On the left, a thriving wetland. The right, an arid forest. (Image Credit: Sam Perrin, CC BY-SA 4.0)
Tag Archives: government
I’ve just returned from a two-week vacation in Cosa Rica. While ostensibly a holiday, if you’re an ecologist in a country where ecological conservation forms the basis of their tourism industry, it can be hard to switch off. So amongst a plethora of monkeys, iguanas, basilisks, hummingbirds and crocodiles, I noted a few things which are worth briefly discussing before we get back into our regular blogs next week.
A warning though. Whilst a fair bit of well-researched content appears on this website, the observations here are much more general, and by no means applicable to the whole country.
- The Plastic Addiction
I know this isn’t exactly a hot take. Plastic consumption is one of the world’s foremost environmental catastrophes, and if the enormous soup of plastic in the middle of the Pacific wasn’t enough to ram the point home, the four others forming around the world should be.
What surprised me here was that despite the emphasis the Costa Rican government places on the conservation of biodiversity, there appears to be no effort in the tourism industry to shy away from easily avoidable plastic use. Plastic straws and cups were in abundance, but the real mind-boggler was the use of small plastic bags to contain cutlery. Having knives and forks handed to me in new plastic casing at half the restaurants we visited was an odd experience, and one which seems easily avoidable.
However we encountered a few places which eschewed the plastic wrapping and provided cardboard straws. Hopefully this is a growing trend.
- Animal Sanctuaries
One thing Costa Rica was far from short on was recovery centers for injured animals. We visited one in Cahuita, and were impressed by the number of volunteers they had managed to attract, most seemingly without any background in zoology. Other centers had one-day volunteer programs advertised, which were often tailored to getting children involved. The centers require government permission to release any individuals back into the wild, which seems to be an effective communication pathway. Yet like all dialogues between organisations with different priorities, it produces disagreements. We heard many examples of rehabilitated animals that the government considers too used to human exposure to reintroduce.
The center we visited did seem to focus more on animal welfare than population conservation (though they certainly did not ignore the latter), and associates who have previously volunteered at these centers seem to agree. There were several examples of animals who, even with rehabilitation, were incapable of contributing to population viability, or whose injuries were not directly or indirectly caused by humans, some whose removal from the population could be considered important contributors to genetic and behavioural evolution. However staff made the excellent point that with the number of these species that receive injuries from human activity every year, the least they could do is try to treat a few injuries that weren’t.
- Conservation Laws
Costa Rica’s conservation laws prohibit the killing of many species found throughout the country. No complaints here. Many of these species are integral parts of the Costa Rican ecosystem and tourism industry. However a guide from the Caribbean side of the country was discussing his family’s traditions of hunting many of these animals, and how the government provided no alternatives to these traditional food sources when the laws were introduced. Whilst I am all for criminalising the killing of endangered species, having a government tell your family to change their lifestyle, whilst they continue practices that have a much larger impact on the native ecosystem (ongoing deforestation and commercial harvesting amongst them) must rankle somewhat.
Having said this, I live in a country where hunting quotas are strict and easy to monitor, and contact between hunters and the government is frequent. Commercial harvesting is potentially an easier way to manage sustainable population of harvested species, and a source of employment for families in need of new income.
In conclusion, I’ll reiterate that much of the above may be a product of observational bias. Bias also leads me to suggest that regardless of your thoughts on the above, you go and check out Costa Rica for yourself. It’s marvellous.
The Swedish government changed tactics at the end of the 20th century, giving incentives to farmers when there were successful wolverine reproductions in their area (Image Credit: Vojtěch Zavadil, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Paying for an Endangered Predator Leads to Population Recovery (2015) Persson et al., Conservation Letters, https://doi.org/10.1111/conl.12171
Humans have a long history of driving dangerous predators out of their backyard. Wolves and wolverines have been driven out of different parts of Europe at different points in history at the behest of farmers looking to protect their livelihood, and the Tasmanian Tiger was driven to extinction for the same reason. But with the realisation that these predators bring enormous ecosystem benefits, governments have been searching for ways to bring about co-existence between predators and locals.
This study looks at a scheme introduced by a Swedish government in 1996, where reindeer herders had previously been compensated for any wolverine related losses. The new scheme introduced compensation for successful wolverine reproductions in the area. Persson et al. decided to have a look at how it fared.
Two weeks ago, Norwegian Science Institute Artsdatabanken (ADB) announced that they would be changing the name of their invasive and alien species index. Formerly known as the Black List, the institute decided to use a name with less negative connotations, “Fremmedartslista“, loosely translated, the Alien Species list. Given this series’ focus on species from that list, it seems like an appropriate time to look at how we define the terms ‘alien’ or ‘invasive’ species.
In my previous posts on rewilding and wild boar, I talked about the effects of reintroducing species that were previously found in Norway. Now, I want to talk more about the large carnivores in Scandinavia which serve as protection against invasive species. This opinion piece is coming from an ecologist and a foreigner, so treat this like a Scandic breakfast buffet and take what you want.
Where did the growing populations of carnivores come from?
The history of Scandinavian carnivores – namely the brown bear, wolf, lynx and wolverine – is broadly similar across species. There were diverse populations until the 1800s, when humans equipped with guns and fear drove the carnivores to or over the brink of extinction. Then, around the 1970s, through migration from countries where remote populations were able to persist and/or through protective legislation, populations slowly began to recover. Now that species are growing in size, people are starting to have mixed feelings about sharing their land with hungry predators.
The Social Perspective
The great litmus test: are the carnivores in Scandinavia a menace or an important species to protect? Your response to this question could be an indication of your socio-economic background and where you live. Norwegians, particularly young people and those living in urban populations, support the rights of carnivores to exist. However, most people do not want to live near them. Rural farmers are the most likely to disapprove the growth of wild carnivore populations, citing concerns about hunting of sheep and semi-domesticated reindeer and public safety, though it is worth noting that carnivores do not tend to attack people. The last recorded bear-related death in Norway was in 1906. Despite publicly supporting the protection of carnivores, the Norwegian government is simultaneously sponsoring the culling of wolf packs and the removal of wolverine dens. Carnivores are able to access human-owned prey largely because of historic, culturally rooted practices of letting livestock graze free in the spring and summer.
The Biological Perspective
I like to think of an ecosystem as a game of Jenga. If humans continually shuffle around and remove species the whole system will collapse. While we may seem to be talking about wolves, wild boar, or the common ragweed we are actually talking about all the species near and far. The effects of adding or removing species influences what species feed on, competition between species, and secondary effects. While there are short term economic benefits to saving livestock or crops, there are long-term consequences to removing species ranging from flooding to annual payments for culling rampant deer populations. I think we should all support protecting carnivores so we can protect the ecosystems we depend on.
The Way Forward
It’s all well and good to aim for the reintroduction of predators, but without accounting for the aforementioned rural farmers division will continue to plague this issue. The tradition of free-grazing livestock may need to be rethought, and education on dealing with local presence of predators should be pushed in rural communities. Scandinavian governments will need to help with both, and conservationists will need to make an effort to connect with those on the other side of the debate, if a more diverse, stable ecosystem is to be achieved.