Wolves ARE The True Lords Of Nature!

It’s important to remember why we need wolves!

This was one of my early posts in the fall of 2009. Wolves were being hunted in Idaho and Montana for the first time since their near extermination in the lower 48.

October 29, 2009 

Wolves effect their surroundings and bring life to the lands they inhabit. For sixty years elk browsed the meadows of the North Fork of the Flathead, in Montana. Their adversary, Canis Lupus, who had chased them through time, was gone, hunted to extinction in the West.

Then the wolf came home to it’s native habitat and dispersed the elk. This brought back the aspen and willow, young shoots no longer trampled under the complacent elk’s hooves. With the aspen came the songbirds and other wildlife.

Once more the circle was complete with the return of the great canine, the wolf.

 “Aspen ecosystems are considered some of the finest and richest songbird habitat on the continent, second only to river-bottom riparian zones. Remove the wolf, and you remove the songbirds. Remove the songbirds, and the bugs move in. Everything changes, top to bottom, right down to the dirt”…..Cristina Eisenberg,  Oregon State University researcher

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Wolves Increase Biodiversity And Greatly Benefit The Ecosystems They Inhabit

Matt Skoglund Wildlife Advocate, Livingston, Montana

Posted October 26, 2009 in Saving Wildlife and Wild Places

Wolves matter.

They lead to more songbirds.  Better trout habitat.  More game birds.  Less insects.  Better soil.  Fewer coyotes.  Wilder elk.  More aspen trees.

Wolves, in essence, are key to a healthy landscape.

So says biologist Christina Eisenberg in a fascinating Missoulian article on the effect of wolves — and their absence — on an ecosystem.

Eisenberg has been studying the top-to-bottom effect of wolves — called a “trophic cascade” — in Glacier National Park for years.  She’s also been researching ecosystems near St. Mary’s, Montana, and in Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada.

“Each study site is about the same size, and each has a similarly large elk population, native to an aspen-based winter range, and each has the same general density of cougars and bears.”  The difference between the sites is the number of resident wolves:  St. Mary’s has none, Waterton some, and Glacier many.

Her findings on the much heated debate over wolves and elk mirror what others have found:  there are plenty of elk in the Northern Rockies, but the return of wolves has made the elk behave again like wild elk:

The North Fork, Eisenberg said, is “full of wolves,” and has been for 20 years now.  It’s also full of elk – as many as 14 elk per square kilometer in this meadow, where the wolf den site is located.  Elk scat litters the ground not 20 yards from the den.

Clearly, the wolves aren’t eating all the elk.  But aside from the tracks and the scat and the bones and the antlers, there are no elk to be seen.

“They’ve totally changed their behavior,” Eisenberg said.  “For 60 years we’ve become used to complacent elk.  These elk aren’t complacent.  They’re on high alert.”

From a browse standpoint, that means elk eat a bit and move on, eat a bit and move on, never standing in one place long enough to eat a tree down to its roots.  And from a human standpoint, it means hunters see far fewer elk even as state wildlife officials insist Montana has more deer and elk than it’s had for years.

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Hunters, of course, prefer elk that aren’t quite so wily, but trophic cascades work both ways in wildlife management.  Remove the wolves, and elk are easier to find.  But then coyote populations explode, eating their way through the local game-bird population.  Enhance one hunting opportunity, and you affect another.

And from a bigger viewpoint than just elk, Eisenberg has found that wolves increase biodiversity and greatly benefit the overall health of the areas they inhabit:

Remove the wolves, she said, and you lose the birds.

Remove the wolves, she said, and the coyotes fill the niche.  The coyotes eat the ground squirrels, and so the meadows don’t get “plowed,” and soil productivity declines.

Remove the wolves, she said, and the deer eat the river-bottom willows, and the bull trout lose both their shade and their food, as insects no longer fall from overhanging brush.

Remove the wolves, she said, “and everything changes.”

Why is this so noteworthy?

Because the places with greatest biodiversity are the places most resilient, most able to adapt to, say, changing climate.

And Eisenberg wisely thinks her — and others’ — findings should guide wolf management.

Wolf populations aren’t recovered with 12 breeding pairs, or 15, or 20, Eisenberg said.  They’re recovered when there are enough wolves and other top-end predators to maximize biodiversity.  

Her findings are important, and they’re timely, as wolves are being gunned down all over Idaho and Montana right now.

In her research and in this article, Eisenberg simply and unequivocally points out a critical fact that’s been lost in the recent debate over the wolf hunts:

Wolves matter.

http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/mskoglund/wolves_increase_biodiversity_a.html

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Tracking science: Biologist’s findings show forest diversity, health influenced by wolves

Wolf%20pack

http://www.missoulian.com/lifestyles/territory/article_3ec9fc54-c01f-11de-bf16-001cc4c002e0.html

Photo: first people

Photo: wolf wallpaper

Categories posted in: biodiversity, wolf recovery, gray wolf,  Glacier National Park

Tags: wolf recovery, gray wolf,  biodiversity

Taking a Break From The Hate!

It’s not easy running a pro-wolf blog in 2010, it feels more like 1910. Sometimes I write my posts through tears, because I can’t fathom the vitriol directed at wolves. 

When a girl was filmed throwing newborn puppies off a bridge into an icy river, the world was outraged and rightly so, I couldn’t bring myself to watch the video. But the state of Idaho is talking about gassing wolf pups to death in their dens, sterilizing alpha pairs and the world is silent? Where’s the outrage? Where’s the media? They are reporting this as if it’s just business as usual. What makes killing wolf pups so cruelly any different then tossing puppies off a bridge?

To get away from it all I enjoy hiking and spending time in the wilderness. It’s necessary for my mental health. Nobody could write about this 24/7 without some kind of a diversion. So as we’ve done many times over the years, we hiked into Glacier National Park, traveling up Going-to-the-Sun road to Logan Pass, then on to Hidden Lake. We were so lucky to be on the pass over the past weekend.  Mountain goats, Big Horned Sheep, marmots and ground squirrels abounded. Didn’t see wolves or grizzlies but that’s for another trip. 

I posted some of the pics on Wolf Warrior’s Facebook page. It was a balm to my spirit to see these beautiful animals flourishing in the high alpine meadows on the Crown of the Continent.

Mountain goat billy, losing his horn.

Mama mountain goat (nanny) and her babes (kids)

Hoary Marmot

Alpine Meadow

Approach to Hidden Lake

Big Horn Sheep Rams

 

Big Horned Sheep Ewe

Hidden Lake

 

Photos: Nabeki

Posted in: Glacier National Park

Tags: Hidden Lake, Logan Pass, Glacier National Park, Big Horned Sheep, Mountain Goats, Marmots

Controversy Surrounds Wolves Poached In North Fork

Three wolves were poached in the North Fork of the Flathead recently but the quota of allowable hunted wolves was not changed in response to those illegal acts.  Montana FWP defended their non-action on the premise that wolves die from lots of things so they just worked the poached wolf numbers into general wolf mortality.  Sorry I’m not buying it.  Three wolves were illegally shot and the guy that shot two of them, Randy Houk from Columbia Falls, Mt,  got off with a fine.  He didn’t lose his hunting license, because supposedly he cooperated with authorities.  So what, give him a gold star and still take away his hunting license.  Altogether five wolves were lost in the North Fork.  Two to hunting and three to poaching.  Why not stronger poaching consequences?

There are two North Fork wolf packs that den in the relative safety of Glacier National Park, the Dutch Pack and Kintla Pack.  Before wolf hunting started these packs were safe to roam, as wolves have been doing in the North Fork for the last thirty years.  Unfortunately, like Yellowstone’s Cottonwood Pack, they don’t read signs and regularly cross back and forth across park boundaries.

Why are wolves being “managed” as replaceable units with the “wolf is a wolf is wolf” approach? The loss of alphas can destroy a pack, as we saw in the recent slaying of Yellowstone’s Cottonwood alphas.  Defenders of Wildlife spoke out on this issue stating poached wolves should be counted in the quota. 

In the meantime wolf hunting marches on with 98 dead wolves in Idaho and 64 + 3 poached wolves in Montana.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Categories posted in: Glacier National Park, Montana wolf hunt, North Fork,

Tags: wolf poaching, Montana wolf hunt, gray wolf

Montana and Idaho Close Two Wolf Hunt Kill Zones Today

the wolf hunt

MONTANA

Montana FWP closed the North Fork of the Flathead sub-unit wolf  kill zone.  The area had a quota of two wolves, which was reached today.  Three wolves were also poached in that area and FWP did not re-adjust the quota downward after the poaching incidents, as many people felt they should.  But then even talking about numbers of dead wolves is a grim business. 

In Montana, 59 wolves have been shot and killed by hunters, since the wolf hunt started on September 15, 2009, not including the three poached wolves.  Nineteen more wolves will lose their lives before the guns are silenced and the hunt is over.

We can’t bring the dead wolves back but we can work to see this doesn’t happen again next year.   Because the Obama Administration went forward with the delisting of gray wolves in the Northern Rockies, they are now being hunted, mere months after losing their Endangered Species protections.  I’m extremely disappointed in this administration for the actions they took to endanger gray wolves recovery.  So much for Obama’s campaign mantra of “Yes We Can”…it should have been… “Business As Usual“.  Shame!

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Wolf hunt closed west of Glacier National Park after Monday morning kill at Big Creek

http://www.missoulian.com/news/local/article_33bc673e-cd8f-11de-9c5f-001cc4c03286.html

=================================

IDAHO

Idaho closed the McCall-Weiser wolf kill zone after the quota of 15 dead wolves was reached.  This is the second wolf kill zone to be closed out of twelve.  Idaho set a quota to kill almost one fourth of their wolves this hunting season.  220 wolves will die from a population of approx 850 to 1000.  

98 wolves have died since wolf hunting season opened in Idaho on September 1, 2009.  122 more wolves will lose their lives in Idaho before the hunting season closes.  Idaho’s wolf hunt continues until March 31, 2010, right through wolf mating season.  Double whammy for the wolves who’ll be trying to survive, mate and dodge hunters bullets!! 

The hunts in Idaho and Montana were the result of pressure from ranchers, hunters and outfitters to reduce the wolf populations even though wolves kill very few livestock and elk are thriving in both states. The hunts fly in the face of science and common sense but the wolf is a political football used to flame passions and advance political agendas.  Shame again!

Wolf season closes in McCall zone

http://www.spokesman.com/blogs/boise/2009/nov/09/wolf-season-closes-mccall-zone/

NOTE:  I’ve purposely made a point to call the areas or zones the states have mapped out for killing wolves, exactly what they are, kill zones.  You won’t ever hear me use the word  harvest, which is FWP’s euphemism for killing. 

Photo: Wikemedia Commons

Categories posted in:  Idaho wolf hunt, Montana wolf hunt, Glacier National Park Wolf Wars

Tags: Idaho wolf hunt, Montana wolf hunt, wolf intolerence, wolves in the crossfire

Wolf Hunts…..Ignoring the Science?

soda butte yellowstone national park

Wolf photo by SigmaEye on Flickr

The drama wages on, it’s Wolf Wars, Part Two.  We exterminated them in the West once, is this the sequel?

Three wolves were poached in the North Fork of the Flathead in Montana, close to Glacier National Park.  Everyone was expecting the quota numbers to be adjusted downward but they would be wrong because you see it’s all about the numbers.  Wildlife “managers” like Sime states Montana researchers have tracked wolves for a long time and know what they’re doing.  They have mathematical models they’re following about how many wolves we can afford to lose. Apparently, according to FWP, 5 to 8 percent of Montana’s wolves are killed by humans each year, so these poached wolves are just added to that percentage.

Disposable?  Convenient huh??

========================

“On average, Sime said, people kill between

5 percent and 8 percent of Montana’s wolf population each year. Armed with that data, and with total wolf numbers – births, deaths, dispersals, arrivals – wildlife managers used computer models to “create a range of scenarios” that simulated the state’s first-ever fair chase wolf hunt.

At one end of the modeling spectrum was a quota of about 200, and at the other was no hunt at all. They landed, finally, somewhere in the middle – a statewide hunting quota of 75. That’s about 15 percent of the state’s estimated 550 wolves.

The two wolves poached by the Columbia Falls man, as well as another poached in the same general area, had already been accounted for in Montana’s “biologically conservative” system, Sime said.”

http://www.missoulian.com/news/local/article_15989c18-c6a1-11de-93ff-001cc4c002e0.html

That really makes me feel confident. Apparently the “wolf managers” are so busy calculating numbers of dead wolves they might be missing out on the research that does not support the hunts as a way to “manage” them.

It turns out, older wolves are not great hunters.  Apparently wolf hunting skills peak at age two to three,  by age four, wolves are considered old.

=======================

“Shortly after gray wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, Daniel MacNulty was puzzled by something. The breeding pair in one of the packs frequently stopped during their elk hunts to rest. “They sat on the sidelines while their offspring did the work,” says MacNulty, an ecologist from Michigan Technological University in Houghton. “After their kids made the kill, they would amble up to feed.”Laziness? Not at all. The two were almost 5 years old, which MacNulty has learned is fairly old age for wolves. His new study is one of the first to look at the effects of aging in predators, and it raises questions about current methods of controlling wolf populations.

alpha female yellowstones hayden valley pack SigmaEye

(Alpha Female Yellowstone Hayden Pack: Photo Sigma Eye Flicker)

Nulty has followed 94 radio-collared wolves in Yellowstone for 13 years, closely monitoring their hunts for two 30-day periods during each of those years. His research on these individual canids shows that wolves age rapidly. Indeed, by age 2 they’re in their hunting prime, drawing on youthful endurance and sudden bursts of speed to take down elk. But just as quickly, they lose that talent, MacNulty’s team reports online in Ecology Letters. “Wolves are old when they’re 4,” he says. The median life span for wolves in Yellowstone is 6 years, although some have lived as long as 10. Those older wolves manage to survive because the younger ones in their pack pick up the slack, killing elk and letting all the pack members feed. Older wolves are also heftier and may come in at the end of a hunt to use their weight to help pull down the elk, says MacNulty.

As one might expect, aging predators are good news for prey. The wolves’ kill rate on elk in Yellowstone declined significantly as the number of geriatric hunters in the wolf population increased. And that could have cascading effects on the ecosystem. For instance, elk may linger and browse on woody plants when elderly wolves are around. More browsing could slow the recovery of willows and aspen trees, which have come back since the wolves’ reintroduction.”

 http://sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2009/1023/1?etoc

So it seems the indiscriminate hunting  going on will have the opposite effect of what “wolf managers” are aiming  for,  pun intended.  With the killing of older wolves and alphas and disruption and chaos in packs, younger and younger wolves will be filling the gaps, increasing the chances of livestock depredation.

The whole livestock issue is just another reason to kill wolves, I’m seriously tired of hearing about cows.  It’s not as if these animals are rancher’s beloved pets.  They’re raised to be eaten and suffer a cruel death when sent to slaughter.   Ranchers are also reimbursed by the feds and Defenders of Wildlife for every confirmed wolf kill.  But wolves kill such a small percentage of livestock,  yet all we hear about is wolf predation, when it’s weather, calving and disease that are responsible for over 90% of cattle losses. As for predators, coyotes kill 20 times more cattle then wolves and DOMESTIC DOGS kill FIVE TIMES  more cattle then wolves.  But of course those numbers fall on deaf ears because when it comes to the wolf, facts don’t seem to matter.

The killing of Yellowstone’s Cottonwood alpha’s, at the beginning of Montana’s hunt, was the result of poor planning, IMO.  How can you not know hunters were going to line up at the park boundaries, waiting for Yellowstone’s wolves to cross over, which they routinely do, since they can’t read signs.  Because of that, Yellowstone lost collared wolves,  that were part of ongoing research, especially the Cottonwood alpha female, wolf 527F.

yellowstones 527

(Wolf 527F while tranquilized, before her death)

============================

“Wolf 527 and her daughter, 716, originated from two of the best-known packs in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley, the scene of numerous documentaries. For years, the movements of the Lamar packs have been monitored by biologists equipped with radio tracking devices and powerful spotting telescopes.

“They sold this wolf hunt in Montana and Idaho as controlling the predation on cattle and what-not. Well, these wolves aren’t touching cattle. They’re feeding on elk. They’re doing what they’re supposed to do,” said Tom Murphy, a wildlife photographer who has been documenting the Yellowstone wolves.

“This is the home ground of all of them, the nursery, the definition of what a healthy ecosystem looks like,” he said. “And it drives me crazy that (hunters are) standing on the boundary of the park … and killing the ones with radio collars, that people watch every day.”

The demise of 716, often known as Dark Female, was reported Sept. 29 in a blog posting…….. Five days later, she followed up with another item, this time about 527.”

http://www.missoulian.com/article_6ffa4660-c6a2-11de-8e13-001cc4c002e0.html

“The loss of 527F leaves a hole in research that had been under way at the University of Minnesota and elsewhere, said Daniel MacNulty, a U of M research associate.

“The gold standard in studies of animals in the wild is being able to repeatedly measure the same individual over time,” MacNulty said.
 
Knock out one or more of those individuals from a study, and years of work documenting behavior from reproduction to hunting success also is lost..
 
The re-introduction of wolves in Yellowstone in 1995 provided an unprecedented opportunity for such studies. Relatively large numbers of wolves could live there through natural life spans that weren’t disrupted by hunting and other outside pressures.”
Cutting edge wolf research is at odds with the approach  of  “managing” wolves by  hunting them.
====================
“Members of the commission and state wildlife managers have acknowledged a mistake in the decision to open early season hunting next to Yellowstone,”…….
 
The Yellowstone wolf project, partially funded by a $480,000, five-year National Science Foundation grant, isn’t the only study adversely affected by the hunting, Science says. The slaughter of the Yellowstone wolves also is a blow to a host of studies into elk management, ecology and other subjects.
 
Big bad wolves? Not the old ones
 
A study MacNulty and his colleagues at the U of M have just completed is an example of the kind of research Science says could be jeopardized. The research team is from the College of Biological Sciences’ Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the university. MacNulty also is connected with Michigan Technological University in Houghton where scientists study wolves on Isle Royale National Park.
 “It is well known that wolves prey on elk. This is one of the first field studies to gauge whether age of the wolves makes any difference. The researchers spent more than 13 years following 527F and dozens of other radio-collared wolves, observing their hunts from airplanes and taking various measures of their physical abilities.
 
Their findings in a nutshell: Wild wolves — like great human sprinters, NBA stars and competitive swimmers — need to score while they are young, because they peak early.
 
“By age one, they are quite effective hunters,” MacNulty said. “Wolves don’t live very long so there is a lot of pressure from an evolutionary standpoint to quickly develop an ability to hunt in order to feed themselves and their offspring.”
 
Unlike mountain lions — with their short snouts, powerful muscles and retractable claws — wolves need speed to bring down their prey.
 
“They lack physical characteristics to kill prey swiftly, so they rely on athletic ability and endurance, which diminishes with age,” MacNulty said. “They’re like 100-meter sprinters. They need to be in top condition to perform.”
 
Although most wolves in Yellowstone live for about six years, their killing ability peaks when they are two to three years old, the U of M team found. After that, they rely on younger wolves to share their kills.
 
In other words, the higher the proportion of wolves older than three, the lower the rate at which they kill elk.

So why were these wolves killed?  Supposedly the hunts are all about teaching the big, bad wolves a lesson about preying on cattle but what was 527F doing?  She was standing a mile outside the park boundaries in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. Facing her killer, I’m sure she had no idea she was about to be shot to death.  She had survived so much in her seven years. She was a “good” wolf, who was very reclusive, hard to find.  She was minding her own business. Yet she’s dead along with her mate and daughter, wolf 716, essentially decimating the Cottonwood Pack.  For what?  So someone could get a cheap thrill killing a wolf?  Or we could read more stories about guys chasing wolves on ATV’s and blowing them away with Remington 300 rifles?

Yellowstone Hayden Valley Pack Member
Even though research points to leaving wolves alone to live out their lives,  letting nature balance itself, it seems the people running this “dog and pony show” are going in the opposite direction.
===========================
“Most managers who want to boost numbers of elk and deer think all you need to do is kill wolves,” ecologist Christopher Wilmers of the University of California, Santa Cruz told ScienceNOW. “But this study shows you’re probably increasing your problem, since you’ll end up with younger wolves that kill more prey.”

That’s because when a pack vanishes or is weakened and loses its territory, he says, younger wolves often move in.

“You’re better off leaving the wolves alone,” Wilmers said.
http://www.minnpost.com/stories/2009/10/27/12851/death_of_a_wolf_raises_questions_about_research

 

Contrary to all the good science, which concludes  indiscriminate  killing of wolves, with no regard to age or status in the pack, is a mistake, we are still marching forward with these misguided hunts.

The question has to be asked, what are the hunts really all about?

Wolves are not the problem, people are the problem. It’s the human self righteous attitude, that we alone are soverign over this earth, that we have the right to destroy anything that gets in our way.  That is the problem.

The intolerance and arrogance are astounding.  I’m sorry if I’m not interested in mathematical models concerning killing wolves. Is anyone in “wolf management” thinking about pack structure, the loss of alpha’s, the loss of pups or the killing off of older wolves?  Where is this dialog among people coordinating the hunts?  All I hear from the “managers’  is numbers, numbers, numbers. They pronounce  it won’t make any difference, that the NUMBERS are insignificant.  I”m wondering insignificant to who?  Certainly not to me and other wolf supporters.  We view these hunts with heavy hearts.

“Biologically, [the loss] has no impact, since wolf packs turn over all the time,” Edward Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Helena told Science. “It doesn’t make any difference to wolf conservation or wolf research.”

http://www.minnpost.com/stories/2009/10/27/12851/death_of_a_wolf_raises_questions_about_research

It all seems to be taken so lightly, what’s a few hundred wolves, give or take a few? It’s as if wolves have no social structure or life at all.  That if you kill one wolf another will automatically take it’s place,  Ignoring the intricate bonds that hold wolf packs together. Ignoring Yellowstone wolves had a 27% decline  in 2008.  Ignoring the fact the Druid Peak pack lost all their eight pups. Ignoring the fact  the Druids and other Yellowstone packs are plagued with mange. Yes, individual wolves matter!  Wolves are not indestructable.  They’re not as adaptable, as say coyotes.

I hope the NRDC and Defenders of Wildlife make a big impression with their wolf ads in Times Square and the New York Times, to let people back in Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Virginia, South Carolina and the rest of America know they’re out here in the West killing wolves AGAIN. in the name of ranching and hunting interests.   Maybe then other voices will be heard, ones that don’t have a vested interest in dead wolves. That think having wild wolves inhabiting their Western home range is something to cheer about.  People that see the wolf as an Icon of the West representing  freedoms we’re quickly losing, not a pest to be eradicated.  Then,  just possibly, the guns will be silenced!!

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Ageing wolves ‘lose their bite’

http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8325000/8325800.stm

Categories posted in: Montana wolf hunts, wolf wars, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone wolves

Tags: wolf poaching, Montana wolf hunt, wolves in the crossfire,  Yellowstone wolves

Wolves ARE The True Lords Of Nature

It’s important to remember why we need wolves.

October 29, 2009

Wolves effect their surroundings and bring life to the lands they inhabit. For sixty years elk browsed the meadows of the North Fork of the Flathead, in Montana. Their adversary, Canis Lupus, who had chased them through time, was gone, hunted to extinction in the West.

Then the wolf came home to it’s native habitat and dispersed the elk. This brought back the aspen and willow, young shoots no longer trampled under the complacent elk’s hooves. With the aspen came the songbirds and other wildlife.

Once more the circle was complete with the return of the great canine, the wolf.

 “Aspen ecosystems are considered some of the finest and richest songbird habitat on the continent, second only to river-bottom riparian zones. Remove the wolf, and you remove the songbirds. Remove the songbirds, and the bugs move in. Everything changes, top to bottom, right down to the dirt”…..Cristina Eisenberg,  Oregon State University researcher

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Wolves Increase Biodiversity And Greatly Benefit The Ecosystems They Inhabit

Matt Skoglund Wildlife Advocate, Livingston, Montana

Posted October 26, 2009 in Saving Wildlife and Wild Places

Wolves matter.

They lead to more songbirds.  Better trout habitat.  More game birds.  Less insects.  Better soil.  Fewer coyotes.  Wilder elk.  More aspen trees.

Wolves, in essence, are key to a healthy landscape.

So says biologist Christina Eisenberg in a fascinating Missoulian article on the effect of wolves — and their absence — on an ecosystem.

Eisenberg has been studying the top-to-bottom effect of wolves — called a “trophic cascade” — in Glacier National Park for years.  She’s also been researching ecosystems near St. Mary’s, Montana, and in Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada.

“Each study site is about the same size, and each has a similarly large elk population, native to an aspen-based winter range, and each has the same general density of cougars and bears.”  The difference between the sites is the number of resident wolves:  St. Mary’s has none, Waterton some, and Glacier many.

Her findings on the much heated debate over wolves and elk mirror what others have found:  there are plenty of elk in the Northern Rockies, but the return of wolves has made the elk behave again like wild elk:

The North Fork, Eisenberg said, is “full of wolves,” and has been for 20 years now.  It’s also full of elk – as many as 14 elk per square kilometer in this meadow, where the wolf den site is located.  Elk scat litters the ground not 20 yards from the den.

Clearly, the wolves aren’t eating all the elk.  But aside from the tracks and the scat and the bones and the antlers, there are no elk to be seen.

“They’ve totally changed their behavior,” Eisenberg said.  “For 60 years we’ve become used to complacent elk.  These elk aren’t complacent.  They’re on high alert.”

From a browse standpoint, that means elk eat a bit and move on, eat a bit and move on, never standing in one place long enough to eat a tree down to its roots.  And from a human standpoint, it means hunters see far fewer elk even as state wildlife officials insist Montana has more deer and elk than it’s had for years.

Hunters, of course, prefer elk that aren’t quite so wily, but trophic cascades work both ways in wildlife management.  Remove the wolves, and elk are easier to find.  But then coyote populations explode, eating their way through the local game-bird population.  Enhance one hunting opportunity, and you affect another.

And from a bigger viewpoint than just elk, Eisenberg has found that wolves increase biodiversity and greatly benefit the overall health of the areas they inhabit:

Remove the wolves, she said, and you lose the birds.

Remove the wolves, she said, and the coyotes fill the niche.  The coyotes eat the ground squirrels, and so the meadows don’t get “plowed,” and soil productivity declines.

Remove the wolves, she said, and the deer eat the river-bottom willows, and the bull trout lose both their shade and their food, as insects no longer fall from overhanging brush.

Remove the wolves, she said, “and everything changes.”

Why is this so noteworthy?

[B]ecause the places with greatest biodiversity are the places most resilient, most able to adapt to, say, changing climate.

And Eisenberg wisely thinks her — and others’ — findings should guide wolf management.

Wolf populations aren’t recovered with 12 breeding pairs, or 15, or 20, Eisenberg said.  They’re recovered when there are enough wolves and other top-end predators to maximize biodiversity.  

Her findings are important, and they’re timely, as wolves are being gunned down all over Idaho and Montana right now.

In her research and in this article, Eisenberg simply and unequivocally points out a critical fact that’s been lost in the recent debate over the wolf hunts:

Wolves matter.

http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/mskoglund/wolves_increase_biodiversity_a.html

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Tracking science: Biologist’s findings show forest diversity, health influenced by wolves

Wolf%20pack

http://www.missoulian.com/lifestyles/territory/article_3ec9fc54-c01f-11de-bf16-001cc4c002e0.html

Photo: first people

Photo: wolf wallpaper

Categories posted in: biodiversity, wolf recovery, gray wolf,  Glacier National Park

Tags: wolf recovery, gray wolf,  biodiverstiy

A Beautiful Fall Day In Glacier National Park

glacier in autumn 09
Lake McDonald

While hiking in Glacier yesterday I thought about the wolves, hoping they would stay within the park during this misguided hunt but that’s not going to happen. That’s why I urge Montana FWP to set up buffer zones around Glacier and Yellowstone to protect wolves who routinely cross back and forth across park boundaries.

Glacier is literally deserted this time of year. Lake McDonald was beautiful as always, it was really lovely, the sun shining on the lake, a chill in the air. For a few hours I tried putting the wolf hunts in the back of my mind and enjoyed the beauty that is Glacier National Park. Here are a few of the pics I took.

burn above fish creek
2003 Burn Above Lake McDonald(1)

burn above fish creek
2003 Burn Above Lake McDonald (2)

Mcgee Meadow 1
McGee Meadow

lake mcdonald
Lake McDonald

Categories posted in: Glacier National Park

Tags: gray wolf

Published in: on October 11, 2009 at 5:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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