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Dan Svedarsky, Ph.D., speaks at Wildlife Services Meeting; Subject of national meeting focused on conflict between humans and wildlife
May 27, 2008

Contact: Dan Svedarsky, head, natural resources department, 218-281-8129, dsvedars@umn.edu


From the Northwest Research and Outreach Center:

A national meeting of the Wildlife Services agency
Mule deer and elk graze in Estes Park, CO
Mule deer and elk graze in Estes Park, Colo. 
was held in late May in Estes Park, Colo., to report on progress and techniques used in managing and control of certain animal species which come into conflict with humans. Wildlife Services is a program within the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and has over 1800 employers working in every state.

Around 275 attendees, mainly from the agency, met for the first time in nine years to assess progress and define strategies to meet future challenges in resolving human/wildlife conflict situations. William Clay, Deputy Administrator notes 5 major trends that are influencing this important branch of wildlife management; 1) increasing suburban and exurban development, 2) adaptable and overabundance of certain wildlife species, 3) a shift in public attitudes regarding animal welfare, 4) increasing media interest in wildlife issues, and 5) new advances in wildlife research and technology.

Wildlife management in North America has been an enviable success story worldwide. Around the turn of the century it was feared that the American bison would become extinct; white-tailed deer were very uncommon; waterfowl – particularly the wood duck- were at low numbers;  passenger pigeons – perhaps the most numerous bird on the planet at one time -  did become extinct in 1914; and whooping cranes came dangerously close to passing into history. While some species with specialized habitat requirements have become increasing rare, others have exploded in numbers due to their adaptability to humans and human influenced habitat change. Notable examples include; white-tailed deer, coyotes, raccoons, Canada geese, American robins and wild turkeys.

 “The field of wildlife and human conflict management is definitely a growth industry,” according to Dan Svedarsky, a professor of wildlife management at the University of Minnesota, Crookston and one of the invited speakers. Svedarsky is also the current president of The Wildlife Society, the professional organization to which many members of Wildlife Services belong and seek credentials as a Certified Wildlife Biologist.

It’s important that animal damage control biologists use sound science in conducting management efforts so that only target species are affected and effects on non-target species and the ecosystem are minimized. For example, the brown tree snake has become an especially troublesome exotic species on the island of Guam and has eliminated several of the native bird species there. Through research, a selective control method has been devised using dead mice dropped from helicopters which have a Tylenol-type pill inserted into the mice. After the snakes eat the mice, the chemical interferes with the reptile’s hemoglobin and its ability to carry oxygen causing the pest to suffocate. Selective control methods are developed and evaluated at the National Wildlife Research  located in Fort Collins, Colo., where research on the following topics is conducted; wildlife disease, invasive species, livestock predation, reproductive control and aviation safety. Over 100 scientists and support personnel work at the Center.

Many conflict situations are land use issues which result when people move into the habitat of adaptable animals, such as deer, bears, raccoons, and squirrels which capitalize on free food and a protection zone. “As suburbans spread into adjacent farmland and forestland or when houses or “ranchettes” are located in wildland parcels (“ex-urbanization”), this not only sets the stage for conflict situations but makes it difficult to control populations such as deer and Canada geese by hunting,” according to Svedarsky. “It can also fragment blocks of forest habitats and increase nest parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds on forest interior species such as wood thrushes and certain warblers.” Land management practices such as prescribed burning or forest harvesting are also compromised by exubanization.

Human or domestic animal disease issues that may involve a wildlife or animal carrier are becoming increasing problematic. Notable examples include; bovine tuberculosis carried by deer and its effects upon livestock herds in northwest Minnesota, hanta virus carried by small rodents, rabies carried by a number of mammals and transmittable to humans and pets, E. coli contamination of spinach in California by feral hogs which caused 3 human fatalities, Lyme’s disease carried by deer ticks in the Eastern U.S., West Nile virus, avian influenza, and others. Often disease issues are exacerbated by increased numbers and densities of certain species such as deer and elk at artificial feeding stations, increased global travel by people, and the exotic pet trade.

Certain wildlife species are capable of inflicting serious harm or even death to humans and caution is advised. Generally this occurs when animals become used to the presence of humans in park situations and when people attempt to feed them or approach too closely. While there have been no injuries to humans in Minnesota from wolves, there are now over 3,000 in the state and they can cause significant damage to livestock and pets. A rare, wolf-caused human fatality occurred in northern Saskatchewan in November of 2006 which involved a hiker in an area where wolves had been feeding on garbage and had become used to people. Bison and mountain lions have also caused serious injuries to humans in North America.

The Canada goose story is particularly interesting in the Upper Midwest and Minnesota. Attempts were commenced in the early 1970’s to establish the bird in Minneapolis and St. Paul and efforts were greeted with enthusiasm at first until geese began to reach pest proportions in gardens, lawns, and golf courses. They thrived in the diverse metro area of many lakes and wetlands and when no one wanted any additional transplants to start new populations, efforts commenced, and continue, to involve various control methods. A success story that worked only too well!

Relationships between humans and wildlife will continue to evolve as we strive to provide habitat and protection for rare and endangered species, promote sustainable harvest and habitat of species we wish to hunt and trap, attract desirable backyard species for nesting and to feeders, and repel or control those which cause some sort of conflict. These relationships will be complicated by differing views held by people as to which species are desirable or not depending on their personal experience, how they make their living, and whether they live in urban, suburban, or farm settings. People need to understand that there is a spectrum of agencies, organizations, and private entities that can assist in managing these relationships, and also that other people may have differing perceptions towards wildlife.