Balancing Shock and Optimism in a Time of Declining Attention Span

A pair of brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) fly in tandem in southern Puerto Rico. Photo by Richard Telford, Copyright 2008.

A pair of brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) fly in tandem in southern Puerto Rico. Photo by Richard Telford, Copyright 2008.

By Richard Telford

“You can’t leave things like that around for me to see.”

The cover of the Winter 2015-2016 issue of SE Journal. Photo origin: Save-Elephants via Wikimedia commons.

The cover of the Winter 2015-2016 issue of SE Journal. Photo origin: Save-Elephants via Wikimedia commons.

My seven-year-old daughter told me this when I left a copy of SE Journal on the bathroom counter. SE Journal is a publication of the Society of Environmental Journalists, and the issue in question featured an image of a dusty savanna strewn with bloody elephant bones—the aftermath of a March 2013 massacre by poachers of 90 savanna elephants in the central African country of Chad. I felt badly, of course, and flipped the journal over to its innocuous back cover as we spoke, but I did briefly explain the image in simple terms. I thought, and still think, the context mattered. Afterward, I reflected many times on this exchange, as it raised questions for me, both as a parent and as an environmental journalist. Even as I write this now, those questions persist.

The cover for the January 1976 issue of National Geographic, which featured Dr. David M. Lavigne's article, "Life or Death for the Harp Seal." Lavigne considered the possibility that annual Canadian seal harvest might drive the harp seal (Pagophilus groenlandicus) to extinction.

The cover for the January 1976 issue of National Geographic, which featured Dr. David M. Lavigne’s article, “Life or Death for the Harp Seal.” Lavigne considered the possibility that annual Canadian seal harvest might drive the harp seal (Pagophilus groenlandicus) to extinction.

Growing up in the late 1970s and early 1980s, one image of human barbarism against the natural world defined the call for environmental policy change more than any other, at least in my memory—the clubbing of baby seals on Canada’s northern ice floes during that nation’s annual, government-regulated seal harvest. Magazine covers and documentary films featured images of seal pups (the primary target of the harvest, then and now) with large, dark eyes staring innocently at the camera. Then, there were the images of slicker-clad sealers wielding hakapiks, the traditional club with a curved or angled pick blade used to drag the dead and dying seals across the ice. The contrast of these two images, the first of moving beauty, the second of appalling barbarism, is reflective of the quandary within which environmental writers, and environmental advocates more broadly, often must work. Too much coverage of the benign and beautiful, and we ignore the realities of the environmental crisis with which we are confronted. We risk luring the reader or viewer into complacency, inaction. Too much coverage of the brutal and the jarring, and we cause the reader or viewer to turn away, out of disgust or hopelessness or both. The greatest danger in that case is that their gaze does not turn our way again. There, too, we end at inaction, and inaction can be deadly. These are two poles of response that we, as environmental journalists, may elicit, and there are many gradients between them, all of which demand our attention and careful navigation.

Continue reading

Orangutans and the Fires in Indonesia–an Environmental Tipping Point

By Neva Knott

Orangutans hold a special place in my heart. My father, Norman P. Knott, was a zoologist. In the early 1970s he worked for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). We lived in Thailand and often dad would take the family with him to other Asian countries he visited for work. It was on one of these trips I fell in love with the orange Great Ape, as did my little sister. We were at a zoo and the larger male orangutan in captivity there was smoking a cigarette, an indelible image etched into my 11-year-old mind.

He was just he first of many orangutans we’d see while living and traveling in Asia.

In a later conversation between my dad and my older sister–she had asked him what he felt most proud of in his life–he said, “Creating protected habitat for orangutans.” My sister was taken aback, as the family folklore goes; she felt slighted that dad put the orangutan above his four daughters in his pride of accomplishment. When she shared this anecdote with me she said, “I said, but you have children.” My little sister and I somehow approve of dad’s heartfelt championship of the funny-looking orange and fuzzy animals we loved so much in our childhood. Truth be told, both of us still do hold them dear.

Source: wiki commons.

I’ve been following the news about the fires in Indonesia since it broke a few weeks ago. After the first few reports, focused on the fires themselves–locations, cause, containment–I began to see pieces about trapped and threatened orangutans. As I planned my next post for The Ecotone Exchange, I decided to write about them, thinking “this is another opportunity to show the power of consumerism and to talk about how we shop matters” (because the fires are a direct result of slash and burn clearing for palm oil plantations). Many of the reports I’d read explained rescue missions to get orangutans out of burning forests and to safety, another positive, I naively thought. Until last night.

My father’s legacy is going up in smoke.

Orangutans leaving burning forest. Original source unknown.

Orangutans leaving burning forest. Original source unknown.

I began my research into the depth of the orangutans’s situation–I always like to go beyond the click-bait information–with a google search of UN-FAO orangutan habitat. I crossed imaginary fingers that dad’s name would pop up, but his work was so long ago, I didn’t expect to see Norman P. Knott in my search results. I did find the recent (2011) report published by the United Nations Environment Programme, “Orangutans and the Economics of Sustainable Forest Management in Sumatra.” The photographs in the report are telling–I hope you click on the link and take them in. Information in these types of reports is always rich fodder, and not the type of information the general public reads, but I’m sure we’d all act and react differently if we had these types details easily in front of us. In fact, sometimes I think my work as a blogger is really that of extraction. The information, based on research, in this report frames the background of the orangutan’s plight in Indonesia:

First and of foremost importance, “With current trends in forest loss, the Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii) may well be the first Great Ape to go extinct in the wild.” In 1900, the population was 85,000. Now, it’s 6,600. This is a decrease of 92 per cent and has landed the species on the Red List. Bornean Orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) are also rapidly declining in number, down from 54,000, and listed as endangered. Information for the UNEP report was gathered in the Leuser Ecosystem, Aceh, and North Sumatra–areas currently burning.

Orangutans are extremely vulnerable to extinction due to a combination of factors. They have an exceptionally slow reproductive rate–Sumatran orangutan females give birth to just one infant at a time, only every eight or nine years. Indeed, the loss of as little as 1 per cent of females each year can place a population on an irreversible trajectory to extinction; they require vast areas of contiguous rainforest to live in; they are very much restricted to lowland forest areas.

Orangutans are most threatened by fragmented habitat–an issue similar to the one I wrote about last week in my post about Wildlife Bridges. The orangutan’s habitat fragmentation is due to forest loss which results from a combination of road development, expansion of large- scale agriculture, logging concessions, mining and small-scale encroachment. To illustrate the magnitude of forest loss–between 1985 and 2007, 49 per cent of all forests on the island were destroyed. Road development is tied to economic development, but the problem for the ecosystem in general and orangutans specifically is that roads are not planned to maintain habitat. The authors of the report state, “These threats can be directly attributed to in- adequate cross-sectoral land use planning, reflecting needs for short-term economic growth, and a lack of environmental law enforcement.”

Of these, the rapid expansion of oil palm plantations in recent years probably represents the greatest single agricultural threat to orangutan survival in the region. The establishment of many of these plantations has resulted in significant losses in orangutan habitat, since they have been created by converting forests instead of making use of already deforested areas, such as existing agricultural or low current use value land. Of note, one of the drivers of this rapid expansion that exists outside of the consumer market is population increase in Indonesia. In this report, the UNEP explains that 50 per cent of Indonesians rely on agriculture for income, and theirs is a population growing rapidly, so the actual number of persons represented by that percentage is much greater than it was even a few years ago–more people to support washes out as more cleared land.

As I read on into the report, I gained a little hope. I was bolstered by the fact that orangutans have been protected since 1931. Most of their habitat is in protected areas on Sumatra the rest of Indonesia. New regulations–as of the publication of the report–are in effect to make the spatial planning process one that is habitat-friendly. The government seems to want to work for orangutans, “The Government of Indonesia has ratified and integrated into national law many international environmental treaties and conventions (e.g. the Convention on Biological Diversity, Convention on International Trade in En- dangered Species, the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, the UNESCO World Heritage Convention). Most of these support orangutan conservation at the national and international level. In 2007, the Indonesian government also released its own Indonesian National Orangutan Conservation Strategy and Action Plan (2007-2017, Ministry of Forestry 2009) to protect orangutans and their habitat, which was subsequently signed into law and officially launched by the president.”

Yet, the slash and burn deforestation–a cheap and dirty way to clear land–continues.

National Public Radio reported in “As Indonesia’s Annual Fires Rage, Plenty of Blame but No Responsibility” just a few days ago that much of the deforestation for palm oil is conducted illegally:

“Indonesia’s government has blamed both big palm oil companies and small freeholders. Poynton says the culprits are often mid-sized companies with strong ties to local politicians. He describes them as lawless middlemen who pay local farmers to burn forests and plant oil palms, often on other companies’ concessions.

“There are these sort of low-level, Mafioso-type guys that basically say, ‘You get in there and clear the land, and I’ll then finance you to establish a palm oil plantation,’ ” he says.

The problem is exacerbated by ingrained government corruption, in which politicians grant land use permits for forests and peat lands to agribusiness in exchange for financial and political support.

“The disaster is not in the fires,” says independent Jakarta-based commentator Wimar Witoelar. ‘It’s in the way that past Indonesian governments have colluded with big palm oil businesses to make the peat lands a recipe for disaster.’ Wimar notes that previous administrations are partly to blame for nearly two decades of annual fires.”

All that said, NPR cites Indonesia’s current and fairly new president, Joko Widodo, referred to as Jokowi, to be a man willing to take proactive measure to combat this issue, “The president has deployed thousands of firefighters and accepted international assistance. He has ordered a moratorium on new licenses to use peat land and ordered law enforcers to prosecute people and companies who clear land by burning forests.”

I find it horrific that these land-clearing fires have been part of Business As Usual for so long. The fires in 1997, according to the UNEP report, cost Indonesia 10 billion dollars; this year’s fires, according to the New York Times, cost 14 billion. I’ve read several news reports that the carbon emissions from this year’s are more than what the US in it’s entirety emits. These figures easily refute the economic feasibility argument in favor of clearing forest for palm oil.

From ABC Australia’s article, “Indonesian Fires: Forget the Orangutans, Is the Blaze a Tipping Point for Carbon Emissions?,”:

“The fires in Indonesia are more than just a threat to endangered orangutans. They have shortened by up to two years the window to reduce carbon emissions and avoid runaway climate change, according to one of the CSIRO’s leading climate scientists.

The head of the Global Carbon Project at the CSIRO, Pep Canadell, said the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may have exceeded 400 parts per million for the first time in 2 million years, because of the 1 billion tonnes of carbon released by the fires in a two-month period.

Dr Canadell said the daily emissions of the Indonesian fires had been equal to the daily emissions of the US, accelerating humanity’s progress along the upward line of global emissions by about one to two years.”

As Take Part reports, there are some ugly outcomes of the orangutans having to flee their habitat because of the fires, “Orangutans have more to fear than just the fire. The flames and smoke are pushing them out of their already reduced habitats and closer to human villages, where the adults are killed and the young apes are sold into the pet trade. In the past week, International Animal Rescue saved one such young orangutan, Gito, who had been kept in a cardboard box and left in the sun to die.”

By now these sorts of events should be taken as a death knell ringing across the globe. It seems humans have come so far from living in caves that we’ve forgotten we are part of nature and its patterns. These fires and the plight of the orangutans is emblematic that we cannot succeed by pulling apart ecosystems, using one part that is economically beneficially and saying to hell with the rest. These fires and the plight of orangutans is another example that large-scale mono-cropping is the days-gone-by way of agriculture; it does not work with such a densely populated planet as we live on today. The UNEP put these words to the root cause of the problem, “The current economic system, which is based on the assumption that most of what is taken from the environment is a public good, or, in other words, that it is “free,” is leading humanity to either overexploit what nature provides or to destroy it completely. This has created an economic system in which one service has been maximized, usually productivity–[such as quick, low-cost slash and burn clearing], at the expense of others.”

Here at The Ecotone Exchange our moniker is Positive Stories of the Environment. Is there anything positive in this mess? I don’t know, but I was compelled to write about it anyway…

In the short term, several animal rescues like International Animal Rescue and Sumatran Orangutan Society are working on the ground in Indonesia to get the animals to safety. Follow this link to a National Geographic photo-essay, “Saving Sumatra’s Orangutans.” 

There are models for better forestry practices (about which I’ve written extensively), and as the UNEP suggests, there’s much already deforested land available to palm oil growers–some in Indonesia, some elsewhere–and realistically, orangutans take up very little space on this planet, yet palm oil can grow many places.

One thing that’s got to change is environmental standards everywhere. Much of what we consume in America is made elsewhere–to a large degree because companies don’t want to adhere to the environmental, non-pollution, standards here. So we outsource our pollution.

Indonesia is home to the Sustainable Palm Oil Platform, an advocacy that trains and certifies sustainably grown palm oil. Another agency, Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, offers similar certification. And several non-profits publish lists of palm oil free products. But palm oil is in everything–I don’t think we can responsibly-shop our way out of this one. Yesterday I thought it might be an option, because so many environmental problems are market-driven (as is this one).

Nor is this a simple issue of saving a charismatic species. Contrastingly, I am looking at the plight of the orangutans as an indicator, I’m looking at them as an indicator of human outcomes. Humans and orangutans share 97 per cent of our DNA. If these Great Apes face extinction from this level of habitat destruction, might not we be next?

This is truly “the horror, the horror.” In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, this is all the character Kurtz can say after living alongside the atrocities of European colonization in Africa, after seeing how the “natives” are treated by his countrymen. In the movie adaptation of Conrad’s book, Apocalypse Now, the story is set during the Vietnam War and Kurtz’s last words are the same, “the horror, the horror.”

So I don’t know what the positive is in this story–maybe it is the awareness raised around the world. Maybe it’s that the ideas in the UNEP report can now become reality under the leadership of Indonesian President Widodo. Maybe it’s that the connection between a perceived human need for a product–palm oil, and the natural world–the burning forests and fleeing orangutans, and human welfare–health problems caused by smoke and smog from the fires, and economic ruin are made plain so that future disasters will be avoided by better planning.

My father’s legacy is ablaze and I think I’m going to adopt some orangutans as Christmas presents.

People, Wildlife and the Environment by Norman P. Knott, 1969

By Neva Knott

Scan 1

My dad in the field with a group of Native American Chiefs. 1958.

Today, March 11, 2015, would have been my dad’s 98th birthday. My dad, Norm Knott, worked at the Washington State Game Department (now Washington State Fish and Wildlife) for 30 years, starting there right out of college with a Bachelor’s degree in Zoology. After retiring from the Game Department, he worked for the United Trust Territories in Micronesia and then for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). I have the privilege of owning his desk. There is one drawer of it I cannot bring myself to empty, the drawer that holds files of his that contain artifacts such as the essay below. In it, he expresses the need for human understanding of ecological principles in making the human world. Here are his words, in honor of his life and in thanks for his teaching me to love the natural world:

Scan 2

The record of my dad’s career at the Game Dept.

August 4, 1969

By Norman P. Knott

In a human society the values are those assigned by the people in relationship to and arising from their needs and desires. Certain of these needs as food, water and shelter, are obvious. Certain of these needs and desires are in-obvious but fully as compelling as those which form a wintering flock of wildfowl into a flighted V, following a chartless path to their summer breeding ground.

The pursuit of the obvious, and the lack of protective recognition of the in-obvious environmental requirements of man has repeatedly placed societies in the position of becoming self-destructive. The prophet Isaiah, in the 19th verse of the 49th chapter of his book, sets forth: “For thy waste and thy desolate places, and the land of thy destruction, shall even now be too narrow by reason of the inhabitants.” If we are to assure that our land not become too narrow by reason of the inhabitants, we must openly and publicly recognize and admit that we, as people, are the end-product of the multi-million-year evolutionary process which caused people to leave their home territories and invade the unfriendly wilderness. To our ancestors and to us, philosophically, nature was and is yet a multi-formed enemy to be conquered and harnessed as a benevolent servant.

We must recognize that in our zeal to master the wilderness, we have developed seemingly endless techniques and mechanical abilities which we have used and still employ with absolutely no thought to, or understanding of, the ecological consequences. We continue seemingly without caring what havoc we wreak.

We must openly admit and bring about open recognition of the fact that the individuals of this society, and hence society as a whole, need and in fact must have, not alone a gross national product, but also an opportunity to hear the spring song of a bird un-caged; water of supply and suitability for toe dabbling or fishing; a deer for seeing or tracking; a beach for the surf to wash; a tall tree for the breeze to whisper in; clean snow for children to put a to tongue.

The sound of the beach wave muted by the burden of used toilet paper and discarded picnic plates may well be the voice of affluence, but even though a muted voice, it calls loudly for us to seek in common endeavor, assurances that this will not become a land of our waste and of desolate places, nor our land of destruction.

When we can stand on the westernmost beaches of this nation, we must know that we cannot follow the creed of Horace Greeley, but rather we must learn to live in balanced harmony and respect with our environment.

Private resource developments are usually of a single-purpose nature and always have a single-purpose goal of financial gain. Government, to properly serve the public it represents, must face the responsibility of formulating and enforcing bold programs of resource management for the retention and enhancement of the human environment. The role of government in resource and environmental management must not be a role of duty.

By omission, present laws and programs of resource management do not reflect recognition of this seeming role. In many respects they serve as a fetter to management rather than permitting administrators to apply their knowledge and experience. In general, resource and environmental legislation is designed to effect the management of single resources for special interest groups. Departmental programs and administrative policies under such legislation are biased for the unilateral approach. There is, usually, only external and defensive interest, purpose and involvement in planning and effecting integrated programs.

When the laws that exist and which have as their purpose the service and protection of the people, are such as to preclude or in some cases make unlawful effective progress toward a common solution of the problems concerning the people, it must be past time to review the concepts which projected society and its laws to this present status. It must be time to review past results and to determine what future values we shall seek.

To approach the goal of better human environment requires both knowledge and understanding. Regrettably, there is probably less knowledge concerning the ecology of man and his environmental requirements than there is concerning cottontail rabbits or pine trees.

Environment has become a popular catch phrase emblazoned on many banners, however, it would appear that there is little understanding of ecological concepts or the reasons for the environmental deterioration of our cities, suburbs, and scenic countrysides.

Fish and wildlife are sensitively adapted products of their environments. If their environments are protected in a manner suitable for their livelihoods, many of the environmental needs of man will simultaneously be met.

Because of the comparative lack of social and artificial interferences, the best way to achieve a basic ecological concept is through the understanding of the relations between wild animals, plants and their environments. Once this understanding is achieved, the relationship of man with his environment is more readily understandable.

It may well be that if the knowledge and skills of the ecologically trained and experienced fish and wildlife personnel of this nation are fully utilized and their recommendations more clearly followed, the benefits to the human environment could become primary. A deliberately accelerated national program of environmental education and wildlife management could possibly gain sufficient time to permit a more detailed analysis and understanding of human habitat requirements.

Of Yoga and Trees

Unknown

Rubber tree tapping. Photograph courtesy of wiki commons.

By Neva Knott

This weekend I started a yoga intensive program–not a teacher training, but a 100-hour series on deepening my personal practice. For the intensive, I bought a Jade yoga mat. It was a purchase that took very little consideration, because Jade mats are environmentally sustainable, made in America, and degradable. Also, for each mat purchased, Jade plants a tree through Trees for the Future. All of the things I care about in one purchase: yoga, environmental care and social justice in production, and global promotion of good work, also environmentally sustainable and focused on social justice, with the profits.

Jade mats are made from natural rubber that is, “tapped, like maple syrup, from a tree.” The tree continues to grow and produce, making it a renewable resource, and the tapping a sustainable extraction of a natural resource. Because Jade mats are made rubber, they will degrade when worn. This is a sharp contrast to regular yoga mats, most of which are made from plastics, which don’t degrade. And, in my research, I’ve found few recycling programs for used yoga mats. My Jade made will live out its existence in the cycle of life–it came from nature and will return there.

When trees are left standing and used in a sustainable way, like having the rubber or maple syrup tapped out of them, they remain able to perform ecosystem services. Ecosystem services include provision of habitat, stormwater control, and carbon sequestration.

Not only are Jade mats made of such eco-friendly material that comes from a sustainable natural resource, the mats are made in America, which ensures that they are produced, “in compliance with all US environmental, labor, and consumer safety laws.” This is an encouraging contrast to yoga mats that are produced in China, a country without these same important protections.

The Jade Yoga company promotes several environmental and social causes. The cause specific to the purchase of a mat is tree-planting in Africa, Asia, or Latin America, global regions that have suffered such extreme resource extraction that ecosystem services provided by trees no longer function. In many of these places, there are no trees left.

Jade Yoga partners with Trees for the Future. Jade is a Leucaena-level Partner–this designation translates to donation of 500,000-999,999 trees, a value of $50,000-$99,999. Interestingly, actual Leucaena trees, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, are the most widely used forage trees and “can provide firewood, timber, human food, green manure, shade and erosion control.”

Leucaena_leucocephala_NP

Leucaena tree. Photograph courtesy of wiki commons.

Trees for the Future offers this explanation of their organization:

In the early 1970s, Dave and Grace Deppner served as volunteers in the Philippines, where they witnessed the human tragedy brought on by illegal logging and unsustainable land management systems. Working with community leaders in nearby villages, the Deppners found a way to offer hope. They revitalized degraded lands by providing farmers with tree seed, technical training, and on-site planning assistance. People responded enthusiastically,  joining in to save their homes and way of life.

After returning from their overseas assignments they continued what they had started, communicating by mail with rural community leaders, providing information, seeds, and training materials. Over the years TREES has assisted thousands of communities in planting millions of trees in 19 countries including Ghana, which have restored life to land that was previously degraded or abandoned.

According to the organization’s website, Trees for the Future has developed the following programs:

  • Africa: We have helped plant trees in an incredible range of environments from coastal areas to mountains, restoring soil that had been unproductive for decades or even hundreds of years.
  • Asia: On the islands of the Pacific, the combination of high tides and heavy rains brings great danger to the people of the coastal plains. We are working with local groups in Indonesia and the Philippines to restore tree cover to upland areas, so the land can absorb more water during storms and reduce the likelihood of flooding and mudslides. Other projects in India aim to restore trees to both drought-stricken and flood-ridden sections.
  • Latin America: We are planting trees in Haiti, Brazil, Honduras, and Nicaragua. In 2011, Trees for the Future’s Haiti Program delivered three critical services – tree planting, agroforestry training, and technical assistance – to local farmers in three regions of the country: the Arcadine Coast, Chaine des Chaos, and Gonaives. In Honduras, Trees for the Future planted more than a million trees in conjunction with one of our local partners.

Beyond the immediate provision of ecosystem services and regeneration of renewable resources for human use, these programs are the type of efforts that will assuage global climate change.

Here’s a thought: what if every product you bought came with these types of benefits?

Here’s another thought: what if all the money spent on football fan-ship came with these types of benefits?

There are two ways of production of consumer goods–one that pillages, and one that sustains. My goal is to make more of my purchases the latter.

My yoga teacher asked, during the first class after the New Year, what can you let go of to be more whole? In that moment, I set an intention to let go of simple convenience in favor of finding more companies like Jade Yoga, and to let go of my general daily busy-ness so that I can participate in programs like Trees for the Future.

The Local Yolk–Beer, Backyard Chickens, and the Business of Building a Sustainable Food System

10848868_1503779013224385_2057189623736788732_o

By Neva Knott

When the environmental movement began in the 1970s, the focus was on protecting and honoring nature instead of depleting it for human consumption. While this same protection of nature is still at the core of environmental advocacy, a new environmental perspective has emerged recent years, a more personal movement–that of food sourcing.

I’ve heard that the easiest way to go green is to green your food source. It’s certainly the most immediate and possibly the most effective.

To eat within your foodshed, to eat the 100-mile-meal, to know your farmer are practices that benefit your health and promote a green triple bottom line–people, the planet, and profits. In graduate school at Green Mountain College, I learned that most food on the American table travels 2,000 miles before eaten, a shocking and disheartening statistic. John Emrich’s new book, The Local Yolk–Beer, Backyard Chickens and the Business of Building a Sustainable Food System, tells stories of the “good food movement,” the alternative to commercial, bland, environmentally exploitive, well-traveled food.

All writers here at The Ecotone Exchange hold Master’s of Science degrees in Environmental Studies from Green Mountain College. John is no exception–he was one of our cohort there. Previously an investment banker, he now runs Backyard Chicken Run, an urban chicken supply business in Chicago, and gathers stories of other entrepreneurs looking join the local food movement. Though I haven’t yet convinced John to join our team at the EE, I did get his permission to share a segment of his book here.

When I first read The Local Yolk, my heart was warmed by the case studies John had collected, putting faces to the ideal of greening your food source. What most impressed and enthused me, though, was John’s explanations of how to make growing and sourcing good food–sustainable agriculture–a profitable venture. Profitability is story not yet told in, and one that is often easily lost in the check-out line when buying organic, local food. With John’s permission, I give you an excerpt from Chapter 17, Tao Theory: Zen and the Art of Investing in Sustainable Food…

“In my prior life, I had owned shares in one of the publicly traded fertilizer companies, so I understood the “bullish case” for fertilizer from the perspective of the chemical companies: a billion or so people in Asia were moving to the middle class and would switch from a rice diet to a protein diet (i.e., a diet with more meat), generating rising demand for the grains to feed livestock and therefore the inputs of chemical agriculture that made monoculture grain-growing viable on a massive scale. At the time I met with the fertilizer manufacturer, the company was forecasting that the United States would become an exporter of corn to China the following year. The future was bright.

“As I tried to put a value on the organic farm, the light bulb went on. The chemical companies’ gain was the farmers’ pain. The chemical inputs of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium were all either directly or indirectly tied to natural resources that would become increasingly scarce and expensive over time, but farmers had to have them to succeed in conventional agriculture. Moreover, industrial farmers buy seed from a monopoly. The two things that an industrial farmer or farm investor could say for sure were that they had no control over their costs, and their costs were going higher. Farm subsidies are often criticized for being a gift to larger corporate farms. They would be more accurately described as a subsidy to the chemical companies and industrial buyers of grain (food processors). The conventional farmer, big or small, is getting little more than his costs reimbursed over a lifetime of work.

“The sustainable farmer doesn’t have the same exposure to cost pressure. After the sun itself, manure is the ultimate renewable resource, replacing the increasingly costly fertilizers. Yet, because I believed in the secular trend towards organic food, the sustainable farmer would continue to benefit from rising market prices for organic crops (for example, organic grains) over time. I was concluding that sustainable farming was a good business investment.”

John writes on to explain the mechanics of Impact Investing and Micro-Lending, and how these strategies can promote the good food movement while providing economic opportunity and promoting environmentally sound agriculture.

The Local Yolk is a smart blend of case stories, anecdotes, background knowledge, and research. You can follow The Local Yolk and Back Yard Chicken Run on Facebook and can learn more about the book at www.thelocalyolkbook.com.

A Greener Thanksgiving

By Christine Harris

For most Americans Thanksgiving is a day of overindulgence. We eat and drink too much. We travel long distances by car or plane. From an environmental perspective, Thanksgiving is not typically a green holiday. However there are many easy ways that you can decrease your emissions and use of resources and still have a meaningful holiday. Here are a few tips to make your Thanksgiving a bit greener.

American turkeys. Photo by Christine Harris.

American turkeys. Photo by Christine Harris.

Grow your own: In most parts of the country fruits and vegetables can be grown well into the fall. With a little planning many of your Thanksgiving favorites can come right from your own backyard or a plot in a community garden. If it’s too cold to keep the garden going into November, harvest earlier and freeze or can.

Check out your local farmer’s market: If you can’t grow it yourself, buy it from someone else who has grown it locally. You may even be able to find a locally raised free-range turkey at a farmer’s market or local farm.

Public market, Seattle. Photo by Christine Harris.

Public market, Seattle. Photo by Christine Harris.

Limit travel: Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel days of the year. Millions of us get on the road or in the air to celebrate the holiday with friends and relatives. Consider keeping your Thanksgiving celebration close to home. Technology has given us wonderful ways to connect with loved ones without having to burn tons of fossil fuels. Use face time or Skype to say hi to Grandma instead of making the 300-mile drive. If you are obliged to get on the road, make sure that your tires are well inflated to improve gas mileage. If your family has more than one vehicle take the more fuel-efficient option and carpool with friends and family if possible. Air travel uses far more fossil fuel than driving so if you are flying consider researching options for carbon offsets.

Plan the meal: If you are hosting, have a plan for what you will prepare and what your guests will bring. This will eliminate the possibility of having several of same dish and being left with too many leftovers.

Use what you have: Disposable plates and silverware are convenient, but using dishes you already have saves you money and lessens that amount of waste you produce.

Courtesy of Wiki Commons.

Courtesy of Wiki Commons.

Use natural decorations: If you like to decorate opt for natural decorations you can make on your own instead of elaborate store-bought centerpieces. Collect brightly colored leaves or cut some of that bothersome bittersweet in the backyard to use for homemade decorations.

Rethink Black Friday: One day of indulgence is often followed by another for those who partake in the retail “holiday” Black Friday on the day after Thanksgiving. If you plan to shop on Black Friday go into it with a plan. Figure out what you need and where you need to go to get it and stick to only those purchases and places. Don’t buy things you don’t need just because they are a good deal. If you can resist the urge to shop on Black Friday you can celebrate the counter-culture holiday of Buy Nothing Day instead. Avoid the crowds and spend a relaxing day with family and friends.

What ideas do you have to make this Thanksgiving a little greener?

National Bison Day

cover_photo

November 1 is National Bison Day. You can get in on the celebration through the Beards for Bison campaign by visiting http://www.beardsforbison.org/ which is organized by the Wildlife Conservation Society.

While I adore all ungulates, next to pronghorn there is no North American ungulate that holds my fascination more than bison (Bison bison). They are an American icon and the largest land mammal in North America. During the months of January through May of 2009, I had the good fortune of interning at the North Carolina Zoological Park in the Northwoods Prairie section. The section includes red wolves, grizzly bears, black bears, elk and bison. The opportunity to work with such a combination of snorting beasts and large carnivorous mammals was indeed a thrill.

There are two recognized subspecies in North America: Plains bison (Bison bison bison) and wood bison (Bison bison athabascae). The historical range of plains bison extended from Northern Mexico to central Alberta. Wood bison range extended from central Alberta to Alaska.

North American bison graze and forage primarily in grasslands and meadows. Their historic range was the widest natural range of any North American herbivore, from the arid grasslands of Chihuahua State in northern Mexico, through the grasslands of the Great Plains, to the riparian meadows of interior Alaska. They can thrive in dry regions or deep snow, eating primarily grasses and sedges when resources are thin. Bison excavate snow by sweeping it away using side to side motions of their muzzle. In the summer and fall, they have a more varied diet that includes flowering plants, woody plant leaves, and lichens.

profile_photo

In the 19th Century, we nearly lost bison throughout its entire North American range due to recreational hunting, market and subsistence. It is difficult for me to think of bison and not simultaneously replay in my head the scene from Dances with Wolves when the nomadic Lakota Sioux and John Dunbar, on a hunt for bison, come across a seemingly unending sea of dead bison, killed only for their hides and otherwise left to decompose. The numbers of bison destroyed and left to rot were in numbers far greater than wildlife could consume and certainly not fit for human consumption.

Fortunately, conservationists stepped in and took action before all was lost. In 1905, Theodore Roosevelt and William Hornaday founded the American Bison Society (ABS) at the Bronx Zoo to save the bison from extinction. In 1907, Bronx Zoo staff sent 15 bison by train to Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountains Wildlife Preserve to help restore the western Plains’ depleted bison population. In 2005, Wildlife Conservation Society re-launched the American Bison Society, which built a network of bison experts, including ranchers, state, and provincial governments, Native American nations, scientists, and non-governmental organizations from western states, Mexico, and Canada, with the purpose of securing an ecological future of bison in North America over the next century.

But pressure on wild bison populations persists and they need all the public support that can be mustered. Bison are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources as Near Threatened in light of its dependence on an ongoing conservation program and the fact that there are only five viable wild populations. There are approximately 19,000 total plains bison in 54 conservation herds (herds managed in the public interest by governments and environmental organizations), and 11,000 total wood bison in 11 conservation herds. Over 90 percent of bison today are under private ownership, raised like cows for bison meat. In fact at the turn of last century, ranchers often interbred bison with cattle to improve their cattle herds. Therefore, cattle genes are now present in many bison populations, and few genetically pure bison herds remain. Current policies and a tradition of fencing ranches discourage free-ranging bison herds in the West.

While bison have been “saved”, there is still much work to do. So sport your beard, real or otherwise, on November 1 and post your photo with #BeardsforBison on social media. Also, go to http://votebison.org/ and cast your vote for bison to be designated as America’s national mammal.

319155667

The Beginnings of  Wolf Recovery in Oregon

By Neva Knott

For Wolf Awareness Week, I’m going to post the series of papers I wrote in graduate school for my Conservation Biology course, all on wolves. To produce these papers, I read pretty much everything in the science literature about wolves, and studied the controversy in Oregon–my home at the time. These were written in 2010, but the scientific research is still the most current. What’s changed since is an increase in management and advocacy. That said, yesterday, via Pacific Wolf Coalition, I learned of a graduate project out of the University of Washington; researchers are investigating ungulate prey response to the presence of wolves. And, of course, there is the mesmerizing journey of the first wolf to disperse from an Oregon pack, OR-7.

Here is my second paper, actually the final in a series:

Unknown-1Image: wikimedia

Wolves began crossing into Oregon from Idaho in 1999, after US Fish and Wildlife re-introduction there. They are protected by both the federal Endangered Species Act and the Oregon’s own protection act. Wolves are listed as endangered until there are four breeding pairs in the state for three consecutive years. Currently, there are currently about 14 wolves in Oregon, comprising two packs. There is one breeding pair, in Wallowa County, eastern Oregon (ODFW).

Wolves were originally extripated from the Oregon landscape. A wolf bounty was established in the late 1800s, and the last wolf killed under that program was presented for bounty in 1946 (ODFW). The reason for removal of this predator was simple and straight-forward—it was a threat to human settlement and agriculture. As it stands now, the presence of wolves in Oregon is a significant issue in terms of conservation, culture and politics. The ESA mandated protection of this species calls into question the role of top predators, agricultural mores, the ranching lifestyle, and values held about how humans use nature. Wolves symbolize wilderness; humans fear wilderness, or revere it, or believe it is there for our purposes and needs alone. Human attitudes toward wolf recovery divide along these lines. Even so, wolf recovery here in Oregon is a study in the application of the principles of conservation biology.

Even though wolves do not present a problem of immediate danger to humans, wolf depredation of livestock is a serious concern for ranchers and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. There were no acts of depredation the first decade wolves were here, but calves have been killed by wolves the past two years (ODFW). Even so, the legal framework surrounding wolf management requires protection. In 2005 the ODFW adopted the Wolf Management Plan; this plan was recently up for review. The revision was adopted in October 2010.

Under the Wolf Management Plan, a three-phase program is in place to increase the wolf population so that the species can be delisted. The conservation population objective for eastern Oregon is four pairs present for three consecutive years. The management population objective is seven breeding pairs present for three consecutive years. Once this Phase II population is reaching, delisting will occur. Phase III management is intended for maintenance of wolf numbers so that relisting is not necessary (ODFW). In the recent review period of the WMP, it was projected that it us unlikely Phase I population numbers will be reached within the next 5-year evaluation period (ODFW). To monitor population growth and behavior, individual wolves are radio-collared and watched by camera surveillance. On occasion ODFW personnel capture and release wolves for inspection.

Much has changed on the Oregon landscape in the last century, leaving wolves with several risk factors with which to contend. Common themes in the literature are threat of persecution; human-caused habitat loss; habitat fragmentation and degradation; roads. Though wolves are considered habitat generalists, they are dependent on prey populations, most specifically of elk and deer. Even though there are environmental factors that affect wolves, it is woven consistently throughout the literature that human attitudes of tolerance are a major factor in wolf management and conservation.

Successful population increase is interdependent upon the management of depredation. The primary limiting factor has been, and possibly still is, direct persecution. Michelle Dennehy of ODFW explains that a rancher has the right to harass an invading wolf in many non-lethal ways, to include noise, such as firing a gun into the air. A rancher also has the option to work with ODFW experts to install fladry—strips of colorful cloth that confuse and deter wolves—and other to keep wolves from even coming close. Ranchers are also encouraged to dispose of carcasses in ways that will not attract wolves. In the event that wolves do kill a member of a herd, the rancher will be compensated and may be issued a permit, allowing him to shoot the wolf in the event he find one in the act of depredation. In incidents of depredation ODFW will kill the suspect pair of wolves, in hopes of sending the message to the other members of the pack that “this isn’t a good place to hunt,” as Dennehy explains. Should this form of control be necessary, the breeding pair will not be killed, nor will those collared for monitoring. The kill will not happen on public land or in the den area. Phase III of the WMP will allow for stronger control of wolves that kill livestock once they are delisted.

A theme has emerged in the current body of scientific literature about wolves that suggests wolves and humans can and should live on the same landscape. The current body of research on wolves began in the early 1990s. What is significant about the current body of research, and what sets it apart from what was done before, is that all of it is geared toward understanding wolf reintroduction or re-colonization. Reintroduction programs were conceptualized after the passage of the US Endangered Species Act, which gave protection to the gray wolf. Across the literature, it is clear that the first questions scientists asked were: What are the characteristics of this species? What will it take for this species to thrive? Where are the most habitable places? Along with this much information about the biology of the wolf itself was gathered. From the body of knowledge that now exists, one can now understand a wolf’s habits and needs so that management decisions can be shaped around the ESA policy of protection. As this current body of research has taken shape, Yellowstone National Park, the first site of reintroduction, has emerged as a model landscape. Now the scientific research question has become: What is happening within the ecosystem because wolves are here?

Wolves were re-introduced into Yellowstone National Park in 1995. Simultaneously, L. David Mech published “The Challenges and Opportunities of Recovering Wolf Populations” in the journal, Conservation Biology. Just before that, Steven H. Fitts, Edward E. Bangs, and James F. Gore published “The relationship of wolf recovery to habitat conservation and biodiversity in the northwestern United States” in Landscape and Urban Planning. Taken together, these papers clearly outline what was, and is, needed for wolves to survive on the contemporary American landscape. Both papers speak to the needs and functionality of habitat to shape their arguments in favor of wolves as a natural part of the landscape.

Mech’s paper looks at reproduction rate and dispersal to consider how wolf habitat needs can be met and managed within the context of human use of land. One suggestion is for zoning management, which allows for wolves to inhabit areas where there is natural prey while keeping them out of agricultural areas. For this idea, an example is given of wolves living in Minnesota and Montana in areas surrounded by farmland; no livestock depredation occurred. Mech also offers the example of a program sponsored by Defenders of Wildlife that pays ranchers to allow wolves to raise pups on ranchland. In correlation with his comments on habitat-sharing and how to make wolf-friendly habitat that discourages depredation, Mech is straightforward in his acknowledgement that wolf reintroduction will require some form of wolf control. He states that, “wolves will probably have to be controlled almost everywhere they are restored, [and] this translates to political pressure against wolf recovery.” When the issue of habitat is aligned with that of control, it becomes clear to see Mech’s point that wolves need access to prey within their range to survive without the threat of starvation, which can lead to livestock depredation.

Fritts, et. al., look at habitat structure and availability of prey, and they consider where appropriate land might be found, both public and private in ownership. As with Mech, they consider how to control wolves found in the wrong places. They cite a US Fish and Wildlife Service set of criteria that includes: year-round prey base; at least 7770 square km of contiguous designated wilderness, national park lands, and adjacent private land; a maximum of 10 percent private land ownership; absence of livestock grazing. Based on this set of criteria, these authors suggest, “the more negative the attitudes [of humans], the more wild space necessary…”. Fritts, et. al. realize that wolves are adaptive. These authors conclude simply that, given the availability of land, wolves need only two things to survive: ungulate prey and freedom from human persecution.

Now that wolves have been reintroduced, scientists understand that wolves create a trophic cascade in the ecosystem. Douglas W. Smith, Rolf D. Peterson, and Douglas B. Houston published “Yellowstone after Wolves” in BioScience. William J. Ripple and Robert L. Beschta published “Wolves and the Ecology of Fear: Can Predation Risk Structure Ecosystems?” also in BioScience. Smith, et. al., discuss how the presence of wolves has created balance in animal and plant populations. Ripple and Beschta set the YNP reintroduction into much broader contexts, looking at change over time and at a more complex web of interactions. Both papers clearly support wolf presence as a necessary function of the ecosystem. Both teams of scientists explain that elk and coyote populations increased to levels of concern about carrying capacity during wolf-free times. As well, shrub steppe vegetation and aspen growth lessened due to trampling by elk, and riparian functioning was altered. This, in turn, caused habitat loss for various mesocarnivores and birds. With wolves on the landscape, vegetation is regenerating and elk numbers are coming back in line. Ripple and Beschta conclude, “the extripation of the gray wolf—a keystone predator in this ecosystem—is most likely the overriding cause of the precipitous decline and cessation in the recruitment of [woody species].” In application of the YNP studies as relevant to Oregon the question becomes: What will be the same here, and what will differ?

Stakeholders were invited to comment on the WMP during the recent review period. In June of 2010, various meetings were held by ODFW with the following groups: Baker County Natural Resources Advisory Committee; Defenders of Wildlife; Hells Canyon Preservation Council; Nez Perce Tribe; Oregon Cattleman’s Association; Oregon Department of Agriculture; Oregon Farm Bureau; Oregon Hunters Association; Oregon Wild; Oregon Wool Growers Association; Umatilla Tribe; US Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Services; US Fish and Wildlife Service; US Forest Service. There are three obvious factions in this mix—ranchers, conservationists, government agencies. These groups represent the overarching voices and concerns surrounding the issue of wolf recovery and management. As is plainly acknowledged in the ODFW summary of these meetings, most of the concerns of stakeholders focus on the balance of livestock production and wolf conservation.

Careful consideration of the issues that affect wolf fitness and drive management of the species has been conducted by the ODFW as it developed the revised WMP. Of primary concern is education of and collaboration with humans who live in close proximity of wolf habitat—ranchers and non-ranchers alike. As humans begin to understand the degree of threat posed by wolves and the ecosystem conditions that drive depredation, managers will be better able to serve wolves and in so doing minimize human-wolf conflicts. I believe the WMP outlines an appropriate strategy for managing this conflict, but I think more can be done. For example, Dennehy explains that ODFW personnel are not sure what caused the change in depredation; there was none for a decade, yet the last two years there have been several instances. Therefore, I would propose a study of the relationship between prey availability, habitat fragmentation and livestock predation. This study can draw on what is known about each of these elements separately. A hypothesis can then be formulated about how to avoid killing of livestock by maximizing habitat structure and prey availability in wilderness areas, on both public and private land.

L. David Mech and Rolf O. Peterson (2003), in Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation, explain that wolves, though habitat generalists, adjust to a new prey source with lag time. These scientists believe that wolves circulate around their territories, gathering information and testing various types of prey. Lag time is created as wolves gather this information before switching prey. Mech and Peterson offer that this behavior explains seasonal variations in prey capture. As well, these scientists offer data on age of calves taken as prey; most are under one year in age. Most prey, regardless of species are less fit or in some way defective. Another group of scientists: Steven H. Fritts, Robert O. Stephenson, Robert D. Hayes, and Luigi Boitani, also writing for Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation, explain the association of certain husbandry practice with depredation. These scientists found that untended livestock in remote pastures or heavily forested areas sustain the highest losses. As well, leaving newborn livestock in remote locations, poor surveillance of livestock, and the presence of carcasses increase the risk of depredation. This information, paired with data on wildlife prey sources within the range of the wolf pack, and a monitoring of possible nutrition stress can be used to minimize the need of livestock for food. By utilizing our knowledge of wolf biology and habitat needs, it is possible to create a harmonious existence between the two species that overleaps the main conflict of livestock depredation. As well, ranchers, as stakeholders, must be willing to make changes in husbandry practices to support this outcome.

Secondary to the objective of managing depredation, it is important that wolves be taken seriously as the indicators of ecosystem function and keystone species of top-down regulation that they are (Carroll, et. al.). Much can be learned, as Carroll suggests, about multi-species conservation strategies by looking at top predators. Here in Oregon, wolves can help frame the discussion about biodiversity. Moving forward, management of this species should include the goals of: habitat protection so that area available to wolves isn’t further degraded; a change in use of public lands for livestock grazing so as to make available a larger hunting range for wolves of their undomesticated prey; monitoring of the tropic cascade of landscape and ecosystem services created by the presence of wolves.

In terms of habitat protection, it is common knowledge that the US ESA provided protection of habitat where endangered species are concerned. Section 7 states that Federal agencies cannot conduct projects that destroy or modify habitat. Wolves occupy Federal public lands, State public lands and private lands. State agencies should follow the ESA mandates of habitat protection. On the ground this will affect where roads are built, where logging or other resource extraction happens, how areas are fenced. In terms of landscape and ecosystem, habitat protection will provide for less fragmentation and more connectivity, aspects that are key to such a far-ranging species as wolves. This conservation goal seems logically possible, and because of the ESA is probably already instituted; however, private landowners should be encouraged to understand the importance of connectivity and other aspects of habitat such as cover and area available for denning. The willingness of public landowners to participate in habitat protection is a constraint to consider in implementing this goal.

The way public lands are used for grazing is most likely regulated by rule-making and other policy setting mechanisms. I am not sure what re-configuration is possible at the local level. Even with policy procedures as a factor to contend with, it seems possible to use Mech’s zoning system mentioned above to create safer spaces on public lands for both wolves and livestock. There is enough science available to help managers understand and designate the types of habitat in which wolves thrive. That said, any changes to availability of public lands for grazing will be met with opposition from the ranching community. There is a long history in the public dialogue of Oregon around this issue. There is enough public support at this time for wolves, and that can be harnessed to create these changes.

Wolves have been back in Oregon for just over a decade. In that time, no research has been conducted to understand their effects on the landscape and ecosystem. I strongly suggest studies such as those conducted be implemented here. Quite simply, because wolves are top predators yet generalists, and so much of their modus operandi is determined by prey relations, it is important to understand how they function in the specific ecosystems where they are found. This knowledge will better inform management decisions and can serve to help mitigate the conflicts with ranchers. Once information is gathered about ecosystem services, the benefits should be communicated to stakeholders. Ranchers should be helped to see how the presence of wolves is beneficial. Also, this date will promote a human understanding of the biodiversity promoted by wolves, thereby furthering support for their presence. Constraints to this management goal are most likely financial, and this type of research takes time. Meanwhile, depredation continues to occur and the pressure to take offending wolves increases.

These objectives are in line with what textbook authors Martha J. Groom, Gary K. Meffe, and C. Ronald Carroll, Principles of Conservation Biology, state as an important research goal of conservation biology: the understanding of the interplay between processes and species as determinates of community structure and biodiversity. They also correlate with the Three Guiding Principles of Conservation Biology: evolution is the basic axiom that unites all of biology; the ecological world is dynamic and largely non-equilibrial; human presence must be included in conservation planning (Groom, et. al.).

The objective of Principle 1, as explained by Groom, et. al. is to ensure populations may continue to respond to environmental change in an adaptive manner. I am strongly suggesting habitat protection, which does not seem to require wolves to adapt. However, their range is broad, and they constantly have to adapt to changes within habitat within that range. It seems prudent to allow for adaption that is in line with intact habitat. Otherwise, wolves will be trying to adapt to landscapes that push the population past carrying capacity due to fragmentation and other degradation.

Principle 2 centers on the acknowledgement that ecosystems are open systems that experience fluxes of species, materials, and energy. Therefore, conservation acts should not be conducted in isolation (Groom, et. al). In my own thinking on wolf recovery and management, I tend toward ecosystem and landscape management. As is outlined above, it makes sense to look at this issue from multiple scientific perspectives that include the species itself, its habitat needs, and what it provides to the ecosystem in return.

In explanation of Principle 3, Groom, et. al state that, “[w]e must incorporate problems of modern culture into conservation, for they will have the largest influences on resource use.” As is clearly illustrated throughout this paper, human attitudes shape wolf management. These authors also suggest that a relationship between conservation and a reasonable standard of living is the only way to achieve conservation objectives that fall along the dividing line of the environment vs. economics. While the fate of wolves in Oregon seems to be promising on the biological front, their longevity here can only be sustained when they are able to coexist with ranchers.

Overall, I am optimistic about wolf recovery in Oregon. Citizens of this state have a long history of arguing over spotted owls vs. loggers, wolves vs. ranchers, salmon vs. hydro-electric power. The dialogue is always heated. Yet, we are always united by our love of the land, and this commonality paves the way for progressive solutions to these issues. So far, the ODFW Wolf Management Plan has been effective in sorting out the conflicts created by wolves here. There is enough science available, and research opportunities to make that science specific to Oregon’s needs that the future management of wolves will be effective.

The Science of Wolves

By Neva Knott

For Wolf Awareness Week, I’m going to post the series of papers I wrote in graduate school for my Conservation Biology course, all on wolves. To produce these papers, I read pretty much everything in the science literature about wolves, and studied the controversy in Oregon–my home at the time. These were written in 2010, but the scientific research is still the most current. What’s changed since is an increase in advocacy. Here’s the first:

Introduction

The current body of research on wolves began in the early 1990s. What is significant about the current body of research, and what sets it apart from what was done before, is that all of it is geared toward understanding wolf reintroduction or re-colonization. Reintroduction programs were conceptualized after the passage of the US Endangered Species Act, which gave protection to the gray wolf. Across the literature, it is clear that the first questions scientists asked were: What are the characteristics of this species? What will it take for this species to thrive? Where are the most habitable places? Along with this much information about the biology of the wolf itself was gathered. From the body of knowledge that now exists, one can now understand a wolf’s habits and needs so that management decisions can be shaped around the ESA policy of protection. As this current body of research has taken shape, Yellowstone National Park, the first site of reintroduction, has emerged as model landscapes. Now the scientific research question has become: What is happening within the ecosystem because wolves are here? Unknown

Image: wiki commons

Literature Review

Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation is the wolf-ology compendium. Published in 2003 by University of Chicago Press and editied by L. David Mech and Luigi Biotani, this book covers everything know about wolves as a species to date: social ecology, reproductive, social, and intellectual behavior, carnivorousness, prey relations, population dynamics, physiology, genetics, evolution and taxonomy, interactions with non-prey, and human interaction. As well, Wolves gives scientific correction to some commonly held misbeliefs about wolves such as attacks made on humans, prey relationships, and livestock depredation. Each chapter addresses a specific topic and is authored by an expert for that field. As a collection, these essays provide an in-depth analysis of the risk factors for wolves: persecution, habitat structure and fragmentation, and prey availability. Anyone working with wolves or concerned about wolves should read this book.

Wolves were re-introduced into Yellowstone National Park (YNP) in 1995. Simultaneously, L. David Mech (2005) published “The Challenges and Opportunities of Recovering Wolf Populations” in the journal, Conservation Biology. Just before that, Steven H. Fitts, Edward E. Bangs, and James F. Gore (2004) published “The relationship of wolf recovery to habitat conservation and biodiversity in the northwestern United States” in Landscape and Urban Planning. Taken together, these papers clearly outline what is needed for wolves to survive on the contemporary American landscape. Both papers speak to the needs and functionality of habitat and shape their arguments in favor of wolves as a natural part of the landscape. Mech’s paper looks at reproduction rate and dispersal to consider how wolf habitat needs can be met and managed within the context of human use of land. He is straightforward in his acknowledgement that wolf reintroduction will require some form of wolf control. Fritts, et. al., look not only at habitat, but a availability of prey. As with Mech, they consider where appropriate land might be found, both public and private in ownership, and consider how to control wolves found in the wrong places. These authors conclude simply that, given the availability of land, wolves need only two things to survive: ungulate prey and freedom from human persecution.

Now that wolves have been reintroduced, scientists understand that wolves create a trophic cascade in the ecosystem. Douglas W. Smith, Rolf D. Peterson, and Douglas B. Houston (2003) published “Yellowstone after Wolves” in the journal, BioScience. William J. Ripple and Robert L. Beschta (2004) published “Wolves and the Ecology of Fear: Can Predation Risk Structure Ecosystems?” also in BioScience. Smith, et. al., discuss how the presence of wolves has created balance in animal and plant populations. Ripple and Beschta set the YNP reintroduction into much broader contexts, looking at change over time and at a more complex web of interactions. Both papers clearly support wolf presence as a necessary function of the ecosystem.

Overall, this body of literature gives strong information about the wolf and it’s function as a top predator. A theme has emerged that suggests wolves and humans can and should live on the same landscape.

Knowledge Gaps

Even though the existing literature is rich, there are knowledge gaps. Some of these are identified for the reader in Wolves (2003): dispersal and immigration; effects of prey types and multiple prey; multiple breeding females; role of disease; wolf-human relationships; population assessment; effects on low-density prey; pup survival. Smith, et. al. (2003) in “Yellowstone after Wolves” acknowledge that there is more to know about vegetation further down the trophic cascade. Ripple and Busheta (2004) suggest that a better understanding of elk adaptive responses to wolf presence is needed.

In terms of wolves in my bioregion, there is a knowledge gap in application of the YNP studies as relevant to Oregon. What will be the same here, and what will differ? One clear area of difference is habitat fragmentation, as is addressed in the Oregon Wolf Management Plan. The state’s wilderness is much more parced out and has more roads than does a national park.

Proposed Study

In Oregon, not only are landscape configurations different than in YNP, wolves have taken up residence in an area that is primarily used for ranching. This is another factor that is different than the protection offered in a national park. Therefore, I would propose a study of the relationship between prey availability, habitat fragmentation and livestock predation. This study can draw on what is known about each of these elements separately. A hypothesis can then be formulated about how to avoid killing of livestock by maximizing habitat structure and prey availability.

Conclusion Wolves have not been re-introduced into Oregon, but are dispersing here. All of the literature points to human attitudes as a significant factor in the success of wolves anywhere in America. By utilizing our knowledge of wolf biology and habitat needs, it is possible to create a harmonious existence between the two species that overleaps the main conflict of livestock depredation. As proven in YNP, Oregon’s ecosystem will benefit greatly from these top predators.

Literature Cited

Fritts, Steven H., et. al. 1994. The relationship of wolf recovery to habitat conservation and biodiversity in the northwestern United States.  Landscape and Urban Planning.

Mech, L. David. 1995The Challenge and Opportunity of Recovering Wolf Populations. 1995. Conservation Biology.

Mech, L. David and Biotani, Luigi, eds. Wolves–Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. 2003. University of Chicago Press.

Ripple, William J., and Beschta, Robert L. 2004. Wolves and the Ecology of Fear: Can Predation Risk Structure Ecosystems?  BioScience. Smith, Douglas, et. al. 2003. Yellowstone after Wolves. 2003. BioScience .

Sugarloaf Trail and a Dune that Proves Nature Can Be Preserved for Thousands of Years

10393753_10205037617889690_6346595705447322899_n

All text and photographs by Maymie Higgins

Last year, I wrote about a hike on Flytrap Trail which is located in a park that exists on my favorite spot on Earth, Pleasure Island. As promised, this year I hiked another trail at Carolina Beach State Park, Sugarloaf Trail. The park came to be in 1969 when 761 acres were established as a North Carolina State Park in order to preserve the unique ecosystems along the Intracoastal Waterway. Sugarloaf Trail is a three-mile trail that passes through the marsh and enters a pine forest and follows the Cape Fear River edge to a mud flat that serves as habitat for fiddler crab.

The trailhead is adjacent to the marina parking lot and is well marked by orange circles that occur frequently and are easy to find. After just a minute or two of hiking, I came upon the Cape Fear River on my right, to the west. Here, the river is bordered by a narrow sandy beach where tall, dense patches of marsh grass occasionally spring up. I paused long enough to ascertain that a couple of young fellows with fishing rods were collecting mussels from the grass to be used as bait.

10659449_10205037592889065_3802833474820035294_n

From there, the trail is quickly surrounded by marsh swamp. The swamp is frequently bifurcated by downed cypress trees left to decay at their own pace in the rich, sandy muck while providing cover and housing for wildlife until their very last atom of carbon has been released to the ages. As I walked through this part of the trail, I saw no evidence of terrestrial wildlife. No matter, because the bird calls occurred almost more frequently than I could identify them to my husband. Two quick calls, followed by harsh and loud ringing squeaks pierced the silence. “That’s a Blue-Jay,” I said. As I was still speaking, a rapid fire of scratchy, nasal calls rang out in a pattern similar to the firing of a machine gun. “Tufted Titmouse,” I explained. “And none too happy with our presence.” I then spied a Brown-headed Nuthatch flitting between pine trees, foraging the bark for insects. Then occurred the tell tale warning call of a Carolina Chickadee, “chick-a-dee-dee-dee.” I was flattered that the string of “dee-dees” following “chick-a” was short. Studies have shown a direct correlation between the number of “dee-dees” and the severity of perceived threat by chickadees.

10629643_10205037594449104_4273298009239605356_n

About a mile in, I reached the trail’s namesake, Sugarloaf Dune. The dune rises 25 feet and was named in 1663 by William Hilton, a Barbados landowner, when he observed how sugary-white the sand is, on and around the dune. During the Civil War, about 5,000 Confederate soldiers camped on Sugarloaf Dune while watching over the river as part of the Fort Fisher encampment. Twenty-five years after the war ended, a pier was built at the dune base in order for a steamer from Wilmington to dock and unload up to 5,000 passengers onto railway cars that took them to the beach. The dune is protected by fencing to discourage hikers from climbing on it except in clearly designated areas. This is in an effort to minimize any further erosion of this ancient dune thought to have existed as long as 6,000 or more years ago.

View of the Cape Fear River from the top of Sugarloaf Dune.  I also observed hostile interaction between an osprey and a crow along the tree line.  They parted ways peacefully in the end.

View of the Cape Fear River from the top of Sugarloaf Dune. I also observed hostile interaction between an osprey and a crow along the tree line. They parted ways peacefully in the end.

Along the remaining mile of the trail, there was a Cypress Pond and a breathtakingly beautiful Lily Pond followed by a brief sandy path with animal tracks that made my heart go pitter pat. There were bobcat, raccoon, coyote, and deer tracks in the sand that had to be recently made because heavy rain just a few hours earlier would have flattened older tracks. Were they watching us?

10616484_10205037524487355_1630640443973680728_n

10659192_10205037534527606_8558113505129052148_n

The last half mile of the trail winds through dense, moist forest with a thick canopy that creates a tranquil setting in which to pause and examine various specimens of lichens on multiple trees. Lichens are not plants. They are made up of two or three completely different kinds of organisms. Every lichen species is part fungus and usually part algae but sometimes cyanobacterium instead, and sometimes lichens include all three. The fungus benefits from the algae’s ability to photosynthesize its chlorophyll and provide them both with energy. The algae and/or cyanobacterium benefit because the fungus is more efficient at water and nutrient absorption. The fungus also provides the overall lichen shape, and the reproductive structures in the mutualistic relationship. Lichens are very sensitive to air pollution so their frequent presence along this part of the trail is a positive indicator of a healthy ecosystem in the park.

10711094_10205037536447654_6312721400316860072_n

The trail ends where it begins, at the marina parking lot. Before leaving, I looked out across the water and imagined myself in a kayak on my next visit to Carolina Beach State Park. Stay tuned.

10622853_10205037537087670_1428241490776511302_n