Wildl. Biol. Pract., December 2005, 1(2): 163-183
CR I T E R I A A N D IN D I C A TO R S O F SU S TA I N A B L E HU N T I N G – TH E AU S T R I A N
W. Lexer1*, F. Reimoser2, J. Hackl1, F. Heckl1& M. Forstner3
1Umweltbundesamt Gmbh (Austrian Federal Enviroment Agency Ltd), Vienna, Spittelauer Lände 5, A -
1090 Vienna, A u s t r i a .
* Corresponding author.
(e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Tel.: +43 1 313-04-3480; Fax: +43 1 313 04-3700)
2Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology, University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, Savoyenstraße 1,
A - 1160 Vienna, A u s t r i a .
(e-mail: email@example.com; Tel.: +43 1 4890915 210; Fax: +43 1 4890915 333)
3WWN – Technical Planning and Consulting Bureau for Wildlife Ecology, Forest Management and
Nature, Neustiftstraße 62, A-3925 Arbesbach, A u s t r i a .
(e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Tel.: +43 1 2813 7209; Fax: +43 1 2813 7209-4)
I n t ro d u c t i o n
The concept of sustainable use is the leading paradigm of natural resource policy of
the twenty first century. Following the emergence of the model of sustainable
development at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 [1,2], generic principles of
sustainable natural resource management have been codified and further elaborated
for sectoral implementations. With regard to biological resources, in particular the
Ecosystem Approach [3,4] under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD),
and the recently adopted Addis Ababa Principles and Guidelines for the Sustainable
Use of Biodiversity , are powerful concepts that provide major guidance.
Developing operational concepts of sustainable use, however, requires adequate
tools for assessment, monitoring, and adaptive management. For this purpose, the
application of criteria and indicators (C&I) has become a widely recognized
methodical approach. In the course of follow-up processes to Rio and the adoption
of the CBD , in many countries and by different international institutions criteria
and indicators for sustainable resource management have been developed for
A b s t r a c t
Concepts and assessment tools for sustainable natural resource management
have been developed in, amongst others, forestry, agriculture, fishery and
tourism, but not for hunting or wildlife management. We applied a broad
participatory stakeholder approach for the development of criteria and
indicators of sustainable hunting in Austria. Based on international and
national obligations and provisions, the concept is operational by defining
ecological, economic and socio-cultural principles, criteria and sub-criteria
with indicators and performance scales. The assessment set enables hunters
to assess the degree of sustainability of their own individual practice of
hunting in a self-reliant way. Its main function is to serve as a decision-
supporting and awareness-raising instrument on hunting to identify
deficiencies in sustainability, provide guidance for more sustainable future
hunting practices and monitor effectiveness of management actions. T h e
concept allows adaptation to specific regional conditions and diff e r e n t
national hunting systems and application on regional and supra-regional
s c a l e s .
specific applications in various sectors of landuse (e.g., forest management,
agriculture, fishery, tourism). In hunting and wildlife management, however, a lack
of coherent approaches to define and assess sustainable use has existed.
The need for sustainable hunting is reinforced by a number of reasons. Hunting is
a consumptive use of biological resources that is highly environmentally eff e c t i v e
and actively interferes with many ecosystem processes . By preserving and
taking huntable wild living animals, hunting influences genetic diversity and
composition of game species, game populations in terms of size, density,
distribution, structure, dynamics and behaviour, and condition of game habitats.
I n d i r e c t l y , hunting management also exerts impacts on non-huntable animal
species, plant species and ecosystems in general. In particular in European
multiple-use cultural landscapes these impacts often cause conflicts with the
interests of other forms of landuse, such as forestry, agriculture, transport, and
tourism . Moreover, public acceptance of hunting as a legitimate form of landuse
is decreasing [9,10]. In this context, the issue of the sustainability of hunting should
be addressed. While sustainable hunting may be an almost universally accepted
goal, there is, however, no clear understanding of what “sustainable hunting”
exactly means and how it is to be achieved and measured. Therefore, in the course
of a participatory, multi-sectoral stakeholder process for the first time a
comprehensive assessment framework for sustainable hunting has been developed
in Austria [11 , 1 2 ] .
M e t h o d s
O b j e c t i v e s
The main objective of the project was to create a consistent, coherent and
transparent set of principles, criteria, sub-criteria and indicators that would enable
hunters and game managers to assess the degree of sustainability of their own
individual practice of hunting in a self-dependent and user-friendly way.
Conceptual design and indicator set-up have been fitted to the intended key
functions of the assessment set. These main tasks are to function as a decision-
supporting, awareness-raising and educational instrument for hunters to (1)
facilitate analysis and diagnosis of individual strengths and weaknesses in
sustainable hunting, (2) identify sustainability gaps and prior needs for action, (3)
provide guidance in deducing measures for more sustainable future hunting
practices, (4) assess effectiveness of management actions and monitor progress in
the implementation of hunting sustainability, (5) measure changes in levels of
hunting sustainability on the time-scale, and (6) facilitate comparisons of
sustainability performances between different spatial hunting units
(benchmarking). By defining measurable criteria and indicators, the concept of
sustainable hunting shall be made operational. Apart from serving as a tool for
adaptive management, the assessment set shall contribute to the understanding of
"sustainable hunting" by using practice-relevant contents. Creating a common
understanding of "sustainable hunting" shall foster communication with non-
hunters, facilitate reconciliation of conflicts with involved groups of landusers and
create more objective and solution-oriented discussions on hunting-related issues.
External basic conditions
Particular attention has been given to coherence with obligations resulting from
international binding legal sources (conventions, agreements), and “soft law”
regulations, national implementation strategies and relevant political initiatives and
processes. Sustainable hunting is expected to be part of a comprehensive
sustainable development, as stated at the Earth Summit in Rio [1,2] and in the
preceding Brundtland-Report , and as further particularised in the course of
subsequent sectoral processes, such as the Ministerial Conference on the Protection
of Forests in Europe (MCPFE), whose Pan-European Criteria, Indicators and
Guidelines for Sustainable Forest Management offer many interfaces with game
management [14-16]. Our approach is explicitly committed to the objectives of the
CBD . In Article 2 of the CBD, "sustainable use" is defined as the "... use of
components of biological diversity in a way and a rate that does not lead to the
long-term decline of biodiversity, thereby maintaining its potential to meet the
needs and aspirations of present and future generations." The Ecosystem
Approach, as the primary frame of action under the CBD, provides operational
principles of integrated ecosystem management that have thoroughly been
considered [3,4]. Recommendations in terms of hunting and wildlife management
contained in the Austrian Biodiversity Strategy  have been taken into account.
Our assessment approach is also based on the "Resolution of the IUCN on the
sustainable use of wild living resources" (Amman, 2000), which appreciates that
the consumptive use of wild animals, if it is sustainable, can be an important
conservation tool . However, to determine if a use is sustainable or not,
appropriate assessment criteria are needed.
Within natural resource management a use may be termed sustainable in general
terms if it (1) achieves a proper balance between conservation and sustainable use
of biological resources, (2) obeys the limits of ecological carrying capacity and
ecological functioning of ecosystems, (3) does not exceed the regeneration capacity
of renewable resources, (4) is socially fair and equitable, and (5) preserves an
equivalent resource basis for the needs of future generations [19-21].
Participatory project design and work process
The set-up of the C&I set involved a broad participatory approach that was
gradually extended. It was a multi-sectoral, interdisciplinary, “bottom-up” process
that involved a wide range of stakeholders, experts and practitioners, particularly
representing hunters, science (wildlife ecology, hunting science), forest
management, agriculture, nature conservation, and landowners. In terms of
institutional membership, participants came from organised pressure groups,
NGOs, small and large-scale operations, scientific institutions, authorities, and state
agencies . As a result, the assessment set is based on scientific knowledge and
practice-related expert knowledge, but also reflects the consensus-building process.
In typological terms, the basic conception of our assessment tool may be
characterised as a dynamic, collaborative expert system that is open to updating and
In detail, procedural organisation of the workflow comprised the following
sequential stages (Fig. 1): International and national agreements and initiatives on
the sustainable use of biological resources [e.g.: 3,6,14,15,17,18,23-28],
international standards for designing environmental criteria and indicators sets [29-
45], and principles in terms of hunting ethics, as expressed in the Austrian hunting
laws, were used as a reference frame. Based on preparatory works of the
Umweltbundesamt [7,46], in particular the results of a workshop on "Hunting and
Sustainability" , the architectural structure of the assessment set was conceived
by the core project team. Candidate C&I were collected and reviewed, examined as
to their relevance and completeness, supplemented, newly defined and adapted to
the requirements of the large-scale Austrian game habitats. This lead to a first draft
concept version with a preliminary set of C&I, which then was intensely discussed
within expert groups of limited size. Comments and suggestions were harmonised
and worked into a revised concept version. Subsequently, field testings were
Fig. 1. Sequential stages of the participatory work process.
Grey boxes: elaboration of present C&I set (finished); white boxes: intended further
development (in progress).
conducted by applying the assessment set practically in hunting units of varying
size - hunting grounds, “hunting rings” (loose associations of hunting grounds),
small and large-scale operations. The set proved to be suitable for practical
application; some requests for modifications, however, were integrated into the
concept. In parallel, indicator scalings and evaluation schemes were adjusted by
carrying out scenario analyses. At a workshop, an improved draft final report was
then presented to an extended expert audience and discussed in depth within a larg e
panel. Comments, amendments, and requests for changes were to a great extent
integrated into the report. Written statements, which were considered at least
partially in the final report, are documented in full text in the annex of the published
s t u d y. Therewith, each work phase was accompanied by improvements of the
concept. The full final report "Criteria and Indicators of Sustainable Hunting"
[ 1 1,12] has in the meantime also been made available to a broader audience through
an interactive platform in the World Wide Web (http://www. b i o d i v. a t / c h m / j a g d ) .
The website also offers a guided electronic self-assessment by means of an online-
questionnaire. Voluntary feedback of the users is collected and evaluated and will
be used as input for further development .
The assessment set is structured along two major axis: on the horizontal axis, the
model of "sustainable hunting" is divided into ecological, economic, and socio-
cultural areas of concern, following the common discrimination of "three pillars" of
sustainability . On the vertical axis, within each area the assessment system is
organised as a hierarchical framework that is composed of principles, criteria, sub-
criteria and indicators with performance scales. The set has a tree-like architecture
which - starting from the level of principles at the top and proceeding on down to the
level of sub-criteria - shows a gradually increasing degree of ramification (Fig. 2).
Each principle is specified by a set of criteria, which are again specified by a set of
sub-criteria. Thus, the degree of practical relevancy increases level by level from
top down, while simultaneously the degree of closeness to the model decreases to
the same extent.
Principles describe fundamental objectives derived from the paradigm of
sustainable hunting. They are based on axiomatic value judgements and
characterise a desired ideal state of conditions. Criteria designate certain attributes
of sustainable hunting that are appropriate to define the principles more precisely.
Sub-criteria particularise further selected observable or measurable attributes of the
criteria. Indication and assessment are carried out on the level of the sub-criteria.
Thus, they are required to be particularly practically relevant and meaningful to the
issue of sustainable hunting, representative to the aspect under consideration and
Attaching performance scales to each sub-criterion makes them operational and
capable of functioning as indicators (i.e. as measuring parameters which provide
relevant information about the state of the entity that is the object of assessment
). In general terms, the function of indicators is to reduce the complexity of the
real world and improve interpretation by aggregating and simplifying the available
information [50,51]. In a more specific sense used here, the purpose of the
Fig. 2. Exemplification of the hierarchical structure of the assessment framework (detail).
Within each area of sustainability (ecological, economic, socio-cultural aspects), each
principle is specified by a number of criteria, of which each is again particularized by a set of
sub-criteria. Setting ordinal performance scales with a band width of 2 to 4 grades makes sub-
criteria suitable for operational indication. Grades are defined verbally and describe degrees
of fulfilment of a sub-criterion in practice. By assigning points to each grade they are
transformed to numerical scores. Scaling, benchmarking, and implicit weighting of indicators
was done through participatory decision-making.
indicators is to characterise the extent to which a sub-criterion is met by the given
hunting practice. For scaling the indicators, an ordinal performance scale with a
band providing a number of two to four grades per indicator is used. The grades
represent verbal descriptions of degrees of fulfilment of a sub-criterion (i.e. they
describe qualitative states of the indicandum). The grades may also be viewed as a
set of verbalised assessment options from which the user shall choose the one most
fitting. Wherever possible, quantitative parameters are applied to verify fulfilment
of sub-criteria. In case a scale features only two grades, simple yes/no-decisions are
required. Sometimes, however, only assessments based on qualitative information
are possible, depending on the aspect of hunting being assessed.
Numerical transformation of indicators from grades to scores is done by points
which are assigned to each grade on the performance scale . The maximum
range is between + 4 to – 4 points per indicator, scores below zero meaning
“unsustainable”. As the indicator scalings in terms of points are not equal for each
i n d i c a t o r , this implies that an implicit weighting is being applied. However, no
further weighting of indicators is done.
Principles, criteria, and sub-criteria are provided with detailed explanations to give
guidance on their interpretation, to facilitate understanding of their underlying
rationales and to foster critical reflection of the users´ hunting practice.
The application of certain criteria and sub-criteria is dependent on the specific
regional situation or on the spatial scale being assessed and might not be feasible in
any case. Assessing these optional aspects may be omitted, if the reasons are
pointed out adequately. This is taken into account when evaluating the assessment
results (variable maximum/minimum number of points).
Particularly with regard to intolerable forest damage caused by game species the
use of “knock-out” (KO) or “killer criteria”, whose non-compliance would justify
the overall qualification of the practice of hunting as non-sustainable (and whose
compensation in terms of scored points through good results from the assessment
of other criteria would not be possible), is feasible. As the sustainability of
hunting is determined by influences other than hunting (e.g. game damage by
silviculture-related susceptibility of forests to game damage), it was decided to
abstain from mandatory KO criteria for the time being. However, some of those
candidate KO criteria have been weighted heavier than the others by assigning
more points to them. Under special local or regional conditions, nevertheless the
definition of KO-criteria can be useful, provided that adequate justifications are
p r o v i d e d .
Scope of application
The targeted user groups are hunters, hunting managers, and owners of a
p r o p r i e t o r ’s hunt and tenants of a proprietor’s hunt or a co-operative hunt. T h e
assessment refers to the present state of conditions or - where required - to the
preceding calendar year. For some sub-criteria, the required temporal reference
frame may as well extend longer into the past. The intended spatial reference unit
is the hunting ground, hunting operation or a "hunting ring". Moreover, application
to larger assessment units - across hunting grounds - is possible (e.g., by means
of synoptical or comparative evaluation of hunting ground-based assessment results
within a region, an administrative province or a natural landscape unit that is
homogenous in terms of wildlife-ecological conditions). Considering the often
l a rge -scale mobility of many large game species (e.g., red deer [C e rvus elaphus] ,
wild boars [Sus scro f a], brown bears [Ursus arc t o s]) and migratory birds, this can
be very useful.
The assessment methodology and the set of principles are designed in such a way
as to allow general applicability and spatial transferability. Based on the broad
spectrum of Austrian game habitats, ranging from river floodplains to high alpine
regions, the criteria and sub-criteria are particularly attuned to the conditions of
Central European countries with hunting systems based on hunting grounds.
H o w e v e r , by modifying single sub-criteria in an appropriate way, the set can be
adjusted to specific regional conditions and different national hunting systems.
Our mostly qualitative, user-oriented assessment approach is suitable to be fed back
with quantitative results of complementary objective, large-scale monitoring
systems for wildlife species, game populations and game habitats (e.g., network of
representative monitoring areas) [52,53].
The assessment system shall be used voluntarily as a means to support self-
estimation. It was not designed for use as an instrument of governance, legislation
or administration, although the expertise contained therein can be adapted for such
purposes if demanded by future social and political developments . However,
introduction of major contents to teaching aids and education and training
programmes for hunters is a desired application.
Evaluation operates with the number of points scored for each sub-criterion. To
gain clear information on the sustainability of hunting, two types of evaluation are
provided. In a synoptical type of evaluation, the scored points of each individual
sub-criterion/indicator are represented separately and visualised in juxtaposition
using a coloured "sustainability performance scale" (Fig. 3). As no aggregation of
the primary indicators is applied, specific strengths and weaknesses become
visible at a glance on the level closest to practical hunting. A second type of
evaluation uses a simple numerical-additive technique of aggregation up to the
hierarchical level of the three major groups of sustainability aspects (i.e., ecology,
e c o n o m y, socio-cultural aspects). Scores in points within each group are added up,
calculated in percentage of the respective maximum number of points and then
allocated to one of five evaluation classes, which are assigned value rates ranging
from "very good (1)" to "very bad (5)" (Fig. 4). The qualification “very bad” is
given to sums below zero. T h e r e b y, a condensed representation of assessment
results within each major group of sustainability aspects is accomplished, and both
deficiencies and balance with regard to major aspects of sustainable hunting
become evident. The same evaluation procedure may also be applied to individu al
principles or criteria. The concept basically also allows the establishment of p o i n t
limits (minimum requirements) for individual principles or criteria if a j u s t i f i c a t i o n
Both types of evaluation are intended to be used complementary to provide a
maximum amount of information on sustainable hunting practice.
Fig. 3. Evaluation scheme type 1: Assessment profile of one assessment unit (fictitious
evaluation example, detail; for full coloured figure refer to [11,12,48]).
Assessment results for individual indicators are visualized and represented synoptically.
Column on the left: sub-criteria/indicators; horizontal lines on the right: band width of scales
per indicator; white dots: scored no. of pts. per indicator; figures: scores in pts. per grade;
interpretation: high positive scores (right end of band) indicate good sustainability
performance, low negative scores (left end of band) indicate unsustainable hunting practices.
Fig. 4. Evaluation scheme type 2: Aggregation of assessment results within each major group
of sustainability aspects (fictitious evaluation example; for coloured figure refer to [11 , 1 2 , 4 8 ] ) .
Additive aggregation of scored points, calculation in percentage of maximum number of
points per group, allocation to one of 5 evaluation classes, verbal rating of intervals, coloured
sustainability performance scale with continous transition between sustainable (green) and
unsustainable (red). “Best” and “worst” results for individual indicators are displayed
separately. Maximum and minimum numbers of points are variable to allow for consideration
of omitting of optional indicators.
R e s u l t s
Assessment Set: Technical contents
We defined 11 principles, 20 criteria, and 39 sub-criteria with indicators (Table 1).
In the following section, major contents of the assessment set are briefly outlined.
For complete information, refer to [11 , 1 2 , 4 9 ] .
Table 1. Synopsis of the principles, criteria and sub-criteria of sustainable hunting [11,12].
Cell margins of columns and rows indicate the hierarchical structure of the assessment set.
Positive and negative figures give the possible maximum and minimum number of points per
group of sustainability aspects, per principle, and per criterion, and the band width of indicator
scalings respectively. Column “No” … sequential numbers of sub-criteria; X… optional sub-
criteria (assessment may be omitted, if justification is given).
(Pts. max./min.) No SUB-CRITERION
Ecology 48 -21
The practice of hunting
shall within its range
ensure the conservation
and improvement of the
diversity of game species
through protection and use
Potential natural wildlife
species inventory taking into
account the current habitat
situation (applies only to larger
territorial units, e.g. a wildlife-
ecologically homogeneous area
or a Province) (6/-3)
1Current and potential list of wildlife species 2 0
Dealing with newly appearing species (in
accordance with the potential wildlife species
X 2 -1
3Dealing with wildlife species not contained in the
potential wildlife species inventory X 2 -2
Hunting is oriented according
to the behaviour of wildlife
4Giving consideration to the undisturbed life cycle of
wildlife species 2 -1
5Considering the reproductive periods of the
individual game species 3 0
6Existence of hunting guidelines across hunting
grounds 4 -2
The conservation and
improvement of wildlife
habitats is an objective of
the practice of hunting
Hunting and its
interrelationship with other
forms of land use (10/-4)
7Existence of a strategy to coordinate hunting with
other forms of land use 2 0
8Considering seasonal bottleneck situations in food
supplies 2 -2
9 Existence of a shooting plan and a shooting list 3 -1
10 Structure of shooting plan and shooting list 3 -1
Giving consideration to the
impact of game on vegetation
11 Existence of control fences to monitor browsing X 2 0
12 Giving consideration to the results of objective
forest monitoring systems X 2 0
13 Giving consideration to the protective function of
the forest X 2 0
14 Preventing game damage that is unacceptable
particularly in terms of public interest 0 -4
15 Giving consideration to population fluctuations 2 -2
Conservation and promotion
of biotope connectivity (4/-2)
16 Giving consideration to existing wildlife habitat
fragmentation X 2 -1
17 Increasing the attractiveness of important wildlife
corridors and obligatory wildlife passages X 2 -1
Giving consideration to habitat
18 Completeness of the wildlife habitat 2 -1
19 Giving consideration to competitive relationships
of various wildlife species 2 -1
20 Extent of annual growth rate in ungulates 2 0
Table 1. (cont.)
(Pts. max./min.) No SUB-CRITERION
The natural genetic
diversity of game species
is conserved and fostered
by means of an appropriate
hunting practice (5/-1)
There are no hunting-related
limitations to the conservation
and fostering of the natural
genetic variability of game
Existence of aims relating to the aesthetics of
trophies (forms of horns and antlers) in shooting
22 Selective hunting of wildlife according to certain
natural characteristics of individuals 2 0
Native wildlife populations are
not altered by the introduction
of and blending with exotic (not
native, alien) wildlife (1/-1)
23 Introduction of exotic (not native, alien) wildlife 1 -1
Economy 26 -9
Securing and/or improving
the economic profitability
of hunting is an objective
of hunting (8/-3)
The profitability of hunting is
secured over a medium term
24 Existence of a marketing strategy 2 0
25 Expense/yield ratio 2 -1
26 Marketing of game X 2 -1
The value of hunting is
maintained and/or fostered by
the practice of hunting (2/-1)
27 Hunting-related measures to increase the market
value X 2 -1
Preserving and fostering
the condition of the game
is an objective of hunting
Average game weight (5/-1) 28 Continuous, long-term comparison of game
weights 3 0
29 How high is the game weight? 2 -1
Existence of a time- and area-
specific hunting strategy (3/0) 30
Existence of an economically sound hunting
strategy for the temporal and spatial
implementation of hunting, documentation of the
planning, practice and evaluation of hunting
Preventing damage to
agriculture and forestry is
an objective of hunting
Hunting is oriented according
to the susceptibility of
agricultural land and managed
forests to game damage (4/-2)
31 Giving consideration to game damage
susceptibility 4 -2
Making use of synergies
with other economic
branches is an objective of
Hunting forms an economic
unit with other foreseeable
anthropogenic forms of land
32 Confirming a common policy 2 -1
Optimising planned changes in
wildlife habitats by way of
33 Interdisciplinary wildlife-ecological spatial
planning (WESP) 4 -2
Socio-cultural aspects 11 -9
The use interests of the
local population in hunting
are taken into account (3/0)
Hunting establishes balanced
relationships to the local
population through an
appropriate involvement of
local hunters (3/0)
Reconciling the interests of local hunters permitted
to hunt locally and local hunters not permitted to
Securing local jobs in the
field of hunting is to be an
Hunting contributes to
securing employment by
providing job opportunities
35 Providing jobs in the field of hunting 2 -1
Hunting should find broad
acceptance among the local
Giving consideration to the
interests of the local
36 Documentation of disagreements at the local
authority 2 -2
Hunting is oriented
according to the well-being
of the game (4/-6)
Hunting is practised with as
little adverse effects on the
natural behaviour of wildlife
as possible (2/-2)
37 The behaviour of wildlife shows that it feels safe
and undisturbed by hunting activities 2 -2
Hunting causes as little pain
for animals as possible (2/-4)
38 Violations of legal regulations regarding animal
protection 0 -4
39 Training in shooting 2 0
E c o l o g y
As far as ecological aspects are concerned, the P, C and I are oriented on the
conservation and improvement of game species diversity, genetic diversity of game
species and diversity of game habitats. Particular importance is attached to the handling
of potentially natural game species (present, returning, extinct species) and non-
autochthonous species. The amount of consideration that is given to the undisturbed life
cycle of wildlife species, to critical factors of the reproductive biology of sensitive
species and to the large-scale mobility of game species across hunting grounds indicates
whether hunting is oriented according to the behaviour of wildlife species.
Other indicators deal with interactions of hunting with other forms of land use (e.g.,
agriculture, forestry), which requires an adequate strategy that should be established in
a hunting concept. Hunting strategies should consider the seasonal fluctuations in food
supplies of wildlife. Shooting plans and shooting lists are an absolute requirement for
planning and documenting hunting activities because they are crucial instruments for
the regulation of game stocks.
Considering the impact of game on vegetation is highly important . Browsing
control fences and forest monitoring systems are considered to be useful instruments to
control game impacts by browsing. When assessing ecological sustainability,
preventing unacceptable game damage is of particular significance, especially with
regard to the protective function of forests. Tolerating temporary natural population
fluctuations of abundant ungulate game species below average levels is another
indicator related to this issue.
The last few decades have seen an increase in habitat alteration and fragmentation,
which was caused mainly by agricultural landscapes poor in structural diversity and by
high-ranking transportation infrastructure. It is therefore assessed whether the
possibilities for linking biotopes are exhausted and whether migration zones and
wildlife corridors are taken into account by hunting. Furthermore, the varying habitat
capacity for game populations has to be considered . By considering habitat
improvement measures, hunting is able to contribute to meeting the habitat
requirements of wildlife. Competitive relationships of various species should be given
consideration to by hunting (e.g., by regulating increasing populations of game species
that are threatening the viability of other wildlife species directly or indirectly). T h e
extent of annual growth rate in ungulates may indicate whether the density of game
populations is adapted to habitat capacity.
The impact of hunting on the genetic diversity of game species is indicated by assessing
whether shooting guidelines are oriented on aims relating to the aesthetics of trophies
(i.e., forms of horns and antlers), and whether shooting is carried out in a selective way
(e.g., according to idealised (unrealistic) images of trophies, preferred shooting of male
individuals or of individuals with certain natural behaviour patterns). Moreover, the
introduction of exotic game species contributes to alteration of the natural gene pool.
E c o n o m y
Securing the capability of yielding returns and the profitability of hunting is a major
objective of economically sustainable hunting . Accomplishment of this objective
is, for instance, indicated by the existence of a marketing strategy for game, bags,
shootings, and trophies, by the monetary expense-yield ratio of a hunting operation, and
by the amount of proceeds from game. Also, for tenants and owners of proprietor’s
hunts, hunting-related measures to increase the market value of a hunt are evaluated,
such as investments in installations and equipment on the hunting ground. Long-term
documentation of game weights is used as an indicator for the yield and economic value
of hunting; it can also provide some evidence on the condition of the game, which in
turn can to some extent be influenced by hunting strategies . An economically
sound, spatial and temporal hunting strategy is crucial for the efficiency of hunting and
therefore should be continuously documented in a written hunting concept.
Orientation of the practice of hunting on the susceptibility of agricultural crops and
forest stands to damage by game is an important attribute of economically sustainable
hunting. This requires organizing hunting activities with other land use sectors and their
representatives on a regular and mutual basis. Hunters are able to optimise both
s y n e r gies with other economic branches and interferences in wildlife habitats by
actively supporting wildlife ecological spatial planning (legally binding or applied
voluntarily on a regional scale) . Such commitment is therefore considered as a
contribution to the sustainability of hunting.
Indicators of socio-cultural aspects refer to the relationships among hunters and
between hunters and non-hunters, and to ethical issues.
Reconciliation of interests between local hunters permitted to hunt locally and those
who are not indicates the extent to which the hunting interests of the local population
are considered. Disagreements documented at the local authority provide clues as to
whether the interests of the non-hunting local population, particularly those of land
owners, land users and their representatives, are taken account of, which is seen as a
valuable contribution to safeguarding sustained social acceptance of hunting.
Contributions of hunting to securing local jobs are used as another indicator.
Sustainable hunting must comply with the requirements of modern animal protection.
Hunting must be carried out in such a way as to ensure that the pain caused to the hunted
game is as little as possible. Here, appropriate and regular training in shooting and
compliance with animal welfare laws are demanded. If the behaviour of game shows
that it feels safe and undisturbed by hunting activities, this is regarded as an important
indicator of its well-being.
D i s c u s s i o n
For the process set-up, no particular socio-scientific model, but a flexible, case-based
approach was applied. While various forms of participation may not be new to conflict
management in environmental planning and natural resource affairs, no similar nation-
wide multi-stakeholder process in relation to hunting issues is known in Europe.
Responding to increasing international demands for participatory indicator
development [2,3,4], our basic idea was to establish an organisational framework that
fosters collaborative learning and acceptance of the project outcome by the targ e t e d
users. We assumed that acceptance is facilitated by active personal involvement in the
decision-making process and is, in turn, the pre-condition for commitment to
implementation of jointly elaborated results . Involving the accountable social
actors directly from the beginning was also based on the conviction that hunting and
wildlife management in the end is to a greater extent a human problem than a
biological one, and that managing people is much more effective than managing the
All stages of the participation process brought about modifications and improvements
of the study without, however, fundamentally altering the substance of the draft
version agreed upon in the first expert group discussion. Also, the basic structure of the
assessment set and the assessment methodology remained virtually unchanged. W h e n
b a rgaining trade-offs, the core project team was flexible about the wordings, while
remaining firm about substantial contents. Further changes focused on scalings, scores
and weighting of indicators.
Among the C&I sets studied, the conceptual framework of CIFOR for sustainable
forest management [29,31] and two topical workshops held by the Umweltbundesamt
[32,47] provided guidance for our project. The development of indicators usually faces
the so-called “pyramid dilemma”. Top-down approaches that attempt to infer
indicators from the generic model often lack problem-adequacy, whereas problem-
oriented bottom-up approaches that try to condensate indicators by aggregating
available data may lack coherency with the questions being asked [50,62]. To bypass
this dilemma, we chose a more flexible, dual approach by practising a mix of both
techniques. The construction of the assessment framework was based on a scoping of
existent practical problems, while simultaneously orienting on superior principles of
sustainable hunting [19,50]. No particular theoretical model was used to derive our
"B a s i c a l l y, everything is an indicator of something but nothing is an indicator of
e v e ry t h i n g" . This statement shows that the selection of indicators and the
identification of attributes suitable for verification is a difficult and critical step.
Indicators are tools that determine the image we construct about our environment. T h e
choice of indicators determines what is being assessed and affects the quality of
assessment results .
Apart from standard methodical criteria [62,65], indicator selection is heavily
dependent on the intended purpose of assessment and the targeted user group . Our
assessment set directly appeals to hunters and is aimed at influencing practical hunting
b e h a v i o u r . Thus, indicators were required to be representative and relevant to hunting-
related problems and meaningful in terms of sustainable hunting . Moreover, in
particular pragmatic, user-oriented selection criteria were essential to meet the specific
practice-related requirements: simplicity, practicability, easy applicability and user-
friendliness, clearness and time-efficient verification.
This has implications for data requirements: indicators must be applicable without a
l a rge amount of quantitative data, additional data collections, or in-depth
investigations. Instead, data input for assessment must largely rely on the information
that can be expected to be readily available within the individual hunting ground, and
on instant "soft" expert knowledge based on experience.
B a s i c a l l y, each indicator approach represents a trade-off between scientific accuracy
and both practicability and usefulness . Not everything that can be observed can
easily be measured . Moreover, observable attributes often do not have to be
measured to provide useful information. For us, it was essential to include qualitative,
b e h a v i o u r -related attributes of hunting in the C&I-set. Focussing exclusively on
information that can easily be quantified would have unnecessarily narrowed our
perception of reality and reduced the set’s force of expression . This implies that
verification of some sub-criteria may demand a certain amount of discretionary
decision on the part of the users. However, one must remember that this is a self-reliant
approach meant to support self-assessment, whose emphasis is on changing cognitive
and behavioural patterns related to hunting, rather than on accurate "measuring" of
hunting sustainability in quantitative terms.
Since participatory indicator development grants legitimization by stakeholders,
scaling and benchmarking of indicators could be done in a collaborative manner,
which warrants inter-subjectivity. To some extent, the implicit weighting of the
indicators (i.e., range of points, no. of points per grade) is therefore connected to
value-based decisions of the participants that, however, reflect the consensus-
building process. Still, as the scores in points are laid open via the performance
scales, the accomplishment of the assessment results is transparent and reproducible
Aggregation of indicator performances by means of simple mathematical summation
of scored points, as applied in evaluation type 2 (Fig. 4), is an often used technique to
condense information [29,31,34]. This may lead to the concealing of
interdependencies and of overlaps between individual indicators . But for the
pragmatic purpose of supporting a quick and rough assessment of the extent to which
the three major areas of sustainability are affected by strengths and weaknesses, this
objection is negligible (e.g. hunters might want to know if they are "better" in the
ecological or economic area). However, no further aggregation beyond the level of
ecological, economic, socio-cultural groups of aspects is performed, because
producing one single "sustainability value" would only reduce the value of
information. Also, except adding up scores in points and relating them to the maximum
number of points of each group, no other calculations and no mathematical algorithms
are applied, since this would reduce transparency of the evaluation scheme and might
be questionable in methodological terms due to the use of ordinal indicator scalings
. Possible loss of information in consequence of aggregation is avoided by
providing the evaluation type 1 (Fig. 3), which presents the scores of all individual
analytical indicators in overview. It provides a complete assessment profile of the
assessment unit under investigation. In a similar way, for comparative assessment of
d i fferent hunting grounds, indicator profiles displaying all results of one indicator for
each assessment unit can be produced. Complementary use of both evaluation schemes
allows swift identification of strengths and weaknesses regarding sustainability
performance and facilitates interpretation. Using coloured graphical “sustainability
performance scales” increases the clearness of representation.
The issue of feeding is not dealt with directly in the assessment system because it can
have very diverse impacts on the indicators and thus is difficult to assess as to its
e f fects in terms of sustainable hunting. Depending on how and on which location it is
carried out, feeding may reduce game damage (e.g. of forests), but it may also cause
such damage. Where natural winter habitats, e.g. for red deer, are not available
anymore (due to anthropogenic influences), feeding may represent a technical
“remedy” for the lost habitat, which allows a sustainable use of the respective animal
species . If feeding contributes in a positive sense to a better fulfilment of the
sustainability criteria, it is automatically positively entered into the assessment.
Negative impacts of feeding on sustainability are sufficiently reflected in the existing
Interpretation of assessment results
The concept is deliberately weighted towards ecological sustainability, because the
integrity and functional capability of the ecological system determines the potential for
sustainable development of the social and economic human sub-systems [20,69]. T h i s
is reflected by the higher number of sub-criteria and the higher number of maximum
and lower number of minimum scores in the ecological area. This implies that the class
widths of the evaluation classes (evaluation scheme 2; Fig. 4) are larger in the
ecological area compared to the economic and socio-cultural areas, which particularly
applies to the class "very bad". Thus, good evaluation results in terms of ecologic
sustainability may be more difficult to achieve.
Certain indicators from different areas of sustainability may be controversial to each
o t h e r . Also, the same sub-criterion may be assessed differently from the perspective of
d i fferent areas. During the assessment process, it therefore is important to always be
aware of the area a certain sub-criterion belongs to, to avoid, for instance, an intuitive
incline towards economic judgement when assessing an ecological sub-criterion (and
r e c i p r o c a l l y ) .
L i m i t a t i o n s
This is a hunting-specific C&I-set. The influences of hunting on animal species that
are not hunted are not explicitly covered by our approach. Also, the manifold impacts
from other land uses on wildlife, wildlife habitats and hunting management which
often superimpose influences exerted by hunting itself and restrict its scope for action
 are not subject of our assessment system. Only actions of hunting itself that may
contribute to optimising interrelations with other economic sectors are assessed.
Nevertheless, it intendedly offers interfaces towards other forms of land use; it
therefore can be integrated into future cross-sectoral sustainability concepts.
As is inherent in any self-assessment, a source of constraint lies in a certain scope of
subjective interpretation some sub-criteria leave to the user. A certain amount of honesty
and ability for self-criticism is required and must be expected from the users.
Due to difficulties in defining verifiable sub-criteria, the present version of the
assessment set may lack socio-cultural indicators dealing with aspects of hunting
tradition and hunting culture in the narrower sense. This gap shall be closed in the future.
A c k n o w l e d g e m e n t s
The project has been conducted by the Umweltbundesamt GmbH (Austrian Federal Environment
Agency Ltd), the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology at the University of Veterinary Medicine
Vienna, and the Technical Consulting and Planning Bureau DI Martin Forstner – WNN. The study has
been financially supported by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and
Water Management (Lebensministerium) and translated with support by FUST A c h e n k i r c h / T yrol. T h e
authors wish to express thanks to all who participated in the development.
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