From game management to conservation

I started to do some preliminary web research on natural resources programs at several of the universities we will be visiting.  I was glad to see that most universities (especially those geared toward research) had some kind of environmental sciences or sustainability program available at the undergraduate and/or graduate level.

I think one distinction was apparent to me when I compared my experiences at two U.S. land-grant institutions to the programs I was reading about in Europe.  Many of the “traditional” wildlife and fisheries programs in the U.S. can trace their historical roots to game management.  We often affectionately refer to such programs as “hook and bullet” (read: hunting and fishing) programs.  The original focus of game management was optimizing game populations for hunting and fishing and managing habitat to support those populations.  In the U.S., we experience wildlife and hunting and fishing as a public resource;  this is much different from wildlife management in many other countries and cultures.  I am interested in learning more about this during our trip.

While many U.S. programs had roots in game management, changing public values and funding for research has migrated away from this tradition in recent years and towards more of a conservation biology orientation.  Today, many graduate students study endangered and rare species or non-game species (e.g., bats, songbirds, amphibians) rather than game species (e.g., white-tailed deer, bear, and wild turkey).  Rather than optimizing game species, in many cases, natural resources research is interdisciplinary and much more concerned with preserving species under the ever-growing pressures of human impacts on the environment.  In fact, our department at Virginia Tech just recently changed its name from “Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences” to “Fish and Wildlife Conservation” to address this change in the direction of the field. This change in many U.S. natural resource programs seems to align the directions of many programs at the universities we will be visiting.

I found information about one study at Lund University that was pretty interesting, and might be of interest to some blog readers.  Check it out to find out how the zebra got it’s stripes!