Archive for December, 2011

Stephen Augustine’s Comments on Idaho’s 2011-12 Wolf Hunt

 

Stephen Augustine’s Comments on Wolves to Idaho Fish & Game and Op Ed in The Reader

Stephen Augustine’s eloquent and perceptive words about the Idaho wolf hunt disserve the attention of all those who care about the fate of our wildlife. He points out that the Idaho Fish & Game’s (IDF&G) charter requires them to manage game only for the benefit of hunters, and hopes that the agency will eventually be replaced by one that reflects the majority pro-wildlife views of Idaho’s citizens.

He also shows the far-reaching effects of wolves’ trophic cascades on the well being of other inhabitants of our forests, some of them surprising, like those on songbirds, kokanee salmon, and even bees.

Stephen also makes the important point, that contrary to what we often hear from hunters, it usually costs them more for the meat they obtain from hunting than it would for them to hunt through supermarket aisles.

Finally, he finds the present wolf hunt to be very similar to the bounties that resulted in the original extinction of wolves.  He points out that wolves are being persecuted, not because they wreck havoc in our forests, but on the contrary, because they were beginning to exert their appropriate age-old role of apex predators, and hunters and ranchers could not stand the competition.

        Ken Fischman

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Comments to the Idaho Fish & Game Commissioners

Coeur D'Alene, 09 November 2011

By Stephen Augustine, Co-Founder of Sandpoint Vegetarians

Good evening. My name is Stephen Augustine and I am a resident of Sandpoint, Idaho. I am an ardent supporter of wildlife conservation in Idaho with an annual donation on our tax return and wildlife plates on our vehicle. I firmly believe and uphold the law that ALL the wildlife in the State of Idaho is to be maintained for the benefit of ALL the people of Idaho.

Last month was an interesting month: planet Earth reached 7 billion people, the Javan rhino became extinct in Vietnam, and purse seiners took advantage of the turmoil in Libya to plunder critical Bluefin tuna spawning grounds in the Mediterranean. Earlier, in July, the universally respected journal Science, published a report titled "The Trophic Downgrading of Planet Earth". The report concluded that the most pervasive and far-reaching negative impact that humans have had on Earth's natural ecologies is the removal and destruction of apex predators – species such as Bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean or wolves in the Rockies. Our shared planet is, sadly, stressed well beyond sustainable limits.

It is long past time for humans to grow up and stop being hedonistic, shortsighted, schoolyard bullies. Here in Idaho we still have a chance to preserve some remnant of what is natural. Managing wildlife in Idaho as a big stocked killing arena is NOT natural. Sadly you, IDFG, are tasked to operate under an obsolete charter wherein Idaho is perceived to be some fantasy frontier and all wildlife exists to be hunted and killed. This is reflected in observing that IDFG's wolf "management" policies are designed precisely to ensure that wolves do NOT play a meaningful ecological role and that they do not upset the status quo wherein you, IDFG, try to provide your client-hunters a maximal number of elk for them to kill.

I realize that, to some extent, your hands are bound by this outdated and anachronistic charter. Even your staff biologists have to stifle their advanced training and modern science to kowtow to the desires of people who want to go out and kill something. The hysterical prattling, by those calling for bounties on wolves, has nothing to do with anything related to truth or what is relevant to the people of Idaho. One needs only look north to Canada, with 50,000 wolves, where presumably there are no elk or deer left, all the young children have long since been gobbled up by vicious “Canadian wolves”, and all the remaining Canadians are severely infested with Echinococcus granulosus.

You should realize that you do not need to give in to the shrill voices calling for yet more creatures to kill but can make decisions that serve the majority of the citizens of Idaho – a majority who want to see an integrated and natural ecosystem where species like wolves are restored to their meaningful and necessary place. In the meantime, I remain hopeful that, within the next generation, IDFG will be replaced by a new agency that has a new and more rational charter and has as its constituents ALL the people of Idaho.

Thank you for your time.

Stephen Augustine

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Cry Wolf

By Stephen Augustine, Co-Founder of Sandpoint Vegetarians

Op Ed in Sandpoint Reader, September, 2011

Tuesday, August 30th marks the beginning of a 7-month open season on the estimated 1000 wolves dispersed throughout Idaho. Wolves will run a gauntlet of hunters armed with any weapon of their choice, electronic calls, snares and leg-hold traps. To garner more kills and revenue, Idaho Fish & Game (IDFG) will be selling an unlimited number of wolf tags and has reduced the price of a non-resident wolf tag from $186 to a mere $31.75.

This open season on wolves is brought to us courtesy of a completely out-of-place rider attached to the Congressional budget bill that was passed on April 14th of this year and summarily removes wolves from the Endangered Species List. The rider, sponsored by Montana Senators Jon Tester and Max Baucus along with Idaho Representative Mike Simpson, was forced through by powerful hunting and ranching lobbies and undermined the rule of law in matters that should have been left to scientists.

Exactly three months after the passage of the budget bill and its perverted rider, Science, one of the world’s most respected and cited scientific journals, published a collaborative report by some of the world’s most respected wildlife biologists titled Trophic Downgrading of Planet Earth. The report concludes that the most pervasive and far-reaching impact that humans have had on Earth’s natural ecologies is the removal and destruction of apex predators. Not just big predators like wolves, cougars, lions, tigers and sharks but other smaller species such as bass, otters, sea stars, foxes, and coyotes. The removal of such apex predators results in a disruption of the incredibly complex interactions between flora and fauna in a healthy natural ecosystem – interactions that have evolved over thousands if not millions of years. In the case of wolves in Idaho their interactions with their prey species results in a “trophic cascade” that positively impacts the vibrancy and health of not only trees and native plants but other fauna such as songbirds, eagles, ravens, beavers, wolverines, kokanee salmon, steelhead, bees, butterflies, and many, many others.

In many aspects the western states of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming exhibit a frontier-like attitude where sound science takes a backseat to other interests. In this context natural resources are perceived to be unlimited, public lands are to be used for mining, logging, and ranching and the role of wildlife is to be hunted. Never mind that any frontier ceased to exist over 100 years ago and that the pressure of growing populations consuming at ever greater levels requires us to be ever more cognizant of protecting and preserving the few wild places that do exist and enjoying them in non-consumptive ways. Sadly, wildlife management agencies such as IDFG operate on a charter that is almost as old as that frontier and reinforces that frontier mindset. IDFG was chartered in 1938 to provide “continued supplies of such wildlife for hunting, fishing and trapping.” Indeed, in relation to the aforementioned hunting, fishing and trapping, the ubiquitous and telling word that is used by both the sellers (IDFG) and buyers (hunters and hunting lobbies) is “harvest.” The employees of IDFG end up being glorified livestock managers who use science selectively to further the goal of providing a maximum number of animals for hunters to kill.

Many proponents of this outdated charter justify it by saying that numerous people depend on hunting to put food on their table. About two years ago IDFG commissioner Tony McDermott from Sagle conceded to me that his expenses to bag an elk were in actuality greater than buying a comparable amount of meat at the grocery store. Assuredly, there are hunters in Idaho who do in fact stock their freezers with meat (usually deer) at a cost lower than buying an equal amount of meat from the grocery store. Assuredly, some of those same hunters also depend on hunting to put food on their tables to supplement their meager incomes. One might posit that this state of affairs is a sad reflection of a wealthy society that has failed its people who, as a consequence, have to resort to hunting and gathering in order to survive. That sad reflection aside, what percentage of the total hunting population might these need-based hunters constitute? Drawing from all the hunters with whom I have had conversations my estimate is on the order of 5% and probably not more than 10%. The rest would be “sportsmen” engaged in the presumably pleasurable hobby of finding and killing animals for “sport.”

If the wildlife in Idaho truly belongs to all the people of Idaho then all wildlife in the state should be protected and conserved using general tax dollars for the benefit of the majority of the population and not just for that small segment of “sportsmen” who “pay to play.” From that majority viewpoint IDFG is an obsolete relic and needs to be completely disbanded and a new organization should be created with a new charter.

Coming back to wolves, the bottom line is that they do not have a bounty on their heads because they are overstepping their natural bounds in any meaningful way. Far from it – they are being persecuted precisely because they are beginning to exert a valid and meaningful role in the ecology of wild Idaho. Unfortunately both the sellers and buyers perceive that legitimate role as that of a vicious competitor who has no place in their neatly stocked ungulate farm.

 

 

 

 

The Case of the Missing Predator, or Please Pass the Shark Fin Soup

The Case of the Missing Predator, or Please Pass the Shark Fin Soup

THE PREDATOR/PREY RELATIONSHIP. WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT?        

From time to time in this website, we examine important scientific papers in light of what they show us about subjects of interest to ourselves and our readers.

         The following paper (Crooks and Soule, Nature, 1999) has become a classic because it vividly shows how the presence or absence of a predator can have unexpected and important effects on an ecosystem.

(I regret that I cannot reprint the entire paper, and can show you only the abstract. Copywrite policies prevent me from doing so, even if I were to purchase it. This is detrimental to the free flow of scientific information, but I have no control over the situation.)


Mesopredator release and avifaunal extinctions in a fragmented system

Kevin R. Crooks1 & Michael E. Soulé2

  1. Department of Biology, University of California, Santa Cruz, California 95064, USA
  2. The Wildlands Project, PO Box 1302 2010, Hotchkiss, Colorado 81419, USA

Correspondence to: Kevin R. Crooks1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to K.R.C. 
(e-mail: Email: krcrooks@earthlink.net.).

Mammalian carnivores are particularly vulnerable to extinction in fragmented landscapes1, and their disappearance may lead to increased numbers of smaller carnivores that are principle predators of birds and other small vertebrates. Such 'mesopredator release'2 has been implicated in the decline and extinction of prey species2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Because experimental manipulation of carnivores is logistically, financially and ethically problematic6,7, however, few studies have evaluated how trophic cascades generated by the decline of dominant predators combine with other fragmentation effects to influence species diversity in terrestrial systems. Although the mesopredator release hypothesis has received only limited critical evaluation8 and remains controversial9, it has become the basis for conservation programmes justifying the protection of carnivores6. Here we describe a study that exploits spatial and temporal variation in the distribution and abundance of an apex predator, the coyote, in a landscape fragmented by development. It appears that the decline and disappearance of the coyote, in conjunction with the effects of habitat fragmentation, affect the distribution and abundance of smaller carnivores and the persistence of their avian prey.

Letters to Nature

Nature 400, 563-566 (5 August 1999) | doi:10.1038/23028; Received 22 February 1999; Accepted 5 July 1999


The Soule paper was a sort of scientific detective story.

Michael Soule, who is considered to be the dean of the field of Conservation Biology, if not its creator, examined a puzzling situation in his home city of San Diego, California. The city, although it is highly urban, is transected by many deep and mostly wild ravines that extend out to the ocean front. The ravines contain animal populations and are basically isolated from each other by houses, streets, etc. One can think of them therefore as islands of life, the denizens of which can enter and leave only with great difficulty.

When Soule surveyed the animal populations in these ravines, he noted a strange situation. In some of the ravines there were dense populations of song birds, whereas in others, there were hardly any at all.

The mystery was clarified when Soule examined the other animal populations in these “urban islands.” He found cats in some ravines, and coyotes in others, but never cats and coyotes together. He also noted that in those ravines where there were coyotes but no cats, there were plentiful populations of song birds, but in others where there were no coyotes, but many cats, song birds were missing.

This is partially a big fish, little fish story, with intriguing consequences and implications. The picture that Soule put together was the following: Coyotes and cats are both predators. We call coyotes mesopredators because they themselves are the prey of others, such as mountain lions and wolves. Coyotes, in turn prey on cats and cats eat birds as well as their eggs and young.  Did you ever think of your kitty as a predator when it brought a dead creature home? Well, domestic as well as feral cats are responsible for the deaths of millions of song birds every year!

In those ravines where the only predators were cats, the cats decimated the bird populations. However in those ravines where there were urban coyotes, they preyed on the cats, keeping their numbers way down, thus allowing the bird populations to flourish. Mystery solved.

So, what has this to do with our interests? Just this.  Wolves are keystone predators, meaning that they sit on top of the food chain (if humans are ignored), and due to this situation, their behavior and eating habits result in a cascade of effects to the rest of the ecosystem.

Yellowstone National Park, like those San Diego canyons, is a sort of island of wildlife, surrounded by ranches, highways, houses and other accoutrements of human habitation. Animals do not easily get in or out. When a few wolves were reintroduced there in 1995, some of the effects were anticipated, but others were not.

 The effects of these predators have been widespread and profound. First, they reduced the number of coyotes in the park considerably as the wolves took their place as the top predators in Yellowstone. Then they reduced the elk population from roughly 15-17 thousand to around 4,500 – 5,000 at present. Lest you think that this drop in elk population is the nightmare hunters fear it is in other locales, it all depends on whose ox is gored.

In fact, the elks, themselves an introduced species in the 1930s, had increased greatly in numbers, due mainly to the lack of predators. They overran and overgrazed the park, considerably  changing the ecosystem. How profound these effects were became apparent when the wolves reduced elk numbers and changed their behavior, by chasing them from the river bottoms into the hills.

Aspens, willows and other water–loving plants began to grow in riperian areas, resulting in the stabilization of crumbling creek banks and increasing the amount of shade. Cold water fish, like trout, returned to shaded, cooler waters. Other animal species also benefitted. Animals that depended on the availability of carrion left by the wolves, such as vultures, crows, and foxes made a strong comeback.

These changes have been examined in many studies of the Yellowstone ecosystem by Ripple as well as Creel, W.D. Smith, and Hebblewhite. The documentary film, Lords of Nature, dramatically shows the effects of these changes, both in Yellowstone and in Zion National Park, where extirpation of mountain lions in the main valley has resulted in its being highly degraded by the ever-increasing deer population. In side canyons, where mountain lions still live, the riperian plant and animal life remains lush.

In Yellowstone, the elk and wolves have alternated in population bursts. When wolf numbers increased, the elk numbers diminished. Then the wolf population, stressed by lack of prey, dropped in turn, enabling the elk to make a comeback. These cycles have been observed a number of times during the wolve's 16 year sojurne in Yellowstone, as the wolves and elk repeated their predator/prey dance.

In recent years, the roles of predators in keeping an equilibrium in other species have been intensively studied in many ecosystems. Their value more appreciated by biologists than by the general public. Who knew for example what profound effects the loss of sharks, who are top marine predators, would have on the world’s fisheries. Shark fin soup anybody?