Monday, August 12, 2019

Wolves Once Outnumbered Humans



During the last Ice Age, reindeer abounded in northern Eurasia. Those reindeer sustained such a huge population of wolves that wolves in Eurasia outnumbered humans by almost twenty to one, according to Wolfgang Schleidt and Michael Shalter. While some experts have described Ice Age humans as powerful predators able to bring down whatever they needed, Schleidt and Shalter paint a different picture in their peer-reviewed journal article, From Dogs and Mankind: Coevolution on the Move—An Update. “A more probable depiction of [early humans] during the second half of the last ice age is that of small bands of foragers who supplemented a mainly vegetarian diet with small game and leftover megafauna carcasses…” 

Humans would have had abundant wolves to thank for many carcasses.

During the Ice Age, wolves, say the two scientists, acted as they do today. “Far from being bloodthirsty beasts killing for killing’s sake, wolves are apparently very careful observers of their potential prey, attacking mostly what they can get without much risk to themselves—the young, the old, and the infirm—behaviors that have led some observers to compare them with pastoralists, caring for their herds…” 

Droves of wolves followed the herds. Small bands of humans followed the herds. And at some point, the paths of the two predators converged.

Schleidt and Shalter speculate that once those paths crossed, humans may have apprenticed with and learned from wolves about how to care for herds of prey. Wolves and humans could have formed “mixed packs.” While working with humans to take prey may have made life easier for wolves, cooperating with wolves may have been essential for the survival of the small human population of the Ice Age.

Until recently the Ice Age was depicted as a time when “the globe froze over.” But Schleidt and Shalter have studied new climate data and conclude that the Ice Age climate in northern Eurasia was not always icy and cold and unsupportive of life-sustaining flora and fauna. Instead, it alternated between plentiful times during the growing season and lean times the rest of the year.

The scientists state that while the ice-covered lands in the northern Eurasia were unsuitable for megafauna, the lands to the south, lands of tundra not ice, were suitable. Temperatures were cooler, and the climate was dryer because much of Earth’s water was locked up in ice. But “in the tundra’s southern parts during summer months the sun shone high above the megafauna and supported a nutritious vegetation, comparable to the lush meadows of our alpine high pastures and summer resorts.”

These lush Ice Age meadows nourished reindeer as well as woolly mammoths, woolly rhinos, bison, and horses. Given variations in climate and seasons, these grazers migrated. Hungry wolves and humans would have had to pursue them, each taking their share of prey or carcasses.

It wasn’t until the Ice Age ended that humans became the top predator. The bloody climb to the top started once we developed weapons, such as the atlatl and the bow and arrow, with which we could kill at a greater distance and with less risk. Schleidt and Shalter conclude that this ability to kill at minimal risk “ended the balance between predator and prey and turned man the hunter into the ‘natural disaster’ of our times.” 

I believe that as our human population swelled and we needed evermore prey, our relationship with the wolf slipped from cooperative to competitive. Instead of coexisting, we began to kill wolves. More than 10,000 years later, we still haven’t stopped.

To read the entire journal article 

Award-winning Indie author Rick Lamplugh writes, speaks, and photographs to protect wildlife and wild lands. His bestselling In the Temple of Wolves and the award-winning sequel, Deep into Yellowstone, are available signed from Rick or unsigned on Amazon.


Rick's new book, The Wilds of Aging, is the prequel to In the Temple of Wolves and is available signed or on Amazon.


Photo by NPS

Monday, August 5, 2019

Managing Wolves Requires Managing Cattle



The recent kill order of wolves in Washington highlights a sad fact: grazing cattle on public lands is lethal for wolves. Washington has 1.1 million cattle and more than a third of the state is public land that many of these cattle run roughshod over. Those public lands are by necessity the home of Washington’s minuscule population of around 126 wolves. With so many cattle invading wolf territory, conflict happens.

One ranch is at the core of Washington’s conflict. The Diamond M Ranch’s public land livestock operations have resulted in the killing of 20 wolves including the Wedge Pack in 2012, the Profanity Peak Pack in 2016, the Sherman Pack in 2017, as well as wolves removed from the Sherman and Togo Packs in 2018, and now the Old Profanity Territory Pack in 2019, according to The Lands Council. The constants in this deadly controversy are the Diamond M Ranch, the public lands upon which the ranch has the privilege to graze cattle, and Washington’s Wolf Management Plan. 

That plan’s basic premise—wolves are the problem and must pay the price for cattle-wolf conflict—is flawed. Of course, Washington is not unique; wolf management plans in other states use the same flawed premise.

Washington and other wolf states need a Cattle Management Plan. Here’s the premise of the plan I propose and have previously written about. Killing wolves on public land is not acceptable; wolves have nowhere else to live. Instead, the livestock owner bears the burden for reducing conflict his animals cause while grazing on public land in wolf territory. If the owner is not willing to accept this premise and coexist with wolves, the owner should not be allowed to graze livestock on public land. 

If the owner accepts this premise and his cattle create conflict with wolves on public land, the owner would have several chances to remedy the situation.

With the first cattle-wolf conflict on public land, the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife would determine the non-lethal steps the owner must take to keep livestock away from wolves. This analysis and compliance would happen quickly, let’s say within fourteen days. No wolves would be killed during this time.

With the second conflict, the owner’s herd would have to be moved away from the wolves they infringed upon. Let’s say a move of at least thirty miles within seven days. No wolves would be killed during this time.

With the third conflict, the owner’s privilege of grazing livestock on public land would be suspended for two years or more. All the livestock would be removed immediately, and no wolves would be killed. 

A Cattle Management Plan such as this should be enforced in Washington and every other state where cattle conflict with wolves on public land. This plan puts the responsibility for reducing conflict on the shoulders of the owners that benefit from the cost savings of grazing millions of cattle on public lands in wolf territory. This plan would save the lives of cattle and reduce compensation payouts by the state. This plan would also save the lives of many wolves that are simply trying to survive on public lands—the only home left to them.

Award-winning Indie author Rick Lamplugh writes, speaks, and photographs to protect wildlife and wild lands. His bestselling In the Temple of Wolves and the award-winning sequel, Deep into Yellowstone, are available signed from Rick or unsigned on Amazon.



Rick's new book, The Wilds of Aging, is the prequel to In the Temple of Wolves and is available signed or on Amazon.



Photo by Rick Lamplugh

Monday, July 29, 2019

The Beauty of Yellowstone's Bison Rut



This male, arising from a wallow in dust and dirt, intends to convey to other males his strength and energy as he prepares for the rut—the annual and ancient breeding ritual. While males are capable of breeding when two or three years old, they usually don’t win the right to breed until they are six to eight  and bigger, stronger, and wiser.

Females, on the other hoof, can breed when they are as young as two or three. By mid-July and through mid-August thousands of soon-to-be ready females congregate in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley. A patient observer can watch many males arrive by ones and twos from all points of the compass, compelled here by a primeval drive to reproduce. 

The arriving males will battle to see who gets to mate. To win that battle, this dusty male will have to prove his dominance. He may have already done so with a few males if he lived with them in a male-only group prior to arriving here. That could eliminate a few battles. But there are plenty of other males ready to challenge him. That challenge can take on several forms.

Some males grunt, bellow, and roar to claim females and deter other suitors. Two males may decide who is tops by walking along side each other in a “parallel walk.” Or they may have a head-to-head shoving match.

But if posturing, walking, and shoving don’t deter a competitor, it’s time to rumble. The two contestants will dodge and feint and butt heads and shove each other with their powerful legs. An experienced battler may slam a contender in the side with his massive head and sharp horns. 

At some point, one of the fighters will call it quits. Both loser and winner can sustain injuries. A male gored in the abdomen may die a slow death due to infection. 

One study, mentioned by Harold Picton in his book, Buffalo: Natural History and Conservation, found that 50 percent of males inspected showed fractured ribs that probably occurred during rut battles.

Whatever the cost of proving his dominance, the victor will stay by the side of the female he has claimed until she is ready to mate. He needs to guard her for a couple of reasons. First, staying close allows him to keep her apart from the main herd and to threaten approaching males. And second, females, write White, Wallen, and Hallac in Yellowstone Bison, are receptive to breeding for only one or two days. When she’s ready, he better be there.

Once he mates with her, he may move on and try to win the right to mate with another female, according to Yellowstone Resources and Issues.

In the end though, the decision to breed is not just the male’s. As a female nears the time when she’s receptive to breeding, she may elude the male that battled to breed with her. She may run through the herd and attract other males. She may approach a larger, more dominant male and allow him to breed with her. In this way, writes Jim Bailey in American Plains Bison: Rewilding an Icon, “Genes of bigger, stronger, more alert, more agile, more energy efficient and disease resistant bulls are passed along.”

Once all those genes have been passed on and the rut concludes, the males will go off to spend winter alone or with a few other males. The females will merge back into much smaller groups, each led by a matriarch. The pregnant females will carry their calves through the ravages of winter. Then after nine to nine-and-a-half months, the babies will arrive, once again heralding spring and proving that life goes on. 

A couple months later this big guy or many like him will be dusting up and getting ready for the rut to begin again.

Award-winning Indie author Rick Lamplugh writes, speaks, and photographs to protect wildlife and wild lands. His bestselling In the Temple of Wolves and the award-winning sequel, Deep into Yellowstone, are available signed from Rick or unsigned on Amazon.



Rick's new book, The Wilds of Aging, is the prequel to In the Temple of Wolves and is available signed or on Amazon.



Bison photo by Rick Lamplugh