Assessing the effectiveness of conservation measures: resolving the "wicked" problem of the Steller sea lion

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“Wicked” problems are those that are complex and that change when solutions are applied. Many conflicts in conservation fall in to this category. The study approached the problem of how to constrain the apparent wickedness of a problem in the conservation management of a species by using simple empirical indicators to carry out iterative assessment of the risk to a population and to document how this risk evolves in relation to the addition of new data and the implementation of management actions. Effects of high levels of uncertainty within data and also concerning population structure were examined through stochastic simulation and by exploration of scenarios. Historical trends in the example used, the Steller sea lion, showed rapid declines in abundance in some regions during the 1980s. The current total population is 130,000-150,000 Steller sea lions through Alaska and British Columbia and this number has been stable since about 1990 in spite of regional differences in population dynamics. Regional differences in the sequence of changes in the number of pups and non-pups, suggested that an internal re-distribution of juveniles could have happened between 1980 and 1990. Current productivity also appears close to the long term mean. Stochastic population projection using various scenarios showed that, based upon this history, the risk of extinction for the population has declined and is below reasonable thresholds for considering the population to be endangered.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1664-1674
Number of pages11
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2010


  • Wicked
  • Extinction
  • Risk
  • Viability
  • Population
  • Ecology
  • Alaska
  • Pacific
  • Mammal
  • Marine
  • Policy
  • Conservation
  • Problem


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