DOI: 10.1007/s10144-010-0219-4

Adaptive management of sika deer populations in Hokkaido, Japan: theory and practice

1. Faculty of Agriculture, Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology

Correspondence to:
Koichi Kaji
Email: kkaji@cc.tuat.ac.jp

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Abstract

We investigated the utility of adaptive management (AM) in wildlife management, reviewing our experiences in applying AM to overabundant sika deer (Cervus nippon) populations in Hokkaido, Japan. The management goals of our program were: (1) to maintain the population at moderate density levels preventing population irruption, (2) to reduce damage to crops and forests, and (3) to sustain a moderate yield of hunting without endangering the population. Because of significant uncertainty in biological and environmental parameters, we designed a “feedback” management program based on controlling hunting pressure. Three threshold levels of relative population size and four levels of hunting pressure were configured, with a choice of four corresponding management actions. Under this program, the Hokkaido Government has been promoting aggressive female culling to reduce the sika deer population since 1998. We devised a harvest-based estimation for population size using relative population size and the number of deer harvested, and found that the 1993 population size (originally estimated by extrapolation of aerial surveys) had been underestimated. To reduce observation errors, a harvest-based Bayesian estimation was developed and the 1993 population estimate was again revised. Analyses of population trends and harvest data demonstrate that hunting is an important large-scale experiment to obtain reliable estimation of population size. A serious side effect of hunting on sika deer was inadvertent lead poisoning of large birds of prey. The prohibition of the use of lead bullets by the Hokkaido Government was successful in reducing the lead poisoning, but the problem still remains. Two case studies on sika population irruption show that the densities set by maximum sustainable yield may be too high to prevent damage to agriculture, forestry, and/or ecosystems. Threshold management based on feedback control is better for ecosystem management. Since volunteer hunters favor higher hunting efficiency in resource management (e.g., venison), it is necessary to support the development of professional hunters for culling operations for ecosystem management, where lower densities of deer should be set for target areas. Hunting as resource management and culling for ecosystem management should be synergistically combined under AM.

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