Phil Peak wrote:So what you're saying is...
I understand that you likely view the undertaking as impossibly difficult. This is something I've encountered numerous times before when I used to do wildlife population modeling professionally. Field-oriented people, the ones who really get to know the organism so well and are therefore called upon for the necessary data or estimates of its life history traits, almost invariably start out in the process 1) convinced that nowhere near enough is yet known about the organism and 2) no computer model could possibly adequately capture the complexity that is the organism's life history and population dynamics. They feel this way even if - heck, from what I've seen, especially when - they themselves are sitting on a truly remarkable treasure trove of long- and hard-earned information about the organism; if they weren't so upset about what was being asked of them and what was being done with the information they provide, it would be downright funny. I really have seen it time and again. I suppose that 1) stems simply from the fact that they don't yet know nearly as much about the organism as they want to, which is perfectly understandable but is also really just an insatiable desire that shouldn't be allowed to stop the proceedings. As I said, an awful lot can generally be done with amazingly little data, and there's pretty much always a lot more data (or good estimates) available than people realize or are willing to admit. Number 2 is understandable, too. In many cases these folks have spent a significant portion of their lives studying the organism, by all that long, hard work they know it better than anyone, and yet they feel as if they've just read the first chapter or two of its marvelous story. And now some dweeb sitting at a computer is going to take their data and estimates and in fairly short order supposedly crank out results that tell us all something new and important about the organism? No way is that possible! As I said, it's understandable. But it's also wrong, as many decades of wildlife management have demonstrated in working with many populations of many species. Population modeling works extremely well, indeed. No model ever starts out or ends in perfect form, but they always start out well enough to tell folks something of value (even if, in the really rough cases, nothing more than where effort should be focused to obtain information for another stab at modeling) and they always rapidly improve from there. Again, this isn't something someone told me or I read in a book, I've seen it.
Fortunately, most of the field-oriented folk come around eventually, and for good reason. A tome on a species' natural history is a marvelous thing, incredibly fulfilling to create and incredibly useful to have. But a computer model of its population dynamics and assessment of its potential threats is incredibly useful, too, and in ways that a marvelous narrative alone could never be. So these people generally allow themselves to be cajoled into participating in the process (probably in some cases thinking they'll use the opportunity to expose the modelers as charlatans ), and if they stay close to it throughout - which I really recommend, even if the modeler involved would rather just take the numbers and run - they learn to appreciate it as an important complement to their own work. Not a bastardization of their life's work, but a functional commemoration of it. I won't deny that the most emotionally involved people still sometimes remain suspicious by the process' end. But I can assure you that wildlife managers and legislators are in their turn much more trusting of and able to put to good use the results of a computer population model than the private notebooks or even published papers of a whole room full of experts. And for good reason, as I said; these models work.
Phil, as distrusting as you are of the process, I nonetheless strongly recommend that you look into whether your wildlife agency might already have started it. If it's clear they haven't, ask them why not and offer your services as an expert on KY's timber rattlesnakes to help them get going on it. And if they simply don't feel it's important enough to pursue but you still do, hustle on over to yonder university and find some professor or graduate student in its wildlife department to instead help you get going on it. All I know of you is what I've seen of you online over the years, but that's been ample to convince me that you have a great deal of knowledge on this subject and/or have access to same that would enable a good model to be made, and that knowledge is of course really the most valuable component in all of this; as I said, the initial models themselves are fairly simply things to learn how to build and run (though they can ultimately become quite sophisticated when the occasion demands), though their results can be quite powerful. Remember, you can always decide to remain suspicious or downright cynical toward the model's usefulness after participating in its creation, if that's how you really feel then.
Bryan, I really don't think I am making it sound easier than it is. One doesn't need to learn all the ins and outs of the various software available these days just to be able to use it (especially if someone who knows it better is guiding one's efforts), and if nothing else one can even build very simple but surprisingly useful models without such software, just plugging things into a spreadsheet with a few hand-entered formulas. Heck, when I was first exposed to this stuff I used paper, pencil and a calculator (yeah, I'm kind of old, but wildlife population modeling long precedes even calculators, you know). No one needs to go straight to the latest, most sophisticated program available just because that's what professionals and graduate students prefer to do. Too, Phil can always take a closer look into the subject for himself before deciding whether it's more than he wants to take on.
But I certainly agree with and appreciate what else you added to the discussion. These models are just meant to approximate reality, and even then only with respect to aspects of it that are of particular interest. They are not meant to replace reality, nor ever could. They're learning tools, not final answers. And again, they accordingly always start out rougher than they end up.