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Tag Archive | "ecosystem"

Wolves in Ecosystems Part 2


The gray wolf. Photo from the Encyclopedia Britannica online (Britannica.com)

The gray wolf. Photo from the Encyclopedia Britannica online (Britannica.com)

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Wolves’ presence and behavior increases wildlife populations despite their killing individual prey. Their predatory role in ecosystems has significant positive impacts on animal and plant communities. For thousands of years their presence in Michigan nature niches fluctuated in relation to plant and animal population abundance.

Canada lynx studies found plant populations control top predator populations. The Hudson Bay trapping records show snowshoe hare populations increased despite lynx, wolf, and other predators until the hares over browsed the plants causing hare starvation. When hares died the predators starved. Predation slowed hare population growth that helped maintained healthier communities.

When wolves were returned to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, they caused elk and other prey species to roam more. This saved shrubs and trees from being over browsed in valleys along rivers. Shrubs and trees regenerated habitat when protected by wolves.

Mice, rabbits, and other herbivores were able to find food where deer and elk had previously devastated wildlife communities by overgrazing. Songbirds moved into areas when vegetation recovered. Beavers found rapid growing aspens provided essential food that allowed their return to streams and rivers. They built dams creating rich floodplain habitat that had been lost and washed away in the absence of wolves. Wolves eat beavers when the opportunity arises but these rodents reproduce more rapidly than predators kill them. Large fires in the Yellowstone region also rejuvenated early succession communities but wolves caused elk and deer to move preventing overgrazing.

Beavers created wetland habitats, stabilized stream banks, and reduced soil erosion. Fish populations found healthier streambeds for egg laying. More oxygen in less silted rivers aided fish survival.

With increased landscape vegetation that resulted from wolf presence, plant-eating rodents increased and resulted in more predators like hawks, eagles, weasels, foxes, and badgers. Carrion left by wolves allowed bears, ravens, and other animals to provide more food and it improved their health and reproductive success. Increased shrubs provided more berries needed by bears, birds, and many other animals. What inferences can be applied to Michigan ecosystems? No one animal or plant is responsible for all positive or negative changes. It is a community effort but some animals like the wolf start what is called a positive “trophic cascade” in how they change animal movements and cull animal populations with selected animal predation.

The wolves even changed the course of rivers. Overgrazed landscape along rivers cut straighter channels when wolves were removed but with the wolf return stream meanders returned. Vegetation recovery along banks reduced erosion causing stream meandering. More pools developed with more fish hiding places. Waterfowl increased. Wolves transformed the landscape to healthier nature niches for plants, mammals, birds, amphibians, insects and a host of native wildlife that had diminished in wolf absence.

Human social and economic aspects of wolf presence have been beneficial in the Yellowstone ecosystem but not completely. Ranchers drive cattle into the national forest and leave them unattended to feed. In Michigan, farmers graze animals on their private property and care for their livestock. The national forests are public lands used for watershed flood management, timber harvest, grazing, hunting, hiking, camping, recreation, fishing, and mineral extraction. In short they are all things for all people.

This becomes a management challenge when people consider their interests more important than their neighbors and it results in Congressional gridlock. Maintaining healthy ecosystems to provide for future generations of our families requires decisions beyond one group’s personal self-centered interest.

There are times when wolf management is important for our neighbors. At present in Michigan, each case is addressed when a problem arises. Legal hunting might one day be appropriate in balance with the multiple uses of our National and State forests in the UP. Decisions should be ecosystem focused for maintaining society’s sustainable needs. Plants and animals have essential roles in ecosystem sustainability that we cannot duplicate. Future generations are as important as our own but decisions frequently place priority only on the present.

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.

 

Posted in Featured, Outdoors, Ranger Steve's Nature NicheComments (0)

Rob Vander Zee’s ArtPrize


Rob VanderZee’s entry into ArtPrize.

Rob VanderZee’s entry into ArtPrize.

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Rob Vander Zee, talented young man, was seeking an art project while in high school and has now displayed in Artprize 2013. When I was developing a wetland learning station at the Howard Christensen Nature Center in the 1980’s, it was fortunate that Rob connected with us. I explained a wetlands vision and gave him an image. From there he created the artwork mural that still draws youth and visitors to think about wetlands. Please visit HCNC and become a member.

I gave Rob a picture of a beaver pond and he painted a wonderful realistic rendition. The work entices viewers to think about the world we live in. Rob is at native of Cedar Springs and his work helps people think about the future.

Wetlands are major contributors to Michigan’s recreation economy.  They are economically valuable assets that filter toxics from water, reduce flood damage, are major food producers, and provide desirable sites for human habitation. Wetlands modify weather conditions and determine the depth of ground water tables that recharge city and private wells.  Water moves from wetlands to ground water and vice-versa.  How we handle sewage, fertilizers, pesticides, and toxic substance disposal are important community health issues that are constantly in debate. Safe drinking water is taken for granted and there are those that want to reduce community efforts to protect water quality by reducing government programs protecting our health and the environment.

In the 1970’s we passed the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species. These programs have helped restore conditions that improve our quality of life. Those protections are being challenged to reduce taxes. People forget the pollution costs were more expensive and damaging to health than the preventive tax programs. Saving tax dollars spurs efforts to reduce government programs but at what cost? They may not be perfect but the programs protect our economy, health and quality of life. Rob’s art work hopes to engage people to think about the future and I hope my articles do the same.

When we bought Ody Brook property in 1979, the home plumbing from the toilet went into a 55-gallon drum that had rusted away and other water was piped directly to the Little Cedar Creek. We installed a proper septic system and drain field. It was not until 1976 that government regulations changed construction codes to meet the Clean Water Act and provide environmental protection. We recently added five acres to Ody Brook that has an existing home. That home’s plumbing ran to the Little Cedar Creek without a septic drain field. The home construction predated the 1970’s Clean Water Act tax legislation. We recently installed a proper septic system to protect the stream, wetlands, and water quality for Cedar Springs human and wildlife neighbors.

How many homes still have systems that pollute water quality, fishing, health, and damage our community’s economy and quality of life? The current budget battle in Washington is wrestling with what is needed to maintain a high quality of life in Cedar Springs. That brings us back to Rob Vander Zee’s art.

Rob painted a mural for ArtPrize called Michigan Forest: The Future of Genetic Manipulation on an Eco System. He comments his artwork is open for interpretation. He wants people to think about society actions. His work displays possibilities for the future. He wants viewers to contemplate nature niches and our role as participants in the ecosystem. I hope many of you viewed his work. If not, view and read his comments about the painting at: www.artprize.org/rob-vander-zee.

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.

 

Posted in Awesome Autumn, Ranger Steve's Nature NicheComments Off