AN ANALYSIS OF THE WILDLIFE AND FISH SITUATION
IN THE UNITED STATES: 1989-2040
A technical supporting document for the 1989 RPA Assessment
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WILDLIFE AND FISH RESOURCE
Wildlife and fish are an integral component of all environments from
pristine wilderness to the most intensively managed urban settings. The values associated
with wildlife and fish have broadened from the utilitarian views held by early subsistence
and market hunters to the recognition that animals contribute to the overall public
welfare in a multitude of ways. This is reflected in part by increased nonconsumptive uses
of wildlife and fish, increased memberships in wildlife and fish organizations, increased
public interest in policies and programs affecting wildlife and fish, and in the passage
of laws intended to ensure protection and stewardship of the resource.
A national assessment of wildlife and fish is one of the reporting
responsibilities of the USDA Forest Service related to the Forest and Rangeland Renewable
Resources Planning Act (RPA). The assessment is to serve as the technical basis for
developing a national Forest Service Program guiding the management of natural resources.
This assessment reports on the current status and recent historic trends of wildlife and
fish resources, resource inventory and use projections, and implications and opportunities
for resource management programs.
CURRENT STATUS AND RECENT HISTORICAL TRENDS
Four aspect of wildlife and fish resources that are important in a
characterization of resource status include habitat, population, harvest, and number of
Recent Trends in Wildlife and Fish Habitat
To survive, fish and wildlife need habitat - the availability and
appropriate mix of food, cover, and water. Land use and land cover patterns provided a
coarse description of the amounts and quality of wildlife and fish habitats.
- Forestland has declined by 5% as a result of recent cropland and
urbanland conversion. Significant declines in Southern pines, bottomland hardwoods,
aspen-birch, and elm-ash-cottonwood have been observed. Mature and old-growth softwood
stands are becoming increasingly rare in the major timber producing regions of the Pacific
Northwest and South. Demand for eastern hardwoods has not kept pace with forest growth,
resulting in greater acreage of older hardwood stands in the North.
- Over recent decades, rangeland has declined slightly. The majority
of non-federal rangelands are in fair to poor condition. However, available evidence
indicates range condition is improving with better management. Two important issues are
the loss and fragmentation of grassland habitats in the East and degradation of riparian
habitats in the arid West.
- Every state contains some wetland habitat. However, wetlands only
account for 5% of the total land area in the contiguous U.S. Wetland area has declined
significantly over the past several decades. Between 1954 and 1974, forested wetlands
declined by nearly 11%; emergent wetlands declined by 14%; and estuarine wetlands declined
- About 80% of the nation's flowing waters have problems with
quantity, quality, fish habitat, or fish community composition. Water quality is affected
by turbidity, high temperatures, nutrient surplus, toxic substances, and dissolved oxygen
availability. Many of these quality-related problems are the result of soil and vegetative
manipulation associated with agriculture, forestry, and other human activities.
- Increases in cropland area over the last 10 years have been
accompanied by more intensive farming practices, including larger farm size, and a
reduction in shelterbelts, field borders, and odd habitat areas that were previously
inconvenient to farm. Fencerow-to-fencerow farming has eliminated much nesting, feeding,
and winter cover for wildlife and resulted in increased erosion which has degraded aquatic
Recent Trends in Wildlife and Fish Populations, Harvests,
The current status and recent historical trend in populations, harvests,
and uses of wildlife and fish resources are closely linked to habitat trends. Although
trends vary by species category, those species associated with agricultural, mature and
old-growth forest, native grassland, and wetland kinds of environments have had declining
or unstable populations in the last 20 years.
- Although nongame bird surveys indicate that the majority of breeding bird
populations have remained stable since the mid-1960s, a significant proportion (13%) of
the breeding bird fauna has declined over a 20-year period. The number of breeding bird
species that have shown recent population declines are more numerous in the East than the
West. Breeding birds that have realized population increases tend to be those adapted to
more intensive land uses, particularly urban/suburban environments.
- Migratory game bird populations, except geese, have generally declined.
Breeding duck populations have declined from 44 million in the early 1970s to about 30
million birds in the mid-1980s.
- Big game species across all regions have increased, except Pacific Coast
deer. Populations of the two most commonly hunted big game species, white-tailed deer and
wild turkey, have more than doubled.
- Small game population trends were divergent for agriculture and forest
species. Those small game species associated with agricultural lands have shown
significant declines over the last 20 years, while most woodland populations have remained
- Trends in furbearer populations vary. Some commonly harvested species
appear to have stable or increasing populations, while other species, such as red fox and
mink, have shown regional declines.
- While national and regional appraisals of how fish populations are
changing are limited, specific regional studies indicate that the capacity of the nation's
waters to support warm and coldwater fisheries has declined. The loss owes to human-caused
degradation of aquatic habitat and introductions of competing fish species.
- There are 330 animal species that are listed as being threatened or
endangered - a gain of 130 species since the last national assessment of wildlife and
fish. In addition, there are approximately 1,000 candidate plant and animal species for
which the Fish and Wildlife Service has sufficient information to initiate formal listing
Recent trends in the recreational use of wildlife and fish are a
function of wildlife and fish availability, and the public=s relative preference for
different kinds of recreational activities.
- Nonconsumptive recreation has increased at a substantially greater rate
than other forms of wildlife and fish recreation. Most nonconsumptive wildlife and fish
recreation occurs at or near people=s homes or in association with other outdoor
- The number of big game hunters has generally increased during the last 20
years, although more slowly in recent years. The number of small game and migratory game
bird hunters has shown recent declines and is likely a response to lower game populations,
reduced access, and crowded hunting conditions. The number of trappers has recently
declined in apparent response to declining fur prices, but may also be affected by public
and legislative pressure to restrict this activity.
- The number of both recreational and commercial fishers have consistently
increased during the last 20 years.
PROJECTED INVENTORIES AND USES OF WILDLIFE AND FISH
Resource inventory and use projections are an integral part of national
resource assessments. The projections are suggestive of what the future resource situation
may become based on recent experiences. A comparison of future inventories against
anticipated uses provides insight into possible imbalances between the supply and demands
for wildlife and fish resources.
- In the coming decades, rangeland area will increase 5%; the acreage of
forestland will decline by about 4%; needed cropland will probably decline; and wetland
habitats will continue to be lost, but at a slower rate.
- State wildlife and fish agencies are optimistic about future big game
populations and harvests with the expectation of stable or upward trends for all species.
- Small game population and harvest projections associated with
agricultural habitats indicate a continued decline. Northern bobwhite populations and
harvests are expected to decline; pheasant and rabbit populations and harvest are
projected to increase only in the short-term as a result of the Conservation Reserve
- The future number of participants in wildlife and fish recreation
indicate that participation in coldwater fishing and nonconsumptive activities is expected
to more than double by 2040. The number of hunters, in general, is expected to decrease as
participation in big game and small game hunting declines.
- More hunters are expected to participate under fee-hunting situations in
the future. As many as one in five hunters may by participating in some form of
fee-hunting by 2040.
- A future of diminished habitat and lower populations of some species
indicate that resource supplies may not support future levels of recreational demand. The
potential gap of unmet demand is greatest for coldwater fishing, followed by migratory
bird hunting, warmwater fishing, big game hunting, and small game hunting. The demand for
nonconsumptive recreation does not appear to have any obvious future resource supply
- The substantial increases in demands for nonconsumptive uses and all
forms of fishing imply increased density of use which may degrade the quality of the
recreation experience for many people.
THE IMPLICATIONS AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR WILDLIFE AND FISH MANAGEMENT
The wildlife and fish inventory and use projections imply certain
economic, social, and environmental consequences that could occur if resource use and
inventories are not balanced.
- As wildlife and fish habitat is lost or made unavailable to the
recreating public, and as expanding human populations result in more crowded conditions,
future recreationists may have to travel greater distances to find suitable sites or may
have to pay access fees. Recreation fees for fishing and hunting on private lands have
increased rapidly in the past decade, which may favor participation by the more affluent
- Potential restrictions on commercial harvests and projected declines in
hunting could severely impact local economies that are dependent upon commercial or
recreational use of wildlife and fish resources. Because state wildlife and fish agencies
derive operating funds primarily from license fees and excise taxes on equipment, they
could be negatively impacted.
- Important social implications are associated with fish and wildlife
resources including cultural, psychological, physiological, and societal aspects of public
welfare. Declining inventories and use restrictions infringe on the lifestyles of certain
cultural groups and reduce or eliminate a recreational outlet for which few substitutes
- The growing pressures on wildlife and fish resources are likely to be
especially significant for endangered and threatened species, including those species not
yet formally listed. As species become rare, or ultimately extinct, there is a reduction
in biological diversity, a diminishing of the nation's natural heritage, and a forgoing of
future options to meet society=s various demands.
Growing human populations will continue to encroach on wildlife and fish
habitat; and the demand for timber, livestock, water, and agricultural crops will
conflict, in some instances, with wildlife and fish resources. Future natural resource
management must balance these multiple resource demands within the constraints defined by
the environment. Management opportunities can be categorized into four areas: habitat,
population, user, and planning.
Opportunities for management of habitat include:
- Protection of key habitats (including wetlands, native grasslands,
old-growth forests, fish spawning areas, and critical habitat for threatened and
endangered species) through public purchase, easement, leasing agreement, or establishment
of natural areas.
- Increasing the size and distribution of key habitat tracts to preserve
the natural diversity characteristics of a given region.
- Restoration of degraded ecosystems through direct manipulation of
vegetation and water or controlling disturbance factors.
Opportunities for direct management of wildlife and fish populations
- Manipulation of populations through appropriate harvest strategies to
ensure that populations remain within the productive capacities of their habitat.
- Reintroduction of species into areas where they have been displaced from
suitable habitat or where suitable habitat has been developed.
- Increasing fish hatchery production through improved propagation
practices, increasing the capacity of extant facilities, and the building of new
Opportunities for user management include:
- Increasing access to private lands by developing programs that would
assist landowners in establishing wildlife and fish-related businesses.
- Increasing land acquisition and management of recreational use to
increase the amount of habitat available to recreationists and to better distribute users
across suitable sites.
- Increasing public education programs on the value and objectives of
wildlife and fish management.
- Implementing techniques to monitor public attitudes and values associated
with wildlife and fish resources to better address the public=s changing needs and wants.
Opportunities for planning include:
- Increasing cooperation and coordination among the many agencies that have
responsibility for management of habitat, wildlife and fish populations, and hunting and
- Integrating wildlife and fish management objectives more fully into the
management of forest and rangelands for multiple resources.
- Through research, improving the information base (e.g. habitat
inventories, population inventories, habitat-population relationships, valuation of
wildlife and fish resources) needed to effectively manage the wildlife and fish resource.
Managing fish and wildlife resources will be especially challenging in
the future because of competing demands for the nation's forest and range resource base.
As one of the largest land-managing agencies in the federal government, the Forest Service
has the opportunity to play an important role in directing the future wildlife and fish
resource situation. This opportunity not only exists on vast acreages of national forests,
but also in cooperative assistance programs, and by conducting and promoting research
within and outside the agency. The nature and extent to which the wildlife and fish
resource situation can be improved will be defined by the next Forest Service program.
What this assessment has done is to provide planners with a factual and technical basis
upon which to consider a number of Forest Service program alternatives.
Flather, Curtis H. and Thomas W. Hoekstra. 1989. An Analysis of the
Wildlife and Fish Situation in the United States: 1989-2040. General Technical Report
RM-178. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain
Forest and Range Experiment Station. 146 p.