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E-M:/ bashing paradigms
Enviro-Mich message from firstname.lastname@example.org
Response from Ben Peyton to Social Carrying Capacity discussion
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Subject: bashing paradigms
Author: <email@example.com> 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
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
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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