SLU news

Forage availability and local adaptation are keys to successful game management

Published: 30 May 2023
Three mooses looking into the camera. Photo.

In areas previously dominated by moose and roe deer, there is now also fallow deer, red deer and wild boar. More species increases competition for food, which in the long run may increase browsing damage to pine. One way forward is to focus more on forage availability and to considering all ungulate species in management. These are some of the results from a new research report that researchers at SLU, among others, made on behalf of the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency.

Swedish ungulate species have increased both in the number of individuals, and broadened their distribution in recent decades. Today, both fallow deer and red deer as well as wild boar are often found in areas that formerly had only moose and roe deer - a change that places new demands on wildlife management. The recently-completed research projects Governance and Beyond Moose have studied the challenges that come with increasingly complex ungulate systems.

- The research results show the need for multi-species management where we actively manage both the ungulate community and their forage supply in order to reach specified management goals. An important factor in reducing browsing damage to Scots pine, for example, is how much other forage is available in the landscape, for example Vaccinium shrubs, says Fredrik Widemo, wildlife researcher at SLU and one of the project leaders.

Regarding browsing damage in particular, Fredrik Widemo also points out that the occurrence of browsing damage looks different in different parts of the country. The results show, among other things, that in the southern parts of the country, where moose, roe deer, red deer and fallow deer compete for Vaccinium shrubs and heather (Ericaceae species) perhaps their most important source of forage, competition can become so great that moose instead choose to use other forage, for example Scots pine. Thus it may be at least as important to regulate the other deer species as it is the moose. In northern Sweden, the competition for food from other deer species is less, but here, harsher winters and deep snow can make the Vaccinium species less available, which can lead to an increase in the proportion of pine damaged by game.

- This shows the need for measures to be adapted to the local-regional scale - we need to focus on different measures in different parts of the country. The only common pattern we found was that the proportion of damaged pines was lower where there were more pines, and this also applied in Norrland. Therefore, it is a good measure to plant more pine from a moose damage perspective, and this applies throughout the country, says Fredrik Widemo.

Camilla Sandström, professor of political science at Umeå University and also affiliated with SLU, has led the project Governance, which worked in parallel with Beyond Moose.

- The members of the moose management groups need support to handle not only ecological challenges but also the social interactions in a group with different parties having conflicting interests. It could, for example, be about competence development in process management and about training in both ecological and social aspects of wildlife management, says Camilla Sandström.


Beyond Moose and Governance

The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and the Wildlife Conservation Fund have financed two six-year research projects to increase knowledge of the challenges that come with a complex ungulate system. The projects are Beyond Moose and Governance and have now ended.

The joint final report addresses issues and presents proposals for different trade-offs between different ecosystem services – for example, game meat and recreation on the one hand and fibres and food from forests and crops on the other.

The report Adaptive co- and multi-species management of ungulates (Summary in English.)

Recommendations for game management

Some of the researchers' recommendations:

After harvest, replant with Scots pine where the land is suitable, and ensure good access to other forage, especially dwarf shrubs such as bilberry, to reduce damage to pine.

Take into account the forage needs of the entire ungulate community, and regulate all species through hunting in a joint multi-species management.

Adapt management measures to local and regional conditions.

Evaluate and further develop the monitoring methods used today, both methods to measure damage and game densities.

Strengthen collaboration among different levels of administration.

The country's moose management groups need to develop strategies for collaboration and problem solving.