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Wolves, Rhinos, and Elephants

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Wildlife has made headlines for three species this week. Rhinoceros populations have been eliminated from a wildlife preserve by illegal poaching because people want horns for aphrodisiacs. Elephant populations in parts of Africa have been reduced 50 percent by poaching for ivory. Wolves in the United States are posed to lose protected status across the U.S., including Michigan.

Many know that wolf protection on public lands in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem was already removed outside the national park. The wolf population suffered greatly as a result. Yellowstone National Park’s signature pack that was radio-collared and studied for years was killed because the park is too small and wolves must also use the surrounding national forest. An important wolf food is elk. The elk population during the 20th century grew excessively because of wolf elimination in the early 1900s. It reduced biodiversity and the natural checks and balances. Too many elk removed vegetation that supported many other animal species.

Wolf established in the Yellowstone during the 1990s reduced the elk population and it allowed species like beavers to repopulate because aspen grew. Beaver activity created wetlands and other animal species were able to reestablish. When wolves have the opportunity, they kill and eat beavers and other animals. That also keeps those species from becoming too abundant.

What naturally keeps a wolf population from becoming excessively large? Primarily it is food availability. When hunting is poor, wolves die and prey populations’ recover. Many people would like to see all species live without difficulty or death. This is not realistic in the physical world. Human religious views supports this idea so we look forward to life after death with no limitations on longevity and no need for food, water, shelter, or living space after physical death.

In the physical world we do not have that luxury. As human population expands into habitats of other species, they get crowded off the planet. “Creation Care” in religious circles is an effort where people are encouraged to care for all species in creation by maintaining yards with native plants to support native animals (our personal Arks) or to limit our family size so we do not destroy creation with human excessive population. Sociologically, it is socially responsible to keep all species important for maintaining healthy ecosystems essential for best functioning of the social-economic-industrial complex. In economics, it is protecting livelihoods by not losing inherent assets important to the land that supports us. That means soil, water, air, and the role of each for stable global life and food for our tables.

Sustainability has a triple bottom line that is Social, Environmental, and Economic.

So, why would society allow rhinos, elephants, and wolves to be reduced to numbers too small to carry out ecological roles? First we do not know the tremendous economic role of each species and the ecological services provided. We do not realize the financial costs to replicate nature’s services. One example is the role of elephants in creating water holes by sloshing about and enlarging them. That is an essential activity that allows many bird, mammal, amphibian, and invertebrate species to survive in Africa that would not otherwise find adequate bodies of water. Another reason is unfounded fear.

Where I lived out west, ranchers took cattle to the national forest and left them for the summer unattended on public land and returned in the fall to get them. If wolves are allowed to roam, it means domestic livestock would need monitoring. Out west public lands are used for both wildlife and domestic animals. Some people do not want predators sharing pubic lands and some do not want unattended domestic animals in public wild lands. Here in Michigan we keep livestock on our own land. Ask yourself, “Do you think rhinos and elephants should be protected in India and Africa but wolves should not have protection here?” The difficult challenge is how to live in a manner that shares neighborhood nature niches with other species endowed to us in creation.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.


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One Response to “Wolves, Rhinos, and Elephants”

  1. Norm Mackey says:

    The explanation of wolf population control as limited by food supply, is, unfortunately, completely false. As shown by studies on Michigan’s Isle Royale wolves regulate their own numbers independently of the prey animals that are their food supply. As a result out of control moose populations exponentially increased to over 2400 animals, virtually destroyed the plants that were their food supply, and crashed to a very low number; only at that point did it become a factor forcing further reduction in wolf numbers. Managed game populations will simply never be allowed to do such damage and destroy their own numbers to that point.

    The second example of a virtually undamaged wolf population self-regulating itself is the Upper Peninsula. Since 2000 the wolf population, adjusted for seasonal changes by counting before denning season and pups, has increased at a steady 12% or so every year, a virtually straight line on a graph. Reaching a limit possibly of their own tolerance for each other, the 687 wolves in the UP in 2011, which would have increased to about 860 at 12% a year, instead stayed virtually level or even decreased, depending on the accuracy of the 658 counted this year. At the same time, the population of deer in the wolf territory is judged “dense and sustained” by the DNR, representing over 300,000 deer and larger Upper Peninsula deer harvests each season (10% greater last year).




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