What do Wolves, Hunting Accidents and Trophy Hunter Kendall Jones have in Common?

Answer: Well, nothing really, yet. They just happen to be three of the more popularHNTSTK_1_2__66133_1314490481_1280_1280 keywords, and I hoped that if I used them in a title I’d tempt more of you to read some of the recent posts that have been overlooked according to this blog’s stats.

Why, for instance, did an article about Kendall Jones’ trophy hunting pictures receive over 22,000 reads here, whereas posts about climate change, elk or mute swans have only been looked at by a few dozen?

I’m trying to figure out what makes people tick.

Maybe there just aren’t enough hunting accidents involving trophy hunters to keep people reading, so here’s one that someone made up:

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Did the Hunters Get your Wolves’ Elk?

In one of Edward Abbey’s many epic books he mentions seeing a bumper sticker on the back of a gas hog, redneck rig that went something like, “Did the coyotes get your deer?” It was an unabashed show of narcissistic entitlement which spelled out just how the driver felt about nature and the need for a diverse ecosystem.

Although his type doubtless have no qualms about supporting factory farming by buying a nightly meal of meat from the local “Western Family” grocery store, when hunting season rolls around they are right there to lay claim to the wildlife as well, in the form of deer, elk, moose or pronghorn.

It don’t mean shit that apex predators such as wolves, cougars, bobcats and coyotes have nothing else to eat and have evolved over eons to live in harmony with their wild prey. Hunters think of themselves as apex predators, decked out in their best Cabella’s camouflage outfit, tearing up the land on their trusty 4-bys or 4-wheelers, hoping a deer steps out in front of them.

But as a faithful reader pointed out this morning, human hunters aren’t apex predators, they’re apex parasites (Homo parasiticus).

Personally, I’d rather “my” deer went to the coyotes and “my” elk went to the wolves, as nature intended.

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson. All Rights Reserved

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson. All Rights Reserved

Great News for Elk: Hunting Nixed in Ecola Creek reserve

Photo  Jim Robertson

Photo Jim Robertson

By Nancy McCarthy
The Daily Astorian

CANNON BEACH — Hunting will no longer be allowed in the Ecola Creek Forest Reserve.

The Cannon Beach City Council decided Tuesday night to discontinue hunting on the north side of the city-owned 1,040-acre parcel in the Ecola Creek Watershed. The vote was 4-1, with councilors Mike Benefield, George Vetter and Melissa Cadwallader and Mayor Mike Morgan supporting a motion to ban hunting. Wendy Higgins, who said the council should fulfill its commitment to allow hunting for five years, opposed the motion.

Although the council had agreed in 2012 to allow bowhunting, and in 2013 to allow shotgun hunting in the reserve for five years, several councilors said they wanted to reconsider the decision. They pointed out that only five hunters – none of them Cannon Beach residents – had hunted in the area in the past two years.

“I did vote for the bond measure (providing $4 million for the Ecola reserve); I like to hike; I’m not a hunter, although I don’t have opposition to people who are hunters; and I definitely agree that hunting does not fit the definition of passive recreation,” said Councilor Mike Benefield.

Noting that a majority of those responding to a survey conducted when the reserve was initially proposed said they didn’t want hunting and wanted to allow only “passive recreation” in the area, Benefield called the idea of hunting “intimidating.” Benefield, who was appointed to the council to fill a vacancy several months ago, didn’t originally vote to allow hunting.

“I think the City Council made a mistake allowing hunting on the property, and I will vote to eliminate it,” Benefield said.

Morgan called it a “contentious issue” in the community.

“I think it’s barely worth the effort,” said Mayor Mike Morgan. “I think it’s time to end it.

“We’ve had only five hunters,” he added. “For all the angst and anxiety this has caused in this community, I don’t think it’s worth it.”

Those in the audience who supported hunting said they would have hunted in the reserve, but they weren’t able to acquire a tag from the Oregon Department and Fish and Wildlife, which issues tags on a lottery basis. However, the tags aren’t specifically for the Ecola Reserve but for all 800 square miles of the Saddle Mountain Unit, where hunting is allowed.

They also said the fee the city charged was a deterrent. The city charged $200 for a hunting permit during the first year and $50 last year.

“Why are you discussing this today when you agreed hunting would be allowed for five years?” asked Troy Laws, a hunter from Seaside. “It’s a matter of integrity.”

Despite hikers’ fears of potential harm when hunters are in the reserve, no problems have occurred so far, said Herman Bierdebeck, ODFW wildlife biologist. Bierdebeck said land where hunting has been allowed for generations – including the Ecola Forest Reserve before the city acquired it from the state Department of Forestry – is increasingly being removed from hunters’ access.

“You can continue this experiment,” he told the council. “There haven’t been any problems that we’re aware of, so why not let it continue?

Councilor Melissa Cadwallader, who opposed hunting in the reserve when the council originally approved it, noted that the reserve was a “very small piece of land” in the Saddle Mountain Unit. She pointed out that the city-approved management plan for the reserve provides for “adaptive management” that allows policy adjustments for the reserve’s management if changes occur.

“The surveys are not in favor of hunting, and the bond measure approving the creation of the reserve calls for passive recreation,” Cadwallader said. “I thought we had defined it.”

Although Councilor George Vetter suggested that the council consider adding a “sunset” clause allowing hunting for another year, no motion was made, and it wasn’t considered.

No More Mr. Nice Guy

I sent this letter to the editor to the Daily Astorian, over a week ago, a few days before the seal was run over on a nearby beach, but they don’t seem inclined to print it  I guess I shouldn’t have taken the nice guy approach. To tell the truth, I don’t care if their tourist trade goes under, the town dries up and blows away for good…

Dear Editor,

It seems there are a lot of reasons people can dream up to hate the wildlife their area is blessed with—especially if they already have their minds made up to be intolerant. Lately we’ve been reading a lot in the news about the sea lions in Astoria and the elk in Gearhart. If residents there would decide to accept their animal neighbors, they would find that the draw of watchable wildlife is worth any perceived problems that might come from having a few animals around.

Here’s part of a comment I read from a fellow wildlife photographer about the sea lions: “We talked to several people in nearby shops who expressed such hatred for the animals and spewed such misinformation, I swore I’d never return to Astoria. I realize not everyone who lives there shares these sentiments, but you’d think the citizens would understand (or care) what a wretched image this creates for their town.”

But there have been signs of tolerance recently in this paper, on both the sea lion and elk fronts. The article “Sea lion sanctuary a proven possibility” informs us that a haul out built specifically for sea lions would benefit both the animals and the town’s tourist trade. Meanwhile, in the poll “Elk: Love them or let them leave?” the most popular solution by far was simply, “better signage.” Clearly, in cases, the old adage, “live and let live” is in the best interest for all and is the right thing to do.

littleboyc09

 

Poachers kill more than wolves do, Idaho officials say

[Enough said? Now, how many do trophy hunters kill compared to wolves?]

Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

>But he said if predators were killing as many game animals as poachers do, people would take action. “Holy buckets, we would be setting budgets aside,” Cummings said. “We would develop a group to figure out what it was and we would develop a plan to deal with it, but we won’t even talk about what impact this has on wildlife.”<

http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2014/apr/19/poachers-kill-more-than-wolves-do-idaho-officials/

LEWISTON – Poachers are likely killing far more game animals than wolves are, state wildlife officials in North Idaho say.

Officials told the Lewiston Tribune that last year in North Idaho they confirmed poaching of 30 elk, four moose, 13 mule deer and 57 whitetail deer, the newspaper reported Friday.

Officials say a realistic detection rate is 5 percent, meaning poachers are likely killing about 600 elk, 80 moose, 260 mule deer and 1,000 whitetail annually.

“It’s real easy for people to blow a gasket about wolf predation,” said Idaho Fish and Game District Conservation Officer George Fischer. “They are very passionate about it, they are very irate about it and they are livid about it. Yet there is a two-legged wolf out there that is probably killing as many or more than wolves. Wolves are causing an impact, there is no doubt about it; I don’t want to downplay that at all, but two-legged wolves are probably killing more or stealing more game than wolves. That is the shock-and-awe message.”

Barry Cummings, an Idaho Fish and Game conservation officer, said many people don’t report wildlife crimes because they don’t consider it a crime against them. The fine in Idaho for illegally killing an elk is $750, while the fine for illegally killing a moose is $10,000.

But he said if predators were killing as many game animals as poachers do, people would take action.

Mark Hill, a senior conservation officer for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Lewiston, said it’s not completely clear why people who are aware of poaching don’t turn lawbreakers in.

“I don’t know if it’s because they almost look at themselves in the mirror and say, ‘If I turn in so and so, I’m going to be reflecting on some of the things I do and they will turn me in,’ ” Hill said.

Buck Fever

Robert Scheer/The Star

This is X-Factor, an Indiana deer that in his prime was worth an estimated $1 million.

His value as a stud comes not from research and not from the quality of his venison. Instead, his value is in those freakish antlers, the product of more than three decades of selective breeding.

In less than 40 years, a relatively small group of farmers has created something the world has never seen before — a billion-dollar industry primarily devoted to breeding deer that are trucked to fenced hunting preserves to be shot by patrons willing to pay thousands for the trophies.

An Indianapolis Star investigation has discovered the industry costs taxpayers millions of dollars, compromises long-standing wildlife laws, endangers wild deer and undermines the government’s multibillion-dollar effort to protect livestock and the food supply.

To feed the burgeoning captive-deer industry, breeders are shipping an unprecedented number of deer and elk across state lines. With them go the diseases they carry. Captive-deer facilities have spread tuberculosis to cattle and are suspected in the spread of deadly foreign deer lice in the West. More important, The Star’s investigation uncovered compelling circumstantial evidence that the industry also has helped accelerate the spread of chronic wasting disease, an always-fatal deer disease similar to mad cow. CWD now has been found in 22 states.

CWD’s spread roughly coincides with the captive-deer industry’s growth. In half of the states where CWD was found, it first appeared in a commercial deer operation. Officials in Missouri, Nebraska, New York and Canada think captive deer or elk introduced the disease to the wild.

So far, government programs have failed to halt CWD’s spread, largely because there is no reliable way to test live animals for the disease. So infected deer may be shipped into disease-free states, where they can infect other animals, captive or wild. The Star’s investigation uncovered examples of deer escaping from farms, shoddy record keeping and meager penalties for those caught breaking the rules, which further undermine state and federal efforts to contain the disease. Plus, in less than a decade, more than a dozen people have been charged with smuggling live deer across state lines.

More: http://www.indystar.com/longform/news/investigations/2014/03/27/buck-fever-intro/6865031/

 

3 elk shot and left to die near Fernie, B.C.

Photo  Jim Robertson

Photo Jim Robertson

Conservation officer Frank DeBoon says someone went for a drive recently in
the Baynes Lake area south of Fernie, spotted a herd of elk and shot into
it, dropping three cows where they stood.

Deboon says the three females, who were likely pregnant, were then left
there to die. In 26 years as a conservation officer, DeBoon says he’s never
seen anything like it.

“It’s pretty upsetting to see somebody who would just go and shoot animals
and leave them to waste,” he told CBC News.

Deboon estimates it happened about a week ago. He says the shooter or
shooters didn’t take anything.

“The elk were all in good health, probably pregnant with this year’s calves.
There’s no reason for it other than somebody deciding to shoot them.”

DeBoon says they’ll likely get away with it too. The site of the shooting is
off a fairly remote logging road and unless there was more than one person
in the vehicle, there are likely no witnesses.

Still DeBoon wants the story out there. He’s hoping someone either heard the
shots, or or perhaps stories from someone bragging about their hunting
prowess.

The shooting comes after nearly a dozen elk were shot and butchered by
poachers on Vancouver Island last year.

https://ca.news.yahoo.com/3-elk-shot-left-die-near-fernie-b-140233256.html

California Poachers Confess to Multi-State Crimes

News from the Colorado Division of Wildlifeelk-000-home17300
News from Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Contact Name: Mike Porras
Contact Phone: 970-255-6162

CALIFORNIA POACHERS CONFESS TO MULTI-STATE CRIMES

MEEKER, Colo. – After a Colorado Parks and Wildlife investigation
spanning several states and two hunting seasons, a trio of men from
California have pleaded guilty to numerous wildlife violations in
Colorado and New Mexico, dating back to 2011 through 2013. Upon being
confronted with extensive evidence of their crimes, the three men
admitted to their illegal activities and accepted a plea bargain in Rio
Blanco County Court in late February.

Throughout their crime spree, the men hunted on private property without
permission, illegally killed an elk, nine mule deer, one turkey and a
blue grouse. In several instances, the poachers only removed the head,
cape and antlers from their illegal kills, or abandoned the entire
animal leaving the meat to waste, which could have brought felony
charges and a prison sentence.

During the investigation, wildlife officials gathered a variety of
evidence including taxidermy mounts from their homes and numerous photos
of the men posing with the illegally taken wildlife.

“These individuals showed complete disregard for the wildlife laws of
several states in a brazen and arrogant manner,” said Northwest Regional
Manager Ron Velarde of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “Citizens have every
reason to be outraged by their destructive behavior and we, along with
the other agencies we worked with on this case, are satisfied to see
that these individuals have been brought to justice”

Ringleader Anthony Bauer, 35, of Palm Desert, California, was convicted
of willful destruction of big game wildlife – a felony in Colorado, four
counts of hunting without a proper and valid deer license and illegal
take of a mule deer. He was ordered to pay $5,754 in fines, make a
$10,000 donation to the Meeker Sportsman’s Club [Ironically, the ringleader had to make a
$10,000 donation to the Meeker Sportsman’s Club. It's not like he shot one of them!]
and forfeit all evidence
seized, including hunting gear and personal computers. Bauer also
pleaded guilty for the illegal take of a bull elk in New Mexico. As part
of his plea, Bauer was ordered to return the illegally taken elk mount,
a mule deer mount and a Barbary sheep mount to New Mexico.

Bauer is the owner of ‘Live2Die’, an outdoor-themed hat and clothing
company based in California. The company’s website is where
investigators discovered the incriminating photos, eventually removed
from the site under the terms of the plea bargain.

“Ironically, it was the discovery of two hats emblazoned with the
company’s logo found hidden in some brush on private property near two
poached deer that led us to these individuals,” said Area Wildlife
Manager Bill de Vergie of Meeker. “The landowner found the hats and let
District Wildlife Manager Jon Wangnild know right away. It once again
shows how important the public’s help can be in bringing violators to
justice.”

De Vergie praised the work of all of the officers and investigators
involved in the case, including wildlife officers from New Mexico and
California and a forensics laboratory in Wyoming. He noted the
outstanding work of DWM Wangnild of Meeker who initiated the two-year
investigation after receiving a tip from a local outfitter.

Wangnild passed away after being injured in a horseback riding accident
in June, 2013, eight months before the case was resolved in court.

“Jon was very well respected by his fellow officers because of his
dedication and tenacity in bringing violators to justice,” added de
Vergie. “His diligence and hard work on this case, both here and in
California, is a testament to his legacy.”

Wangnild and an investigator traveled out-of-state to assist California
State Fish and Game officers search the suspects’ residences and a local
taxidermist shop where a substantial amount of evidence was seized.

Also pleading guilty in the case was Frank D’Anna, 29, of San Diego and
Hank Myll, 33, of Palm Desert. Myll pleaded guilty to hunting mule deer
without a proper and valid license and illegal take of a mule deer.
D’Anna agreed to pay a citation for hunting blue grouse without a
license, hunting mule deer without a license, illegal take of a blue
grouse, illegal take of a mule deer and hunting on private property
without permission.

Several other men allegedly involved in illegal hunting with Bauer,
D’Anna and Myll and are facing possible charges in New Mexico, pending
further investigation

On the Live2Die website, Bauer states that he “…built his brand on the
principles of living life to the fullest. With a goal to get more kids
off of the video games, and get them outdoors.”

“One of the most important aspects of enjoying the outdoors is being
responsible and ethical around wildlife,” continued de Vergie.
“Unfortunately, considering the extent of Mr. Bauer and his companion’s
illegal activity, this was the complete opposite of what we are trying
to teach our younger generations.”

The three men now must meet with a CPW Hearings Commissioner where they
face the possibility of permanently losing their hunting and fishing
privileges in Colorado and 41 other Interstate Wildlife Violator compact
states, including New Mexico and California.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife asks the public to report possible illegal
wildlife activity to their nearest CPW office or Colorado State Patrol.
To remain anonymous, call Operation Game Thief at 877-265-6648 . Rewards
may be available if the report leads to a citation.

Ignorance Abounds

Because I love wildlife and wilderness, I’ve always chosen to live in the wildest places I could find; places where nature reigned (as much as humanly allowable); the kind of places about which rural real estate agents routinely advertise that “wildlife abounds”.

Well, if you spend much time in rural America, you know that wherever wildlife abounds, ignorance is even more abundant.

Yesterday, I came across another dead beaver, killed by an ignorant ruralite who enjoys dispatching any wild animal that crosses their path. The excuse? “Beavers eat our trees; seaDSC_0128 lions eat our fish; coyotes and wolves eat our deer and elk, prairie dogs eat our livestock’s grass,” etc., etc.

The real reason? It’s “fun” to shoot, snare or run over them as happened to the last four beavers I’ve seen dead along the road.

I’ll never forget, while I worked as a substitute school bus driver for the local district, when we passed a beaver carcass on the shoulder of the road, the students all jumped for joy and screamed “Oh, cool!” The kids have the excuse that no one has ever taught them any respect for life, or that everything in nature has its place. I still haven’t figured out what excuse their parents have for remaining so ignorant.

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2014. All Rights Reserved

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2014. All Rights Reserved

 

Rethinking predators: Legend of the wolf

http://www.nature.com/news/rethinking-predators-legend-of-the-wolf-1.14841?WT.ec_id=NEWS-20140311

Predators are supposed to exert strong control over ecosystems, but nature doesn’t always play by the rules.

by Emma Marris 07 March 2014

copyrighted wolf in water

The return of grey wolves to the western United States has sparked debate over their role in structuring ecosystems.

In 2008, Kristin Marshall was driving through Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Marshall, a graduate student at the time, had come to the park to study willow shrubs — specifically, how much they were being eaten by elk.

She pulled to the side of the road and was preparing to hike to one of her study plots when she ran into two sisters from the Midwest, who were touring the park. The women asked what Marshall was doing and she said, “I am a researcher. I am working in that willow patch down there.”

The tourists gushed: “We watched all about the willows on this nature documentary. We hear that all the willows are doing so much better now because the wolves are back in the ecosystem.” That stopped Marshall short. “I didn’t want to say, ‘No, you are wrong, they aren’t actually doing that well.’”

Instead, she said: “The story is a probably a little more complicated than what you saw on the nature documentary.” That was the end of the conversation; the tourists seemed uninterested in the more-complicated story of how beavers and changes in hydrology might be more important than wolves for willow recovery. “I can’t say I blame them,” says Marshall, now an ecologist with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle, Washington. “What you see on TV is captivating.”

On television and in scientific journals, the story of how carnivores influence ecosystems has seized imaginations. From wolves in North America to lions in Africa and dingoes in Australia, top predators are thought to exert tight control over the populations and behaviours of other animals, shaping the entire food web down to the vegetation through a ‘trophic cascade’. This story is popular in part because it supports calls to conserve large carnivores as ‘keystone species’ for whole ecosystems. It also offers the promise of a robust rule within ecology, a field in which researchers have yearned for more predictive power.

But several studies in recent years have raised questions about the top-predator rule in the high-profile cases of the wolf and the dingo. That has led some scientists to suggest that the field’s fascination with top predators stems not from their relative importance, but rather from society’s interest in the big, the dangerous and the vulnerable. “Predators can be important,” says Oswald Schmitz, an ecologist at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, “but they aren’t a panacea.”

Predators on top

In the early years of ecology, predators did not get so much respect. Instead, researchers thought that plants were the dominant forces in ecosystems. The theory was that photosynthesis from these primary producers determined how much energy was available in an area, and what could live there. Bottom-up control was all the rage.

Interest in top-down trophic cascades emerged in 1963, when ecologist Robert Paine of the University of Washington in Seattle started to exclude predators from study plots at his coastal research site. He pried predatory starfish off intertidal rocks and hurled them into deeper waters. Without the starfish to control their numbers, mussels eventually carpeted the plots and kept limpets and algae from taking hold in the region. A new ecosystem emerged (see Nature 493, 286–289; 2013).

After this and other aquatic studies, the conventional wisdom in the field was that top-down trophic cascades happened only in rivers, lakes and the sea. An influential 1992 paper1 by Donald Strong at the University of California, Davis, asked: “Are trophic cascades all wet?” As if in answer, ecologists began looking for similar carnivore stories on land.

SOURCE: 1 & 2: Ref. 5; 3: Ref. 7

Expand

They soon found them. In 2000, a review2 tallied 41 terrestrial studies on trophic cascades, most of which showed that predation had significant effects on the number of herbivores in an area, or on plant damage, biomass or reproductive output. These studies were all on small plots involving small predators: birds, lizards, spiders and lots of ants.

Research on terrestrial trophic cascades moved to much larger scales with the work of John Terborgh and William Ripple. In 2001, Terborgh, an ecologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, reported3 on dramatic ecosystem changes that came after a dam was built in Venezuela. Flooding from the dam created islands that were too small to support big predators such as jaguars and harpy eagles. The population densities of their prey — rodents, howler monkeys, iguanas and leaf-cutter ants — boomed to 10–100 times those on the mainland. Seedlings and saplings were devastated.

In the same year, Ripple, an ecologist at Oregon State University in Corvallis, published a key paper4 on the most famous, and probably the best-studied, example of a terrestrial carnivore structuring an ecosystem: Yellowstone’s wolves. The ecosystem offered a natural experiment because the US National Park Service had the park’s exterminated wolves (Canis lupus) by 1926 and then reinstated them in the 1990s, after public sentiment and ecological theory had shifted. In 1995, 14 wolves from Alberta, Canada, were introduced into the park. Seventeen from British Columbia followed in 1996. By 2009, there were almost 100 wolves in 14 packs in the Yellowstone area. (That number is now down to 83 in 10 packs.)

During the years when there were no wolves, ecologists grew increasingly worried about the aspen trees (Populus tremuloides) in the park. It seemed that intensive browsing by Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus elaphus) was preventing trees from reaching adult height, or ‘recruiting’. In the early twentieth century, aspen covered between 4% and 6% of the winter range of the northern Yellowstone herd of elk; by the end of the century, they accounted for only 1% (ref. 4).

“Predators can be important, but they aren’t a panacea.”

When Ripple and his co-authors checked aspen growth against the roaming behaviour of wolves in three packs, they found that aspen grew tallest in stream-side spots that saw high wolf traffic. That pattern hinted at an indirect behavioural cascade: rather than limiting browsing by reducing elk populations throughout the park, wolves apparently made elk more skittish and less likely to browse in the tightly confined stream valleys, where prey have limited escape routes (see ‘The tangled web’). A 2007 study5 by Ripple and Robert Beschta, also of Oregon State, seemed to strengthen the behavioural-cascade hypothesis. It found that the five tallest young aspen in stream-side stands where there were downed logs — a potential trip hazard for elk — were taller than the five tallest young aspen in stands away from streams or without downed logs.

Similar evidence of indirect wolf effects emerged from a study of willows. In 2004, Ripple and Beschta found6 that the shrubs were returning in narrow river valleys, where the researchers thought that the chances of wolves attacking elk were greatest.

More recently, Ripple has been documenting the regrowth of cotton­wood trees. “When we look around western North America, we see a big decrease in tree recruitment after wolves were removed. And when wolves returned to Yellowstone, the trees started growing again. It is just wonderful to walk through that new cottonwood forest.”

Tales from trees

But some ecologists had their doubts. The first major study7 critical of the wolf effect appeared in 2010, led by Matthew Kauffman of the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit in Laramie. When researchers drilled boreholes into more than 200 trees in Yellowstone and analysed growth patterns, they found that the recruitment of aspen had not ended all at once. Some trees had reached adult size as late as 1960, long after the wolves had gone. And some stands had stopped growing new adults as early as 1892, well before the wolves left. The aspen petered out over decades, as elk populations slowly grew, suggesting that the major influence on the trees is the size of the elk population, rather than elk behaviour in response to wolves. And although wolves influence elk numbers, many other factors play a part, says Kauffman: grizzly bears are increasingly killing elk; droughts deplete elk populations; and humans hunt elk that migrate out of the park in winter.

When Kauffman and his colleagues studied7 aspen in areas where risk of attack by wolves was high or low, they obtained results different from Ripple’s. Rather than look at the five tallest aspen in each stand, as Ripple had done, they tallied the average tree height and used locations of elk kills to map the risk of wolf attacks. By these measures, they found no differences between trees in high- and low-risk areas.

Questions have also emerged about the well-publicized relationship between wolves and willows. Marshall and two colleagues investigated the controls on willow shrubs by examining ten years’ worth of data from open plots and plots surrounded by cages to keep the elk out. Her team found8 that the willows were not thriving in all the protected sites. The only plants that grew above 2 metres — beyond the reach of browsing elk — were those in areas where simulated beaver dams had raised the water table.

If beavers have a key role in helping willows to thrive, as Marshall’s study suggests, the shrubs face a tough future because the park’s beaver populations have dropped. Researchers speculate that the removal of wolves in the 1920s allowed elk to eat so much willow that there was none left for the beavers, causing an irreversible decline.

“The predator was gone for at least 70 years,” says Marshall. “Removing it has changed the ecosystem in fundamental ways.” This work suggests that wolves did meaningfully structure the Yellowstone ecosystem a century ago, but that reintroducing them cannot restore the old arrangement.

Arthur Middleton, a Yale ecologist who works on Yellowstone elk, says that such studies have disproved the simple version of the trophic cascade story. The wolves, elk and vegetation exist in an ecosystem with hundreds of other factors, many of which seem to be important, he says.

Dingo debate

Another classic example of a trophic cascade has come under attack in Australia. … More: http://www.nature.com/news/rethinking-predators-legend-of-the-wolf-1.14841?WT.ec_id=NEWS-20140311