Thursday, December 4, 2014

Repatriation of Charismatic Species

I was recently reading about plans to repatriate Grizzly Bears (Ursus arctos) in the Northern Cascade mountains.  It is believed that a small number of Grizzly Bears occasionally wander out of Canada into the US portion of the Northern Cascades but there is little evidence that they have taken up residence or reproduced in the US portion.

Some of the plans include releases of females from areas with high population density into pockets of prime bear habitat in the US.  This approach has much appeal to those who live a thousand miles away.  Easing population pressure in one area (the area with the high population density) should reduce the mortality rate and the local population gets a shot in arm, especially if the introduced females are from far enough away to reduce inbreeding depression.

The downside is that large animals have the ability to move very large distances.  There is no guarantee that the bears will stay where planted.  They might migrate back to their original environs.  They might find suburbia more to their liking due to easier access to food.  The land of bigfoot has the appearance of lush rainforest but most of the vegetation is either very high overhead, offers poor nutritional density or is ecologically fragile (takes many years to accumulate, seconds to harvest).

It is easy for the folks sipping Chardonnay in Marin or Sacramento County, California to commiserate about backwards "hillbillies" in Washington State being antisocial and pushing back against repatriation.

Map from HERE

Their attitudes will change when the bears are targeted for eastern Mendicino and Tulare Counties.  These counties offer a wide range of prime bear habitat as evidenced by their high populations of black bears.  Not only do they have great bear habitat but they offer a vast range of high density food sources and biological diversity by virtue of their topography and favorable precipitation patterns.  Mendicino County in particular offers foods from bees to berries,  feral hogs to carrion, salmon to Shih Tzus, wine pommace to winos.

Michigan is not immune to this not-in-my-back-yard attitude.  Ingham County has a complex of parks along the Grand River near my home.  I discussed the possibility of installing a large raptor nesting platform in some trees perched on high banks on the east side of the river.  This seemed like an ideal spot for fish eating raptors.  The prevailing west-southwest winds and the steep, cliff-like nature of the river banks on the outside of this bend would ensure strong updrafts.

Photo from HERE
I did not expect the response the I got.  The proposed nesting platform site is above one of the most popular mountain biking trails in the park and it is very close to a major walking trail junction.  It would be extremely disruptive to the park's existing clientele if Bald Eagles or Osprey were to nest anywhere on the east side of the river. The people I spoke with believed that having an endangered species on the property would tear big chunks of the footprint out of usage due to Federal Law.  The idea was a non-starter.

Photo from HERE
Based on that reaction, I never got around to suggesting that planting Quaking Aspen along the north side of Peppermint Creek would make it exceptionally attractive to beaver.  Peppermint Creek has enough vertical drop as it tumbles down to the Grand River that beaver dams would not be an impediment to its drainage of the surrounding agricultural land.

The floodings created by resident beaver might necessitate the rerouting of some of the walking trails.  That issue could be minimized by concentrating the Aspen in the marshy depressions upstream of the main bridge over Peppermint Creek and in the floodplains 200 yards downstream of the bridge.  These are not difficult issues to address, but first somebody has to want to make the idea work.

Public lands

For my part I still think it would be extremely cool to have iconic species like Bald Eagles and Beaver on public lands within 9 miles of the State Capitol.

1 comment:

  1. Heh, NIMBY is alive and well... And you're exactly right, it's 'easy' when it's a long way away from one...