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    Every Creeping Thing: True Tales of Faintly Repulsive Wildlife: “Conniff is a splendid writer–fresh, clear, uncondescending, and with never a false step; one can’t resist quoting him.” (NY Times Book Review)

    The Species Seekers:  Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff is “a swashbuckling romp” that “brilliantly evokes that just-before Darwin era” (BBC Focus) and “an enduring story bursting at the seams with intriguing, fantastical and disturbing anecdotes” (New Scientist). “This beautifully written book has the verve of an adventure story” (Wall St. Journal)

    Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time by Richard Conniff  is “Hilariously informative…This book will remind you why you always wanted to be a naturalist.” (Outside magazine) “Field naturalist Conniff’s animal adventures … are so amusing and full color that they burst right off the page …  a quick and intensely pleasurable read.” (Seed magazine) “Conniff’s poetic accounts of giraffes drifting past like sail boats, and his feeble attempts to educate Vervet monkeys on the wonders of tissue paper will leave your heart and sides aching.  An excellent read.” (BBC Focus magazine)

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Posts Tagged ‘wolves’

America’s Wildlife Body Count: Your Tax Dollars at Work.

Posted by Richard Conniff on September 17, 2016

canis_latransby Richard Conniff/The New York Times

Until recently, I had never had any dealings with Wildlife Services, a century-old agency of the United States Department of Agriculture with a reputation for strong-arm tactics and secrecy. It is beloved by many farmers and ranchers and hated in equal measure by conservationists, for the same basic reason: It routinely kills predators and an astounding assortment of other animals — 3.2 million of them last year — because ranchers and farmers regard them as pests.

To be clear, Wildlife Services is a separate entity, in a different federal agency, from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, whose main goal is wildlife conservation. Wildlife Services is interested in control — ostensibly, “to allow people and wildlife to coexist.”

My own mildly surreal acquaintance with its methods began as a result of a study, published this month in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, under the title “Predator Control Should Not Be a Shot in the Dark.” Adrian Treves of the University of Wisconsin and his co-authors set out to answer a Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted in Environmental Issues | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

New Neighbor, Serial Killer, Just Wants to be Friends

Posted by Richard Conniff on July 25, 2016

The ghost of Griffith Park (Photo: Steve Winter/National Geographic)

The ghost of Griffith Park (Photo: Steve Winter/National Geographic)

by Richard Conniff/Takepart.com

Most people are clueless that carnivores—big, scary flesh eaters—can adapt to live among us, unnoticed, even in the most densely populated landscapes. By adapt, I mean, for instance, that 4,000 coyotes are living in and around the Chicago Loop, without incident. One especially wily pack has even chosen to make its den on Navy Pier, one of the world’s top 50 tourist attractions. The 9 million or so visitors a year who come to ride the giant Ferris wheel or see an IMAX movie never notice.

It’s the same in Southern California, where a mountain lion hunts deer in Griffith Park, in the middle of Los Angeles, and may recently have snatched a koala from the city zoo. In central Spain, wolves bed down in agricultural fields on the outskirts of Madrid and picnic on wild boar. In Norway, lynx hunt in the forests just outside Oslo. In Mumbai, India, the most spectacular case of mutual adaptation, 35 leopards live in an unfenced national park in the middle of the city’s

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Posted in Biodiversity, Conservation and Extinction, Environmental Issues | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Secret to Helping Conservatives Care About Climate Change

Posted by Richard Conniff on April 30, 2016

(Photo: George Rose/Getty Images)

(Photo: George Rose/Getty Images)

My latest for Takepart.com:

Environmentalists are, by and large, idiots when it comes to talking with the people who disagree with us. We go on (and on) about fairness, about injustice, about caring. We are outraged. We are gloomy. Everything is going extinct, and it’s because of that company you work for, that pickup truck you drive, or that hamburger you’re eating. And, sure, everything does seem to be going extinct, and there is plenty of blame to go around. But people just tune us out.

Is there a better way? A way that might persuade ranchers to think differently about wolves, for instance? Or that might persuade conservatives to acknowledge the reality of climate change? Is there a way that might intrigue our political counterparts instead of just antagonizing them?

The good news, according to a new study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, is that conservatives might not at heart have any real issue with protecting the environment. The bad news? What they are rejecting is us, our tone and tenor, and our self-righteous way of always framing environmental questions “in ideological and moral terms that hold greater appeal for liberals and egalitarians.” That may help affirm our in-group status as environmentalists. But it almost obliges our counterparts

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Posted in Environmental Issues | Tagged: , , , | 7 Comments »

Why 2015 Should be a Good Year for Wildlife

Posted by Richard Conniff on January 9, 2015

(Photo: David Fettes/Getty Images)

(Photo: David Fettes/Getty Images)

 

There’s always plenty of reason to get depressed about the prospects for wildlife at the start of the New Year.  Environmentalists were, for instance, unable to stop last weekend’s predator hunting derby by Idaho’s abundant population of anti-wolf idiots.  But there’s good news, too: They didn’t kill any.  (In fact, it took the sound and fury of 125 hunters to shoot just 30 coyotes).

Better still, a study published last month in the journal Science reported that even if the Idaho effete tremble at the idea of living with their native predators, Europe is handling them just fine.  In fact, the continent that gave us “Little Red Riding Hood” and “the Big Bad Wolf,” is now home to twice as many wolves as the contiguous United States, despite being half the size and more than twice as densely populated.  Look for wolves to expand their range this year, building on recent forays into Denmark and Belgium. Thanks to its equivalent of the Endangered Species Act, Europe also manages to live happily with an estimated 17,000 brown bears compared with just 1,800 grizzly bears in the U.S. Lower 48.

My point is that we should start the New Year not in frustration and despair at the plight of wildlife, but intent on success, because the worldwide fight for wildlife has in fact compiled an extraordinary record of achievement.  (I’m thinking of

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Posted in Environmental Issues | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Wolves and Bears Make Comeback in Crowded, Urban Europe

Posted by Richard Conniff on December 18, 2014

Street traffic in Kuhmo Finland (Photo: Staffan Widstrand / Wild Wonders of Europe)

Street traffic in Kuhmo Finland (Photo: Staffan Widstrand / Wild Wonders of Europe)

What if European travelers suddenly stopped going to Yellowstone National Park to see grizzly bears and wolves, and found that they could see even more of the same species in their own backyards—say, within an hour or two of Rome? What if the “call of the wild”—the sound of wolves howling in the night—became more a European than a North American experience? This improbable scenario may be closer to reality than we imagine.

A study published Thursday in the journal Science reports that Europe, one of the most industrialized landscapes on Earth, with many roads and hardly any large wilderness areas, is nonetheless “succeeding in maintaining, and to some extent restoring, viable large carnivore populations on a continental scale.”

A team of more than 50 leading carnivore biologists across Europe, from Norway to Bulgaria, details in the research a broad recovery of four large carnivore species: wolves, brown bears, the Eurasian lynx, and the wolverine.

“There is a deeply rooted hostility to these species in human history and culture,” the study notes. And yet roughly a third of Europe Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Biodiversity, Conservation and Extinction | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Ranchers Kill Wolves & It Just Makes Their Livestock Losses Worse

Posted by Richard Conniff on December 9, 2014

unnamed wolfWell, we always knew there was an irrational, even sociopathological element in the war against wolves. Now a careful study of 25 years of data from Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho reveals that it disrupts the hierarchy of wolf packs and actually increases the rate of attacks on wildlife.

Here’s the press release:

Washington State University researchers have found that it is counter-productive to kill wolves to keep them from preying on livestock. Shooting and trapping lead to more dead sheep and cattle the following year, not fewer.

Writing in the journal PLOS ONE, wildlife biologist Rob Wielgus and data analyst Kaylie Peebles say that, for each wolf killed, the odds of more livestock depredations increase significantly. The trend continues until 25 percent of the wolves in an area are killed. Ranchers and wildlife managers then see a “standing wave of livestock depredations,” said Wielgus.

That rate of wolf mortality is also “unsustainable and cannot be carried out indefinitely if federal relisting of wolves is to be avoided,” they note.

The gray wolf was federally listed as endangered in 1974. During much of its recovery in the

Wildlife biologist Rob Wielgus  (Photo: Kay Morris)

Wildlife biologist Rob Wielgus (Photo: Kay Morris)

northern Rocky Mountains, government predator control efforts have been used to keep wolves from attacking sheep and livestock. With wolves delisted in 2012, sport hunting has also been used. But until now, the effectiveness of lethal control has been what Wielgus and Peebles call a “widely accepted, but untested, hypothesis.”

Their study is the largest of its kind, analyzing 25 years of lethal control data from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Interagency Annual Wolf Reports in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. The researchers found that killing one wolf increases the odds of depredations 4 percent for sheep and 5 to 6 percent for cattle. If 20 wolves are killed, livestock deaths double.Work reported in PLOS ONE last year by Peebles, Wielgus and other WSU colleagues found that lethal controls of cougars also backfire, disrupting their populations so much that younger, less disciplined cougars attack more livestock.

Still, Wielgus did not expect to see the same result with wolves.

“I had no idea what the results were going to be, positive or negative,” he said. “I said, ‘Let’s take a look at it and see what happened.’ I was surprised that there was a big effect.”

Wielgus said wolf killings likely disrupt

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Wild Horses a Problem for Ranchers? Wolves Could Fix That

Posted by Richard Conniff on October 1, 2014

wild_horses_0Today’s New York Times has a report on the wild horse population boom in the American West, and for once, I agree with the ranchers:  Bizarre federal policies over the last 40 years have allowed wild horse populations to expand dramatically, causing rampant overgrazing while also running up out-of-control costs (currently $50 million a year) to house horses that have been taken off the land, but can’t be euthanized.

The federal policies are the result of misguided sentimental attitudes toward a favored species, the same sort of attitudes that cause city people to feed feral cats in parks that would otherwise be havens for wildlife. If animal rights activists want to protect excess horses from being euthanized, or sold for meat, they should be picking up that $50 million cost of housing them, not taxpayers.

And here’s an idea for the ranchers: If you want to keep down the horse population, learn to tolerate wolves, grizzly bears, and other predators.  They would act as a natural check on the horses.  And, yes, you can have wolves and cattle, too, just Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Environmental Issues | Tagged: , , , | 7 Comments »

A U.S. Plan to Sacrifice Wolves for Lumber

Posted by Richard Conniff on September 28, 2014

A proposed USFS logging auction threatens this wolf subspecies (Photo: Hyde?)

A proposed USFS logging auction threatens this wolf subspecies (Photo: Hyde?)

 

Today’s New York Times reports on a U.S. Forest Service (USFS) plan to cut most of the remaining virgin forest on Prince of Wales Island Island in the Tongass National Forest on the Alaska coast.  Conservationists say the proposed auction, called Big Thorne, threatens a wolf population that’s already in trouble:

In the island’s northern half, nearly 94 percent of the biggest stands of virgin forest have been cut down. Big Thorne will clean up some of what remains; the 9.7 square miles of woodlands marked for cutting are sprinkled over 360 square miles, much of it clear-cut in decades past.

The conservationists’ lawsuit argues that the Forest Service ignored the law and its own rules in choosing tracts of forest for logging in Big Thorne and five other sites. Example 1, they say, is the Alexander Archipelago wolf. [N.B., my link. The NY Times linked to the USFS site for the subspecies.]

The wolf, a smaller, many-colored cousin of the timber wolf, relies on the Sitka black-tailed deer for food. The deer winter in the island’s old-growth forests, where big trees and underbrush provide forage, shelter from snows and cover from the island’s hunters.

Federal rules require the Forest Service “to maintain viable populations” of the wildlife on its lands. For the wolf, that means having enough deer Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Bring Back Wolves … Everywhere

Posted by Richard Conniff on June 20, 2014

(Photo: Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

(Photo: Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

My latest for Takepart:

People have been suppressing predators since our terrified ancestors first banded together around campfires. Oddly, though, we only began to notice the catastrophic aftereffects in the 1960s. That’s when biologists first demonstrated that taking out a top predator has a knock-on effect for almost every plant and animal below it on the trophic ladder, or food web.

It’s called a “trophic cascade,” and when settlers eradicated wolves from the Lower 48, they set off a cascade on “a continental scale,” according to a new study published in the Journal of Animal Ecology. Where the wolf’s howl once could be heard from the Arctic to the Gulf of Mexico and from Cape Cod to the Olympic Peninsula, the night went silent. And coyotes, once confined to the Great Plains, were suddenly free to increase their populations almost astronomically, extending their range from coast to coast and north into Alaska.

Wolves out, coyotes in. Almost a wash, right?

On the contrary, coyotes are “mesopredators,” meaning midsize, and they favor smaller prey than do wolves. So the proliferation of coyotes caused a

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Posted in Environmental Issues | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Turns Out Wolves Really Do Change Rivers, After All

Posted by Richard Conniff on March 10, 2014

UPDATE FRIDAY MARCH 30: At the suggestion of a reader, I’m changing the title of this item–formerly “Maybe Wolves Don’t Change Rivers, After All” to reflect the consensus of scientific research noted in my updates before and after this article.

UPDATE MONDAY FEBRUARY 19 2018, new study supports the hypothesis that wolves have changed the character of stream-side vegetation at Yellowstone.

UPDATE SATURDAY MARCH 25 2016: PLEASE NOTE THAT ARTHUR MIDDLETON (below) and all other ecological researchers agree that reintroducing wolves to their former home range across the American West is a major benefit to wildlife and healthy habitats. It is also essential.  All this article says is that the results are not as quick or simple as some environmentalists want to believe:

The story of how wolves transformed the Yellowstone National Park landscape, beginning in the 1990s, has become a favorite lesson about the natural world.  A video recounting (above) has gone viral lately, with British writer George Monbiot re-telling the story in his best breathy David Attenborough.

The only problem,  according to field biologist Arthur Middleton, writing in today’s New York Times, is that it isn’t true.

I don’t like the NYT headline “Is the Wolf A Real American Hero?” which seems to fault the wolf for our myth making.  But otherwise, this op-ed is a good reminder that nature is almost always more complex than the stories we tell about it :

FOR a field biologist stuck in the city, the wildlife dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History are among New York’s best offerings. One recent Saturday, I paused by the display for elk, an animal I study. Like all the dioramas, this one is a great tribute. I have observed elk behavior until my face froze and stared at the data results until my eyes stung, but this scene brought back to me the graceful beauty of a tawny elk cow, grazing the autumn grasses.

As I lingered, I noticed a mother reading an interpretive panel to her daughter. It recounted how the reintroduction of wolves in the mid-1990s returned the Yellowstone ecosystem to health by limiting the grazing of elk, which are sometimes known as “wapiti” by Native Americans. “With wolves hunting and scaring wapiti from aspen groves, trees were able to grow tall enough to escape wapiti damage. And tree seedlings actually had a chance.” The songbirds came back, and so did the beavers. “Got it?” the mother asked. The enchanted little girl nodded, and they wandered on.

This story — that wolves fixed a broken Yellowstone by killing and frightening elk — is one of ecology’s most famous. It’s the classic example of what’s called a “trophic cascade,” and has appeared in textbooks, on National Geographic centerfolds and in this newspaper. Americans may know this story better than any other from ecology, and its grip on our imagination is one of the field’s proudest contributions to wildlife conservation. But there is a problem with the story: It’s not true.

We now know that elk are tougher, and Yellowstone more complex, than we gave them credit for. By retelling the same old story about Yellowstone wolves, we Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Environmental Issues | Tagged: , , , | 152 Comments »