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  • How do you feel about the indiscriminate killing of wolves?


    Judith Lavoie
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    A growing number of British Columbians are pushing the provincial government to tighten rules around killing wolves.

     

    FORESTS, LANDS, NATURAL RESOURCE OPERATIONS AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT Minister Katrine Conroy said this month that she is looking at closing “loopholes” in wolf hunting and trapping rules. One of the few certainties is that Conroy will be walking an emotionally-charged tightrope.

    On one side, defenders of wolves point to the ethics of killing an animal with no intention of eating it. They also note the lack of reliable population figures and regulations that allow uncontrolled wolf hunting and trapping. The wolf’s role as an apex predator that helps maintain balanced ecosystems is also cited as a reason to stop the unregulated killing.

    On the other, hunters point to dramatically shrinking ungulate populations—caused in large part by logging that has given wolves easy access to prey. (In a rare point of agreement, both primary sides say that habitat protection and restoration is desperately needed.)

     

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    Photo by Ian McAllister

     

    While the websites of legal guide-outfitters show piles of dead wolves in an effort to persuade tourists to take part in “trapline adventures,” wildlife watching businesses and environmental groups say killing BC wolves is scientifically unwarranted and gives the province an international black eye.

    The debate has become so heated that spokespeople for both sides say they have been subjected to threats of lawsuits or violence.

    “I get death threats all the time,” said Jesse Zeman, BC Wildlife Federation director or fish and wildlife restoration, adding that there are fringe elements on both sides. Less than two percent of hunters in BC identify as trophy hunters and most hunt because of the chance to spend time outdoors with friends and family and for food, Zeman said.

    However, according to a study published in Conservation Biology and written by researchers from Raincoast Conservation Society and the Universities of Victoria and Wisconsin, those hunters should be concerned their reputation is being tarnished by trophy hunters.

    Wolves and other large carnivores are rarely killed and eaten and that does not sit well with many members of the public who see it as gratuitous killing, said one of the study’s authors, Chris Darimont, a wolf researcher, University of Victoria professor and Raincoast Research Chair in Applied Conservation Science.

    “Large surveys tell us that the public generally show strong support for hunting to feed your family, but not to feed your hunger for status,” said Darimont pointing to the Province’s decision to end the grizzly bear hunt after persistent public pressure.

    There is certainly not much empirical data on wolves in BC, but, for Darimont, the issue does not revolve around the numbers and whether there is a harvestable surplus. Most opponents of wolf hunting and trapping would continue to be opposed even if the science showed healthy populations, said Darimont. “Why they are really opposed is not over conservation concerns, but rather because hunting an animal not to feed your family, but to feed your ego, grossly misaligns with most people’s values,” Darimont said.

     

    No real numbers—or regulations

    Grief and outrage followed the shooting of Takaya, the lone coastal wolf who for eight years lived on Discovery Island and adjacent islands off Oak Bay. His death put an international spotlight on BC’s wildlife regulations.

    Takaya, known as Staqeya by the Songhees First Nation, was legally shot by a hunter near Shawnigan Lake in March 2020 after being relocated to the Port Renfrew area by BC conservation officers. 

    No one knew Takaya better than Cheryl Alexander, wildlife photographer, environmental consultant and former environmental studies teacher at the University of Victoria, who studied Takaya for much of his life and wrote the book Takaya: Lone Wolf.

    A sense of foreboding hung over Alexander after Takaya was relocated. Even though she believed Takaya had never lost his wildness and, like all wolves, was cautious around humans, she anticipated he would die in a trap or from a bullet because of BC’s Wild West attitude towards wolf killing.

    “I think most people do not understand that we have regulations that allow and even encourage hunters to kill wolves and that there is ostensibly no limit,” she said.

    “There’s an issue about the scientific management of wolves and the knowledge base and there’s also an issue around ethics and having a free-for-all and deciding to take out all the wolves.”

    Alexander feels the Province has turned wolf management over to citizens, letting them decide when to shoot or trap wolves rather than making the BC Conservation Service responsible.

    Alexander wants a moratorium on recreational wolf hunting until population numbers and the role of wolves in regional ecosystems are confirmed. She also wants to see compulsory reporting of wolf kills and a requirement for all hunters to obtain a species licence or tag to hunt or trap wolves. Alexander has recently written an open letter to Premier John Horgan to this effect.

    If a tag had been required, the Shawnigan Lake hunter may not have killed Takaya, Alexander believes.

    Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland have a bag limit of three wolves for anyone holding a basic hunting license, but in some other areas of the province there is no bag limit, no closed season, and no requirement to report wolf kills. British Columbians do not require a tag or special license to kill a wolf and non-residents pay a fee of $50.

    The lack of regulations makes estimating the number of wolves in the province—alive or killed—little more than a guessing game.

    Emails from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, sent to Alexander as she was researching her book, confirm there is no information on the distribution of wolf packs on Vancouver Island and population estimates are “inferred.”

    The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, responding by email to questions from Focus, said wolf population numbers are not directly monitored, but the numbers killed by hunters, trappers or for government “control efforts” are recorded through hunter surveys. Wolf populations change quickly because of high reproduction and prey availability, said the spokesperson.

    “Staff know when populations are healthy and we know that, while there are not huge numbers of wolves on Vancouver Island—about 250—we know that the populations are not under any immediate threat,” he wrote.

    Ministry figures show that the Province itself has killed 1,208 wolves since 2015 in areas where caribou herds are in trouble—even though there is conflicting evidence whether removing wolves noticeably increases ungulate populations. In 2019 there were 695 reported kills by hunters and trappers, down from 939 the previous year—but that’s only the reported kills.

    On Vancouver Island there were no reported wolf kills in 2019 and 35 the previous year.

    The lack of scientifically verified information about the province’s wolf packs has convinced more than 71,600 people to sign a petition asking for a moratorium on wolf hunting until population numbers are confirmed. Also, in February 2021, a resolution going to Oak Bay Council calls for recreational wolf hunting on Vancouver Island to be re-examined for scientific and ethical reasons.

    The resolution underlines the scant information about the size of Vancouver Island’s wolf population and the effects of unrestricted harvesting on habitat and wildlife ecology. If it passes, the resolution will be sent to the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities and the Union of BC Municipalities

     

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    Photo by Ian McAllister

     

    Indiscriminate killing—but no conservation concerns?

    Advocates believe the absence of regulation feeds the attitude of hunters such as Victoria resident Jacine Jadresko, who describes herself on social media as the InkedHuntress and posts pictures of herself with animals she has killed, including wolves in Sooke.

    Jadresko has posted that she is trapping wolves in response to a problem wolf pack threatening pets—believed to be feral cats in East Sooke—and wrote “full pack removal is always the goal.”

    Two years ago, Steve Isdahl, also from Vancouver Island, posted pictures of rows of dead wolves and, on his Facebook page, appealed to hunters and trappers to join him in killing as many wolves as possible. Isdahl attempted to raise money on-line for snares and traps.

    Conroy, in an emailed answer to questions from Focus, said most hunters she knows are conservationists who would find such an attitude offensive. “This person [Jadresko] is abusing the hunting regulations just to boost her own profile. We will be working with the BC Wildlife Federation and the BC Trappers Association to change the regulations to close this loophole so this type of behaviour is prevented in the future,” she said. “We’ll work with stakeholders to find a solution that works for everyone.”

    The idea that government will work with hunting organizations to tweak regulations has alarmed environmental groups. Conroy did not reply when asked which other stakeholders would be consulted.

    An open letter to Conroy, in February 2021, signed by 26 scientists and organizations, including the BC SPCA, environmental groups and wildlife tourism businesses, asks for a balanced review.

    “Surely your ministry would not select only two interest groups for consultation—and groups that have a vested interest in killing wolves at that,” says the letter, which also takes issue with a statement made by Conroy to the Globe and Mail, that “wolves breed like rabbits. There are no conservation concerns.” That, states the letter, is a “common fallacy that has long been promoted by hunters, trappers, and some wildlife managers who have failed to take note of the science of ecology.” (An open letter from senior wolf researchers Dr John and Mary Theberge also points out this faulty assumption.)

    “To the contrary,” the letter states, “we assure you that wolves have been wiped out over a vast area of the United States. They were nearly wiped out historically in parts of southern Canada from early trapping, strychnine poisoning and persecution.” Wayne McCrory, chair of the Valhalla Wilderness Society, which spearheaded the letter, condemned what he calls the indiscriminate killing of wolves.

    Urging the minister to ensure that “environmental groups, independent conservationists, independent scientists and non-consumptive wildlife viewing tourism businesses have standing equal to hunting and trapping interests in this matter,” the Valhalla letter noted, “hunters, trappers, and their organizations lobby constantly to have large carnivores regularly killed in order to increase ungulate populations, for no other reason than to make it easier for humans to hunt [ungulates themselves].”

     

    Lack of deer cited as justification for killing wolves

    An opposing open letter to Conroy and other cabinet ministers, from the Hunters for BC Interior Chapter-Safari Club International, says too much credence is being given “to the emotions of the anti-hunting movement,” and there is concern that could influence a decision to ban or limit wolf hunting and trapping.

    The letter, signed by Robin Unrau, president of the organization, accuses anti-hunting advocates of bullying and says that if people do not appreciate “thousands of years of hunting and trapping traditions,” they should not visit social media sites owned by hunters and trappers.

    For Zeman of the Wildlife Federation, the history of crashing deer populations on Vancouver Island illustrates why wolves must be “harvested.” Old-growth logging means predators move efficiently across the landscape and the deer have nowhere to go, he said.

    “In the 1960s hunters would have harvested 20,000 to 25,000 deer on Vancouver Island and now we’re down to 3,700,” he said. “That’s an 85 percent decline in deer harvest, so, in terms of food security, that represents red meat for close to 20,000 people on the Island…If we don’t manage wolves, we won’t have any deer,” said Zeman.

    But without accurate data, how can anyone be sure of this? Zeman admits there is a lack of accurate wildlife statistics because of BC’s scant funding for wildlife management.

    McCrory noted there is evidence from areas such as Yellowstone National Park that showed the reintroduction of wolves dramatically improved the ecosystem. “There is a lack of recognition that wolves are an arch predator and have evolved with ungulates in the ecosystem to keep it all healthy,” McCrory wrote.

    Others, like biologist Kyle Artelle, who reviewed 667 management plans for 27 species that are hunted and trapped in Canada and the US in 2018, have observed that it doesn’t make biological sense that if a food source—like deer—is crashing, the predator population would be increasing. He told the Narwhal that anecdotal information on declining deer populations and on increased wolf populations was being used to justify hunting and trapping practices on Vancouver Island and pointed to a study in southeast Alaska that found declining deer populations were the result of logging activities rather than wolf predation.

    With 16,000 kilometres of logging roads in BC giving access to predators and hunters, there are few places where ungulates can safely birth calves and forage.

    And, as the Valhalla Society letter noted, “Simply reducing wolf populations can have very negative ripple effects in ecosystems that can extend to wiping out other species.” McCrory also stated that disrupting wolf packs and killing alpha males or females means young wolves are more likely to get into trouble with preying on livestock or heading into populated areas.

    Regardless of the “loopholes” closed by the BC government, Indigenous rights and practices will likely be respected by all.

    John Henderson, vice-chairman of Kwakiutl Tribal Council on northern Vancouver Island, said, “There’s so much shortage of food everywhere whether it’s the fishing crisis or the wildlife crisis. [Wolves] are predators that we have protected for a long time, but now it’s time to start managing them.”

    Surveys have shown that deer populations have dropped from about 13 animals per square kilometre to 0.1 animal, said Henderson. Wolf trapping is now part of the training for young people from the eight nations who are learning the ways of their ancestors. “We train our kids to go out there and they’re actually trapping wolves and skinning them and using them for cultural purposes and that’s positive—what better way to treat a problem,” he said.

    Ultimately, it is logging and other forms of industrial incursion and urbanization that decimated the ungulates’ ability to forage and maintain healthy populations. But the wolf is, of course, easier to “manage,” especially when there are few rules, at least in settler society.

    In the letter that Cheryl Alexander wrote to Premier Horgan as founder & executive director of Takaya’s Legacy Project, she noted, “Trappers across BC are ‘encouraged’ to kill wolves, with no limit on the number that may be trapped.” She told of communication with a Vancouver Island trapper in 2019, who told her “he had taken 18 wolves off his single trapline in 2018, and that in the first three months of 2019, he had taken six. As well, sponsored wolf-killing contests in northern and interior BC encourage participants to kill as many wolves as possible, with prizes provided.”

    For Alexander, the question for people living in interface areas where wolf territory has been disrupted, is how to live with an iconic animal, rather than using traps and guns to wipe them out. “It’s our human responsibility to figure out how we can best live with them near us or around us and most people value that,” she said.

    McCrory agrees: “We have to reverse this freight train of wolf killing that has been going on in the province. They’re extremely beautiful, iconic animals and many of us who have worked in the Great Bear Rainforests for a long time have come to a deep appreciation of how important they are.”

    Judith Lavoie is an award-winning journalist specializing in the environment, First Nations, and social issues. Twitter @LavoieJudith

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    A HUGE thank you to Judith Lavoie and Focus on Victoria for this enlightening, truthful and balanced piece.  This will undoubtedly be the beginning of some great conversations about how stewardship of these important animals should replace the old, tired ideas of "management" of wolves and other wildlife.

     

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    Jacine Jadresko and Steve Isdahl aren't the only hunters in the BC wilderness killing packs of wolves and posting to social media. It's a larger problem than the public realizes, and shockingly, a much larger problem than our government itself realizes. 

    Jesse Zeman of the BC Wildlife Federation recently referred to Jadresko's actions as that of "a single outlier."  This is someone who is invited to Minister Conroy's office to discuss best practices regarding some revisions to the current wolf regulations. As the old saying goes, the fox is guarding the henhouse. This should be an opportunity for non-hunting biologists and non-consumptive stakeholders to be consulted on the welfare and futures of British Columbia predators.

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    This article purposely promotes falsehoods to support its narrative. “There are no rules for hunting wolves...” Well actually there are rules and strict ones at that. There are, Licensing rules, specific seasons set aside, and specific limits to how many wolves can be harvested. As for funding the money for conservation comes directly from hunters. All fees from licenses and tags are supposed to fund conservation but the government seems to move the money around to do other projects that more “important”. 

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    Thanks Frank. We've changed that to "few" rules, which are described, to some degree, earlier in the article: "Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland have a bag limit of three wolves for anyone holding a basic hunting license, but in some other areas of the province there is no bag limit, no closed season, and no requirement to report wolf kills. British Columbians do not require a tag or special license to kill a wolf and non-residents pay a fee of $50." —Editor

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    Wolf hunting and all hunting is controlled by biologists and science. It is all controlled and regulated. Do some proper research, talk to real biologists and conservationist not people on pages like these. We have given wolves a huge advantage to hunting prey due to our presences; logging roads, logging, human encroachment etc. wolves are decimating animal populations because of this and animals that aren’t hunted are on the verge of going extinct. 

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    Wolves have pretty much wiped out moose and deer populations in my local area and are now coming right into our camping spots making it unsafe to have our small dogs out in the wilderness.  They will be shot on sight for two reasons, one is safety of our pets, two, although I don't eat wolf, I do eat moose and deer and wish to see them return to the local area.

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    Guest Not so friendly to wolves

    Posted

    Hi folks since wolves consume 6 to 8 ungulates per year each and there are  approx 20,000 ...simple math says up to 150,000 unglazed are wasted by these underestimated wild "dogs" for what  .This is a terrible waste of good steroid, hormone free meat .They also kill for sport and cause immense suffering for all these sometimes baby sheep,,goats,deer,moose,elk,bear etc.It is a most unnecessary grewsome vile waste of these lives  .They gorge until they starve and die off ,such is mother Nature's cycle.Thank God man is here to harvest natures beautiful abundance .By replacing the wolf we "gods chosen" are able to enjoy these people creatures for our sustenance and immense beauty..Therefore it is only necessary to leave 10% of any natural wolf population not only to preserve the diversity of all the animals but to allow us to enjoy the wonderful ,lean healthy meat from the other 90 % otherwise wasted by the packs,of wild terrifying ruthless dogs,thank you for reading

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    Interesting article, there are two sides to every point of view. Predator populations in BC are up, ungulate populations in bc are down, this is indisputable fact right now.

      No matter how you think it got this way, both sides want the same thing. Healthy, balanced, wildlife populations in BC. 
     As I see it only one side of this debate is directing any funding into actually fixing the problems. Don’t take my word for it, google the HCTF in bc and educate yourself.

    Regulated hunting is not responsible for any of the wildlife population declines, on the contrary, the North American model of wildlife conservation is responsible for the return of wildlife in the last 100 years or so. I’d encourage you to google that as well. 
     If anti hunting advocates want to start advocating for properly funded and scientifically sound wildlife management for ecosystems as a whole in BC. I as a hunter will stand beside them. Hunters have been doing this all along, well before the advent of social media and flashy conservation “campaigns”. 
     This is what needs to happen, we can all do better for the sake of wildlife. Bickering over hunting while the province does absolutely nothing to fix the root problems will result in further loss of habitat and species. 
     
     

     

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    1 hour ago, Leslie Campbell said:

    Thanks Frank. We've changed that to "few" rules, which are described, to some degree, earlier in the article: "Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland have a bag limit of three wolves for anyone holding a basic hunting license, but in some other areas of the province there is no bag limit, no closed season, and no requirement to report wolf kills. British Columbians do not require a tag or special license to kill a wolf and non-residents pay a fee of $50." —Editor

    You should look a little deeper into the rules.  There is only a select few subregions that have no bag limit and no closed season. Further more some of those areas with no bag limit or no closed season you can’t hunt above 1100 feet in elevation.  

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    Residents cry when they move into town and eat out pets but then don’t want the population managed. You can’t have your cat and eat it too. Predators that are at the top of the food chain can only be managed by people.

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    People have been controlling wolf populations for a very long time, including our own Indigenous Peoples of BC. climate change and habitat loss have increased the need for this by tipping the scales towards the predator with increased access for travel and improved visual ability to see prey. With several winter snow thaws, packs can travel the higher snowpack and prey on caribou, sheep and goats. Wolves have tremendous reproductive capability with easy access to prey. As someone who has spent the last 40 years living in the bush, I have never seen so many. 
     

    If you card about wildlife in BC, take a look at Google Earth. Zoom in on the geographic center of our province and look at the devastating effects of logging and how widespread it is. Look at the roads, the blocks and the consider that much of this is sprayed with glyphosate to prevent non conifer regrowth. This destroys our wildlife’s food and habitat. Travel to the interior and look at the forests that have been transformed from diverse forests to monoculture pine plantations that have decimated the food supply for wildlife  

    Most of the hunters I know really care about wildlife. Certainly as a resource but also that this wildlife feeds them and it’s existence forms their way of life. 
     

    It’s time for wildlife advocates to join with hunters and face the common true enemy of habitat loss, climate change, underfunding government and utilize science based management  

     

     

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    "Indiscriminate killing of wolves", I've been a very active hunter for over 40 years and quite often will spend up to 60 days per season out hunting.  In all that time I've seen less than 10 live wild wolves, they are very smart, very elusive and very deadly.  I hear them a lot, I see their tracks and scat, and I've come upon more than a few kills sites [where wolves have killed], from my perspective it would be pretty hard to fulfill that accusation of indiscriminate killing of wolves. 

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    Watch this 20min video that clearly shows how Ted Turner’s Bison Ranch in Montana values, not exterminates wolves after 10years of scientific study and common sense- they do not operate on myth, fear and revenge as we do in BC! https://mountainjournal.org/how-ted-turner-gets-along-with-one-of-largest-wild-wolf-packs-on-earth

    After watching video please help B.C. wolves by writing to Minister Conroy and asking her to reduce the uncontrolled hunting and trapping of wolves in British Columbia.
    Please send your email to Minister Conroy at FLNR.Minister@gov.bc.ca

    And cc the Premier and these ministers listed below.
    Premier@gov.bc.ca

     

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    Wolves need to exist on the landscape as year round predators. But when the balance of predator/prey goes too far to the predator they need to be managed. Wolves are quite capable of killing every prey animal in a region when they are over represented. My primary concern is that those people who want to go out and harvest their own food, have reasonable chance of success. If I go to my hunting area and all I see is wolf tracks, I will kill every wolf I encounter until I start seeing moose tracks again. I don't really care what government thinks about it.

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    There are so many outright innacuracies regarding wolf hunting in BC in this article that I was disappointed while reading it. As one example, comparing the historical wiping out of wolves throughout the USA and Canada is a ridiculous point to make...it should be obvious to all that that statement has no relevance to this topic. Bison will never again roam wild throughout the Fraser Valley either. Would Wayne McCrory of the Valhalla Wilderness Society like to address that reality in 2021 as well? We need sound scientific info to manage all wildlife. This article has been nothing but another designed to inflame peoples emotions, most of whom have no real knowledge regarding conservation isses, which does nothing but put pressure on politicians to make poor decisions based on votes rather than science. Why does the author, who claims to be a "specialist" in First Nations, only devote two short paragraphs to their input? Because they are actively teaching their children to "manage" wolves. Seems First Nations do not agree with the author or many of her sources.

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    The Yellowstone example is a poor example at best and a red herring at worst. That was a national park that was completely devoid of predators, human or animals that had inflated numbers of ungulates do to supplemental feeding. It's not even remotely similar to our situation. Anyone who is familiar with it would know it's a terrible example.

    There are no serious parties who want to see wolves extirpated from the landscape and is not the same as supporting predator management.

    These issues are very nuanced and should be dealt with by biologists at an arm's length from politicians manipulating people's emotions with a surface level understanding. Ultimately when wildlife management is politicized we all loose, but none moreso than wildlife.

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    49 minutes ago, Guest Al Del Vecchio said:

    If I go to my hunting area and all I see is wolf tracks, I will kill every wolf I encounter until I start seeing moose tracks again. I don't really care what government thinks about it.

    Despite all the claims from hunters on this thread about all the rules and regulations they're abiding by, this comment proves the point being made in the article. It doesn't take too many Al Del Vecchios to negate the restraint of those who abide by the rules.

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    Guest 3rd Grade Science Sub

    Posted

    When the ungulate numbers go down, the wolf numbers also go down. When the ungulate numbers go up the wolf numbers go up. This is a basic natural checks and balance. It is basic elementary science. Those proclaiming wolf populations are the cause of ungulate wipe outs are not stating facts. Man clears area destroying habitat for ungulates then avert blame and destroy wildlife further. Be careful with your greed in claiming you have a right to decimate populations. People who hunt 1 or 2 deer a year for their family can be respected but not hunters who claim the right to kill all predators who have important roles in the land. 

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    On 2021-03-07 at 1:47 AM, Guest Deborah-Lee said:

    If only we could be like Spain when it comes to the Wolves https://www.facebook.com/117336407634/posts/10158322921027635/

    Too many killers "out there" - in North America - ensures that the wolf will go extinct - and I imagine most wolf killers responding here will cheer. Most of them are likely climate deniers as well - too simple-minded to see any connections beyond the end of their rifle barrel.

    So what if roads make it easier for wolves to catch food. Stop making roads!

    Who cares if per fluffy get eaten by a wolf. Keep the little varmints indoors!

    So what if store-bought meat tastes like crap. Demand better grades!

    Shmucks!

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    There have been many studies done which prove the wolf is an apex species and

    Older article but still more relevant today because today Scientists and we know predators play A vital role in our ecosystem

    The Crucial Role of Predators: A New Perspective on Ecology
    By Caroline Fraser

    Scientists have recently begun to understand the vital role played by top predators in ecosystems and the profound impacts that occur when those predators are wiped out. Now, researchers are citing new evidence that shows the importance of lions, wolves, sharks, and other creatures at the top of the food chain.

    Found in the North Palace at Ninevah, stone panels depicting the Royal Lion Hunt of the last Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal, are as violent as any video game: A female lion flies upside down, arrows protruding from her back and belly. Beneath her, a male rears back, arrows piercing his nasal passages while another male drags his hindquarters behind him. From the king’s chariot, attendants drive spears through the chest of another.

    The panels are two-and-a-half thousand years old, and the story they tell is nearly over. In Africa, the lion’s numbers have declined sharply in the past decade, to as low as 23,000. The tiger is near extinction. Earlier this year, a mountain lion walked 1,800 miles from the Black Hills of South Dakota to the East Coast — one of the world’s longest recorded journey by a land mammal — only to be killed by a sport utility vehicle near Milford, Connecticut, 50 miles from New York City.

    Experts on predation have become increasingly convinced that ecosystems are ruled from the top.
    Just as the world’s lions, tigers, and bears are disappearing worldwide, a scientific consensus is emerging that they are critical to ecosystem function, exerting control over smaller predators, prey, and the plant world. Studies of predation — a so-called “top-down” force in nature — have always run a weak second to ecology’s traditional focus, which holds that the foundation of life springs from bottom-up processes enabled by plants capturing energy from the sun. While no one disputes the importance of photosynthesis and nutrient cycling, experts on predation have become increasingly convinced that ecosystems are ruled from the top.

    Beginning with aquatic experiments, they have amassed considerable evidence of damage done to food chains by predator removal and have extended such studies to land: Predation may be as consequential, if not more so, than bottom-up forces. With a comprehensive new book (Trophic Cascades) and a major Science review published this summer, these specialists present the case that our persecution of predators menaces the marine and terrestrial ecosystems that produce food, hold human and zoonotic diseases in abeyance, and stabilize climate.

    Using such terms as “deep anxiety” and “grave concern” to signal their alarm, the authors contend that the loss of large animals, and apex predators in particular, constitutes humanity’s “most pervasive influence” on the environment. It amounts, they argue, to a “global decapitation” of the systems that support life on Earth.

    These are hardly new ideas: Both publications catalogue decades of work examining the power of predators. Charles Elton, an Oxford ecologist, first conceptualized food webs in the 1920s, speculating that wolf removal would unleash hordes of deer, a notion that weighed on Aldo Leopold’s mind as he compared the consequences of wolf-extirpation in German forests to still-thriving, intact systems in Mexico’s Sierra Madre Mountains.

    Yellowstone wolf
    U.S. Fish & Wildlife
    The return of wolves to Yellowstone proved that damage to a terrestrial food web could be restored.
    These insights gave rise to the 1960s “green world” hypothesis, which held that plants prevail because predators hold herbivores in check. Profound food chain effects — caused by adding or removing top species — are now known as “trophic cascades.” In a classic 1966 experiment, biologist Robert Paine removed the purple seastar, Pisaster ochraceus — a voracious mussel-feeder — from an area of coastline in Washington state. Their predator gone, mussels sprouted like corn in Kansas, crowding out algae, chitons, and limpets, replacing biodiversity with monoculture.

    Corroborating evidence multiplied. Less than a decade after Pisaster, marine ecologists James Estes and John Palmisano reached the astonishing and widely reported conclusion that hunting of sea otters had caused the collapse of kelp forests around the Aleutian Islands. While the cat was away, the prey (sea urchins) stripped the larder bare. When otters returned, they regulated urchins, allowing “luxuriant” regrowth of biodiverse kelp communities. Around islands farther out to sea, where the mammals had not reestablished themselves, “urchin barrens” remained.

    The Science review this summer and other recent research have highlighted the cost of cascades in other marine systems. Extirpation of great sharks along the eastern seaboard caused an irruption of rays and the collapse of a century-old scallop fishery, a glimpse of the future as shark populations crash worldwide. Overfishing of cod, a top predator of lobster and sea urchins, upended the coastal North Atlantic, producing hyper-abundant lobster and a market glut in the Gulf of Maine, as well as an urchin boom-and-bust cycle off Nova Scotia, where urchins have been periodically wiped out by disease.

    Yet, as data from aquatic systems proliferated, skeptics suggested that top-down forces might be “all wet” — limited to marine or freshwater systems, with a dearth of evidence for cascades in terrestrial systems.

    Where was that evidence? Designing experiments to reveal cascades on land, across large-scales and over long time periods, seemed nearly impossible. So many ecosystems had already been irreparably altered that predator-related effects — including damage done to food chains, so-called “trophic downgrading” — could not be measured with certainty. Long-term trials teasing out wide-ranging interactions among predators and other species promised to be unwieldy and expensive.

    ‘We have to pay attention to the well-being of predators if we want a healthy ecosystem,’ says one scientist.
    Nonetheless, startling revelations continued to crop up. In a Venezuelan valley flooded by construction of a dam in the 1980s, Duke University ecologist John Terborgh and his students documented the strange perturbations that afflicted the “islands” of Lago Guri. Top predators — jaguar, mountain lion, harpy eagle — fled rising waters. Multiplying out of control, howler monkeys went mad as their numbers soared and the plants they ate increased toxins in self-defense. Some islands were cloaked in thorns as leaf-cutter ants — undeterred by armadillos or other predators — starved the soil of nutrients by carrying every leaf down to their lairs.

    In 1995, the terrestrial camp landed an extraordinary boon as Yellowstone National Park gave William Ripple, director of Oregon State University’s Trophic Cascades Program, the chance to study top-down forcing in action. Ripple watched in amazement as the wolf’s return to Yellowstone — an ecosystem where elk had had the browse of the place for 75 years — gave willow and other trees the chance to take hold along stream banks, cooling water temperatures for trout and encouraging the return of beaver, whose ponds host long-absent amphibians and songbirds. Yellowstone proved that damage to a terrestrial food web could be reversed and an ecosystem restored with the return of a single species. It is a sobering lesson for the eastern U.S., where the explosion of white-tailed deer has eradicated hemlock, a keystone species in once-biodiverse hardwood forests.

    Yet despite such developments, researchers of trophic cascades have despaired of securing the money and means to examine predator removal in large-scale, long-term trials on land. Some have dealt with constrictions by adopting a more manageable, meadow-sized scale. In a three-year experiment, ecologist Oswald Schmitz of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies found that even the tiniest of predators (spiders) exercise a more significant top-down influence on plants than bottom-up factors. The type of predation — active versus ambush hunting — also appears to be consequential, affecting the composition of plant communities and nitrogen levels. Spiders that hunt actively reduce grasshopper density, allowing grass and goldenrod to dominate other plants and increasing available nitrogen. Ambush hunting has an opposite effect, forcing grasshoppers, which would rather feed on grass, to shelter in goldenrod, yielding a more diverse plant community and less nitrogen. Taken together, Schmitz says, “it’s the richness of the functional role of predators that becomes important to conserve.”

    ‘The idea that plants are affected by the things that eat them has not been widely appreciated,’ says one expert.
    Estes and Terborgh, editors of Trophic Cascades, question whether spiders and grasshoppers will “convince anyone that orcas, great white sharks, wolves, tigers, and jaguars are important.” But Schmitz, who grew up north of Toronto where wolf-hunting was a way of life, thinks the process is underway: “Piece by piece, it’s taken 20 years to accumulate the evidence, and the culmination is in that Science paper — that the world is driven by predators as well as nutrients. We have to pay attention to their health and well-being if we want a healthy ecosystem. Simply eliminating them because we want more prey or because we don’t think they’re important is very misguided.”

    Indeed, the Science review presses the trophic case into new territory, extending predation’s impact to human health. A reduction in lion and leopard populations in Ghana has led to an explosion of olive baboons. The release of such “mesopredators” — mid-sized carnivores such as cats or raccoons that run rampant without control — has wreaked havoc around local villages, where baboons attack livestock, damage crops, and spread intestinal parasites to the human population.

    In the Science paper, the authors call for “a paradigm shift in ecology.” Scientists and land-managers, they argue, must adopt top-down forcing as a given “if there is to be any real hope of understanding and managing the workings of nature.”

    In Trophic Cascades, Terborgh and Estes go farther, criticizing national science agencies for failing to fund research on predator removal in terrestrial systems, accusing them of clinging to old views and “retarding progress” while ecosystems are undermined. “The idea that plants are affected by the things that eat them,” Estes says dryly, “has not been widely appreciated.”

    But Alan James Tessier, program director of the National Science Foundation’s Environmental Biology Division, disagrees, asserting that the agency has funded much research into top-down processes. “It’s ridiculous to talk only about top-down or bottom-up control,” said Tessier. “Both are happening all the time.”

    In science, new ideas are rightly met with skepticism, if not denials and dismissals. But as the consequences of predator loss become increasingly measurable and predictable, they implicitly call for a reassessment of our ancient foes. Estes is as reluctant as any scientist to weigh in on the wolf wars, but his frustration is clear. “That’s not the way we should be behaving as a species,” he says.https://e360.yale.edu/features/the_crucial_role_of_predators_a_new_perspective_on_ecology

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    An excerpt from The Tyee. The article is a salute to David Schindler, who passed away very recently
    https://thetyee.ca/News/2021/03/09/David-Schindler-Scientific-Giant-Fresh-Water-Defender/
    Excerpt for those who think access roads are "necessary" - especially those roads that are not erased when exploration is finished:
    “I want to show you the future of the boreal,” he [Schindler]said.
    We got in his Subaru and headed south. We passed through a forest mangled by an assortment of roads, seismic lines, oil wells and power lines. It wasn’t a scenic tour. Invasive species like blue weed grew in the disturbances like gangrene in a wound.

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