a good example of how to practice wildlife management in the coming century. Rapid human population growth on the planet is creating pressure on wildlife populations, and many places will thus come to resemble the present situation in The Netherlands.
In such situations, it is essential for good practice that all those with interests in wildlife are able to participate as full partners. It is surprising that the Dutch, otherwise so practiced at negotiation and consensus-building in their heavily urbanized country, are having difficulties with this model, because interested parties do not always regard each other as valid partners, says dr. Ron Ydenberg, Professor in Wildlife Management, at Wageningen University, Netherlands.
The Earth’s human population is rapidly approaching the ecological carrying capacity of the planet, and no other issue will have as great an impact on the quality of live in this and the next centuries, stated Ydenberg in his inaugural lecture, entitled "Cooperative Wildlife Management In The 21st Century." Because conflicts between humans and wildlife occurs when and wherever human populations grow, sustainable wildlife management is an issue that among all the others must also be addressed. Professor Ydenberg notes that even in his sparsely-populated home country Canada, some of the biggest management issues are similar to those in The Netherlands, because they often occur in cities. The Dutch experience provides a good basis to expand scientific knowledge of wildlife management in densely-populated places, which will become necessary as the world continues to urbanize.
Essential for good practice is that all those with interests in wildlife are able to participate as full partners in wildlife management. As an example, Ydenberg points to successful models of small-scale fisheries management, such as occur for wild sockeye salmon in the British Columbia’s Queen Charlotte Islands. Here a consensus on ‘escapement’ (the number of fish allowed to avoid capture and thus spawn) in combination with a participatory process of community involvement has been very successful at sustaining populations, and sharing the catch. Similar models could be developed to help with the regulation of wild boar and goose populations that are increasing in The Netherlands.
Wildlife management has changed greatly over past decades. Previously, it concerned itself entirely with quarried species, with setting hunting and fishing regulations, habitat modification such as burning and clearing, and the extermination of predators. However, legislative changes in many countries have greatly expanded the type and number of species qualifying as ‘wildlife’, and its practice has changed to focus on conservation. Among many other things, this means that predators are being reintroduced or allowed to return, and introduced species are being removed. The rainbow trout is a prime example of the latter, as it has been introduced to lakes and rivers throughout the world to provide sport angling. However, in many systems it brings with it strong changes that can negatively affect endemic species.
As prime example of the first, Ydenberg points to the reintroduction of the wolf to Yellowstone National Park in the U.S.A., which set off a chain-reaction of positive effects on the entire ecosystem. The danger posed by the wolves forced elk to greatly restrict their grazing activities, which in turn allowed thickets of aspen and willow to regenerate, for the first time in 50 years. This in turn supported the return of the beaver, also long absent in Yellowstone. Beavers and their dams soon affected the hydrology, which in turn affected nutrient dynamics, which in turn supported the return of butterfly species also long absent in the park. No one anticipated the power and reach of these effects.
Lessons for The Netherlands
These examples, including the importance of partnerships, could well be applied in The Netherlands. For example, large numbers of wild geese now winter and breed in the country. Some, like the barnacle goose have greatly changed their migratory habits and have a much later spring departure, which has increased the conflict with agriculture. Ydenberg suggests that a contributing cause could be the explosive growth over the past two decades in the Baltic Sea of sea eagles, where geese stopover while on migration.
The negative effects of geese on agriculture could be combated by encouraging the return of the sea eagle, which would reduce the safety advantage that prolonged residence gives to geese. If as powerful as the effects of wolves on elk in Yellowstone, such practices could replace deeply unpopular procedures such as gassing large numbers of geese. Ydenberg and students and colleagues will be working on these and related questions.
Ron Ydenberg (Vancouver 1955) was born in Canada to recently-emigrated Dutch parents. He studied at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, and spent 18 months studying in The Netherlands, at the Rijksuniversiteit in Groningen. He subsequently obtained a D.Phil. at Oxford University, and returned to Simon Fraser University, where he is currently Director of the Centre for Wildlife Ecology. Since 2007 he has been Professor by Special Appointment of Wildlife Management at Wageningen University. Professor Ydenberg’s chair is supported by the Royal Dutch Hunter’s Association (KNJV).
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