How Wildlife Counts on Us

Every decade the federal government conducts a census of all human citizens, as they did in 2010. The North American Model of wildlife conservation demands more of wildlife managers than surveying populations every 10 years.

Wildlife populations can plummet or peak due to weather, hunter success, habitat changes or urban growth. Wildlife managers can extend season and bag limits when once struggling population rebound, or keep numbers from crashing further by making adjustments. Plus, tracking longterm trends can yield valuable insights.

Throughout the history of wildlife management, biologists have collected data using methods as low-tech as rural mail carriers’ observations and as high-tech as GPS satellite telemetry. They’ve abandoned some, tweaked others, and some methods have endured for more than 50 years.

Below are five scenarios when humans help:

  1. Biologists track waterfowl using banded ducks and geese in aerial waterfowl surveys to get accurate population numbers to better predict hunting regulations. Hunters are part of the process by returning bands from harvested waterfowl to reveal the bird’s secrets—waterfowl flyways or migration corridors.
  2. Biologists use the eyes and ears of professions unrelated to wildlife, including mail carriers, farmers and milk truck drivers to observe the movements of pheasants, quail and cottontail. Researchers use the data to track longterm trends.
  3. Hikers and horseback riders search the sagebrush winter range in southwest Wyoming for mule deer carcasses. Citizen scientists tally mortality by doe, buck and fawn.
  4. Hunters send in mail deer surveys. Most states conduct these surveys and biologists learn important information about deer numbers and hunter effort.
  5. NWTF biologists use remote cameras, trail cameras or colored leg bands to count turkeys. The process is being refined, but the research helps set season settings and bag limits.

Whether you are filling out a harvest report, reporting a banded bird or returning a radio collar, you part adds important data to the science of wildlife management.

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