Lessons from Wolf Tracking in the Pacific Northwest

Wild wolf caught on trail camera.

Few species have as storied a history with humans as the wolf. From an early age, I was fascinated by their prehistoric domestication and their more recent exterminations and reintroductions. I devoured every book about wolves I could find, and learned about the 1995 reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park. I found it so fascinating that one species could have such an extensive impact on the landscape. The wolves pushed elk from their comfortable hangouts on river banks, allowing stream flora to build up, and a greater variety of birds to make their homes on the banks. Wolves’ presence went so far as to have a physical effect on the topography of the area, and even brought back the quaking aspen tree from the brink of extinction! Learning these facts made me realize how important wolves are to their ecosystems as a keystone species, and kindled my desire to go out and explore the land they were changing.  

As a high school freshman already thinking about a career working with animals, I took part in a wolf tracking summer camp for teenagers run by Wilderness Awareness School, based in Washington State (quite a distance away from my home in New Jersey). At this camp we searched for signs of wildlife during the day on field expeditions, and came back in the afternoon to hit our mobile library to research our observations. Our instructors drilled us in subjects like paw pad morphology, bird markings, and common behaviors of local wildlife. We developed our deductive reasoning skills by transforming our observations on the ground into conclusions about the ecosystem’s structure. Every time we thought we’d found a sign of the area’s resident wolf pack, we’d mark it down on our map. By the end of the camp we had a pretty good idea of its recent activities. We left a trail camera at one of their high activity sites, and captured a video of an adult wolf accompanied by that year’s new litter of pups! Not only was it rewarding to see such elusive animals on our own cameras, but also we were the first observers to confirm that the pack had whelped that year. We were able to provide that information to Washington’s state scientist.

Front and hind track from a wolf in the cascade mountains.

There I also learned about the current challenges that occur when the lives of wolves and people intersect. In Washington and Idaho where wolves travel down from Canada and up from their reintroduction point in Yellowstone, they live on the same land where cattle farmers raise free range beef. Needless to say, this creates a complex intersection of values. Cattle farmers depend on their livestock for their livelihoods. Ranchers and their communities are concerned that wolves will harm that livelihood by killing their cattle instead of elusive deer. Whether it was seeing bumper stickers that said “smoke a pack a day” next to a picture of a wolf’s head, or hearing stories about hunters shouting at the top of the lungs that all wolves need to go to hell, I learned quickly that people felt strongly about this issue. As a future veterinarian and scientist, I understand the need for veterinarians to protect and help both cattle and wolves, supporting farmers and healthy ecosystems. 

Before attending this program, I didn’t understand how reintroducing wolves could have any negative impacts. Through my experience at Wilderness Awareness School I came to appreciate the validity of the concerns for reintroduction. Even if reintroducing wolves benefits the overall ecosystem, we cannot ignore the effects they have on ranchers’ livelihoods. Whether it’s protecting a herd of cattle, or treating an injured wolf, veterinarians can help innovate solutions to benefit all animals, wild and domestic. 


Patrick Liu, class of 2024, is a Cornell DVM student. He graduated with a degree in chemistry from Rutgers University in 2020, and plans to pursue internships and residencies after veterinary school. Apart from his love for horses, he has a strong interest in ecological research and wildlife and conservation medicine. 

 

 

Webinar: The Role of Tropical Secondary Forests in Conservation and Restoration

What:  A joint webinar sponsored by the Society for Ecological Restoration and the ATBC.  You can sign-up to watch it by going to http://tropicalbiology.org/career-development/webinars/role-secondary-forests/.

When: Thursday, Dec 14, 2017 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM EST

More Details:

Secondary forest regrowth following agricultural land use represents a major feature of human-modified landscapes across the tropics. International interest is growing regarding the importance of secondary forests for biodiversity conservation, for large-scale reforestation programs, and for the role of these forests in mitigating effects of global climate change. In this webinar, researchers from different disciplines of social and natural science will discuss the importance of second-growth forests for conserving and restoring biodiversity, and recovering ecosystem functions and services. This webinar will address five key questions about the ecology, governance, landscape conditions, and social drivers of secondary tropical forests and the role these forests can play for conservation and restoration in the Anthropocene. The panel will include researchers from different disciplines of natural and social sciences that will discuss these aspects and pinpoint guidelines for future research and policies for conserving biodiversity and to restore degraded lands in human-modified landscapes across the world’s tropics.

Webinar topics and presenters:

Introduction: Why secondary forests? Why now?

Dr. F. Bongers, Ph.D., Senior Professor, Forest Ecology and Management Group, Wageningen University, Netherlands.

To what extent does second-growth forest represent an option for conserving biodiversity in human modified landscapes?

Dr. Robin Chazdon (forest ecologist), Professor Emerita, University of Connecticut, USA; Executive Director ATBC.

What are the key issues affecting governance and the fate of secondary forests as a tool for large-scale forest restoration in the tropics?

Dr. Manuel R. Guariguata (forest ecologist), CIFOR, Lima, Peru.

What are the knowledge gaps for better understanding of forest regrowth in tropical human modified landscapes?

Dr. Laura C. Schneider (biogeographer), Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

How is natural regeneration affected by landscape conditions and how this is important for considering the role of NR in large-scale restoration?

Dr. Miguel Martínez-Ramos (forest ecologist): Instituto de Investigaciones en Ecosistemas y Sustentabilidad, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Morelia, Michoacan, México.

What social factors are associated with forest regrowth and how are these changing?

Dr. Thomas Rudel (sociologist), Senior Professor of Human Ecology at Rutgers University, The State University of New Jersey.

How can strategic approaches to restoration maximize the benefits and synergies of secondary forests for conservation and ecosystem services?

Dr. Bernardo Strassburg (economist): Rio Conservation and Sustainability Science Centre (PUC-Rio University) & International Institute for Sustainability, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Event: Biogeochemistry, Environmental Science and Sustainability (BESS) Seminar Series

BESS seminar series welcomes Dr. Amanda Subalusky
Afternoon Seminar
Title: Animal migrations and resource subsidies influence river ecosystem dynamics
Where: Morison Room, A106 Corson Hall
When: Friday, November 10th, 4:00 pm
Refreshments following seminar

Morning discussion group with Amanda 
Title: Annual mass drownings of the Serengeti wildebeest migration influence nutrient cycling and storage in the Mara River
Where: Cole Room, A306 Corson Hall
When: Friday, December 1st10:00-11:00 am
Refreshments provided 

Event: Tropical River Seminar

 

Time: Friday, October 20 at 4:00 pm

Location: Morison Room, A106 Corson Hall

Dr. Steve Hamilton will be giving a talk titled “Dams large and small: Ecosystem impacts on the world’s tropical river systems”.  Steve is a professor of ecosystem ecology and biogeochemistry at Michigan State University and has done extensive work in Australia and South America.

If you are interested in meeting with Steve one-on-one on Friday, please contact Erin Larson at ern.larson@gmail.com.

Sustainable Biodiversity Fund Symposium

The Sustainable Biodiversity Fund Symposium will be held on October 5th in the Morrison Room, A106 Corson-Mudd Hall.  The event will start at 1:45 and will feature many short talks.  Refreshments will be served.  Bring your own reusable cup or mug.

The Sustainable Biodiversity Fund provides support for graduate students and postdocs doing biodiversity research.  For more information go to their website here: http://www.atkinson.cornell.edu/grants/acsf-sbf/index.php