Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

What does sustainable harvest mean to you?

  1. Nov 8, 2009 #1
    Regarding: wildlife management, calling all biologists...

    I'm having difficulty completely understanding the term "sustainable harvest" as it pertains to wildlife management. Specifically, I question whether the word "sustainable" in State Fish & Game parlance is rather more of a political term instead of a scientific one.

    I'm questioning if the word sustainable is merely synonymous with "continued practice" rather than what I thought was supposed to be an attempt at maintaining ecological homeostasis with human endeavors? For example: can the term be used legitimately when a managed game species population is in decline? Could a biologist ever call a management plan involving harvesting North Atlantic right whales sustainable and be taken seriously?

    I look forward to your thoughts.
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 8, 2009 #2


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    UC Davis has a well-regarded ag school, and a very good explanation on their website. Just a very brief excerpt that cuts directly to the point:

    http://www.sarep.ucdavis.edu/Concept.htm [Broken]

    It's a lot about finding a balance between current needs and future needs. It's not so much about seeking "homeostasis" which is really impossible with nature (nature is always changing), but about ensuring that things we do now to put food on people's tables doesn't do so much damage to the environment to jeopardize future generations.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  4. Nov 9, 2009 #3
    So, if I am reading this right, sounds like "sustainable harvest" as it relates to biological management practices refers to the concept that taking a few, carefully selected animals (ie males of a certain age) does not affect the current status of the population of that species. Rather than meaning, "managing sustainability" which would indicate that the population itself is sustainable and harvesting contributes to that sustainability.

    This stemmed from a seminar I recently attended where biologists referred to sustainable harvest relating to Polar bears. Sounded like folks who hear sustainable harvest get upset at the biologists when the facts are pointing to the entire population not even being sustainable, so how can a harvest contribute to a sustainability that doesn't seem to exist in the plausible future? I personally have a degree of confidence in our State ADF&G numbers, but understand when the general public hears about a harvest on a species in decline, calling that harvest "sustainable" seems quite inflammatory. - Wife of Sample1
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2009
  5. Nov 9, 2009 #4


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Sustainable harvest is a catch-phrase that is misused by regulators, harvesters, conservationists, etc. It is too complex a concept to be addressed in ABC terms, in part because the dynamics of weather, ecology, habitat, and harvest pressures often change faster than studies can track them. In Maine, we have running battles over the regulation of ground-fishing, lobstering, scallop-dragging, trapping of bait-fish, etc, etc, etc, and the arguments get more convoluted by the year.

    Less controversial, perhaps, are limitations on the killing of antler-less deer this year, since the central part of the state got well over 10 feet of persistent snow last winter and the winter before, resulting in mass starvations of fawns, yearlings, and under-sized deer in general. We can all see the effects of long-term weather patterns on the deer herd. It's tougher to judge the effects of more efficient fishing techniques on marine populations, since studies are expensive and hard to quantify, and the feedback from the fishermen is (likely) heavily skewed by their desire to make the boat payments and feed their families.
  6. Nov 9, 2009 #5


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I think you have the gist of it. Though, I can envision situations where "harvest" (which sounds like a euphemism for hunting) of animals might help the population overall. I don't know enough about polar bear behavior or ecology to know if it would apply to them. But, for example, if males cannibalize the young, or older males near the end of their lifespan are driving off the younger males, then maybe a selective hunt for just males of a certain age range at the end of the breeding season could allow more cubs to survive.

    I wouldn't actually apply the term "harvest" or sustainable agriculture to a wild population though. If they aren't being farmed or domesticated, then it's not agriculture. Instead, it's wildlife management.
  7. Nov 9, 2009 #6
    Thanks for the insight/experiences. Sustainable obviously isn't a universally agreed upon definition which supports my original suspicion that the word, as it was used, is almost meaningless if not stupid. :-j
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook