Thursday, February 12, 2015

Grizzlies, Wolves, and Elk Connected as One on the Hot Plate of Yellowstone

By Bob Ferris

It looks like someone else saw the comments by Dr. Geist before RMEF took them down (Source)
I once chastised the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation for posting a climate change page written in part by animal behaviorist Val Geist who suggested that climate change was of little concern to elk--maybe even beneficial.  This was about the time when studies (one reviewed and partially sponsored by RMEF) were pointing to climate change and early brown-up of grasses as factors impacting elk in Yellowstone.  The page has since been removed, but the fact that it ever existed in the first place is problematic.

I think about this now as we receive reports that the Yellowstone grizzlies are emerging from their winter dens earlier than normal. Their truncated torpor is likely attributable to these record warm temperatures that the area is experiencing and therefore probably linked to the whole ball of climate change wax too.  The question in my mind pretty much immediately is: How is this ultimately going to impact elk and wolves?

I gravitate to the above question early on because I tend to think in terms of connectedness and it really looks like RMEF—at least under David Allen—doesn't or cannot.  I suspect this is why when others in the hunting and angling-oriented end of conservation were participating in discussions and coalitions on climate change’s impact on hunting and fishing such as the Beyond Season’s End effort, RMEF sat on the sidelines rather than stepping up to the plate and lending their voice and influence to this important debate.
"The first law of intelligent tinkering is to save all of the parts." Aldo Leopold
I suspect that part of this is Mr. Allen’s NASCAR background and his conservative political associations.  No doubt his ties to and dependence on Lucas Oil for some of his organization’s support are at play as well, but I wonder just how much of his resistance to and non-comprehension of concepts like climate change or predator-prey relationships comes from just not understanding the complexity of these abiotic and biotic relationships as well as their inter-connectedness.   These are threads that are seen clearly by some and appear absolutely invisible to others.


Crying Wolf - Stephen Vantassel: Stop Being Afraid from JD King on Vimeo.

I sometimes hope that through education we can open some eyes so that they will be able to see these wondrous threads and even develop an interest in looking for more.   But I also understand that some of the resistance to acceptance or even investigation of these phenomena is blocked by deep feelings such as fear expressed as hatred for wolves or even those of a religious nature like the fellow in the video above who was an interviewee for the anti-wolf movie "Crying Wolf."  


I posted the above video clip not just because it was so absolutely absurd, but because the gentleman featured was once connected to a school of natural resources at a major US university, which indicates the depth of the challenge we face.  And if you read the wolf-hatred piece and then look at the sole endorsement for the Cry Wolf movie on their website you'll see a familiar name and realize that while the challenge is deep it is relatively narrow as well.  

Rocky Mountain Elk by MONGO
I do not know what exactly to make of these early bears.  In fact there are a lot of large question marks hovering above my head as I write.  How, for instance, will competition for elk and bison carcasses impact bear and wolf populations as well as predation on live elk?  What does this early emergence mean for the overall energy budget of predators and what does that in turn mean for various prey populations?  What does this portend for reproduction rates or availability of foods when the Park’s young are most needy?  And what does this mean in terms of vegetative sources and the timing of events like brown-up when plant nutritional value plummets as nutrients travel root-ward? While I do not know the answers to the above questions, I do know with great certainty that my life is richer for being able to see these threads and being open to exploring the complexities.

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