Posts Tagged ‘Wildlife Management’

The California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) recently announced the discovery of a new pack of Gray Wolves living in California! Named the Lassen Pack, they are a mated pair and three young pups.

After getting reports of suspected wolf activity in Lassen National Forest, CDFW worked extensively to track their activity and were eventually able to find and capture the adult female in June of 2017. She was found to be a healthy 75 lbs and still nursing! After collecting some genetic samples and attaching a tracking collar to her, she was released. After her release, a U.S. Forest Service trail cam in the area captured photos of her with three young pups!

Lassen Pack - pups

The three pups of the Lassen Pack playing in front of a trail cam.

This is the second pack of wolves that have taken up residence in the state. In 2015-16 a pair of wolves settled down in Siskiyou County and birthed 5 pups to form the Shasta Pack. That pack has not been seen as a whole since mid-2016, but one of the pups was spotted in Nevada becoming that states first wolf visitor since 1922!

This new pack is descended from the wolves living in southern Oregon called the Imnaha Pack (the Shasta are also descended from the Imnaha Pack), and mark a new chapter in the story of wolf recovery in California.

And wolf recovery is going well in states other than California. There are currently about 1,700 wolves in the western U.S.A. Most of these animals are living in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon.

It is continually exciting to see this species, that was missing from the ecosystem for so long, return to its native range.

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The idea of a wetland that can move from place to place is an odd one, but in many ways it is not a new one. Basically, a walking wetland is when someone floods a piece of land and lets a wetland grow there for a while. Then, after some pre-determined amount of time has passed, that piece of land is drained and a different piece of land is flooded. A wetland is then allowed to grown on the new piece and, viola, the wetland has walked!

This technique is a lot like crop rotation schemes that have been around for just about as long as agriculture. Letting land lay fallow lets that land recharge some of its nutrients and so be more fertile the next time a crop is grown on it. Walking wetlands are just another type of rotations, but this rotation is to cover the land with shallow water. Not much water is needed to make this work. Generally, about 4 inches is the average depth! Letting the land be flooded in those 4 inches for from 1 to 4 years lets amazing things happen!

Walking Wetland 01

First year walking wetland in the Klamath Basin.

For one, a lovely wetland springs up quite quickly. In the first year, the area is generally covered in grasses and other fairly short plants that only raise above the water a relatively short distance and that grow in a fairly open pattern with lots of space for shorebirds to walk around and forage. In the second year, tules and cattails grow up. This form tall and dense stands. The small open patches are preferred by a wide range of duck species though the shorebirds don’t tend to like this habitat as much. In subsequent years, some habitat modification, such as mowing, is generally needed to keep the tules and cattails at a level that still allows for birds and other wildlife species to access the wetland. Otherwise the stands of tules and cattails grow so dense that only a few species will utilize them.

Another amazing thing is that some crop pathogens that live in the soil drown. Many pathogenic microbes cannot survive a year or two of being submerged. Impressively, many beneficial soil microbes actually can survive this long underwater, so when the land is drained, the good microbes are still present and many of the bad ones are gone! This has an economic benefit because growers then need to buy less pesticides. This has an environmental benefit because grower need to apply less pesticides.

A third amazing thing is that all the birds that come and use the wetland leave their waste behind! Bird guano is fantastic fertilizer, and having a few thousand ducks, geese, and shorebirds wandering around can result in the grower needing to buy and apply less fertilizer and also lead to a boost in crop production!

Walking Wetland 02

An older walking wetland in the Klamath Basin.

Along the Pacific Flyway, walking wetlands have been really pioneered in the Klamath National Wildlife Refuge along the California-Oregon boarder, which is home to the first officially titled Walking Wetlands Program. It has since also been adopted in the Skagit Valley in northern Washington state. Additionally, several groups in central California, including the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy where I work, are looking at using walking wetlands in the California Delta.

For better or for worse, setting aside habitat exclusively for wildlife use is not going to be able to secure enough land to protect that majority of species. Instead, finding ways for agriculture and wildlife to both succeed is the only way that longer-term conservation is going to be successful, and walking wetlands are a terrific example of what that can look like.

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The Greater Sage Grouse is one of the iconic birds of the western U.S.  It is huge, dramatic, and has fascinating breeding behavior that has made it the focus of many, many studies.  It is also declining.  These birds need extensive expanses of sagebrush to survive, and such expanses are being reduced by everything from grazing to road building to invasive plant species to oil and gas drilling.  One particular population of the Greater Sage Grouse has just been listed as federally threatened under the Endangered Species Act.  It is a geographically isolated and genetically distinct population that lives on the boarder between central California and central Nevada, hence the name the Bi-State Sage Grouse.  Only six groups of this grouse still exist and four of them are in immediate danger of destruction.  Endangered Species Act listing will make it a federal crime to harm these animals or the habitat they rely on.  Specifically, the listing guidelines set aside 1.86 million acres along the California-Nevada board as Bi-State Sage Grouse habitat to be protected for their conservation.

This population is the most southwesterly population of the species.  As such it has the potential to be especially important to the species conservation in the face of climate change.  As temperatures warm, on a global scale, organisms that are adapted to colder climates will tend to move north, but they will have a harder and harder time finding suitable habitat.  The organisms that are adapted to warmer climates will also tend to move north, but they will have a higher likelihood of finding suitable habitat as they do so.  This means that the Bi-State Sage Grouse has a high potential of being able to move into the rest of the Sage Grouse range and prevent the species from going extinct.  This is one of many reasons why protecting subspecies and distinct population units is so important.  If this population is allowed to go extinct, it could greatly effect the overall extinction risk of the species in the future.

A decision on whether or not to list the Greater Sage Grouse as an endangered species throughout its range is expected in 2015.  It is considered likely that the whole species will be listed, so the rest of the species will also be protected at that point.

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I just received the latest Time Magazine and was interested to read the cover article by David Von Drehle entitled “America’s Pest Problem: Why the rules of hunting are about to change.”  The article discusses how the populations of several species of North American wildlife have expanded in recent history to the point where they are now doing ecological damage and entering human dominated landscapes leading to damage and difficulties there.  Overall, the message of the article was that humans have caused these population increases, and so now need to play a more involved role in wildlife management to correct them, and that hunting should be a prominent part of that role.

I agree with this overall message, and it is one of the  major reasons I started hunting a few years ago.   The other possibilities for controlling wildlife populations generally fall into one of two categories: contraceptives or aversion training.  The idea behind treating animals with contraceptives is to reduce the birth rates of these species and so slowly reduce the population level.  However, this involves the sometimes quite difficult task of injecting the animals with the hormones by either capturing them and injecting them directly, or shooting them with drug loaded darts.  Either method of delivery is time consuming, usually results in a relatively small number of animals being treated, and is expensive.  Furthermore, the drugs usually do not work well, if at all.  Aversion training is when animals are disturbed by flashing lights, sirens, fireworks, lasers, rubber bullets, or other non-lethal devices frequently enough that the animals decide that they need to leave a particular area and go elsewhere.  This does not work for several reasons.  One is that in many cases the animals quickly learn that the lasers and loud noises don’t actually do anything, and so the animals simply ignore them.  Another reason is that human environments are so attractive to some species that they are worth suffering through some pretty serious annoyances to get to.  A third reason why aversion training does not work is that it assumes that there is empty habitat for these animals to move into.  In many cases, this is a very bad assumption, and the animals have no choice but to come back to the human dominated landscapes.  So, removing animals, permanently, from the population is one of few effective methods: a.k.a. hunting.

But, while I agree with the article overall, I was troubled by some points, and also the way in which some of those points were made.  First off, the subtitle “Why the rules of hunting are about to change” implies…well, that the rules of hunting are about to change.  Now, it is true that some cities scattered across the nation have changed ordinances that relate to hunting, but that does not mean that we are on the precipice of some major change in hunting laws at the state level or above.  Another, major, issue I take with the article is how the author mixes what should be viewed as good wildlife interactions in with troublesome wildlife interactions.  For example, in one paragraph, the author sympathizes for the plight of retail employees in Florida having to deal with alligators at their doorsteps (which could be quite dangerous) and office workers in New York who have a hawk nesting on the side of a skyscraper (which is a wonderful thing that has no detrimental effects on humans).  These are not the same category of wildlife encounter, and it seems misguided to lump them together.  Another worrying aspect of the article is that it plays into the commonly held fears about top predators.  Part of the article discusses how the increasing populations of prey species is allowing the populations of predators such as Grey Wolves, Grizzly Bears and Mountain Lions to increase as well.  The author states that hunting to reduce the prey populations will help to reduce the amount of human-predator interactions and so avoid “an invasion of fangs and claws.”  This kind of fear mongering is simply not appropriate.  The numbers of humans injured or killed by wild predators is ridiculously low.  Here are some rough estimates of deaths from large predators in all of North America since 1900: Black Bears = about 70, Grizzly Bears = about 70, Mountain Lions = about 20 people (which is fewer than the number of people killed by lightening strikes), Gray Wolves =  just 3.  A final issue that I take with the article is that is lumps native species and invasive species, and basically treats them the same.  One of the figures depicts the increases in population size of 10 species since the mid-1900s.  The caption for the figure says that these are 10 species that have come back from the brink of extinction; however, two species are Wild Pigs and Wild Turkey.  Wild Pigs are a non-native and highly invasive species that really should not be on this continent at all and have never been close to extinction, and Wild Turkeys are increasing in number partly because they were introduced to the western U.S. and are flourishing in this new habitat.  The management goals for these species are very different from, say, Beaver or White-tailed Deer or any of the other native species in the figure.

So, while I liked the message that hunting is a responsible and useful tool in wildlife management, I felt that the article was subtly misleading and definitely oversimplified, and such a portrayal is not in the best interest of hunting or wildlife management.

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