I have focused my recent attention on global warming/climate change because of the long-term threat to our children and grandchildren. However, that is not the only ecological threat we are facing. The destruction of animal species can have significant ecological effects. For example, the killing of predators can have a severe impact on local ecology. According to the NY Times, there are more deer in the US than when the Pilgrims arrived. Why? Mainly because we have killed off their major predator, the wolf. There was a time a century or so ago when the white-tailed deer was rather scarce in New York State due to overhunting by humans. When we hunted deer for food we replaced the wolf as the deer’s primary predator. Now that we no longer hunt them as a source of food, and we’ve taken out the wolves, there is nothing to oppose their growth, other than starvation. Our restoring forests and green areas have helped them combat that issue.
This kind of imbalance in nature can have serious ecological effects. For example, elk were literally overrunning Yellowstone National Park in the 1990s. Wolves had been eradicated from the park in the 1930s. The elk were overeating much of the plant life on the banks of the Yellowstone River. Erosion caused the river to meander from its regular path. There was only one beaver colony left in the entire park, because the elk, not afraid of wolves, spent whole winters in one locale, destroying the young willows needed by beavers for their winter food and dams. Many trees and shrubs had disappeared, along with the birds and small animals that relied on these vegetation for food and shelter. Then in 1995 the Forest Service introduced 14 wolves into the park. The results were dramatic. The elk herds broke up and because of pressure from the wolves they couldn’t stay in one place. Today, the river is back in its path and there are now nine beaver colonies. Birds, including many breeds of songbirds, returned. Wolves also killed coyotes, allowing small animals to return and prosper. Now there was food for hawks to return. These wolves changed the ecology and the physical geography of the park. Scientists have a name for this, they call it a trophic cascade. For more details, check out this video at h ttp://w w w . y e l l o ws t o n e p a r k . c o m / w o l f-r e i n t r o d u c t i o n-c h a n g e s-ecosystem//
Why am I bringing this up? Because this week, Congress passed a law allowing hunters to kill wolves and bears in their dens and with steel traps in Alaska’s national parks at the behest of Alaska’s senators. Why? Because it is expected that by killing these predators there will be an increase in deer and other animals available for hunters to kill and for tourists to view, regardless of what the long-term effects on those parks will be. This is the same shortsighted, anti-science logic we see in those who want to continue burning fossil fuels to stimulate our economy. For those of us who believe that God gave us stewardship of this world, this is clearly unacceptable.
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