Natural Regulation Of Wildlife Is Voodoo Science

Natural regulation is the theory that if man simply butted out of manipulating our wildlife, including all species of animals and vegetation, that it would seek it's own balance. What is puzzling about such a theory is that nobody seems to have a grasp on just what defines that balance. Perhaps this is the key to natural regulation. In addition to such confounding notions as balance, most subscribers to natural balance are not willing to calculate the human population and its effects into the equations to seek balance of nature. I'm not sure how that can be done. We do know that far too many blame the human race for any perceived failures of wildlife systems or any component of them.

The universal component of natural regulation appears to be that regardless of what happens nature is balancing itself and all the more reason for man to butt out, often leading to such things as the call for more "wildlands", parks, preserves, stricter regulation as pertains to development or the exploitation of natural resources. Sometimes this encroachment on mans' liberties reveals itself in forced private land procurement.

This theoretical natural regulation and the indefinite personification of confusion it exudes can best be discovered in writings of a National Park Service (NPS) document that dates back to around the mid-1990s when the theory of natural regulation began to get a foothold in discussions among scientists and environmentalists setting the stage for the introduction of such a theory into our schools used to indoctrinate. (This is also about the same time as Canada gray wolves were introduced into Yellowstone National Park (YNP) and Central Idaho.)

In discussions in this NPS paper about managing elk on the Northern Range of YNP, the authors relate that, "For decades it was commonly thought that the elk were 'overgrazing' the Northern Range". Because of this unproven suspicion, elk were slaughtered by the thousands and/or moved to other locations believing these actions were saving the vegetation.

As one might expect, the slaughter and transport of elk raised opposition from the public. According to the NPS the 15,000 approximate elk at that time that were wintering on the Northern Range had been systematically chopped to an estimated 4,500 elk. It was at this point that Yellowstone managers began to implement the theory of natural regulation.

What I find extremely interesting and revealing is how this transition from slaughter and transport, based on the notion that too many elk were eating up all the vegetation, to the decision to employ natural regulation, is described.

"When control efforts resulted in the slaughter of thousands of elk in the 1960s, a public outcry led to hearings held by U.S. Senator McGee (Wyoming) and reductions came to an end in 1968. At that time, the number of elk wintering on the Northern Range was down to about 4,500.

Since then, wildlife managers at Yellowstone and throughout the United States have come to recognize each species’ ability to “naturally” regulate its own number when we do not intervene unduly through our land use and other activities."

While this may not be the scientific document to detail the motivation of the switch from slaughter and transport to natural regulation, take notice that there is not a single mention that the driving force behind the switch was scientific. One would assume that such a drastic change in wildlife management philosophy would require an official statement even if it were nothing more than to say science drove them to it. The question is, did science have anything to do with it or was it simply because of "a public outcry"? In addition, we should ask if this was really a change at all or was it merely a means to an end?

What we also see in the block quote above, is our first indication that this natural regulation has no defined boundaries or limitations. NPS says that Yellowstone managers and wildlife managers "throughout the United States" somehow, "come to recognize" that wildlife species will self regulate. And here's the kicker, "when we do not intervene unduly through our land use and other activities."

Here this vague claim leaves to someone's judgment what is "unduly". Notice it doesn't say that managers can't interfere with wildlife management. The perpetuated myth being that if man was removed from the planet earth, it would become a nirvana of Disney proportions. The indication here is that natural regulations requires the control of what man will be allowed to do.

This is only a hint as to the Voodoo in the theory of natural regulation. Read further what it says about what determines "balance".

"When the process of natural regulation is permitted to take place, there’s no “right” number of elk for the Northern Range. Instead, the elk population fluctuates over time as its birth and death rates are affected by a combination of factors, including winter severity, the quantity and quality of available forage, emigration, parasites, disease, and predation by other animals. Elk are also subject to hunting when they leave the park."

The door to this natural regulation is being left wide open evoking the question that if

natural regulation is the theory that species of wildlife can "self-regulate" or "balance itself", then how can the NPS state that there is no "right" number of elk or any other species?

To further muddy the water on natural regulation, the NPS further states that, "It’s obviously not appropriate for all animals in all parks, or in any situation where it is necessary to protect human life or property." So when is natural regulation appropriate? And who is to determine appropriateness and the situations where human life and property are to be protected? Surely, whoever is in charge of that job description would be considered failing miserably by some people who have been threatened by large predators and/or had their property destroyed by predators and other wildlife.

I will remind readers the first thing I said that Voodoo Science could best be characterized as being deceptively simple, almost magical, solutions or ideas. To add to the deception, the NPS tells us that "But three decades of experience have shown that, combined with regulated hunting in the surrounding national forests, natural regulation has controlled the size of the elk population." I'm confused. Were we not just told by the NPS that first, there were believed to be too many elk, so they got rid of them? That doesn't strike me as being natural regulation. Then we are told that there is no "right" number of elk. If NPS decided around 1995 to implement natural regulation, how can there be 3 decades of experience in natural regulation?

The point of all this is the deliberate confusion, the "deceptively simple", and "magical solutions" that always provides wildlife managers an out. If there can be no "right" number of elk then there can be no "wrong" wildlife management strategy. Isn't that really what this is all about?

Natural regulation is neither natural nor is it regulated as people are led to believe. The NPS went to great lengths in this writing to explain how that having 30,000 elk in Yellowstone and 15,000 of those wintering on the Northern Range were not having a negative effect on vegetation and other wildlife. And yet many of these same managers are today claiming that wolves are necessary to "balance" a wildlife system because elk are destroying plants and vegetation as well as causing erosion that leads to the muddying and silting of rivers and streams. Does natural regulation allow managers to have things both ways?

Getting Congress involved in the theory of natural regulation resulted in setting the stage for full implementation. With a very non specific and non scientific model to follow, natural regulation has an answer for everything and no person or portioned plan is wrong. How does one argue against that?

Nearly all the planks are laid in place that will give state and federal wildlife managers the backing of Congress and the Federal Government to implement a natural regulation wildlife management plan. All that is needed is to claim control over all hunting, trapping and fishing. While the "deceptive" and "magical" natural regulation plan has no right or wrong methods, the NPS says it won't work without control over hunting, trapping and fishing, along with a laundry list of other factors that affect wildlife.

"But while a policy of natural regulation may work for elk on the Northern Range, it’s not appropriate in all wildlife management situations. National Park Service policy and federal legislation will continue to require intervention in certain circumstances — for example, to restore wolves and native fish, to suppress exotic plants and animals, to fight fire in specified situations, and to cull bison. Hunting on public lands adjacent to the park can also be used to complement natural regulation. The challenge is to pay careful attention to the consequences of ecosystem processes while resisting the temptation to step in to “fix a problem” that may be more complex or of a different type than first appears."

There is no "natural" in natural regulation. These managers cannot resist the need to interfere with wildlife management. What they are after is "regulation". Natural Regulation is all regulation and no natural.

The attractive part of natural regulation in the hands of environmentalists is that it fits their narrative perfectly. No right or wrong answers and the demand to be in control of every facet of wildlife management is any Marxist environmentalist's dream.

Perhaps the simplest way to describe natural regulation is how it was described by the NPS – "as much philosophical as scientific."

Tom Remington

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