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Using Models to Manage Carnivores

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Science  15 Dec 2006:
Vol. 314, Issue 5806, pp. 1682-1683
DOI: 10.1126/science.314.5806.1682c

The News Focus article “The Carnivore comeback” (M. Enserink, G. Vogel, 3 Nov., p. 746) illustrates the difficulty of conserving free-ranging predators in highly anthropic landscapes such as Europe. Because large carnivores can cause heavy damages to livestock as well as threaten human beings, it is critical that management policies are flexible enough to allow for some removals while keeping populations viable (1).

Although the use of models for carnivore management has not been widespread (2), it is now possible to build realistic demographic models for species with complex social systems like the wolf, thanks to the recent emergence of modeling techniques that incorporate patterns at the individual level (3). Designing efficient adaptive management schemes—i.e., implementing policies as experiments—should be achieved through a wider use of such models.

Management recommendations would be much improved and accepted by the public if they were based on population modeling rather than on expert opinion consensus. Because models are logical constructions based on falsifiable assumptions, their recommendations can be invalidated, whereas expert opinions are verbal constructions difficult to refute. Fisheries management has made an extensive use of population models, and there is no valid reason why they should not apply to terrestrial carnivores.

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