Without systems, life would be chaos.

Yet most of the time, we barely notice the systems in our lives. Until they don’t work… like when the power goes out.

Even then, we don’t stop to consider the whole system behind the power supply. We just want the power back on.

Sometimes we don’t see the value of a system. It may be because we’re not familiar with the industry. Or perhaps we only see a small segment and not the whole picture.

To understand why a system was put into place, we need to look at the history. Why was the system needed in the first place? What wasn’t working? What goal needed to be accomplished?

The first wildlife management systems were set in place long before any of us were alive.

Let’s take a look at the history that brought those systems into being. Then follow it through to the conditions faced today.

A Step Back to See the Progression of Events

To do that, we need to look way back…

Over the past 400 years, human ‘progress’ forever changed the face of North America.

Wide stretches of untamed landscapes were overtaken and developed as humans swept west across the continent.

Cities. Agriculture. Forestry. Mining. Massive regions of wildlife habitat destroyed. The rest fragmented by highways, railroads and hydro corridors.

Fur-bearing animals were over-hunted and over-trapped for the value of their pelts. Driven to the brink of extinction. Some… wiped out completely.

Once abundant wildlife was decimated. Forced to live in a limited and fragment habitat.

We can’t undo the past… but fortunately, the story didn’t end there.

Were Trappers the Original Conservationists?

The lustrous beaver pelt started it all. Hundreds of years of satisfying European demand took a toll on the North American beaver.

Years of beaver-trapping-free-for-alls nearly wiped out our buck-toothed rodent.

As their numbers dwindled, trappers noticed other disturbing changes creeping throughout the environment.

Nature’s ecosystems are complex. One small change sends a ripple effect across the whole habitat. As the beaver disappeared the wetlands dried up. Marshland vegetation withered and died. Then the birds and frogs and other little critters depending on marshy plants to survive… vanished too.

History shows that some trappers realized beavers were on the verge of extinction and sounded the alarm. As far back as the early 1800’s they started pushing for trapping limits.

About 1860, laws were introduced to govern trapping. But no one enforced the new laws, so the carnage continued.

A Change in Attitude

However, all was not lost. Attitudes about the welfare of wildlife were changing for the better.

Finally, in 1916 strict controls were put in place. Sweeping measures designed to curb the waste of our natural resources covered:
• Licenses
• Length of seasons
• Habitat protection

But most importantly, hunting and trapping of endangered species was banned.

The modern wildlife management industry was born.

The government appointed game wardens (conservation officers predecessors) to enforce the new laws. Wildlife habitats were preserved and safe-guarded. Efforts were made to find endangered species and reintegrate them into healthy environments.

These positive measures met with dramatic results. Despite being near-extinction, beavers and other fur-bearing populations recovered and thrived.
Today, most fur-bearing species are not only healthy… but abundant in numbers. [1]

The Learning Never Ends

Since the early days of conservation, our understanding of wildlife has grown exponentially. We’ve progressed from casual ‘arm-chair knowledge’ to now producing hundreds of sophisticated, evidence-based data papers a year. [2]

Intensive studies have been conducted on all fur-bearing animals. From monitoring their behavior to studying their biology and habitat… and everything in between.
Studying wildlife is never easy.

By nature, fur-bearing mammals are quite secretive. Most are nocturnal. The darkness gives them some protection from larger predators looking for supper.
Despite these hurdles, Canada still managed to produce a number of valuable studies over the years. One in particular about fishers, influenced the wildlife management industry for years. (Strickland and Douglas 1981) [3]

Studies built on one another. Biologists began to untangle the complicated relationships between each species and the entire ecosystem. They discovered that quality habitats were crucial to each species survival.

All these studies helped them better understand the natural resources in our country. Now, instead of concentrating on a single factor, biologists take a broader perspective to maintaining the ecosystem as a whole.

But one lesson researchers discovered was consistent across the board:

• when wildlife management is left to nature… nature is cruel.

Nothing Stays the Same

You often hear of the balance of nature. But in reality, the balance fluctuates.

Change is an inevitable part of life and it’s no different within a habitat. The environment changes from season to season… year to year:
• trees grow, mature, die and disintegrate
o more or less sunlight reaching the forest floor changes the ground cover
• creeks slowly change shape as their banks erode away during run-off season
– trees topple from erosion but new vegetation sprouts on the other side
• weather patterns vary
– summers can be hot and dry—or cool and damp—or somewhere in between
– winters can be harsh with lots of snow—average—or even mild
• fires, floods and droughts disrupt the whole environment quickly
• insect infestations destroy vegetation,
– increases the competition for food

These on-going habitat changes affect wildlife population levels as well.

For example when the summer is hot and dry, vegetation growth is stunted. It doesn’t provide as much food. When food is scarce, wildlife species have fewer offspring.

On the other hand, an excellent growing season produces an abundance of quality food. During these times, animals have a higher number of offspring in each litter.
As mentioned earlier, everything within an ecosystem interacts. A population spike creates one set of problems. A crash creates another.
Too many beavers creates unwanted flooding. But with too few beavers, the wetlands dry out. Neither situation is ideal. Both cause damage to the ecosystem and other plant and animal species suffer.

The Outward Beauty of Nature Shrouds the Reality Our Wildlife Face Within

The continual change in environment means that in any given year the conditions can be just right for a population to spike. However, there is a limit to the number of species the habitant can manage… and maintain healthy wildlife. When species outgrow their environment, it never ends well.

Search for a New Home
• Some spread out into new territory in search of food. But human expansion limits access to other suitable habitats.
• Raises the probability of human-wildlife conflicts.

• In population booms, animals quickly wipe out the food sources in their territory.
o destroying endangered plants.
o ruining roots systems and damaging their habitat.
• As they hunker down for winter, they slowly starve as the food runs out.
o seeing an animal that clearly starved to death is heart-breaking.

• Overcrowded living conditions create ideal conditions for disease to run rampant. The population crashes.
o Animal wasting from diseases is not humane.

Feast and famine. Boom and busts. Highs and Lows. There are no happy endings to population spikes in wildlife. But it’s reality when nature is in charge.
This is where the Conservation Authority plays a vital role.

Plans by the Numbers

Conservation authorities know the numbers.

They know the carrying capacity of wildlife habitats under their domain. The carrying capacity is the total number of healthy wildlife a particular environment can sustain. The keyword being ‘healthy’.

The carrying capacity isn’t a fixed number. Because as we saw, as the environment fluctuates from year to year.

This is why conservation authorities collect and compare data year after year. They map out wildlife ecosystems. They have their own biological research tools and wildlife monitoring systems. They get real world ‘boots on the ground’ input from trappers and conservation officers… even from the general public who love to share their pictures.

In addition… conservation authorities from across North America meet regularly to share their knowledge and discuss their findings.
It’s only after all the information is compiled and considered that conservation authorities create a plan of action.

The Key to Understanding Wildlife Management

ALL organisms have more offspring can survive.* This includes wildlife.

It’s how species survive for the long term.

Even in the harshest times… when food supplies are at the lowest… and bigger predators scrounge every last hiding spot… there’s an increased probability that the species will survive to produce the next generation.

As the key fact to understanding wildlife management, it’s worth repeating:
“all wildlife produce more offspring than can survive.”

This is true even when you account for species taken as food by larger predators. Most years there will be a surplus of wildlife. There won’t be enough food or enough room to sustain all the offspring that come along.

So what happens to the surplus?

This is why Wildlife Management Systems are in place.

Wildlife Management Systems

The Conservation Authorities have a variety of methods to monitor and analyze wildlife populations, their habitat and ecosystems.
Their plan of action to sustain healthy wildlife populations covers a number of objectives:
• protect the habitat
• even out the population boom and busts
• sustain the biodiversity of the ecosystem (the variety of plants and animals and their interaction)
• preserve endangered species

Our wildlife management systems have been very successful. Most years, wildlife populations produce a surplus.

Trapping as a Wildlife Management Tool
One tool wildlife authorities use to manage surplus populations is trapping.

Removing a prescribed number (numbers set by Conservation Authorities) of surplus wildlife each year, prevents species from outgrowing their environment.
Still, some years, conditions will be ripe for a population spike… but with population control measures in place, the spike isn’t as dramatic.

Without the dramatic increase, animals won’t eat themselves out of house and home. Destroy their habitat. Or face an agonizing death in an overcrowded den… ravaged by disease.

Wildlife suffers less when populations remain relatively steady.

Trapping Preserves Endangered Species
Not only can an exploding population destroy themselves and their habitat… it can lead to the demise of an unrelated species.

To better explain this, let’s look at an example:

It’s not hard to imagine the rabbit population exploding.

An abundance of rabbits attract more foxes. Before long the rabbits nibble away all the vegetation. This damages their habitat and affects other species who depend on the same food. As the food runs out, the rabbit population crashes.

With the rabbits gone, the foxes need to find a new source of food. In their search, they come across some piping plover nests on the beach. Foxes don’t know the piping plover is endangered… they just want to eat. The eggs in the nests help ease their hunger. But it spells disaster for the piping plover.

Do you see how a population explosion of one species leads directly to the demise of a completely unrelated species? It’s not a good ending to the story. In this case, it’s not the fox’s fault. They’re just doing what they were born to do.

Conservation authorities understand how easily this happens when a population gets out of control.

The Big Picture of Wildlife Management
Wildlife management systems are about maintaining healthy and productive wildlife for the long term.

Ensuring all wildlife survive and thrive for our future generations to enjoy.

History shows us this doesn’t happen on its own. Long ago, before the complete change of the North American landscape it may have been a different story. But we can’t change the past.

What we can do is protect and maintain what we have now.

Nature is a complex web of interaction. Ecosystems are in a delicate balance. Wildlife authorities analyze the big picture before creating action plans.
When wildlife populations are stable, the habitat is protected. The whole ecosystem stays healthy… and better able to sustain the biodiversity of the habitat for the long term.

That is what wildlife management is all about.


[1] – A Transformation in Trapping- by Nathan Roberts and Colleen Olfenbuttel Published in The Wildlife Professional-Jul/Aug 2019

[2] – https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170420093732.htm

[3] – Strickland M.A, Douglas C.W. The status of fisher in North America and its management in southern Ontario. Chapman J.A., Pursley D., editors.