What's a self-regulating wildlife population?

Post date: Sep 3, 2014 4:32:19 PM

When people say that wolves, for example, are "self-regulating," they might be using scientific terminology, or they might be evangelizing their belief in a cruelty-free Mother Nature.

The reality of a self-regulating population is hard and cruel. It's "cruelty-free" only to those who refuse to pay attention.

Population biology 001 (not even 101): a wild animal's wild environment has a limited "carrying capacity," the number of animals that it can sustain--of that species, or consuming that type of food, or occupying that type of cover. Some years the limit is higher, and some years it's lower; but there's always a limit, and it's always enforced by mortality.

A wild death is generally hard, involving suffering and pain. "The faithful" might be comforted in the belief that it's cruelty-free--simply because, by definition, there's no human "cruelty" involved--but that comfort is for them alone. It's no comfort for the suffering.

So, how does a population self-regulate? The males and females mate and have young and, gradually or suddenly, they die (the young and the parents, the parents and the young). In natural anticipation of such mortality, a "surplus" of animals is produced: a number beyond the environmental carrying capacity. Every year, the surplus will die.

Fish & Game officials (Booth, 2014) count the "surplus" as the number of animals they can "harvest" each year without interfering with the numbers of a self-regulating population. They judge that a death by a bullet, or a club, or an animal trying to gasp for air is better than a death by combat, or disease, or an animal without enough to eat. They count the numbers (they're specialists at counting the numbers), and they make sure that the numbers that they manage by regulated fish & game seasons are similar to or "better than" the numbers that would have occurred in nature.

For "the faithful," though, there is the "miracle" of self-regulation, and there is no such thing as a "surplus." Every wolf (for example) is born to a purpose in its family and in nature, and no wolf is "surplus." No wolf should ever be hunted (and for "the faithful" beyond the mammalian world, no fish, no bird, no butterfly).

In these two belief systems, the same term is in use: "self-regulating population."

So, what's a scientist to do? Fish & Game officials on the right, holy defenders on the left. Neither willing to consider a different belief system.

I don't know. The only response I generally get is an "active avoidance of information that might increase cognitive dissonance" (Wikipedia, 2014). To me, the response seems very much the same from right (Viewer comments, 2014) or left (Howling for Justice, 2014)--except for the pseudonyms.


Booth, Don. 2014. “Do We Need the DNR?” MN Firearms Safety. http://www.mnfas.com/do-we-need-dnr.

Howling for Justice. 2014. "'Defenders' of Wildlife supports wolf hunting!" 9/2/2014. http://howlingforjustice.wordpress.com/2014/08/27/defenders-of-wildlife-supports-wolf-hunting/

Viewer comments. 2014. "Conibear (body grip) traps and the MN Walk In Access Program (WIA)." http://youtu.be/_Da5PRCfT6o

Wikipedia: "Cognitive Dissonance." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance

Image credit: Daniel MacGregor, "A marvelous work and a wonder: the Gospel restored", Herald Publishing, 1917.

Image credit: Daniel MacGregor, "A marvelous work and a wonder: the Gospel restored", Herald Publishing, 1917.