Carnivores without borders: management of transboundary populations when objectives differ

Using the recent case study of wolverines in Scandinavia as an example, Associate Editor, Kulbhushansingh Suryawanshi highlights why management initiatives for transboundary populations need to collaborate across borders – and what happens when they don’t.

Globally, carnivore conservation has two very different objectives. First, to protect the population of the carnivore species from going extinct. Second, to mitigate the impact of the carnivore on the wellbeing of the people living in the region. The efforts required to meet both of these objectives are often very different and frequently conflict with each other. Supporting the increase in the population of a threatened carnivore can lead to a direct increase in the negative interaction between people and carnivores, thus threatening human wellbeing. Securing human wellbeing (including livelihoods) often requires actions such as removal (lethal or non-lethal) of individual carnivores, which may be detrimental to their overall population.

When the entire population of a carnivore is being managed by a single administration then such conflicts can be kept at a minimum. However, carnivores are a wide-ranging group of animals and usually a single population will span several administrative zones. Many a time such populations span multiple countries.

Managing transboundary populations of carnivores is especially challenging if the objective of the management is different across the two sides of the border. In their new research, Gervasi et. al describe one such example of the population of wolverine across the border of Norway and Sweden. The Management goals across both sides of the border are significantly different. On the Swedish side of the border the Wolverine is “Strictly protected” and, over seven years from 2005-2012, it grew from 50 to 130. However, on the Norwegian side, their population has remained steady over the same period. Norway had 130 wolverines in 2005 while their goal has been to minimize that number to 88. Towards this objective Norway implemented controlled harvest over the 7 years from 2005 to 2012 where it removed between 14 animals in 2005 to 46 in 2012 but the population did not change.

Gervasi and colleagues show elegantly how the source-sink dynamics created by these divergent management actions, which are driven by differing management objectives, affected the administrations’ abilities to achieve their goals.

The primary issue is that the two administrations across the border set divergent objectives without considering the basic ecology of the species and that they were addressing two different parts of the same population of wolverines. In 2005, with 130 wolverines in their territory, Norway decided that they had too many and that it was necessary to reduce the population down to 88. At the same time, Sweden decided that its part of the population of 50 was too little and it needs to be protected to allow population growth. Protection in Sweden and harvesting in Norway created source-sink dynamics between the Swedish and Norwegian side of the population, respectively. The net result was that while Sweden succeeded in increasing the population to 130 by 2012, Norway failed in reducing the population, despite investment in harvesting because the dispersing individuals from the now-growing population on the Swedish side was moving into Norway.

Globally, several populations of carnivores are transboundary. This research clearly demonstrates the need for the management authorities of such populations to be informed and perhaps even collaborate with each other to define objectives and plan management interventions. In many cases there needs to be an overall objective for the entire population instead of a country-specific objective that is unlikely to succeed unless the management across the border also follows similar practices.

Read the full article, Failure to coordinate management in transboundary populations hinders the achievement of national management goals: The case of wolverines in Scandinavia, in Journal of Applied Ecology.

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