Alana Madden / Missoula Current
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(CN) — “Rewilding” or restoring ecosystems is a conservationist’s dream. As a result, native plant and animal species will be able to coexist with modern civilization, offsetting the effects of human-induced climate change.
But for one team of scientists, this dream is achievable and may become a reality. The question is how realistic is rewilding in the near future.
A team of 20 scientists has released an analysis that identifies 11 federally owned reserves in the western United States for wolf and beaver recovery.
In “The Wilding of the American West,” the team suggests that returning gray wolves and North American beavers to their historic territories would benefit the wider ecosystem. For example, the reintroduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park is said to have curbed deer populations and freed native plants from voracious herbivores.
In the meantime, the benefits of restoring beaver populations, especially to protect endangered species like salmon, are abundant.
“Beavers are an excellent restorative tool for organizations and agencies looking to maintain fish populations and improve salmonid habitat,” said an assistant fur-bearer biologist at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Sean Bering says. “The in-stream beaver structures provide a barrier that slows down the water. It expends less energy in moving the gills and settles sediment that clogs the gills.
More important than the structures in the river, says Behling, is how the beaver will improve the above-ground buffer zones on both sides of the river. “Beaver dams and resulting ponds recharge groundwater reservoirs and provide a consistent water supply for riverine vegetation. Although they consume some of this woody material, these trees and shrubs grow and reproduce at a rate that exceeds the beaver’s needs.
“Soon, exposed river water that might have been too warm for salmon before is now shaded by trees,” Bering added. “Dikes are stable to prevent sediment from being washed away or encroaching into the water column, and vegetation provides habitat. [that] Young invertebrate salmon rely on nutrition. ”
The analysis is ripe for consideration by the Biden administration, which rolled out the Make America Beautiful Plan in January 2021, hoping to protect 30% of US land by 2030.
“I had the idea of rewilding at that point,” said William Ripple, lead author and professor of ecology at Oregon State University. Ironically, the beaver is both his OSU mascot and state animal, but Ripple said his analysis ideas were based on his conservation history, partly because of Yellowstone. It was held in.
Based on his experience, Ripple believes that rewilding national lands can help save 92 endangered species, from owls and big cats to small reptiles, insects and plants. increase. But there is one controversial part of the plan that could get in the way.
Access to federal lands throughout the West requires grazing livestock, mining, logging, and drilling for oil and gas. The study found that reserves with the highest number of vulnerable species are used for these four practices, especially livestock grazing. In many areas, livestock grazing causes degradation of streams and wetlands, affects fire regimes, and inhibits regeneration of wood species.
In addition, the study authors noted that ruminant livestock is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and how ecosystem impacts can exacerbate dry climate conditions, “potentially Shifting the landscape from a carbon sink to a carbon source”.
“In general, rewilding is most effective when concerns about participation of all stakeholders are considered, including ranchers, hunters, fishermen, local communities, private landowners and indigenous communities,” the study said. The author writes However, it is debatable whether anyone in the 11 states can participate in rewilding these lands.
In Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, gray wolves are not listed as endangered and are hunted more freely than wolves in Oregon and Washington.
“Our philosophy is that we want to minimize deadly wolf kills as much as possible,” said Julia Smith, head of wolf policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. And that doesn’t mean we haven’t eliminated wolves, and of course we’re trying to keep their numbers to a minimum as much as possible, and I believe the country has done so.”
Still, western gray wolf populations are paltry compared to historical levels, writes Ripple and his team. “Wolves that once numbered in the tens of thousands may now only have about 3,500 in the western United States.”
But there is also the question of whether gray wolves are doing as much for the environment as conservationists say.
“When we talk about wolves, ‘Oh, wolves improve ecosystems’ is honestly too broad a statement for me.”To answer this question scientifically and objectively, measurement We need to ask questions with possible answers, and design scientific methods and treatments that provide evidence of causation rather than correlation.
“So I would probably say no,” Smith said. “But that doesn’t mean they haven’t impacted ecosystems. Wolves are incredible creatures for our country, they are a native wildlife species and we are committed to their restoration. But when people think that restoring wolves to the ecosystem somehow has all these compelling effects, I’m not sure there’s necessarily scientific evidence to back it up. Hmm.”
As of now, Ripple has no plans to bring this analysis to the White House. But he hopes to spark more conversations about how wildlife recovery can offset the impacts of climate change.
“I think the goal here is to educate other scientists, the public, and policy makers about the potential for long-term planning that really helps the environment in the West,” he said. It’s up to the public, conservation groups and other stakeholders to make this happen, so I’m happy to present it to elected officials, but how it works is I do not understand.”
But Ripple noted that the organization had already approached him with the intention of pursuing analytics as a policy. One of them is the Center for Biological Diversity, a non-profit organization dedicated to the legal protection of endangered wildlife.
“We’re looking at the findings in the papers and evaluating how best to use them,” Amarok Weiss, a senior wolf advocate at the center, said in an email. The paper could help elected federal officials understand why a bill to delist wolves before Congress makes no ecological sense, and it could help elected officials to understand why at least 30% of U.S. land It violates the goals of the Biden administration and conservation groups to ensure for wildlife by 2030.”
In addition, Weiss said the center will use the paper’s maps and findings to explore how wildlife restoration could mitigate the impacts of climate change, as Ripple has done, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, He said he plans to educate policy makers and agencies such as the Department of Land Management, or the U.S. Forest Service. I hoped.
The good news is that gray wolf populations are recovering, whether the study is submitted to Congress or not.
“It’s already happening in every state they indicated, except Utah,” Smith said. are protected and expanded. California, they are protected and expanded.”
According to Behling of the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington’s beaver population looks fine.
“Our estimate is that the beaver population is thriving and increasing,” says Behling. “However, quantifying beaver populations in Washington State is difficult. We are currently working with Washington State University to use eDNA sampling, which analyzes water samples for different individuals in the watershed, to quantify the landscape. We are developing a new method to quantify the number of beavers in our state, and we hope that in the next few years we will be able to use this new method to more accurately estimate the beaver population in our state. increase.”