Game preserves (also known as game reserves, or wildlife refuges) are a type of protected area in which hunting of certain species of animals is not allowed, although other kinds of resource harvesting may be permitted. Game preserves are usually established to conserve populations of larger game species of mammals or waterfowl. The protection from hunting allows the hunted species to maintain relatively large populations within the sanctuary. However, animals may be legally hunted when they move outside of the reserve during their seasonal migrations or when searching for additional habitat .
Game preserves help to ensure that populations of hunted species do not become depleted through excessive harvesting throughout their range. This conservation allows the species to be exploited in a sustainable fashion over the larger landscape.
Although hunting is not allowed, other types of resource extraction may be permitted in game reserves, such as timber harvesting, livestock grazing, some types of cultivated agriculture, mining, and exploration and extraction of fossil fuels . However, these land-uses are managed to ensure that the habitat of game species is not excessively damaged. Some game preserves are managed as true ecological reserves, where no extraction of natural resources is allowed. However, low-intensity types of land-use may be permitted in these more comprehensively protected areas, particularly non-consumptive recreation such as hiking and wildlife viewing.
Game preserves as a tool in conservation
The term "conservation" refers to the wise (i.e., sustainable) use of natural resources. Conservation is particularly relevant to the use of renewable resources, which are capable of regenerating after a portion has been harvested. Hunted species of animals are one type of renewable resource, as are timber, flowing water, and the ability of land to support the growth of agricultural crops. These renewable resources have the potential to be harvested forever, as long as the rate of exploitation is equal to or less than the rate of regeneration. However, potentially renewable resources can also be harvested at a rate exceeding their regeneration. This is known as over-exploitation, a practice that causes the stock of the resource to decline and may even result in its irretrievable collapse.
Wildlife managers can use game preserves to help conserve populations of hunted species. Other methods of conservation of game animals include: (1) regulation of the time of year when hunting can occur; (2) setting of "bag limits" that restrict the maximum number of animals that any hunter can harvest; (3) limiting the total number of animals that can be harvested in a particular area, and; (4) restricting the hunt to certain elements of the population. Wildlife managers can also manipulate the habitat of game species so that larger, more productive populations can be sustained, for example by increasing the availability of food, water, shelter, or other necessary elements of habitat. In addition, wildlife managers may cull the populations of natural predators to increase the numbers of game animals available to be hunted by people.
Some or all of these practices, including the establishment of game preserves, may be used as components of an integrated game management system. Such systems may be designed and implemented by government agencies that are responsible for managing game populations over relatively large areas such as counties, states, provinces, or entire countries.
Conservation is intended to benefit humans in their interactions with other species and ecosystems, which are utilized as valuable natural resources. When defined in this way, conservation is very different from the preservation of indigenous species and ecosystems for their ecocentric and biocentric values, which are considered important regardless of any usefulness to humans or their economic activities.
Examples of game preserves
The first national wildlife refuge in the United States was established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903. This was a breeding site for brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis ) and other birds in Florida. The U.S. national system of wildlife refuges now totals some 437 sites covering 91.4 million acres (37 million ha); an additional 79 million acres (32 million ha) of habitat are protected in national parks and monuments. The largest single wildlife reserve is the Alaska Maritime Wildlife Refuge, which covers 3.5 million acres (1.4 million ha); in fact, about 85% of the national area of wildlife refuges is in Alaska. Most of the national wildlife refuges protect migratory, breeding, and wintering habitats for waterfowl, but others are important for large mammals and other species. Some wildlife refuges have been established to protect critical habitat of endangered species , such as the Aransas Wildlife Refuge in coastal Texas, which is the primary wintering grounds of the whooping crane (Grus americana ). Since 1934, sales of Migratory Bird Hunting Stamps, or "duck stamps," have been critical to providing funds for the acquisition and management of federal wildlife refuges in the United States.
Although hunting is not permitted in many National wildlife refuges, in 1988, closely regulated hunting was permitted in 60% of the refuges, and fishing was allowed in 50%. In addition, some other resource-related activities are allowed in some refuges. Depending on the site, it may be possible to harvest timber, graze livestock, engage in other kinds of agriculture, or explore for or mine metals or fossil fuels. The various components of the multiple-use plans of particular national wildlife refuges are determined by the Secretary of the Interior. Any of these economically important activities may cause damage to wildlife habitats, and this has resulted in intense controversy between economic interests and some environmental groups. Environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club , Ducks Unlimited , and the Audubon Society have lobbied federal legislators to further restrict exploration and extraction in national wildlife refuges, but business interests demand greater access to valuable resources within national wildlife refuges.
Many states and provinces also establish game preserves as a component of wildlife-management programs on their lands. For example, many jurisdictions in eastern North America have set up game preserves for management of populations of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus ), a widely hunted species. Game preserves are also used to conserve populations of mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus ) and elk (Cervus canadensis ) in more western regions of North America.
Some other types of protected areas, such as state, provincial, and national parks are also effective as wildlife preserves. These protected areas are not primarily established for the conservation of natural resources—rather, they are intended to preserve natural ecosystems and wild places for their intrinsic value . Nevertheless, relatively large and productive populations of hunted species often build up within parks and other large ecological reserves, and the surplus animals are commonly hunted in the surrounding areas. In addition, many protected areas are established by nongovernmental organizations, such as The Nature Conservancy , which has preserved more than 16 million acres (6.5 million ha) of natural habitat throughout the United States.
Yellowstone National Park is one of the most famous protected areas in North America. Hunting is not allowed in Yellowstone, and this has allowed the build-up of relatively large populations of various species of big-game mammals, such as white-tailed deer, elk, bison (Bison bison ), and grizzly bear (Ursus arctos ). Because of the large populations in the park, the overall abundance of game species on the greater landscape is also larger. This means that a relatively high intensity of hunting can be supported. This is considered important because it provides local people with meat and subsistence as well as economic opportunities through guiding and the marketing of equipment, accommodations, food, fuel, and other necessities to non-local hunters.
By providing a game-preserve function for the larger landscape, wildlife refuges and other kinds of protected areas help to ensure that hunting can be managed to allow populations of exploited species to be sustained, while providing opportunities for people to engage in subsistence and economic activities.
[Bill Freedman Ph.D. ]
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