Conservation – we’re all in this as one

ESCANABA — You’d think having over four decades of enjoying a passion for outdoors recreation would generate a knowledge that I’ve seen it all. I’ve had the opportunity to pursue all sorts of fin, feather or fur for consumption, having started totally as a recipient of the privilege and taking it for granted. I joined in conservation as a hands-on volunteer when things weren’t going as I thought they should and wanted to find out why and then perhaps make a change.

Conservation is planned management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect. It is also an effort to assure the same quality opportunities exist for future generations. While it is a hobby, many people like myself treat it as their highest outside passion beyond home and family.

It is intriguing see sit down today and listen to the views of the younger generation of natural resource managers, and realize their base level of intelligence is at par or better than those gone by. Each encounter provides another opportunity to learn while at the same time reminding me how little I still know.

With what is happening today with increased findings and ripple effects impacting wildlife, I also realize most of it is getting beyond my ability to comprehend and, at times, worry what will become of the glorious opportunity we all share here in the heritage of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It’s difficult to appreciate long term needs and goals of resolution when we live in such an instant gratification society. By today’s standards, there should be a data base that addresses any new problem finds and plug into an application for an instant fix. This way of managing natural resources is fine for gaining information, but is not applicable for all situations. It will take the newer generations that combine new technology with a good background of historical factors and the ability to map out a plan that works towards success of long term goals.

Take wildlife habitat for instance.

There has been awareness of a need to enhance natural sustainability of wildlife in having adequate food, water, shelter and space that will balance carrying capacity of normal times with seasons of disruption. The whitetail deer is a prime example in how they are so susceptible to (seasonal) environmental changes. No matter what is done in regulating seasons and quotas, whatever remains as a base population is mostly controlled by what mother nature provides.

Efforts to improve existing habitat in the U.P. have been on the table since 2000, shortly after the impact of increased prevalence of bovine tuberculosis in the northern Lower Peninsula and back-to-back severe winters in 1995-96. To date, a change from the initial theoretical approach to managing habitat to a more scientific program has developed and is really destined to accomplish goals. The key factor is public education and then diverting away from the expectation that government is responsible for the majority of adjustment, to assigning it to key players which turns out to be private land owners that are not commercial timber producers. Government has been innovative in developing support programs that not only educate these same land owners, but have models and programs to bring best possible results and reduce costs.

What is also a current and intense situation with potential changes are those difficulties that no one could foresee in disease spread that could ultimately change the dynamics of the U.P. and that is Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). It is a vector that could decimate entire populations of deer as it is predicted to do in states with higher prevalence. Once it arrives it is anticipated to remain forever.

Add to that the other impacts in wildlife management that come from infestation of invasive species of plant and animal species that overlap fields. Recent reports of horse mortality in the U.P. have been determined to be caused by mosquitos as carriers of disease. The increased mosquito population most often is adjusted by seasonal levels of standing water, their breeding habitat. The long-eared brown bat is a natural regulating force that historically consumed great quantities of the mosquitos as part of the natural process. Unfortunately the bat population has seen a decline as infestation of “white nose syndrome” a fungal infestation believed to have originated in Europe and imported to the United States. Losses have exceeded 85 percent in bat mortality and we have only now started seeing the long term severity as it will also impact agriculture as insect infestation increases.

Things like these examples will take some strong youthful ideals and abilities in gaining control over todays problems well beyond the current scientific data base and common sense approach. It will also require input and historical knowledge that contemporary stakeholders have in seeking out site specific assessment and concerns. It is true testimony that the future of natural resources management and related recreational opportunities as the focus of conservation will need a public/private partnership at a level never seen before.

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Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Trails & Tales Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.