Critical elements of wildlife management in an Arctic undergoing change

This is Section 11.5 of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment Lead Author: David R. Klein; Contributing Authors: Leonid M. Baskin, Lyudmila S. Bogoslovskaya, Kjell Danell, Anne Gunn, David B. Irons, Gary P. Kofinas, Kit M. Kovacs, Margarita Magomedova, Rosa H. Meehan, Don E. Russell, Patrick Valkenburg


The expected effects of climate change on arctic wildlife have been addressed in other chapters, particularly Chapters 7 (tundra and polar desert ecosystems), 8 (freshwater ecosystems and fisheries), and 9 (marine systems). Chapters 3 (indigenous perspectives), 12 (hunting, herding, fishing, and gathering), 13 (marine fisheries and aquaculture), and 14 (forests and agriculture) assess human relationships to climate change in the Arctic via commercial and subsistence harvest of resources, land use practices, and socio-cultural change. The latter chapters assess the interface between people and the natural biological systems of the Arctic, recognizing that people of the Arctic are both components of arctic ecosystems as well as major drivers of these systems. Humans living outside the Arctic have become a major driving influence on arctic systems as a consequence of their industrialization and associated urbanization, accelerated pressures for exploitation of the world’s non-renewable mineral and energy resources, globalization of the economy, and exportation of their cultural, social, and economic values and aspirations. These pressures, largely generated at temperate latitudes, reach into the Arctic through their effects on climate, atmospheric and marine pollution, and their social, economic, and cultural influences on the human and nonhuman residents of the Arctic.

User participation (11.5.1)

This chapter deals primarily with assessment of the effectiveness of existing structures for management and conservation of wildlife in the Arctic and the adaptability of these structures to changes that are expected to continue and to accelerate in the Arctic in the future. A comparative analysis of the existing arrangements and their processes of evolution would serve as the basis for assessing the capacity of management to meet the challenges that may come with various climate change scenarios. While it is not possible to determine with a high level of specificity the nature of these challenges, it can be assumed that managers and users of arctic wildlife resources will be confronted with increased variability, a greater likelihood of surprise, and rapid change which may stress even the most robust wildlife institutions. It is, however, important to recognize that climate change, although of major consequence for arctic systems, is one of several driving forces influencing the broad spectrum of accelerated changes that are occurring in the Arctic. These forces of change, the climatic, the economic, the social, the cultural, and the political, operate through influences both internal to the Arctic as well as those of a global nature. It therefore follows that management and conservation of wildlife in the Arctic should serve the interests of all those, both within and outside the Arctic, who would use and value the wildlife of the Arctic. Responsibility for management and conservation of arctic wildlife, therefore, extends to the entire global community.

A major political change has taken place in the Arctic in recent decades bringing increased regional autonomy and a stronger voice for the residents of the Arctic in managing their own affairs. This has major consequences for wildlife conservation and management in the Arctic. The increased interest in, and broader participation by, residents of the Arctic in management of the species of importance to them should receive major emphasis in the design of systems for conservation and management of wildlife in all regions of the Arctic where indigenous peoples reside. Existing systems that have incorporated the concept of participation in, and shared responsibility for, wildlife management by residents of the Arctic who are the users of the wildlife are often referred to as co-management. These management systems have proved preferable to the wildlife users, have improved the collection of biological and harvest information on the target species, served as a means for integrating traditional knowledge and science, and have increased efficiency in managing wildlife for sustained harvest and conservation. These regimes vary in the degree to which they are based on formal legal standing and reflect the cultural, ecological, and economic conditions in which they emerge. Examples are: 1) the Canadian Beverly- Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board, a highly complex management system spanning several jurisdictions and involving numerous groups, some of whom have settled land claims and others that have not; 2) the Canadian Porcupine Caribou Management Board, which is relatively simple in composition compared to the Beverly-Qamanirjuaq arrangement and interfaces with the United States–Canada caribou management system that provides limited authority to Alaskan caribou user communities; 3) the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, which is homogenous in composition and highly effective when interacting at the international level; and 4) the Inuvialuit–Inupiat Beluga Commission, a strong bilateral arrangement where there are few third-party interests and local resource users have significant influence. While the range of conditions for joint management differ, the conditions of sharing the responsibility for the conservation and management of wildlife between users of the wildlife and the governmental units that have legal jurisdiction over the lands, waters, and their resources in the Arctic has generally proved workable and effective. Legal jurisdiction over wildlife in large regions of the Arctic is often shared between governments and indigenous peoples through treaties, land claim settlements, and other governmental agreements that influence how co-management systems can be developed and how authority over wildlife is partitioned.

How, if at all, might principles of co-management be applied to regions like Russia, where local resource users have limited legal rights and non-local interests commonly influence policy making? To what extent is co-management possible in regions where traditionally semi-nomadic reindeer herders hold no title to land? What are the limits to co-management for addressing the problems of climate change in Alaska under the existing system of state–federal dual management? These questions highlight the need for more in-depth comparative research in this area of institutional analysis.

Wildlife management has always been a source of contention among wildlife users, and the adoption of co-management systems must be accompanied by trial periods to ensure that both government managers and wildlife user representatives have time to learn the process and accept their relative responsibilities prior to passing judgment on the effectiveness of the system. A major question raised is, can co-management systems manage wildlife populations, assuring their sustained production and conservation, if they become alarmingly depressed as a consequence of climate change or other causes? It seems reasonable to expect that effective management under such difficult conditions, whatever the management system, would require the ability to investigate causes of the population change as a basis for prescribing management action. If the users of wildlife are acknowledged to be a source of information about wildlife ecology, as well as participants in wildlife surveys and scientific investigations, then achieving an understanding of the relative importance of population regulatory mechanisms seems more likely than in management systems in which the users play no active role and managers live remote from the system[1]. In a similar context, when management decisions are made within a true co-management system, the users, through their representation on the management board, are participants in a democratic process and are therefore more inclined to accept and comply with restrictive regulations than if management decisions are made by a remote governmental authority. Although regulations established through the co-management process may be more acceptable and complied with by the majority of resource users than regulations imposed from outside the region, total agreement is unlikely, and enforcement of harvest regulations is as important as in other management systems.

Lateral collaboration and cooperation (

In addition to the hierarchical structure of management systems that are vertically structured within national or international jurisdictions, there is need for increasing lateral connections that result in sharing of knowledge, experience, and responsibility for wildlife management and conservation. Lateral connections can include increased interaction between communities sharing a common wildlife resource, between a community and an industrial development activity that both affect a wildlife resource but in differing ways, and region-to-region communication regarding experiences and knowledge about management of similar species. An example of the latter is the "Profile of Herds" concept being developed through an International Arctic Science Committee project. It provides a basis for inter-herd comparison of the management and conservation of caribou and wild and domestic reindeer. The project has as its goal the collation and organization of data on population status and dynamics, management practices, human interactions (herding, hunting, subsistence and commercial uses, and cultural relationships), and range size and characteristics of caribou and reindeer in a circumpolar context. The data are being archived through Environment Canada and the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, with access via this website. These files on caribou and reindeer herds throughout the Arctic and subarctic will enable ongoing comparison of harvest methods and levels, predator relationships, range conditions, and carrying capacity under varying climatic, environmental, and human influences, and under differing management regimes. Caribou and reindeer share common ecological relationships with their environment that are characteristic of the species, however, the relative importance of the driving variables within their environment may vary widely over the total range of distribution of the species. The capability to compare the relative effectiveness of a given herd management system with others throughout the North should assist in adapting management systems and practices in response to changes brought about by climate, industrial impacts on herd ranges and habitats, trends in subsistence and economic needs, and evolving indigenous cultures.

A regional land use perspective (11.5.2)


caption Fig. 11.17. Effective management of wildlife and its conservation involves accumulation of knowledge of animal population biology and ecological relationships through research, monitoring, and accessing local knowledge. This then provides a basis for defining critical habitats and providing for their legal protection, and for establishing wildlife harvest regulations with local involvement to ensure sustainability of wildlife populations with continuing opportunity for their harvest. (Source: ACIA)

In order to effectively manage wildlife within an environment of change in the Arctic, basic inventories of wildlife populations and their dynamics, and investigation of ecosystem relationships of wildlife on a regional basis are a prerequisite, as well as providing early warning indicators (Fig. 11.17). This information is critical to meet proximal needs of management for prescribing methods, means, and seasons of harvest and for setting harvest quotas. Inventory information is also critical for longer-term monitoring of animal populations and ecosystem relationships as a basis for assessing changes in distribution, movements, and population trajectories that may be the consequence of climate change or other human-induced changes in the natural environment. Basic inventory data on wildlife, wildlife habitats and movements, and patterns of human use of wildlife are also of critical importance in assessment of impacts of proposed development projects.

Needs for effective management and conservation of wildlife in a changing Arctic vary regionally. For example, to deal with threats to management and conservation of wildlife in the Russian North and to return effective wildlife management to the Russian Arctic and subarctic, the following changes in existing structures for management and their application are widely acknowledged as needed:

  • adaptation of existing wildlife management systems consistent with existing social and economic conditions, constraints, and opportunities;
  • elaboration of legal and economic mechanisms for protection of wildlife resources and habitats to ensure sustainability of wildlife populations and their production in conjunction with industrial resource development;
  • elaboration of legal and economic mechanisms for protection of traditional hunting cultures in conjunction with industrial resource development;
  • increasing the effectiveness and the technological level of commercial hunting, the processing of wildlife products, and their marketing consistent with resource conservation; and
  • systematically organized inventory and monitoring of wildlife resources based on both scientific and traditional knowledge and methodology.

These needed changes, however, are not unique to Russia, and are basic to effective wildlife management and conservation throughout the Arctic. It is the needed focus on these structural components of management that is particularly timely in Russia in the current post-Soviet transition period.

The process of development of regional land use plans, with adequate wildlife inventory data available, enables layout of proposed human activities on the land, such as roads, communities, and other structures, in consideration of protection of wildlife habitat values, movement routes, and patterns of human use of the wildlife. Development of regional land use plans based on adequate wildlife inventory data should enable designation of protected areas to encompass critical wildlife habitats, such as caribou calving grounds, wetland bird nesting habitats, and coastal haul-out sites and nesting colonies of critical importance for marine mammals and birds. However, regional land use plans must be subject to periodic revision, based on continuing wildlife inventory and monitoring data, and therefore be adaptable to environmental change brought about through changes in climate, and the continuing and cumulative consequences on the land of all human activities. Thus, areas designated to protect critical wildlife habitat units may at times need to be altered through expansion, relocation, or removal of protection in response to major changes in wildlife distribution and habitat use brought about through climate-induced or other changes in the environment.

If land use plans are in place in arctic regions prior to proposals for large-scale industrial development projects, such as energy or mineral extraction, hydropower development, construction of roads, railroads, pipelines, and power-lines, initial decisions on the feasibility of proposed projects will be simplified. Project planning can proceed with knowledge of regional wildlife values that need to be protected, critical habitats that need to be avoided, and provisions necessary for the sustainable harvest and other uses of wildlife. The controversy, associated political polarization, and animosity that often develops among interest groups over proposed development projects in the Arctic can be minimized if comprehensive land use plans have been prepared. Efforts to develop comprehensive regional land use plans involving local residents and government are currently underway in a few regions of the Arctic. Examples include the Swedish MISTRA project, Sustainable Management of the Mountain Region, that includes assessment of the natural resources in the mountains of northern Sweden, their levels of use, and their economic and socio-cultural relationships within and outside the region in development of a land use plan aimed at long-term community and resource sustainability; and the Canadian–Yukon North Slope Wildlife Conservation and Management Plan of a similar nature that evolved from the joint Alaska and Yukon Community Sustainability Project. Reindeer and caribou, and their ecosystem relationships and associated human dependency on them, have provided initial stimuli for development of these land use plans. Wild reindeer and the indigenous cultures that evolved in association with them are also the focus of recently initiated land use investigations in the Taymir of the western Siberian Arctic through the Taymir Reindeer Project, which is a first stage in development of a regional land use plan.

The concept of regional land use planning as a basis for management and conservation of wildlife in an environment of change also has application in the marine environment. In most of the marine environment of the Arctic, offshore petroleum exploration and production and permanent infrastructure development has not been at all comparable to that on land. Nevertheless, the need for protection of critical wildlife habitats and associated ecosystem relationships is as important in the marine environment as it is on land. The international or binational nature of many species of marine wildlife clearly requires international efforts in the development of marine area use agreements to ensure protection of critical habitats for marine wildlife. Planning processes for where to place major shipping routes, where bottom trawling can take place without irreversible damage to benthic systems, where ship-based tourist traffic can be focused to provide good experiences while minimizing effects on wildlife, and where restrictions on ice-breaking activity might be essential to protect breeding habitats of seal species all require information that is very similar to that needed to assess land-based human development activities in the Arctic. Marine ecosystems in the Arctic, and worldwide, are less well known than terrestrial ecosystems, largely because humans are land-dwelling creatures with limited capabilities for operating below the surface of the sea. The task of carrying out needed research to understand ecosystem relationships of marine wildlife that spend major parts of their life cycles beneath the sea surface is, therefore, more complex. However, inventory and monitoring methods for assessing marine wildlife abundance are developing rapidly, as is tracking technology needed to record movement patterns and habitat use. So, although marine research tends to be more costly than terrestrial studies, a great deal is now possible that is highly relevant to developing good, responsive management practices.

Integral to the effective use of regional land use planning as a basis for management and conservation of wildlife in the Arctic is assessment of the cumulative impacts of development projects that have taken place within the region. Although environmental impact assessments of proposed major projects are now prescribed by government policy in most arctic countries, these assessments have been restricted to the project under consideration and have rarely considered the cumulative impacts on wildlife to which the proposed project would contribute. A recent assessment of the cumulative impacts of petroleum development in the Alaskan Arctic requested and financed by the U.S. Congress has pointed out major consequences for wildlife that have affected their management and conservation, and that were not anticipated through environmental assessments required for the individual projects[2].

Concluding recommendations (11.5.3)

Shared responsibility for management and conservation of wildlife in the Arctic requires involvement, cooperation, and collaboration among all interest groups. Indigenous peoples of the Arctic, the majority of whom are dependent on annual harvests of wildlife for the subsistence component of their economy, are gaining increased, and often primary, responsibility for management of local harvests of wildlife. In most of the Arctic it is the indigenous peoples who will play the key role in management and conservation of wildlife[3]. Many of the non-indigenous residents of the Arctic are also consumptive users of wildlife and depend upon wildlife as a supplement to their economy. Direct involvement of the users of wildlife in its management at the local level has the potential for rapid management response to changes in wildlife populations and their availability for harvest. Rapid response to changes in numbers and distribution of wildlife is a prerequisite for effective management of many resident species of arctic wildlife and their conservation under present conditions of limited predictability of ecosystem response to climate change, and is an important component in management of migratory species often requiring international collaboration.

Non-consumptive use of wildlife through viewing and photography, as part of tourism in the Arctic, can affect wildlife through disturbance and stress during sensitive periods in their annual cycle, by displacement from habitats, or through attraction to food wastes. Management of the relationship of tourism to wildlife in the Arctic requires collaboration between management regimes at regional, national, and international levels. Since marine species of wildlife are among the most accessible, and therefore attractive to tourists visiting the Arctic, ship-based tourism poses a major threat to arctic wildlife. Establishment of specific areas to ensure protection from excessive disturbance at breeding sites will continue to be an important part of wildlife conservation in the Arctic in an environment of change. Most tourism companies operating in the Arctic are based outside the Arctic, thus guidelines and regulations for management of tourism impacts on wildlife must include bi-national or international processes and cooperation. Assuring compliance with guidelines and enforcement of regulations also requires cooperation among countries that share wildlife resources that are the focus of the tourism industry.

Many wildlife species of importance as food and other components of the economy of arctic residents are migratory and therefore spend parts of their annual life cycles in different ecosystems, some of which may be at great distances from the Arctic. Migratory wildlife are necessarily subject to management responsibilities that transcend local interests, whether they move with the annual advance and recession of sea ice as many marine wildlife do, whether they travel overland seasonally to track food quality and availability characteristic of caribou and reindeer, or whether they journey through many thousands of kilometers from the Arctic to wintering areas as do most arctic nesting birds and many whale species that feed in arctic waters during the summer months. Management and conservation of migratory or wide-ranging species requires broad participation by all those with interests and responsibilities for arctic wildlife. This requires that management be expanded from local jurisdiction to include regional, national, and international collaboration and shared responsibility in management of migratory and wide-ranging wildlife. Spreading responsibility for management and conservation of wildlife over broader geographical interests is clearly important where it is not possible for those responsible at the local level to be aware of the status and ecosystem relationships of wildlife species after they have left the local area. Sharing the responsibility for management also generally results in greater total effort expended for the collection of biological and harvest information needed to ensure the well-being of wildlife populations. This may improve the chances for early detection of responses of migratory wildlife to the effects of climate change. Conversely, achieving action deemed necessary for management of migratory wildlife to compensate, correct, or adapt to climate-related changes may be difficult and drawn out because of bureaucratic complexity inherent in international governing bodies. Where international overseeing may be justified and needed for aspects of arctic wildlife management and conservation at the policy level, efficient and more timely execution of policy through management actions may be possible through a reduction in bureaucratic layering by delegation of authority to bi-regional or multi-regional councils or committees whose membership is representative of the specific national interests involved. Such management bodies would be most effective if their focus and responsibility were restricted to a single species (e.g., beluga whales) or a group of ecologically similar species (e.g., seabirds) and their membership included local users of the wildlife.

The role of international agencies and organizations in wildlife management and conservation is particularly important with regard to the insidious consequences of pollutants and contaminants entering arctic food chains largely from sources outside the Arctic. Inventories and monitoring of the pollutants and contaminants entering arctic ecosystems, and research on their consequences for the health of arctic wildlife as well as the health of the arctic residents who consume the wildlife, are critical to management of arctic wildlife. An understanding of the role of pollutants and contaminants in wildlife food chains, wildlife health, and associated human health, and the influence of climate change on these relationships, underlies interpretation of the consequences of other environmental variables on wildlife, which is basic to management and conservation of wildlife in the Arctic. Clearly, international oversight, coordination, reporting, collating of information, and associated stimulation of national efforts are needed to better understand the importance of pollutants and contaminants entering the Arctic. The reduction of levels of pollutants and contaminants entering the Arctic, and management of their impacts on arctic wildlife, will require action at the national level through joint international efforts.

Achieving effective conservation and management of wildlife in a changing Arctic will require a team-building approach among governments at all levels that relate to the environment and human well-being, and with all other groups with an interest in the Arctic. This effort should include the indigenous peoples and other residents of the Arctic, and scientists undertaking research in the Arctic, representatives of industry and business seeking development of arctic resources or other economic opportunities in the Arctic, those who travel to the Arctic for recreation or tourism, and the nongovernmental organizations seeking to protect or sustain environmental, aesthetic, and other less tangible values of the Arctic in the broader interest of society. Interests in the Arctic by these diverse groups are often overlapping and sometimes conflicting, but the successful management and conservation of arctic wildlife requires that these groups be represented in the management process and that adequate information is available for equitable consideration of the diverse interests that relate to arctic wildlife. The role of international, non-governmental environmental organizations is particularly important in maintaining focus of the public on the broad spectrum of environmental values existing in the Arctic when proposals for large-scale industry- or government-sponsored projects become politicized at the regional or national levels.


Chapter 11. Management and Conservation of Wildlife in a Changing Arctic Environment
11.1 Introduction
11.2 Management and conservation of wildlife in the Arctic
11.3 Climate change and terrestrial wildlife management
    11.3.1 Russian Arctic and sub-Arctic
    11.3.2 The Canadian North
    11.3.3 The Fennoscandian North
    11.3.4 The Alaskan Arctic
11.4 Management and conservation of marine mammals and seabirds in the Arctic
11.5 Critical elements of wildlife management in an Arctic undergoing change


  1. ^ Klein, D.R., L. Moorhead, J. Kruse and S.R. Braund, 1999. Contrasts in use and perceptions of biological data for caribou management. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 27:488–498.
  2. ^ NRC, 2003. Assessment of the cumulative effects of petroleum development on Alaska's North Slope. National Academy Press, xiii + 452pp.
  3. ^ Klein, D.R., 2002. Perspectives on wilderness in the Arctic. In: A. Watson, L. Alessa and J. Sproull (eds.). Wilderness in the Circumpolar North: Searching for Compatibility in Ecological, Traditional, and Ecotourism Values, pp. 1–6. 2001 May 15–16; Anchorage







Committee, I. (2012). Critical elements of wildlife management in an Arctic undergoing change. Retrieved from


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