Lessons for Large-Mammal Conservationists
Version of Record online: 27 SEP 2002
Volume 16, Issue 5, pages 1443–1444, October 2002
How to Cite
Buskirk, S. (2002), Lessons for Large-Mammal Conservationists. Conservation Biology, 16: 1443–1444. doi: 10.1046/j.1523-1739.2002.01122.x
- Issue online: 27 SEP 2002
- Version of Record online: 27 SEP 2002
Large Mammal Restoration: Ecological and Sociological Challenges in the 21st Century. , , and , editors . 2001 . Island Press , Washington, D.C . 375 pp. $65.00 (hardcover). ISBN 1-55963-816-8 $30.00 (paperback). ISBN 1–55963–817–6.
Perhaps no conservation task is more daunting, both politically and scientifically, than the reintroduction of large mammals to areas from which they have been eliminated or reduced in abundance. Large mammals have been lost from many areas of North America because of overexploitation (e.g., American bison, Bos bison) or conflicts with humans and human enterprise (e.g. wolf, Canis lupus). Restoring the former distributions or abundances of such species requires overcoming biological, logistical, sociological, economic, and legal hurdles. In some cases, carrying out reintroductions reminds us of the conflicts that led to the extirpation of the taxon in the first place. In other cases, modern environments may not be as suitable as those in which Europeans found the species of concern. However, the public's interest and support for such reintroductions, and the willingness of agencies and private entities to fund and undertake these projects, have increased in the last two decades, and it is likely that many more such efforts will be made in coming decades. Thus, a comprehensive description and appraisal of past experiences is a welcome addition to the literature.
Large Mammal Restoration treats a number of conceptual and practical issues related to restoring large mammals, and it documents the experiences of various organizations that have tried to do so. This is a tremendously valuable resource for anyone considering restoring large (or small) mammals (or other vertebrates). It would be impossible to place a dollar value on the lessons learned and related by the authors, but the overall combined cost of the programs described runs well into eight digits. For this reason alone, this book was worth publishing. The multiauthored book is the outcome of the 1999 symposium held at the annual meeting of The Wildlife Society. It comprises 16 chapters in four sections: feasibility, practice, human dimensions, and abetting natural colonization. The chapters take three basic forms: conceptual issues (2 chapters), feasibility studies (3 chapters), and accounts of restoration efforts or technical aspects of them (11 chapters). Thirteen of the chapters describe restoration efforts, all of them in North America. Interspersed among all are four briefer case histories or essays, which draw upon geographically varied experiences. One of the cases describes the near eradication of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) from Kentucky (N < 1000 in 1927, with deer present in four of 120 counties), followed by prohibitions of hunting, translocations within the state, introductions from distant sites, and regulated hunting (Gassett, case 1). Today, Kentucky has an estimated 690,000 deer—a phenomenal success of restoration to some, a problem of another sort to others.
An introductory chapter by Noss outlines the broad justification for restoring large mammals, and a concluding piece by Maehr explores the place of large-mammal restoration in evolution and wildlife management. In his introduction, Noss argues, with his accustomed passion, for the restoration of large mammals, particularly carnivores, to their former ranges and the preservation of wildlands to support them. Noss repeats a set of arguments that have become nearly a mantra for some conservation biologists: large mammals, particularly carnivores, exert top-down trophic and competitive influences on communities and ecosystems that shape the most basic features of plant and vertebrate communities. This, then, becomes the justification for the protection of huge land areas required by large carnivores and their prey. The same sentiment is echoed by various authors throughout the book, showing how firmly these beliefs have become imbedded in the minds of conservation biologists, in spite of their very tentative support by empirical data.
In a conceptual chapter, Gaydos and Corn (chapter 7) describe animal health issues at individual and population levels. One of the most important topics receives relatively weak treatment here. Their review of the problems associated with capturing, immobilizing, screening, and transporting animals is so brief and general that it is not of much use. Perhaps an account with sufficient detail to be useful would have been excessively long. Among feasibility studies, the clearest and most quantitative approach is that provided by McClafferty and Parkhurst (chapter 4), who describe the two-pronged strategy of habitat identification and socioeconomic assessment used by workers in Virginia in considering whether to restore elk (Cervus elaphus). Agencies contemplating such a feasibility study would do well to consider this chapter as a model. The accounts of restoration efforts per se, including those to put free-ranging elk into Kentucky (chapter 5) and wolves into the northern Rockies (chapter 6) and desert Southwest (chapter 8) are rich with tough lessons learned about biology and sociology. Perhaps the most important of these lessons is articulated in a new criterion proposed by Maehr (final chapter) to indicate whether a reintroduction attempt should be considered seriously: the public (and, I suspect, key stakeholders) must be sufficiently supportive of the project to avoid conflicts with reintroduced animals.
The third section of the book, “Abetting Natural Colonization,” was the least fulfilling for me, inasmuch as it deals with a wide range of mammal conservation issues with varying relationships to restoration or natural colonization. These chapters do include some interesting reading but do not strengthen the conceptual focus of the book.
One important topic not addressed in any chapter is that of taxonomic and ecological equivalency. When translocation is contemplated, geographic ranges have been vacated and animals genetically and ecotypically identical to the original occupants are presumably not available. What do biologists, agency decision-makers, and the public consider aesthetically, taxonomically, genetically, and ecologically acceptable substitutes for the original forms—another ecotype, subspecies, or even species? The chapter on translocation of plains bison to Wood Buffalo National Park, guaranteeing hybridization with wood buffalo, hints at the biological sensitivities, but the subject deserves its own treatment. North American wildlife conservation is replete with examples of how systematists, ecologists, wildlife managers, and stakeholder groups view this issue, and a fascinating tale could have been told about our diverse collective tastes.
The editing of this volume is very good, the production values are mostly good (several figures are coarsely reproduced or are difficult to fully decipher), and the index is comprehensive and useful. Large Mammal Restoration should find ready acceptance among agency biologists and university libraries. It also contains examples that will be useful to teachers of conservation biology and wildlife biology. For agencies and private entities contemplating restoration of large mammals to their former ranges in complex biological and socioeconomic settings, this is a must-read book. Careful consideration of Large Mammal Restoration: Ecological and Sociological Challenges in the 21st Century, preferably early in the planning process, may remove or anticipate barriers in what will nonetheless likely be a process fraught with challenges.