March 18, 2012

Hungry for hunters and anglers?

Word on the street (well, in our local newspaper) is that The Hunger Games book series has sparked a massive interest in archery programs across the US.  Kids are signing up for archery leagues in record numbers.

It is hard to tell if our literature reflects society or drives society.  In this case, a book is driving interest in archery.

In the past month, colleagues at the University of Nebraska reported--under headlines aptly constructed as "Where the Wild Things Aren't"--that references and images of nature have been disappearing from children's books since 1938.  This follows the feeding frenzy over the concern of "Nature Deficit Disorder" from Richard Louv.

More evidence that literature is at least tracking our societal trends, and perhaps playing a role in our choice of activities?

State and federal agencies are currently spending millions of dollars to recruit and retain hunters and anglers.  Maybe some of that money could be spent to support authors and screen writers who cleverly wrap hunting and angling into stories in which youth can engage.  It appears they are hungry for it.

Photo from:

March 10, 2012

Is freezer space a limiting factor for deer control in Nebraska?

This morning's newspaper announced a new program from Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to address deer populations in Nebraska.  The previous earn-a-buck program is out.  The River Corridor plan is in.

Earn-a-buck required hunters in certain hunting districts to take an anterless deer (hopefully female) before shooting a buck.  The goal was to remove the population's reproductive 'engine'.  The new program also targets antlerless deer, and provides incredibly cheap licenses for long periods of time along river corridors in Nebraska.

The problem with the Earn-a-buck program was that people grumbled about it (although we Nebraskas didn't grumble as much as Earn-a-buck'ers in other states have grumbled).  And, most critically, it took effort to enforce.  There are stories of the same doe making the rounds to the check-in stations for multiple hunters--which led to tactics of making cuts on ears and such, just to make sure each doe was a fresh one.  Point: Earn-a-buck required extra law enforcement effort.

Second Point: Earn-a-buck did not help the effort to get more  hunters in the woods.

My students in Wildlife Ecology and Management learn about population regulation, and there are two things required for a predator to regulate (dependably curtail rising numbers) a prey population.  Classic ecology:  first, there must be a numeric response to increases in prey.  So, as deer numbers increase, predators (the hunters) must increase in numbers.  Game and Parks has successfully done this, state-wide, through cheaper permits and access programs.  While the number of gamebird hunters is dropping, the number of big game hunters (deer hunters included) is rising.

Statewide is one thing, but damage management has to be concerned with the local level.  The Earn-a-buck program had the potential to frustrate local hunters in regions where numbers of deer really needed to be dropped. 

The second factor needed to regulate a prey population is for the predator to increase its kill rate (number of deer taken per year by hunters, in this case).  Normally, wild animals have territorial boundaries and only so many predators can be attracted to a certain area.  And, predators only have so much room in their stomach.  So, there is a limit to the number of deer that a mountain lion can kill in an year.  Same with hunters. We only have so much freezer space. 

There have been some interesting proposals by my colleagues to increase the number of deer that a hunter can take in a year, by allowing highly regulated sales of meat.  I support their call, but that proposal has a lot of political opposition.  There are programs to allow easy transfer of meat from hunters to non-hunters and donation to facilities (nursing homes, soup kitchens) that need meat.  Those programs count on hunters taking the extra step (after processing the deer) to donate it.

So, can deer  hunters regulate deer in Nebraska?  The current tactic by Game and Parks appears to be to really hammer on the first factor above:  offering cheap licenses (now down to $11/license for two antlerless deer--that is almost giving them away from free!).  And---the River Plan targets specific areas where deer populations are most problematic and where farmers encounter the most deer damage to crops. 

It is possible that cheap licenses may accomplish both goals--more hunters taking to the field and those same hunters making the decision to continue to shoot deer by getting a second, third, or fourth cheap license (or more).

But, we still have only so much room in the freezer.  The big question is--can Game and Parks attract enough hunters to overcome the limitations of our freezer space?  It appears to be working in eastern Nebraska, according to Game and Parks' data.  Stay tuned.

March 3, 2012

Institutional fatigue

Fatigue makes cowards of us all.

                 --Vince Lombardi

Guilt is a pretty good motivator for some folks.  It has potential to work especially well for the point where I have learned to identify when I am feeling guilty as part of a process to make more rational decisions. 

Lately, it seems the Guilt-O-Meter has been stuck on 'full'.

Here are some guilt-trips that have been thrown out in the past week in my professional life:
--faculty don't come to faculty meetings or planning meetings
--professionals don't come to the Nebraska Wildlife Society meetings
--faculty need to increase their grant success
--we need to increase the number of students in our majors
--faculty are not available for one-on-one student advising
--faculty should have more graduate students in their labs
--no one submitted nominations for campus awards
--no one submitted nominations for Nebraska Wildlife Society awards
--no one is volunteering to fill campus-level or department-level committee positions
--suitable, exciting candidates are not applying for Dean or department-level leadership positions

My thoughts are in regards to university faculty life, but I would guess that other professions are experiencing similar situations. The label that I am attaching to the cause of my frustrations is "institutional fatigue". It is a term that does not appear to be in widespread use, and I am not convinced that university leaders are aware that it exists.  

The only reference to 'institutional fatigue' that I can find is a description of how political instability breeds fatigue in international, on-site workers who are trying to carry out missions of cooperation between the EU and NATO.  The suggestion is that the workers are quickly tiring of trying to interpret the direction of the mission and how they should contribute to on-the-ground work.

Hmm...sounds similar.  Insert 'faculty' for 'on-site workers' and 'university administration' for 'EU and NATO'. 

So, there are two levels of this fatigue:  first, people seem to be wildly busy--to the point where folks are not contributing to 'normal' activities (serving on committees, nominating people for awards, attending faculty meetings) at 'normal' levels.  And, second, the fatigue is exacerbated by conflicting messages of what is important to the organization.

One big problem--some institutional structures have become obsolete.  My prediction: at Universities, the 'department' will be replaced in 15-20 years with a different structure.  Departments are obsolete as decisions are made at higher levels and more work is between-departments than within-departments; faculty perceive this and have stopped attending faculty meetings because nothing is accomplished of meaning.  Professional societies may also re-structure in the coming years.  The local-level structures (i.e., Nebraska chapter of The Wildlife Society) are already re-evaluating how important their existence is to their members.

Professionals of all types are working at a different level than our colleagues of 50 years ago did.  We are called to be more efficient and produce more than our colleagues did in the past.  The structures in which we work are still the same, however. 

Something is going to have to change.  My bet is that fatigue and its associated guilt are eventually going to cause some major changes in the way we work.  And, that transition will be much better if we address it proactively, rather then reactively.