Sunday, February 12, 2012

You Can Go Home Again…Sort of

By Bob Ferris

Freezing in Fort Saint John, BC in 1996.
Writer Thomas Wolfe once said that you cannot go home again. While I agree with this in the literal sense, I think that it is a valuable exercise to occasionally visit parts of your life and past. I did so recently for two reasons.

The first reason was that I have been reading about wolf dispersals in Washington and more recently into Northern California. Both happenstances are pretty exciting and caused me to revisit what I might have said a decade or more ago about this potential.

While I and others certainly promoted the Northern Cascades as prime future wolf habitat in the original Places for Wolves and in other publications, I seemed to be fairly alone in the predictions for California wolves. Others supported the notion including folks at the California Wolf Center, but most seemed to dismiss it as overly optimistic. And one wolf does not a population make, but then I am a hopeful guy and maybe in the next decade we will see reproduction and a pack.

My second reason for looking at past thinking and predictions was that I was asked to give a lecture at Fairhaven College on predators and predator restorations. Perfectly logical request given my background, but since I have not worked directly in that field for a few years, I had to figuratively go home again and do a little research. One visit I made was to check in on the Colorado lynx restoration project.

In the late 1990s state biologists started working to restore lynx in some areas of Colorado. The animals were captured in Canada by trappers who were paid to turn these animals into US immigrants rather than fur coats. The animals were released in Colorado and initially there were problems with them starving. The outcry was fairly loud from some sectors, including in this April 1999 New York Times article. But towards the end of that article we find the following quote:
Such statements do little to mollify critics, but Mr. Ferris urges them to be patient while pressing for changes. ''Expectations have been raised with the successful wolf re-introductions in Yellowstone,'' Mr. Ferris said, ''and we expect all programs to work as well. But they won't. We have to support things that are slower to succeed and recognize failure is part of the process.''

So what had happened to that project since I had flapped my gums to that New York Times writer in 1999? Turns out persistence and patience paid off and the restoration was declared a success in 2010 . Wow, two for two.

Lest I get a big head about all of this, I could also revisit progress to return wolves to the Adirondacks and the Olympic Peninsula as well as Trumpeter Swans to the Atlantic Flyway. I was bullish on all three of those options. But those were failures of people, policies, and visions rather than the inherent ability of animals to re-inhabit past haunts—at least that is the way my optimistic mind sees it.