Incidental management of American wildlife


Wildlife has benefited tremendously from intentional conservation practices and management techniques that have been developed through the years.

Wildlife departments, land managers and hunt clubs make good management choices every day, with the ultimate goal to make things better for wildlife. We plant food plots, follow the game laws and set aside sanctuaries. Those are the things that we can control. But there are many factors that we have no control over. Some may offer incidental results.

Wildlife management has really been a huge American success story. We've been able to bring some species back, practically from the brink of extinction, partly by consciously implementing practices and techniques that proved to be favorable for their expansion, and partly by accident, or what I like to call "incidental management."

Look at the white-tailed deer, for instance. At the turn of the century, deer were scarce in this part of the state. The existence of small farms, extensive logging and sustenance hunting had changed the landscape, and deer had retreated to the vast river swamps of the Lowcountry. There were no game laws and no incentives to practice conservation.

Then social and governmental actions brought on the Great Depression, and it changed everything. Sharecroppers and small farmers gave up and moved to town. The landscape started to change. Abandoned farm fields reverted to woodlands. Fewer people lived out in the country. It was an "accidental" change, and it helped to bring the deer and other wildlife back.

Conservation of natural resources gained momentum because we started to realize that we were losing our wildlife. Game laws were passed, and lands were set aside for wildlife. It didn't happen overnight, but the landscape changed enough for the white-tailed deer to come back to this part of the state. The old fields gave deer new habitat, and new game laws gave them some protection.

Timber production has been another factor in wildlife management and the expansion of the deer population. Governmental policies from the soil bank era gave farmers the financial incentive to retire poorly producing farm land and plant trees. Thousands of acres were planted in fast-growing loblolly pines. The pine plantations provided almost instant habitat for deer, and it is a form of accidental management. Now, don't get me wrong here. The pine plantations were managed for timber production, but the benefits to wildlife have been incidental.

Market conditions have favored short-rotation pine production. Deer are a species most likely to use younger-aged pine habitats. Timber companies have expanded their holdings, especially here in the South. They have also tended to keep their lands in timber production and seldom convert their land to other uses, which produces a long-term benefit to wildlife.

Governmental regulation of wetlands has also been another huge benefit to wildlife and the white-tailed deer. Wetlands have been recognized for their value in flood control, navigation and groundwater recharge. Protecting wetlands from development has given these vital habitats a type of incidental management in that they may not be fundamentally changed or altered. Wetland drainages also tend to offer travel corridors that connect wildlife habitats.

I guess the commodities market could also be another type of accidental management for wildlife. Farmers don't plant soybeans, corn and wheat just for fun. They plant those crops for the market. It's just incidental that wildlife benefit from those crops, especially the deer. I guess it's also accidental that our climate and soils are favorable to those crops too, at least sometimes.

Coyotes are a relatively new factor in our area. They did not exist here in the past, but the fact is that they are here now. It doesn't matter now if they were brought here or came on their own. Their existence here and their impact is certainly accidental and incidental. Wildlife managers did not introduce them. Studies have shown that coyotes can have a significant impact on deer herds. Doe harvest should be watched carefully until the coyote's impact is better understood. We do not know how they impact turkeys and other wildlife populations.

There are certainly many other incidental factors that have affected wildlife and the land. I've touched on just a few.