Thursday, February 6, 2014

Lessons from Wolves

Gray wolf- FWS.gov
Restoring or even nurturing threatened species can be a dicey business.  This has been illustrated with the federal protection of wolves in the American west.  This was the focus of a detailed illustrated NPR story which is well worth hearing or reading.

Collared elk cows- MDC
The restoration of elk in Missouri has been a big success by any measure but wasn't without controversy.  There were controversies among people who live close by and worry about their local effects.  There were scientific concerns about the location and local farmers' concerns about agricultural damage although so far these have not occurred.

Missouri river otter- MDC
The restoration of the Missouri river otter was also controversial.  "A century ago, otters were nearly eliminated in Missouri because of unregulated harvest. Restoration efforts in the 1980s and early 1990s included the release of more than 800 otters in the state. Thanks to these efforts, otters are once again found throughout most of Missouri."  MDC
"Today, otters are at the center of considerable controversy. Opening otter trapping met strong opposition from animal rights groups who filed law suits challenging legalized otter harvest. On the other hand, pond and lake owners and commercial fish hatcheries regularly report fish depredations by otters whose numbers have grown to nuisance levels in some locations."  Missouri's River Otters

As the Missouri black bear population expands naturally, there are bound to be controversies.  Seeing one walking in the wild is beautiful and exciting.  There are occasional calls for control of nuisance bears, frequently goaded by human behaviors.  As their numbers increase, human-bear interactions will increase, some of which will be negative.  As they have no predators unless it is us, population control might eventually lead to hunting as we have seen in Arkansas.

There is a significant difference between the wolf situation out west and our bears and otters.  While wolves are classic "charismatic megafauna," they are also obligate carnivores, surrounded by thousands of square miles of delicious sheep and cattle which are the center of the local economy.  On the other hand, wolves are a major tourist draw, affecting the other major industry of the area.  There is little middle ground between the fans and foes.

Bears will unlikely become a tourist attraction and they rarely eat meat and therefore don't represent a major economic threat.  Their increasing population is an indicator of a healthy forest.  In the next few years we will be hearing a lot about "Bear Aware" measures to remain good neighbors.  Bringing in dog food and securing your trash is small price to pay for remaining on good terms with these beauties.






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