Hunting & ecosystem-based management

The Minnesota DNR is committed to managing the state's natural resources using an ecosystem-based approach. What does this mean for Minnesota hunters and other conservationists? Read on to find out.

Q: How will ecosystem-based management affect my hunting?

A: Ecosystem-based management will help hunting by ensuring the long-term health of game populations. As hunters and conservationists have long known, you can't have healthy wildlife populations without healthy habitats. The goal of ecosystem-based management is to work with nature to produce healthy, functioning ecosystems, also known as habitats. If we want sustainable deer populations in the future, we need to maintain healthy forest ecosystems. If we want to hunt ducks with our grandchildren, we need healthy wetland ecosystems. It means working to maintain productive habitats for the long term to provide good hunting for this generation and the next.

Q: What is an ecosystem?

A: An ecosystem is a geographic area including all the living organisms (people, plants, animals, and microorganisms) and their physical surroundings (such as soil, water, and air). All of these elements are interconnected. Managing any one resource affects the others in that ecosystem. Ecosystems can be small (a single stand of aspen) or large (an entire watershed including hundreds of forest stands across many different ownerships), depending on what is being studied or managed. For example, an ecosystem including a bear's home range would be quite large, while the ecosystem of interest to a lake association may be a small watershed.

Q: So what does an "ecosystem-based" approach mean in the way Minnesota's natural resources are managed, and how is this different?

A: It means that we consider how our management actions affect all resources, not just individual resources (such as deer, pulpwood, or walleyes) in isolation. Ecosystem-based management also means more participation and involvement by the public, local units of government, other agencies, and the business community in natural resource education, planning, and decision-making.

Q: How will this look in the field?

A: Game populations aren't expected to change much as a result of ecosystem-based management. What hunters will see, however, is that the land owned by the Department of Natural Resources will be managed more naturally. For example, there will likely be more native grasslands and prairie pothole wetlands on wildlife management areas, and more age classes of trees on state forests.


by Roger Holmes Director, DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife

What does ecosystem-based management mean to a Minnesota hunter? As a dedicated hunter myself, I have asked that very same question. And the answer is this: Ecosystem-based management is the smartest and most cost-effective way to manage our wildlife.

Why am I so keen on ecosystem-based management? One, because it makes sense, and two, because I know for a fact that it works.

The basic idea of ecosystem-based management is that you manage ecosystems rather than specific species or disciplines. In other words, you don't manage pheasants as much as you manage the ecosystem the pheasants live in. If the ecosystem is improved, it will produce more pheasants naturally.

Such thinking is familiar to those who've been watching Minnesota's fish and wildlife habitat-based management over the past 20 years. Ecosystems are nothing more than habitats on a large scale. For example, waterfowl managers and hunters have for years known that they couldn't stem the decline in duck numbers without first protecting the wetland ecosystem, which includes uplands and watersheds. They learned you can't sustain duck populations without first sustaining the wetland ecosystem.

The overriding theme of ecosystem management is sustainability. That means preserving the entire ecosystems over the long haul to provide more recreation, a healthier environment, and stronger economies.

Recent reports of record duck numbers throughout much of their continent-wide breeding range is proof that to manage wildlife, you need to manage their ecosystems. Wet weather, combined with abundant nesting cover provided by the federal Conservation Reserve Program, have shown that wetland and grassland ecosystems are what make or break duck populations. The same is true for all other species, game and nongame.

Ecosystem-based management will ring true to those familiar with the teachings of Aldo Leopold. An environmentalist and hunter and the father of modern wildlife management, Leopold was touting ecosystem-based management 50 years ago. He called it land stewardship, but the principle was the same: The natural world is interconnected and you can't fix one part without looking at the entire system.

The DNR, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other conservation agencies and groups have already begun putting the theory into practice. The North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) is based on ecosystem-based management. So is shoreline zoning the list goes on, from Heron Lake and the lake trout restoration on Lake Superior to the bluebird recovery program and the comeback of the bald eagle.

Ecosystem-based management says that you can't just look at a single animal or even a species in isolation from all that is around it. Human activities, technological advanced, exotic introductions--even the price of corn--all affect fish, wildlife, and native plants. Which is why the best way to boost pheasant numbers, for example, is not to raise and stock birds but to influence the forces that dominate the pheasant's eco-region. Just ask the folks at Pheasants Forever, who've been a driving force to maintain CRP, which has restored nearly 2 million acres of grasslands in Minnesota alone.

Success stories like CRP and the NAWMP are just a start. As the DNR further embraces ecosystem-based management, you'll see us planning ahead more, and coordinating our activities better. You'll also see more local control and decision-making about how resources are managed. Look for the DNR to work more closely with hunters, farmers, communities, local governments, individual citizens--and our colleagues within this agency-- to ensure we're moving in the same direction. And that common goal is to conserve all the state's natural resources, while providing for sustainable recreational and economic use now and far into the future.

Ecosystem-based management is simply a common-sense approach to managing our basic natural resources--soil, air, and water--to provide decent habitat for animals, plants, and people. It's a way of building on our best traditions of resource management to do what you've asked us to do more effectively.

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