J, a Friend of Ask Nicola, was in town a few weeks ago and came over for dinner. We talked about nature in the Pacific Northwest. J said she’d like to see the Hoh rain forest. Kelley said, Oooh, yes, it’s amazing. I said, Tuh, the place is a fucking desert. They both looked at me. I tried to explain what I meant, that to me it felt dead, the opposite of a fecund rain forest–just trees and fern and (the last time I was there) a truly irritating junco that would not shut up. But I was tired and inarticulate. And now here’s this article in the Seattle Times that explains everything.
THE HOH RAIN FOREST — No trace remains of the wolves whose howls ricocheted for millennia down the lush valleys of the Olympic Peninsula.
Settlers and trappers killed them all in little more than three decades.
But the loss of the stealthy predators in the early 1900s left a hole in the landscape that scientists say they are just beginning to grasp. The ripples extend throughout what is now Olympic National Park, leading to a boom in elk populations, overbrowsing of shrubs and trees, and erosion so severe it has altered the very nature of the rivers, says a team of Oregon State University biologists. The result, they argue, is an environment that is less rich, less resilient, and — perhaps — in peril.
“We think this ecosystem is unraveling in the absence of wolves,” said OSU ecologist William Ripple.
Beschta was searching for cottonwoods in the Hoh River rain forest on a day when clouds and sunshine chased each other across the sky. Centurion cedars unfurled their boughs. Raindrops glistened on waist-high ferns, and a carpet of moss muffled the sound of footfalls. Few corners of the state are less touched by man, and the idea that an ecological crisis was unfolding seemed laughable.
“To most people, this would look pretty pristine,” Beschta conceded.
But decades spent studying forests and rivers have taught him to notice things most people don’t.
Those “fern prairies,” for example, shouldn’t occupy vast swaths of forest floor. Nor should you be able to see 100 yards in any direction. “This looks like a well-kept lawn,” Beschta said with dismay.
We don’t know what we’re doing when we fuck with things. We shouldn’t fuck with things. Bring back the wolves.
13 thoughts on “trophic cascade: no wolves = ecodeath”
I don't think we should stop with wolves– I want freaking lions & elephants in the American savannahs dammit.
Yes, wolves would be great, and in the National Park, too. I thought it was very cool when I went to the Sol Duc hot baths in the National Forest that they had signs up explaining what to do if you encountered a mountain lion, which was,basically, make yourself look big. So, what do you do if you encounter a wolf?
I have heard wolves, but never seen them. They seem to make damn sure we don’t. I’m sorry to hear the forest has been desecrated. It seems like we are the only species that doesn’t fit in.
<>“”We think this may be pretty universal,” Ripple said.”<>>>Gee, ya think so? And then there was this part, <>“Unless some substitute for this now-absent controlling factor (the wolf) is provided, serious destruction of certain plants and even their total elimination … will occur,” said a 1938 report.”<>>>People have known this stuff for years, but they ignored it. Stupid arrogance.>>I better go see that place soon… :)
I feel this way about the oceans, too. With an estimated 90% of the larger fish gone, the ecosystems are screwed. >>Worse, perhaps, than having tuna, cod, and salmon schools depleted, is the indiscriminate killing of sharks. They are so ancient! They’ve been on top of the ocean’s food chain, controlling every link bellow them for millennia—and then we come, and, yes, we fuck with things. >>There was a balance to every ecosystem, a careful balance achieved through ages of natural tweaking. We can’t take out one of the top regulating elements and expect the rest to remain unchanged. I wonder why it is so hard for us to see it?
I don’t want to get flame-broiled for this — and I am NOT a hunter — however the thought occurs that if hunting _were_ allowed to cull the herds of browsers, wouldn’t that (a) help restore the balance (provided they weren’t just shooting the big antlered folk), and (b) the meat could be used to reduce commercially raised (and environmentally horrifically impacting) livestock?>>(ducks for cover from the PETA monster)
Somebody tell Sarah Palin. Oh I forgot. Nothing separates her from her hunting.>>@Nicole – This is just too sad. As we destroy, we logically explain why it’s necessary. We will still be explaining this when 2013 rolls in and we have to pay our eco system debt. >>Some people think our (humans with no respect for other life forms) taking over everything is a natural sign of humans taking their rightful place. Some of it even stems from religious teachings. As my religious fanatic sister’s child tells me…God put all animals here for humans to use or to eat.
Barbara, I HAVE seen wolves and coyotes in the area where I live. They help keep rabbit and deer populations in check. (And of course there are supposed to be moose here – not deer, but human settlement – along with draing wetlands and swamps have meant the deer have overrun the moose habitat!!) They are so beautiful . . . but sadly there are many who live close to me in this rural area that think “see one, shoot one”. Humans have swarmed over this planet and are making it unlivable. So much of it in the name of religion – and some insane sense that humanity is special. Once people realize it is not special to have our species overpopulate (any more than it is for ANY species to do so); that a baby is not more special than a puppy, then maybe things will change. Until then, we all kneel at the alter of the holy baby human. (So next time I’ll tell you how I really feel. LOL!!)
Wolves move into the woods around my cabin during some winters. Three years ago they killed 2 deer about 100 yards from my cabin. My daughter collected their bones. I never saw them. >>Some of my nearest neighbors raise elk and said that their whole herd looked straight at the wolf pack whenever it was in sight across their meadows.>>Wolves are making a comeback in northern Wisconsin. I keep my dogs inside the fence when I know wolves are hunting in my neighborhood.
I like this example of human blundering into the “circle of life”>>http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-national/cat-kill-devastates-macquarie-island-20090114-7gh0.html>>Thinking about all those damn rabbits gives me a real world vision of “The Trouble With Tribbles,” and IT’S TERRIFYING!
Nicola, I hope you are going to be okay. I’m always concernrd when someone is sick. I feel like I know you, so I am doubly concerned.
barbara, I’m okay, just tired. (Though perhaps ‘exhausted’ might be a truer description.)
Anon, my problem with hunters (of which I used to be one) is that they promulgate the reasoning that gun ownership is a a SPORTING issue, when it isn’t at all.
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