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E-M:/ bashing paradigms

Enviro-Mich message from anne.woiwode@sfsierra.sierraclub.org

     Response from Ben Peyton to Social Carrying Capacity discussion

______________________________ Forward Header __________________________________
Subject: bashing paradigms 
Author:  <peyton@pilot.msu.edu> at Internet
Date:    2/21/00 7:28 PM

A colleague asked if I was aware of the uproar my titled talk at the bear 
symposium was creating and was kind enough to provide me with a few of the 
interchanges.  Before you bash further, perhaps my point of view should be 
added to the targets.
Social -- or cultural -- carrying capacity is a conceptual tool, just as 
biological carrying capacity is.  No more, no less.  I'm sorry that the 
notion has created anxiety.  It shouldn't.  
The prevailing assumption of the authors I read appears to be that social 
carrying capacity (SCC) requires that the public be asked how many bears 
they want and then manage for that goal.  In fact, that is not the case. 
It isn't the number of bears but the interactions -- or the perceived 
interactions -- between the two species which is the focus of my approach 
to social carrying capacity.  The intent is to determine the level of 
interactions that are desired by, tolerated by and intolerable to affected 
stakeholder groups.  
That provides the manager with 3 groups of management targets.  1 is 
obviously the number of bears that inhabit an area -- if the number of bear 
is directly related to the positive or negative interactions.  A second is 
the interactions between people and bears that produce positive or negative 
responses (wildlife viewing, existence value, property damage).  The third 
is the attitudinal response -- and associated perceptions -- of stakeholder 
The notion of biological carrying capacity suggests two management targets:
 the habitat and the population.  Social carrying capacity suggests three.
So one -- might -- ultimately decide to increase or decrease the number of 
bear.  But changing the number of bear may not be necessary or possible or 
desirable from a natural resource perspective.  An option is to increase 
tolerance for increasing bear numbers by helping property owners learn how 
to avoid bear damage (i.e., diminish negative experiences with bear).  Or 
one might increase tolerance of and even desire for bears in an area by 
providing information to allay unnecessary fears about black bears.  SCC
helps us to conceptualize those options and to develop management strategies.
The SCC survey is not a vote, it is a diagnosis.  Minimizing issue activity 
on the part of citizens while managing for black bear is the general goal. 
It would be a bit naive to expect that people are not part of the formula 
when determining population goal levels of bear. Like it or not, people 
have invaded bear range and bear range may be invading new, developed 
territories.  As much as you might wish it, managers cannot allow 
bear/human conflicts to escalate without intervention.  That would be 
irresponsible treatment of both bear and people.  
Incidentally, the notion of social carrying capacity has been applied to 
other species -- most frequently deer.  The difficulty with Michigan deer 
management is that with extremely divergent stakeholder positions, a social 
carrying capacity doesn't exist and can't be achieved by lowering or 
raising wildlife numbers or targeting interactions (e.g., control of crop 
damage).  The only option in this case is to target human responses and try 
to develop more tolerance and compromise among differing stakeholders.
When they are too far apart, this doesn't work either. I don't need to 
point out the difficulty of doing that among Michigan citizens with the 
plethora of deer issues overheating the scene.  Social carrying capacity 
for deer is defined by default when the interest group with the greatest 
clout wins.  
My point here is that we are not "picking on bears", but rather using the 
opportunity to apply this conceptual tool to a potentially expanding black 
bear range.  Perhaps there is an opportunity to avoid some of the trauma 
with bear that we have experienced with deer. There is good reason to 
believe that as black bear harvest continues to be restricted they will 
continue to increase in number in their current range and expand their 
range to the southern portions of Michigan.  Now, rather than later, is a 
good time to explore how the public is going to react to the appearance of 
bears, how to prepare them to deal with that, and to anticipate whether 
expanding bear ranges will ever be tolerated in southern Michigan.  If you 
think this is not a good idea, research the situations in New Jersey and 
The bear program specialist in the Wildlife Bureau is trying to think 
ahead, trying to plan for events instead of waiting until issues erupt.
For example, the opportunity to manage will have essentially been lost once 
angry citizens are calling the NRC and their state legislators, and 
demanding that something be done about the presence of bears.  At the very 
least, it is likely southern MI residents will need some warning and 
preparation if black bear range is expanded.  Southern MI residents who 
move to the north seeking their place in the wilderness need to be prepared 
to accept black bears as an increasing part of that scene.  A study I did 
in 1994 suggests many are not prepared.
Setting bear population goal levels is a political process.  Application of 
a social carrying capacity approach is a bit more.  It is an integration of 
biology, communication and education, and, ultimately, politics.  The 
process requires social science data collection in order to diagnose public 
perceptions, identify opportunities for communication, determine how well 
informed preferences are, etc.  
I have no doubt that I have done nothing more than provide more targets for 
anti-management perspectives.  But if you are still inclined to do so, at 
least now you have a better understanding of what you are bashing.  Perhaps 
one of you will be good enough to post this, so others can join you in the 
Ben Peyton, Dept. of Fisheries and Wildlife 
Michigan State University, E. Lansing, MI 48824 
ph: 517/353-3236, fax: 517/432-1699

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