Monday Ecology Roundup: Beavers, Bears, Bald Eagles, and Bison, oh my…

19 03 2007

While perhaps not as “sexy” as the Bornean Clouded Leopard, North American wildlife has been making plenty of news lately. Just a few weeks ago it was announced that beavers have finally returned to New York state after a 200-year absence (ironically, the beaver graces the state seal). While there may have been beavers in New York here and there that had gone unnoticed, this is the first confirmed sighting, the New York resident being named Jose and taking up residence within viewing distance of the Bronx Zoo. Hopefully beavers will reclaim more habitat in New York, populations from Pennsylvania and New Jersey possibly moving in to some new real estate.

Black bears also have been in the news more and more frequently, often times because they have been wandering into urban and suburban areas. Naturally, people are freaked out by seeing a black bear in their backyard or nosing through their neighbors trash, so bear hunting has become a hot topic. Now, at least in my home state of New Jersey, white-tailed deer and black bears have taken advantage of suburban development (lots of mowed, green grass and trash to eat year-round), and the issue of hunting to control population size is hotly debated. The problem, essentially, is the same as in places like Colorado (where there have been issues with cougars); people don’t want the animals in their backyards, but they don’t want them killed. Sterilization has been attempted and does not work, and rather than attempting to scare animals away when they come too close to home for the first time, people stay indoors, take pictures, or call the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife to handle it, essentially letting the animals become accustomed to being around people. Other than trying to figure out a management strategy the public will support, the state organizations are underfunded and there are only a handful of people (if not just one person) who keep track of bear populations. To put it simply, the debate isn’t going to quiet down anytime soon.

In more positive news, Bald Eagles have apparently built a nest in Philadelphia, PA for the first time in about 200 years, and city officials are (wisely) not disclosing the location of the nest. There don’t appear to be any eggs laid as yet, but hopefully if the birds are left undisturbed there will soon be some offspring. The reclamation of urban environments is absolutely astonishing to me, although I do worry that much like ubiquitous New York City pigeons, we’re going to end up changing various animals and encountering new problems (i.e. disease among populations like Chronic Wasting Disease in deer) that were not present before. Indeed, while the wild seems to be coming to us, I can’t help but feel some sadness that the natural environments have been lost to skyscrapers and public parks.

To close out the roundup, 16 Bison have been placed in a Refuge near Denver, now roaming lands that one were used to manufacture nerve gas and chemical weapons. While it’s good that these animals are being returned to the wild, I am a little dubious about the locale, especially being that water and soils can remained contaminated for a long time. I’m sure this was taken into account by the conservation groups, but until I find out more I am a little surprised that such a location was chosen. Also, while the reintroduction of bison is a good thing, many reintroduced bison are not the same as ones that were endemic to American plains before being exterminated. In a move to shore up the genetic diversity and numbers of remaining bison, American bison were mated to their European equivalent, the Wisent (which is actually now endangered itself), and so to the best of my knowledge there is only one remaining line of American bison that have always been wild which live in Yellowstone National Park.


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