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


    Judith Lavoie

    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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    Just now, Leslie Campbell said:

    See this open letter to Minister Conroy by Canada's senior wolf researchers Dr John and Mary Theberge. It accuses BC of decades of mismanagement of wolves based on faulty assumptions and poor data, and urges the immediate stop of aerial killing and trophy hunting of wolves, as well as more funds for wolf censusing.

    Welcome to John Horgan's BC, Leslie! There are some bizarre notions floating around "out there", left over from the previous eras, that the NDP have not bothered to bring up to date. But, one way or another, it all has to do with our clearcut practices, especially of old growth, where the mosses the mountain caribou eat. This in turn (and for some unfathomable reason) leads to the notion that killing off cow moose and calves will bring back the caribou. But in the meantime, the wolves must be "kept under control". In my opinion, none of the bureaucrats and politicians give a damn, fixated as they are on shaving BC bald of trees, and building the damn dam and pipelines.

    As was said in the movie Bridge on The River Kwai, uttered by Jack Hawkins: "Madness! It's all Madness!" (Kind of dates me!)

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    On 2021-03-03 at 8:51 AM, Guest Tim said:

    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.

    Ever given some thought that logging/mining might be causing an unbalance? No, of course not - or you would be lobbying to get logging/mining outlawed so the moose can replenish themselves.

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    I find the most disturbing comments here are by those who support hunting or are hunters.  From pure crazy to a selfish lack of appreciation of wild animals and their pureness and beauty. They wish to control and destroy everything in their path for no acceptable reason but to kill.  It's the "thrill" that they seek because they are missing something essential that makes a human a human.  When one considers themselves as "gods chosen", as one person here did, you have to question the sanity of people who are allowed to open fire on harmless animals.  Hunters have no soul, that is apparent. They are a disease, a sickness that needs to be eradicated from our society if we are ever going to be able to maintain our precious wildlife and prevent eventual extinction.  I wish there were more spokespersons for nature like David Schindler, a man who had so much respect from people and for animals and nature. Many could learn from his stories and way of being, of existing. This probably won't  be published but that's okay. At least the editor read it.

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    10 hours ago, Guest Guest James P said:

    I find the most disturbing comments here are by those who support hunting or are hunters.  From pure crazy to a selfish lack of appreciation of wild animals and their pureness and beauty. They wish to control and destroy everything in their path for no acceptable reason but to kill.  It's the "thrill" that they seek because they are missing something essential that makes a human a human.  When one considers themselves as "gods chosen", as one person here did, you have to question the sanity of people who are allowed to open fire on harmless animals.  Hunters have no soul, that is apparent. They are a disease, a sickness that needs to be eradicated from our society if we are ever going to be able to maintain our precious wildlife and prevent eventual extinction.  I wish there were more spokespersons for nature like David Schindler, a man who had so much respect from people and for animals and nature. Many could learn from his stories and way of being, of existing. This probably won't  be published but that's okay. At least the editor read it.

    I noticed that NONE bothered to look at what this keystone species did to rejuvenate Yellowstone Park. Who could imagine that 31 wolves could act to stabilize the course of rivers, build up the beaver population, so that their dams allowed moose (one species that these "hunters" yearn for) populations to thrive, and myriad other good, better, best that, had human attempted to duplicate, would cost billions - and not be as effective as wolves are by just "doing their thing".

    But having said that, these wolf killers have the support of our provincial NDP government, because the latter is doing nothing to heal the hurt they, and the previous governments have cast on this province in the name of "progress".

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    On 2021-03-03 at 10:07 PM, Guest Jim Farness said:

    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  

     

     

    Jim - thank you.  I learned so much from your comment.  Glyphosate?  How awful!  Prevention of the regrowth of the indigenous trees.  Insane!  "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone" (Joni Mitchell)

    I would like good people who care about our planet to join together but instead we bicker.  It keeps the focus off the ecological destruction caused by the mining and timber industries - and it takes the heat off the provincial government and Ottawa.

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    1 hour ago, Doug Pazienza said:

    Jim - thank you.  I learned so much from your comment.  Glyphosate?  How awful!  Prevention of the regrowth of the indigenous trees.  Insane!  "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone" (Joni Mitchell)

    I would like good people who care about our planet to join together but instead we bicker.  It keeps the focus off the ecological destruction caused by the mining and timber industries - and it takes the heat off the provincial government and Ottawa.

    In other words, we have to BAN logging and mining! There can really be no so-called "middle ground".

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    Really?  I didn't say that!  Timber is a renewable resource.  Preferable to plastic.  But clear-cutting.  No good.  Logging ancient rainforest.  No good.  The timber and mining industries have shot themselves in the foot.  They have killed the goose that laid the golden eggs.  They have systematically exploited the land and killed everything in their way.  British Columbians work in these industries!  It's not like some phantom devastated the environment.  If the people are complicit in these activities, don't wait for others to put a stop to it.  Stand up and be counted.

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    23 minutes ago, Doug Pazienza said:

    Really?  I didn't say that!  Timber is a renewable resource.  Preferable to plastic.  But clear-cutting.  No good.  Logging ancient rainforest.  No good.  The timber and mining industries have shot themselves in the foot.  They have killed the goose that laid the golden eggs.  They have systematically exploited the land and killed everything in their way.  British Columbians work in these industries!  It's not like some phantom devastated the environment.  If the people are complicit in these activities, don't wait for others to put a stop to it.  Stand up and be counted.

    As soon as provisions exist, lawyers will see to it, being the prostitutes that they are, that loopholes abound. So I say a resounding "NO"! As far as jobs go, this wouldn't be the first time corporate caused mass job extinctions.

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    14 minutes ago, Rick Weatherill said:

    As soon as provisions exist, lawyers will see to it, being the prostitutes that they are, that loopholes abound. So I say a resounding "NO"! As far as jobs go, this wouldn't be the first time corporate caused mass job extinctions.

    And the mistrust is certainly warranted.  The Industrial Growth Society is very shortsighted and disposable.  Mining depends on two things and look at the language:  human resources and natural resources.  When one is depleted the other is discarded.  Typically the exhaustion of the natural resources comes first.  Then the human resources are just unemployed statistics and investors in their own pension funds that are gambled on Wall Street.  They can't even fall back on the natural environment because the mining company ravaged it.

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    1 hour ago, Doug Pazienza said:

    And the mistrust is certainly warranted.  The Industrial Growth Society is very shortsighted and disposable.  Mining depends on two things and look at the language:  human resources and natural resources.  When one is depleted the other is discarded.  Typically the exhaustion of the natural resources comes first.  Then the human resources are just unemployed statistics and investors in their own pension funds that are gambled on Wall Street.  They can't even fall back on the natural environment because the mining company ravaged it.

    The Industrial Growth Society is very shortsighted and disposable.  It would do to keep that in mind whenever any of them expound on how "green" and "environmentally responsible" their processes are.....

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    Absolutely.  Toronto-based Polymet Mining Corp owned by Swiss mining giant Glencore and Twin Metals owned by Antofagasta, a major mining company based in Chile both seek to open copper mines on the Minnesota Iron Range.  They are both in sensitive watersheds in close proximity to the near pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area, a designated Federal wilderness adjacent to Quetico Provincial Park in northwest Ontario. 

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    On 2021-03-08 at 10:38 PM, Guest LInda Robin. said:

    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

    Thank you for posting this.

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    On 2021-03-03 at 4:23 AM, Guest Kelly Carson said:

    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.

    Are ecology and the environment low priorities for Canadian politicians?  Are provincial governments responsive and accountable to their constituents, do you think?  They have the appearance of being very bureaucratic and removed.  It is reassuring that you have a watchful eye.  Social media is a vast underground that is invisible to those of us who don't really use it so much.

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    On 2021-03-04 at 6:07 PM, Guest Barb Murray said:

    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

     

    Barb - thank you very much for introducing me to Val Asher.  And I have a newfound respect for Ted Turner.  I am very grateful to you, Val and Ted for the good things you are doing.  I am not Canadian but I will write to the politicians you listed.  May the force be with you!

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    On 2021-03-16 at 5:18 PM, Leslie Campbell said:

    See this open letter to Minister Conroy by Canada's senior wolf researchers Dr John and Mary Theberge. It accuses BC of decades of mismanagement of wolves based on faulty assumptions and poor data, and urges the immediate stop of aerial killing and trophy hunting of wolves, as well as more funds for wolf censusing.

    Thank you, Leslie.  A great template for a letter to BC politicians.  Theberges are the voices of reason and wisdom.  We need as much as we can get in this mixed-up world.

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    3 hours ago, Doug Pazienza said:

    Are ecology and the environment low priorities for Canadian politicians?  Are provincial governments responsive and accountable to their constituents, do you think?  They have the appearance of being very bureaucratic and removed.  It is reassuring that you have a watchful eye.  Social media is a vast underground that is invisible to those of us who don't really use it so much.

    IMO, absolutely no thought given to environmental matters, except as fillers for election promises - and quite possibly for license fees (revenue). But they either have no idea of the interconnectedness of the animal and plant world, or they just don't care, because it "interferes" with the exploitation of same.

    The simple example of the results of the Yellowstone Park remediation completely escapes their antediluvian notions.

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    1 hour ago, Rick Weatherill said:

    IMO, absolutely no thought given to environmental matters, except as fillers for election promises - and quite possibly for license fees (revenue). But they either have no idea of the interconnectedness of the animal and plant world, or they just don't care, because it "interferes" with the exploitation of same.

    The simple example of the results of the Yellowstone Park remediation completely escapes their antediluvian notions.

    Regretably, interconnectedness escapes most people in our culture, I believe....  Prior to my activism in wolf conservation in BC over the past year, I would never have imagined the extent of environmental degradation there.  And the paradox is that it is one of the most beautiful places on earth.  Do you think the abundance of and proximity to nature somehow diminishes the need to conserve and preserve it?  And do you think the natural resource economy there engenders and reinforces a plundering mindset?  NB  I know there are many on these pages and others like the folks at Raincoast doing great work to remediate, preserve and conserve.

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    2 hours ago, Doug Pazienza said:

    Regretably, interconnectedness escapes most people in our culture, I believe....  Prior to my activism in wolf conservation in BC over the past year, I would never have imagined the extent of environmental degradation there.  And the paradox is that it is one of the most beautiful places on earth.  Do you think the abundance of and proximity to nature somehow diminishes the need to conserve and preserve it?  And do you think the natural resource economy there engenders and reinforces a plundering mindset?  NB  I know there are many on these pages and others like the folks at Raincoast doing great work to remediate, preserve and conserve.

    IMO, the average person looks at a landscape, that, unless it was bombed to oblivion, appears to be "normal" regardless of the alterations it went through. A good example might be when Champlain was sailing over to the "new world", he remarked that, such were the number and size of the cod that it actually impeded the progress of his ship. I doubt any of us today could even visualize that.

    Same goes for Yellowstone before wolves. The average visitor would see a "complete" landscape.

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