December 17, 2014

Wolves Cannot be a Keystone Predator And Not Have an Effect on Ungulates

wolvestwoI recently received a copy of a brand new article that had been published in Muley Crazy Magazine, that was written by Dr. Charles Kay. The title of the article is, “Keystone Predation and Trophic Cascades.” What a brilliant piece of work, I must say. Most brilliant because not only does Kay simply and effectively explain what a keystone predator is, along with trophic cascade, but points out the overuse, perhaps ignorantly and incorrectly, of the term “keystone predator.”

Kay explains in his article that many talk of how wolves are a keystone predator and have created a trophic cascade (more on this in a moment) wherever they are present. He references Yellowstone National Park as an example.

In explaining to readers what keystone predation and trophic cascade are, he used the example of sea otters, kelp forests and urchins along the northern California coast. There exists kelp forests, where, for one thing, small fish use to nourish themselves and seek a degree of protection from larger fish. Urchins eat kelp and sea otters eat urchins. This condition is explained by Kay as a “trophic pyramid”, with the otter on top and the kelp on the bottom.

Uncontrolled hunting by man killed off most of the otters, causing the urchin population to grow, which in turn destroyed much of the kelp forests and yes the disappearance of a fishery. With the efforts of humans, a few surviving otters were returned to the area and with ample prey, the urchin, the otters soon reestablish. With otters reducing the number of urchins, the kelp forests return and in turn the fishery came back also. Dr. Kay says this, “is what is called a cascading trophic effect, where what happens at one trophic level impacts what takes place at other trophic levels.”

In the case of the sea otter, Kay says that, “a keystone predator is a keystone predator only because predation causes a major reduction in the herbivore population, which then causes a major rebound in the associated plant community.”

So, then, is a wolf a keystone predator? By definition a keystone predator, like the sea otter, reduces its prey to levels that have a significant effect on that ecosystem. In my opinion, wolf advocates and others – Dr. Kay lists them: Media, public, judges – wrongly use the term “keystone” in order to make people believe that because it is KEYstone, the ecosystem could not survive without them. As Kay so aptly points out, the wolf sponsors can’t have it both ways; be a keystone predator and NOT reduce significantly its prey species. Since the beginning of the debate about wolves, prior to introduction, the clap trap was readily repeated that wolves will not have any significant impact on its prey species, i.e. deer, elk, moose. However, we are seeing the results of this “keystone” predator, where in places the wolf has roamed and flourished, prey populations have shrunk out of sight.

For decades, where the environmentalists have gone wrong, is their insistence that man was not factored into the role as a keystone predator. This is where Dr. Kay explains that while the sea otter, wolf, bear, mountain lion, etc. may be keystone predators, they are not necessarily THE keystone predator. That title is rightfully placed on the shoulders of man and has been there since the beginning of man’s existence on the planet.

Dr. Kay’s article goes to great lengths in explaining the history of the role of Native Americans as THE keystone predators. His work in establishing time lines, geographical locations and availability of wild game of Lewis and Clark and other explorers, shows where and in what abundance game animals existed and why. It’s not what our education institutions have taught us.

In one’s dishonest effort to protect any species of keystone predator, they cannot claim it to be a keystone predator, for the sake of placing importance and glorification, while at the same time making bold statements that these “keystone” predators will not have any measurable effect on the prey species and ecosystem. Simply by definition, this is ludicrous. It’s as ludicrous as thinking that man can somehow be removed from the entire equation and then everything will be nirvana.

Dr. Kay explains that in reality, if those humans who want Yellowstone National Park to be brought back to its, “natural condition”, then we, “simply need to add native people.”

Kay ends his article with this statement: “As a rule, carnivores did not kill and eat aboriginal people. Instead, aboriginal people killed and ate carnivores, especially bears, making them the ultimate keystone predator.”

When Hunting, Look Out for Flesh Eating Deer and Other Ungulates

As a hunter, one’s approach at stalking prey certainly depends upon the characteristics of the sought after prey. For that matter, what a hunter does in the woods and what he or she pays attention to is dependent upon what other large predators might be skulking about seeking whom they may devour.

As an example, if a hunter was stalking grey wolves, there’s always the thought of what could happen if a wolf or a pack of wolves turned on the hunter. Therefore, the methods of the hunt will vary considerably from that of hunting a whitetail deer in forests where few, if any, other large man-eating predators roam.

But what if that whitetail deer, or elk, or moose, we discovered, had turned from being a vegan to a meat eater? Normally hunters sneak quietly through the hardwoods, the swamps and thickets, moving as little as possible and limited in making noise as can possibly be done. This is because the deer is easily spooked and will often be gone before the hunter is even aware they were there from the beginning. Would that tactic change if deer stalked man?

Don’t laugh. First of all, some deer do stalk people. I’ve had it happen to me several times, especially on snow. It isn’t that the deer was stalking me to kill me, or at least that’s what I’ve always thought, I believe it is done more out of curiosity, as well as a clever avoidance tactic; i.e. hey, hunter, turn around and look behind you once in awhile.

Deer are herbivores right? – Meaning they eat only plants. It seems that’s not exactly true.

If deer are interested in eating fresh market beef, how soon before those same deer will be learning how to effectively stalk man, not out of curiosity, but for want of a hot fleshy meal? Not soon I hope.

In the article linked to above, we learn that many herbivores do enjoy an occasional high-protein diet, mostly from leftovers from others kills, but some have been known to do their own killing for the meat.

I suggest looking behind you more than occasionally while stalking about the woods. You never know what hungry beast waits you in the brush.

Maine IFW’s Kantar on Review Board for Wildlife Society About Management of Large Carnivores

I thought readers might be interested in having the link to a “technical review” done by an ad hoc committee of the Wildlife Society called, “Management of Large Mammalian Carnivores in North America“, in which the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s former head deer biologist and now head moose biologist was a member of.

Please feel free to read and study this, for what it’s worth, while I do the same. I may or may not offer some comments or information to the contents of this review.