Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What more could I ask for?

After years of unsuccessful attempts to find me a mate, my Uncle Joe finally had the timing right to fix Brynn and me up on a blind date. Actually, I arranged it; he just gave me her phone number and a nudge into doing it. I called her and could tell right away that she had a decent sense of humor and that we could probably have fun on a night out. We soon got together for dinner at the Tepanyaki Restaurant in Provo. We had delicious food and, although she made fun of me a bit over my shaved arms, we had a nice time, with no shortage of good conversation. I cannot say it was love at first sight, but it was a good first date and I wanted a second. Two dates led to three, and then four, and then it all snowballed into a relationship. Yikes! Up to that point I had been afraid of RELATIONSHIPS, having been hurt and burned a time or two. (As my mom puts it, I had been around the block).

Anyhow, it didn't take more than 9 or 10 months to realize that Brynn was the one with whom I wanted to spend my life. And she must have thought I was OK too because she said yes to my marriage proposal. (Well, after she finished laughing, that is).

We were married on April 29, 2006, in her parents' beautiful backyard. A day or two later, we loaded up the car and moved to Anchorage, AK, where we spent 6 months working and playing. I had hoped she'd fall in love with Alaska, as I had, and want to stay permanently. But she had other thoughts and other plans for us. We moved back to Utah, got jobs, and sort of settled in, or, began building our nest, as it were. We got our first house about 1 1/2 years ago in Payson, my hometown. At about the perfect time, Jericho, our first son, was born.

My life is no longer my own. It is now ours. I have a family, something I wasn't sure I'd ever have. (I think my parents worried about it more than I did.) But I am thrilled with my life at this point. I have two people who love and depend on me. And I cannot imagine loving anyone or anything more than I love my wife and my son. I'm reminded of a quote from the story of Christopher McCandless, in "Into the Wild." At the end of his life, when it was nearly too late, he realized, "Happiness is only real when it's shared." (That may be misquoted; Let's call it a paraphrase).

Well, I just want to tell my wife, my lover, the mother of my child, my soul-mate, that I love her. Brynn, you truly are the best thing that's/who's ever happened to me. I am a better person, simply for knowing you. You are a wonderful example of unconditional love and of goodness. Thank you for the past 4 1/2 years. Thank you for our son. You are an amazing mom. Most of all, thank you for loving me.

Happy Anniversary baby!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Wolf Issue, Part III

OK, I know this is sort of late. I've been preoccupied with other things and trying to compile my thoughts on this issue so that maybe you'd all get something out of it. I said last time that I'd talk about the positives of having wolves back in the wild. So, along with other things, let's talk about that.

Now, as I've already discussed, hunters are concerned about having wolves back in the wild; about having a predator to compete with. Some of you may have listened to hunters go on and on about how the wolves have or will deplete the elk herds, which wouldn't be right. People talk about how the elk numbers in Yellowstone have dropped significantly since the early 90s, before wolf reintroduction. That is actually true. Elk numbers have dropped by as much as half in certain parts of the park. But this isn't surprising. The elk went more than 60 years without a predator, which made them very comfortable; almost tame. During those 60 + years, the elk numbers actually got out of hand. There were too many elk. There was overgrazing in many areas, which leads to other problems. Elk would eat and trample the plants and grasses which lined stream/river banks, which, in turn led to erosion. Waterways became wider and took new turns. Native plants in those areas nearly went extinct. Where the water ran slow enough, beavers used to build dams and lodges. Once enough erosion occurred and changed the flow patters, beavers eventually became non-existent where before they had thrived. One of the most detrimental things was disease. You see, if the elk numbers become too great, and there's no reason for herds to move or break up into smaller herds, disease becomes rampant, being passed on to the young calves, over and over. For many reasons, it became obvious that something was missing in Yellowstone. The West needed its wolves.

Wolves generally cull the elk populations, by taking out the weak, the sick, or the old. (That's the general pattern--I realize it's not the case 100% of the time.) So, with the wolves in the picture, Yellowstone's elk are healthier. The presence of a supreme predator has caused the elk to change their behavior. No longer do they stay in one place, over populating and over-grazing. The elk now move around. They are much more alert. Native plants are making a comeback along the streams and rivers. Erosion has ceased being the major problem it was. Beavers are back. Fox numbers are up. And the great bio-community is much closer to equilibrium, that balance which is characteristic of a healthy eco-system.

The elk are not gone. They are just more aware of predators, including humans. They don't hang out off the sides of the roads as much. Now the hunters will just have to step their game up and actually hunt, in order to kill. Don't believe me? According to the USFWS, the elk populations of EACH of Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana are a minimum of 14% ABOVE state objectives. So, have wolves decimated elk populations? The simple, irrefutable answer is no.

I realize I've not yet talked much about the social behavior of wolves, especially pack dynamics. That will come in the 4th installment. I'll try to get it up within a week's time.

Here are some websites though, in case you are becoming more and more interested in this topic.



**The photo above is actually a coyote track, which is half the size of a wolf track, but extremely similar otherwise. It's all I had. And, although wolves and coyotes are closely related, by no means are they the same.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Wolf Issue, Part II

So, I've now introduced you to the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone. I think I want to talk a bit about wolves, their biology, their behavior, and, especially, their social behavior. I want to give you some bits of information, and let you judge, for yourself, whether or not wolves should have a place on the land.

Aldo Leopold did many things during his lifetime but was more notable known as a naturalist/conservationist. (He wasn't always; Do a bit of research and find out what changed his life and his attitude). But I wanted to throw a couple of his quotes in here, quotes with which I think you might agree.

"We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect." -Aldo Leopold

"A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise." -Aldo Leopold

Now, here are two questions I'd like you to ask yourself and see if you can answer at this point in your life: 1) Are wolves, as a part of nature, helping preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community (the community of all life in the Northern Rockies Recovery Area)? 2) Would allowing or supporting ranchers and hunters to kill off the wolf population in the biotic community, in which they live, help to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty?

What do we know about wolves and this recovery program?
*Since 1996, the wolf numbers have gone up every year, except this year, when it went down. (So, we began with 66; we now have about 1600).
*In 2008, livestock predation cases numbered 523 for all of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. About 245 wolves were LEGALLY killed in those states. (These are the reported numbers. It's expected that there are more killed illegally, which aren't reported).
*The Federal Government, in conjunction with the original reintroduction agreement, and along with other non-profit organizations, compensates ranchers for livestock lost to wolf predation.

So there are conflicts, between wolves and people who don't like wolves, or who do not want them around. That was pretty much a known going into the program. But there have always been efforts to lessen these conflicts, through lethal and non-lethal means. The point is, while there will always be some conflict, we can deal with it, and we can try and make it as fair as possible to all sides. While I want the rancher to be protected as he makes his living, I want tolerance and patience for the existence of wolves.

OK, I'm getting a little fuzzy with where to go from here. (I have a tendency to get off on tangents, regardless of the subject).

Why do ranchers hate wolves? Because wolves eat their livestock. That's the simple answer to it. The complex answer is that they're afraid that wolves will eat all their livestock, even if they've not had any wolf problems yet. And that would be bad for their business. I realize ranching is hard work. I realize that squeezing a buck out of all that work is really hard. But I also think there can be middle ground. I donate to a charity every year that pays into the compensation fund. That's right Mr. Rancher; I want to protect you too. But you have to take some responsibility. You have to assume some risk; That's just part of owning a business. Also, if you summer your animals up in the mountains or on "Free range," you've definitely got to assume some risk. (That's when most predation occurs). You can do things to protect your herds/flocks. Use guard dogs. This is extremely effective. Ride through your herds as often as possible to portray a human presence. (Wolves will avoid humans at almost all costs). OK, here's one of the most innovative things I've heard, but it was done in Europe, not here. Because wolves are fiercely territorial, and are usually pretty staunch about not crossing another pack's boundaries, a sheep rancher put a few loud speakers around his property and played recordings of a pack of wolves' defensive howls, several times a day. It worked like a charm. Zero wolf run-ins. I realize this isn't going to feasible in every case. But put your cowboy hats together. Surely you can come up with something.

Hunters. Oh the hunters. They should call most of you opportunistic killers of lazy convenience. Why do the hunters hate wolves? (Not all hunters do, I realize.) Because wolves are predators and hunters don't like competing with natural predators for game. Hunters like elk. Wolves like elk. The problem for hunters is that a pack of wolves is the supreme killing machine, and wolves don't have to wait until hunting season, or to see if they "drew a tag." I would dare say, and I'm not very naive on the subject, that MOST hunters do their hunting these days, primarily for a nice trophy to hang on a wall, with which to impress themselves and their peers. The meat is secondary, if used and eaten at all. (How about those trophy hunters going on "Safari" in Africa? Talk about a canned hunt. And they don't get to bring the meat home. What a blood-letting waste.) Wolves kill because they have to. If they don't they die. Face it Mr. Hunter; if a 90lb. wild dog can bring an elk down, it deserves that meal. And driving on the dirt roads in your huge truck or on your ATV, sporting your expensive gear, not the least of which is your high-powered rifle and scope, which you'll use to make that 500 yard shot, IS NOT HUNTING. How do I know? Because I grew up hunting. Anyway, while I can get behind the ranchers a bit, I just cannot conjure up anything sympathy for your plight. Sorry.

I think the hostility toward wolves is rooted in the traditions of hunting and ranching in the West. But I also think a lack of understanding and education is a big factor as well. Most of these anti-wolf people have never seen a wolf in the wild. Many of them cannot tell the difference between wolves and coyotes. Really, I think education about wolves and wolf biology would go a long way in quelling the madness. You many want to pick up another book, or visit some good websites, especially if the last pieces of literature you read were "Little Red Riding Hood," or "The Three Little Pigs."

Hunters will argue that their side should trump mine because of all the money they spend on licenses, permits, tags, and such, some of which ends up in conservation efforts. I think that's great. I too spend money on conservation efforts. I think it's a worthy cause. I'm glad you like to hunt. I just wish more of you did it for meat only. (I think you'd be a little less competitive and angry if you weren't so preoccupied with getting a bigger trophy than your buddies.) I'll add this as well: In Utah, according to the USFWS Survey, for every $1 spent on hunting and fishing, $2 are spent on wildlife watching. So, maybe my side trumps yours? No, remember I believe that we can reach middle ground and have everyone win in some way.

OK. I'll end there. There will be a Part III very soon, which will talk about all of the positives of having wolves back in the Wild West.

***Oh yeah, why did I post a picture of my two dogs? I'll touch more on that next time but, it's because our domesticated pet dogs are the same species as wolves. That's right, if it weren't for wolves, the rancher wouldn't have his heelers, the hunter wouldn't have his hounds, and Paris Hilton wouldn't have her tea cup poodle accessories. OH BROTHER!!!

Friday, April 3, 2009

The wolf issue, through my eyes...

OK, this may be lengthy, as I have plenty to say about this issue and am horrible, sometimes, at compiling my thoughts in an orderly, coherent fashion. I have been passionate about canis lupus (the gray wolf) for about 10 years. In college, whenever it was allowed, I would write my papers on wolves. I really don't know where my interest originated, but I have become more and more involved in this issue; especially that of wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone National Park, and in the Northern Rockies. Anyhow, if you do much looking around, you'll find out that this is a pretty hot-button, contentious issue in the West. The following entry is what I think about the whole thing.

The last known wolf in the western U.S. was shot and killed in about 1930. Where wolves once roamed free, they were now gone. This was not coincidence. It was not simply the wolves' fate. It was done, according to orders by the U.S. government. You see, by this time, there were many sheep and cattle ranches, spread across the land. And, as often, or rare, as it happened, the fact was that wolves were killing sheep and cattle. Why? Well, I have a few ideas. Let's back up a bit. Before the West was settled by these ranchers, wolves had food in plentiful supply: deer, elk, moose, and bison. (Also a lot of mice and squirrels during the summers). Well, bison in particular would feed a wolf pack very well. But bison were nearly killed to extinction as well, in part to starve out the American Indian, and, to make room on the praries for great herds of cattle. Rid the wolves of bison herds and the wolves move onto the next best thing: stupid cows. I like to bring this up to wolf hating ranchers because, it's my opinion that the ranchers sort of perpetuated the problem. To solve the problem back then, the powerful and wealthy ranchers coaxed the government to get rid of the big, bad wolves. And it was done by any means necessary back then; trapping, shooting, poisoning, drowning (pups), etc...

Well, jump ahead to the 70s. People, across the country, began to think differently about wildlife, even predators, which included wolves. Thank God for the hippies. In 1973 the Endangered Species Act was passed. The wolves were soon on it, and the workings of bringing these incredible animals back had begun. It took 20 years or so to make enough progress with changing public opinion, researching environmental impact, and convincing the government that Yellowstone needed wolves in its eco-system. (Wolves actually roamed the entire country at one time, especially the mountainous land from Alaska and Canada, down to Mexico.) In 1996, the first wolves were brought from Canada, mainly British Columbia, to Yellowstone National Park. The reintroduction of wolves into their once native territory was happening.

Now for some wolf biology. Wolves have something in them, much like a homing device. Take them to Yellowstone and drop them off, they'll find their way back to Canada in a matter of days. They travel, even within their own territories, an average of 25 miles daily. They do this with ease, being natural-born athletes, with very strong lungs, and long legs. Because of these things, when the wolves were transported to Yellowstone, they were placed with their families, in acre-sized holding pens, and kept there for 10 weeks. There were 3 pens total, placed in 3 different areas of the park. They were called acclimation pens. And they were successful; After 10 weeks, the wolves had forgotten about Canada and now claimed these areas as home. A total of 66 wolves were brought into the park. Just over 12 years later, there are an estimated 1500-1600 wolves within the Northern Rockies Recovery area, which includes parts of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and a small chunk of Northern Utah. The recovery has been successful thus far.

When the government agreed to this project, the plan was to get a certain number of packs established, and then to turn the management over to the affected states. A little over a year ago, the Bush Administration delisted wolves from the Federal Endangered Species list. Quickly, conservation groups sued the feds to relist wolves, arguing that all of the objectives of the project had not been met. A judge ruled and wolves were relisted. Just before Bush left office, he delisted wolves again, a decision which was upheld about a week ago by our current Secretary of the Interior. However, the fight will go on and, I'm sure, the wolves will be re-relisted soon. The biggest problem with taking federal protections away now is that one really important thing hasn't happened enough. Because the packs have moved around, and their boundaries are now separated by highways, housing developments, urban sprawl, etc...the gene pools are not mixing. But, I'm not sure how that will ever happen now. It's not like those developments and highways are going away. In reality, there will be those who will never want wolves delisted. Biologists, on the other hand, want the states to manage the wolves. This would be more likely if Wyoming were to change their position and their managment plan, which, currently, is to list wolves as vermin, where they can be shot on site at any time, for any reason, in 90% of the state. Not going to happen Wyoming. Well, that's how the reintroduction program has gone thus far.

I think I'm going to present this stuff in a few parts. It's just getting to long and no one likes to read long post. So, I'll do it in a few shorter entries. But if you read this, and you have any comments or questions, please leave them and it will spark a better discussion and more thoughts in my mind for the coming entries.

P.S. That photo is from a book I own, called "The Wolves of Yellowstone." That is "Male #10,"--one of the original 66. His genes are everywhere in the Northern Rockies recovery area now. Incidentally, none of the 66 are still alive.