History explains the past but doesn’t predict the future

Doctoral thesisHistories of animal classifications, species conservation, and stakeholders: three factors determining the conservation and management of harmful wildlife today and in the future, by Sakari Mykrä was accepted on December 8th at University of Turku, the Pori unit.


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Mykrä’s deterministic thesis goes back to the hunter-collector culture and attaches this ancient culture to present time. The historical review on the development of the Finnish hunting and conservation legislation is the best offer of this thesis. As a whole, the thesis loosely brings together four independent studies, but is partially unsuccessful. 

In his covering note, Mykrä describes his thesis as an easy-to-comprehend scientific text: “it has been written in common Finnish for anyone to read – a kind of pre-generalized science.” Comprehensibility however, does not excuse his several grammar and spelling errors. According to the Aalto University instructions: “The manuscript submitted to the preliminary examination must be finalized and the language correct.” Following the language standards does not decrease comprehension, but would increase credibility instead. On page 4 Mykrä states: “My work is not top quality science.” –A statement that can easily be agreed with. As the lack of ambition is evident: what is the motive of this work?

An interpretation of the doctoral thesis: The statement “History determines future”, is incorrect. History does not predict the future. We can see certain developments mirror those of the past, but creating a future model through history is much too unpredictable due to too many random variables. Culture is not static, but ever-changing, and bound to the context of time and place.



Returning to the past

In his introduction, Mykrä states: “The division of useful and harmful species of animals has been placed in different contexts on various grounds in different parts of human history – when in ancient times, when the Middle Ages. In this doctoral thesis I show that the birth of that dichotomy is much further.” Logically speaking, this is correct, but as we don’t have any written documents from these “further” times, this assumption is purely socio-anthropological. What is the importance of this finding concerning present times?

The following train of thought in Mykrä’s thesis is: humans categorised wolves as harmful animals long before written knowledge -> the harmful status is permanent, despite changes in culture, era and legislation -> practical knowledge of the harmful species is more valuable than scientific knowledge -> if legal hunting is prohibited it will be proceeded illegally -> illegal efforts are justified.

The status of harmful species was removed from our legislation in 1993, yet the thesis includes these “useful/harmful” concepts. The terminology used should have been defined specifically as “perceived as harmful”, with the conclusion that the “harmfulness”, in legal status, does not exist anymore.

The view of the doctoral thesis is anthropocentric, which is understandable in sociological research. But when examining phenomena in Natural Sciences, a wider picture must be considered: the bio-geo-chemical cycles and ecological interactions, which are still partially unknown to us. Ecology is the scientific study of the relationships and interactions between living organisms and the environment. We do not understand the evolutionary processes and interactions, having developed centuries before us, well enough to decide something should be considered “harmful” or “useful” in nature’s processes. The man-made dichotomy in useful/ harmful species is not permanent: in Finland, the white-tailed eagle (previously seen as harmful) learned to use cormorants as a prey. Suddenly the eagle was considered “useful”.

screenshot.27-05-2016 14.52.03Countryside- same experience, same knowledge?

The doctoral thesis of Mykrä considers the local stakeholders as a homogeneous group with only one voice, even though experiences concerning a species can vary within a group. The thesis shows a strongly polarized perception and a division between “the superior opinions of local stakeholders” and “the inferior opinions of the city residents”. Other than the wolf, what factors influence the everyday lives of the local people? This is a question the doctoral thesis does not recognize at all. Instead, a lack of analysis concerning other methods to establish coexistence with wolves can be observed. The selection of methods is very unilateral: hunting, which is the same method that was used earlier to drive wolves near extinction in Finland. Is it relevant, which method is used, if it works? If the cattle farmer builds an electric fence to separate the wolves and the sheep on the field and it works, is it successful or not? And If not, according to whom, and why?

On page 34 Mykrä states: “The decline of the wolf population after the end of legitimate hunting seems to be most likely explained by the intensification of the illegal killing of wolves.” Mykrä views the 21st century’s wolf population development in Finland and the timing of managemental hunting efforts. The latest population growth began in 2014, just in time, before the first managemental hunting experiment. The prevalence of poaching is considered as the reason for the large variation of population growth and decline. As a phenomenon, poaching is explained as a necessity, as strict protection doesn’t allow legal hunting. The interpretation in the doctoral thesis is one-sided and quick to draw conclusions about causation, leaving an exceptional poaching incident in Perho 2013, which gained a lot of media attraction and had juridical consequences, totally ignored.

According to research by Johanna Suutarinen (2017): “both the legitimate and illegal killing of wolves is often targeted at breeding individuals. In numbers: 37 of 52 illegally killed collared wolves were breeding individuals.” This can be considered reversed selectivity. 

The big bad EU

Mykrä has chosen the European Union to be blamed for poaching and the decrease of the wolf population. His antipathy towards the Union “guidelines” comes across in his Facebook comments. This quote is from the Facebook group “Large carnivore Policy” (August 10th 2017, 6.08pm):”Concerning the wolf-Life (project), I’ve heard in the past few years, that the conservationists had a vision of it, but it didn’t work out. In any case, the wolf management and control in Finland doesn’t need a Life-project. We have all the knowledge and resources on a national level. It’s a pity that we are following the commission on a leash. It shouldn’t be that way.” It should be noted, that Mykrä didn’t have complaints about receiving Life-funding for his finnish forest reindeer project. 

Mykrä presents a historical review of Finnish conservation and hunting legislation, and on page 55, claims the following: “In history, people had a strong belief in the harmlessness and the good nature of the bear. If the bear attacked on the cattle or caused any other trouble, people believed that it was a result of witchcraft, a work of an evil-minded neighbour perhaps. The wolf, on the other hand, was capable of any kind of wickedness without supernatural help.” In his book “Suden jäljet” (Tracks of the wolf), Docent Antti Lappalainen presents from the 1600’s a verdict given to three men, who had bewitched wolves to attack cattle and 18 children. Those three men received a verdict of murder and manslaughter. This ultimately proves Mykrä’s initial claim as false.


10913730_10153042426959182_629088585_nThe demons of conservation

Mykrä seems to have a strong negation towards conservation and he brings out the origin of wolf hatred in the prehistoric era. The hatred is a ground reason for the failure of non-lethal, preventive methods. Mykrä has no further analysis; there is no question of “why?” Is the failure of preventive methods in fences and guarding dogs, or is the reason their inadequate use? For example in Germany, plenty of research on electric fences can be found (Reinhardt etc.). However, Mykrä claims that pressure to start hunting wolves in Central Europe has increased, conveniently forgetting that several “delegations” from Finland have been spreading the word about wolf-dog hybrids and other nonsense within the same time period.



Need for information

In time, the increase in information and knowledge leads to change in attitude. If this didn’t happen, the wolf would still be considered a harmful species in legislation. Mykrä gives heavily critiques the impact of Natural Sciences, but forgets that the need for information and knowledge indeed exists and is apparent in several social media discussions.

Mykrä also claims that conservationists do not like the sociological knowledge. There is no arguing the fact that all people don’t like wolves. But what should we do with this piece of information? Passive information doesn’t lead anywhere. Therefore the knowledge that comes from the Natural Sciences is often a useful tool for creating co-existence between wolves and humans.

There are conflicts between Natural Sciences and local knowledge: the number of wolf individuals, dispersal, size of the pack etc. Mykrä presents a very odd conclusion: “In the case of harmful species, ecological sustainability and ecological research must be subordinate to social sustainability and social science research.” But what if local knowledge tells us, that there is a pack of 50 wolves in the area and 25 licenses are therefore wanted, when in reality, Natural Science studies tell us, that there are only 7 wolves living in the area? How should we then proceed? According to Mykrä’s theory, scientific knowledge should be subordinate to local, practical knowledge. This is false. After a short discussion at the university auditorium in the end of the doctoral thesis debate he concluded the same: not possible.


Going back in time?

In his doctoral thesis, Mykrä has several odd conclusions. One of them is as follows: “When the official management fails and the social sustainability collapses in the case of a harmful species, the local stakeholders start to enforce alternative management.” In this statement Mykrä gives credit for illegal actions.

Mykrä also states that: “The classification of animal species as useful and harmful is to withdraw from ecological interactions between species, such as the prey-catch relationships and competition between species.” In his last statement, he concludes that: “Social sustainability cannot be built forcefully, but with the genuine involvement of the local level in decision-making concerning harmful species and co-existence should be furthered with incentives.” These conclusions come to mean that, because wolves are a harmful species for humans, bounty hunting should be brought back. Scientifically speaking, there is no new information in this doctoral thesis.