As anyone who has ever read a single word I’ve written knows, I love to read fiction, but fiction that teaches me something. Recently I finished a novel called “Winter Study” by a writer named Nevada Barr. Ms. Barr was a park ranger at one time, and her continuing character Anna Pigeon is a park ranger for the National Park Service. I’ve only read two of the Anna Pigeon books: the first took place in Natchez Trace National Park in Mississippi. “Winter Study” takes place in Isle Royale National Park, a place I’d never even heard of, so I learned something in the first paragraph.
Isle Royale is in Lake Superior. It officially “belongs” to the State of Michigan, even though it’s a long way from there. It’s in the very north of the lake, about 18 miles from the Canadian border. Its significance is that in the park, the longest running study of predator/prey interaction has been going continuously since 1958. The predators are gray wolves; the prey, moose. The island is a living laboratory, where only about 20 mammal species reside, so you don’t have all the variability you might have in a place like Wyoming or Alaska. At any one given time, you have between 15-25 wolves, and 700 to 750 moose. So it’s a bit of a microcosm.
I’ve been charged by a reader with providing real data as to why wolf eradication, supported by Sarah Palin in Alaska, is a bad idea. As opposed to “environmental Nazism”–using “scare tactics” and emotional arguments to make the case. This reader, ptfan1 (who is a big Sarah Palin fan, I might add–perhaps he might want to think of changing his name to spfan1) says that while he himself could never pull the trigger, there may be a need for wolf management somewhere like Alaska. I think that’s a fair request. So I spent way too many hours yesterday reviewing wolf management practices. I read the entire policy on the state of Wyoming’s plan for wolf management. I read extensively from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s policy for bear and wolf control. See that here: http://www.wc.adfg.state.ak.us/regulations/pdfs/predator_control.pdf
Please note that they specifically refer to it as “control”, not management. Management typically refers to efforts to preserve wolf populations. Control means elimination. This is only one of two links I’ll provide, because this is a blog, not a term paper. If you want to check the veracity of what I have to say, you’ll have to do your own research. As my mother and my teachers used to say when I asked the meaning of a word, Look it up.
In Alaska, caribou and moose are a major source of food. Wolves eat caribou and moose too. During severer than normal winters…Interruption: I live in Florida. I consider a severe winter to be one in which the temperature drops to 50 degrees F. before December first. But in severe winters in Alaska, the herds start to starve. Moose eat everything off the trees to a height of about 8 feet. The younger and shorter moose starve faster. As they get weaker, this makes it easier for wolves to catch them. But during these severe winters, wolves aren’t faring that well either. In the end, more moose are killed by starvation, human hunting, and cars than are ever killed by wolves. Here’s your second link: http://www.nationalreview.com/swan/swan090403.asp
I read a lot about the re-introduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone Park as well. That happened because of what the scientists call an “ecological cascade”. The elimination of the top predator caused a domino effect, which had disastrous consequences to everything from plant life to songbirds.
There is abolutely no scientific evidence that wolves do significant harm to moose or caribou populations in Alaska. It’s more of a mindset. When it gets harder to find a moose, blame the wolves. The mindset is that the only good wolf is a dead wolf. I coulda had that moose if you hadn’t killed it, you evil Wolf thing.
If Alaska continues this practice, it will find itself in the same situation as Wyoming, wondering what the hell happened. Bounties on wolves were what destroyed the wolf population in Wyoming; Sarah Palin wants to institute the same practice–$150 for the left foreleg of a wolf. Guess her degree in journalism didn’t require any courses in biology…or American history.