Richard Gill on Predator Control

Our youngest son Richard is in the real estate business in San Antonio. He is a Circle owner.  Richard is an accomplished fly fisherman and for six summers has guided the King Salmon run out  on the Alaska Peninsula.

Richard often comes up with inventive approches to our sport as seen in this video which he and our son-in-law Peter recently made on a father-son outing for permit.

As the above video shows, Richard is an out-of -the box thinker.  Here are his thoughts on predator control:

“I personally do not believe in “predator control” as an effective long-term means of improving productivity at Circle Ranch.  Let me start with two examples of how these sorts of regimes fail:

Sea Otters:  Some time ago commercial fisherman in California correctly observed sea otters catching and eating commercially important fish.  They made the decision to encourage killing large numbers of otters.  This was easily done as the otter pelts carried a significant value.  What they did not know was that while otters liked to eat fish from time to time, they really like sea urchins.  Sea urchins graze upon kelp and other plants anchored to the sea floor.  Kelp beds were the sole habitat for the commercially important fish.  When all the otters were gone the sea urchins flourished, and the kelp beds were destroyed.  By killing the sometimes predator of the targeted fish they literally annihilated the fishery.

Dolly Varden:  Salmon fisherman correctly observed that dolly varden feed upon the eggs of salmon. The decision was made by The Alaskan Department of Fish and Game to place a bounty on Dolly Varden tails. The program was successful in that many dolly varden were removed from the river systems.  What they did not know was that dolly varden feed primarily on loose eggs.  Those being the eggs that are not safely buried in their mother’s redd (nest).  Loose eggs become infected, and as they bounce down stream tend to infect more and more reds.  Dolly varden were, by eating loose eggs, saving millions more from infection. Luckily, this was recognized and the dolly varden control programs were halted.

Those are great examples since their results were quick and easily observed.  I think the effects of a predator control program like ours are more subtle.

  • Is a rat more damaging to a quail nest than a coyote?
  • Is there a benefit to a sick fawn being eaten?
  • Does the survival of weaker individuals yield more trophy deer?
  • Do deer attain larger sizes when chosen for their ability to avoid predators?
  • I don’t think we have the capacity to monitor this stuff properly, much less draw actionable conclusions.

I recently heard it said that “you never get there on the expense side” in business.  Lets just think of predation as a fixed cost and move on with growing the ranch through habitat improvement.”

Richard

 

Posted by Chris Gill

Ranching, wildlife management, finance, oil & gas, real estate development and management.

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