Aldo Leopold Keynote Address

Where Science Meets Culture: How Belief Systems Influence Wildlife Policy and Management

DATE: Sept. 24, 2017
TIME: 11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m.
LOCATION: Kiva Auditorium


Dale R. McCullough
Professor Emeritus, Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management and Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California, Berkeley.Dale McCullough was born on a farm in Salem, South Dakota, where he grew up working on the farm and hunting and fishing with his father. At the risk of being unpopular among peers, McCullough’s approach to research throughout his career — to first search for the scientific question, to have hypotheses, to test theories and so on — earned him the Aldo Leopold Memorial Award in 2016. With a B.S. in Wildlife Management from South Dakota State University, an M.S. from Oregon State and finally a Ph.D. in zoology from the University of California, Berkeley, where he would eventually retire as Professor Emeritus, his resume features 10 books and a myriad of other publications. Before his retirement, his academic family was estimated to have over 410 members (students, students of students and so on) but he estimates that number has nearly doubled in the years since. Some of his best-known work came during the 28 years he spent researching white-tailed deer on the E. S. George Reserve in Michigan. The research led to the publication of The George Reserve Deer Herd: Population Ecology of a K-Selected Species in 1979, a publication which has been cited over 600 times. He has since done much more work internationally, and although he officially retired in 2004, he has continued research on kangaroos and drought cycles in Australia as well as Amur leopards and Siberian tigers in Far East Russia.



Science is the process by which we learn the fundamental truths about the natural world. Actions that are scientifically sound, consistent, and verifiable are the means by which resource management and conservation goals are achieved. While science is unequivocal, its pursuit is flawed by limitations in methods and the fact that professionals too have imperfections. There often is resistance when new scientific results contradict conventional wisdom. The greatest barriers, however, are cultural beliefs. Humans are imbued with a fear of the unknown, and have invented and strongly advocated narratives to explain the world through religion, politics, mythologies, and “conventional wisdom”. While belief systems are being slowly eroded by science, they are still a major influence in society. I will discuss some personal experiences with these conflicts in working to save the endangered tule elk, arguments with other scientists about population dynamics, especially the role of density dependence, predator control programs, and related topics.