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Thoughts about a Future Faunal System Strategy after a Career

I have spent 30 years trying to build bridges between computer uses and natural resource management, damage management being one part. I've programmed, paid programmers, lectured, and worked with graduate students. There is much computer use now, not much among natural resource agency staff, so I sense that much of my time was wasted. I judge success based on outcomes, not the process.

I labored under the premise that if computer models for resource issues could be built, then data would become available to fill in the boxes, to be the system input. I also preached that the program or model should be developed first, by experienced people, then the data collected based on analyses done about the sensitivity of the model to each type of data. Why collect come data at high cost when it contributes little or nothing to changing the final results (such as dollars from wool or bushes of clean soybeans)? Although I taught that a model should be built and results studied before going to the field and collecting data, I never got a model built first; funding groups wanted to get busy in the field. Another reason for failure (I should have seen it) was that I never got all the needed data - and never would!

Even the simplest functional population model requires at least sex (2 categories), age (3 categories), weights (2), reproductive status (2), average young, and breeding age. Therefore, solid numbers about 26 things are needed for such a model to produce a solid estimate. Of course, there are many reasons for modeling not discussed here.) The chances of knowing 26 things about any population , even those few that are intensively studied, are very small. The reason is that the costs are high and they keep coming. The numbers change before they can be summarized and entered into the model.Similar ideas are presented in Forest Faunal Systems and Convergence.

I'm not complaining. I'm reporting a perceived failure and I want to suggest what I plan to include in my future efforts. Perhaps some will join me. I plan to continue to model, to use the computer as a way to "think through" the enormously complex and complicated wild animal damage problems we have. I plan to continue to write simple programs to help analyze data (for example, the daily catch, not delaying until the end of the month or the end of the project). I'll make more general models (for example, a population estimate, plus and minus 10%; a likely proportion of females, plus and minus 5%; and a likely birth rate, plus and minus 5%). This is not very sophisticated analysis, but hand computation to answer these questions is tedious and very inefficient to do over and over . . . and therefore it won't be done and decisions will not be informed by the results. We're in the business of deciding and getting better at it. The computer can help. With a simple model almost anyone can suggest what are minimum data and what data we should get first, given the need and likely cost of doing so.

Perhaps I was brought-up in the wrong era, the era of well-funded science and great confidence in science. That has changed and so the future seems more clear than in the recent muddled period. The elements of the new strategy are:


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Last revision January 17, 2000.