Traditional wildlife management is based upon an assumption of consumptive use.
With consumptive use as a goal, habitat is managed to produce a healthy wildlife population with some species targeted for harvest. Healthy habitat produces a surplus of the targeted species, the ones desirable for human use. The surplus is available for consumption, with no net loss of the base population.
This scenario is a win-win situation. More animals overall and also more available for harvest. Since consumption requires killing the animal being consumed, the sacrifice of the individual life of an animal is accepted, but the welfare of the target species, whether it be a herd, flock or family group, is enhanced.
The Endangered Species Act has helped to promote the plight of numerous species which have been or are threatened and endangered to the point that the species could become extinct. But, the philosophy of the endangered species act tends to promote the welfare of each animal as an individual. This is appropriate if a species’ population dwindles to double digits.
The killing of an individual animal listed as endangered is considered a “take” and it is illegal. That the killing of an individual animal undermines the welfare of a species seems intuitively obvious to any observer, educated in wildlife management or not.
Unfortunately, there is a counter-intuitive component built into the issue of “take.” Management activities that promote the welfare of the species often require risking death or even guaranteeing death of one or more individual animals.
Therefore, the killing of a limited number of individual animals should be allowed when the action taking place ultimately enhances the survival of the species as a whole, but this is not the case.
Most recently, the issue of habitat improvement work related to enhancement of California tiger salamander breeding habitat has come into play. Land stewards who wish to rebuild dams and deepen stock ponds to enhance tiger salamander breeding opportunities are foreclosed from doing do as the issuance of a permit requires that there be no take. This type of conservation strategy is referred to as avoidance or minimization of take. In fact, this strategy can backfire.
Brush that provides a sanctuary for Alameda whipsnake and many other species, should be thinned periodically to produce optimum habitat. Burning is often the prefered method, but mechanical clearing, crushing or pruning are other techniques that produces results.
Unfortunately, none of these options can currently be used by land stewards for fear that an individual snake will be killed. Under current rules, there are few if any options that will allow a permit necessary to take one animal under these circumstances.
If this type of thinking creeps into the minds of some traditional wildlife managers and the welfare of an individual animal is raised above the welfare of habitat supporting the species in general, we have a big problem.
Habitat may not be warm and cuddly, but proper management of the critical habitat for a species must take priority over the welfare of individual animals.