There’s a few more things to note about wolf recolonization before we can fully understand the implications of the GAP Analysis program and its connection to the rewilding agenda.
The “science” employed to rewild our planet is built on vain philosophy, arbitrary (and often warped) notions of what constitutes “good” and “evil”. For this reason, it is imperative to refute all of the one-sided propaganda created by wolf advocates about how beneficial wolves are. Understanding how the radical environmentalists define “good” is crucial. The claim that wolves are the “sanitizers” of nature must be challenged because it is not just a false notion unsupported by the empirical evidence, but because it drives the entire rewilding agenda.
For example, in a 2006 paper entitled, “A Model Analysis of Effects of Wolf Predation on Prevalence of Chronic Wasting Disease in Elk Populations of Rocky Mountain National Park”, by N. Thompson Hobbs, the author suggests wolves could play a significant role in reducing CWD in an infected elk population. This claim is not backed up by hard science, but by theorizing that because of their “natural propensity” for removing weak and diseased animals, wolves could improve the overall health and fitness of the herd.
The author begins his treatise by stating, “Increasing mortality rates in diseased populations can retard disease transmission and reduce disease prevalence .” To put it simply, if you have less elk, you will have less disease.
Hobbs’ entire research paper is based on a false premise, as is the entire philosophical basis for wolf re-colonization. This false premise basically states that wolves are “good” because they prey on the old, the weak, and the infirm. By removing sick and diseased animals, wolves improve the overall health of the environment. Unfortunately such statements fly in the face of the vast bulk of research. Wolves have been observed all over the world choosing to pass by sick animals in order to take the healthiest and fittest prey whenever possible. They will indeed consume diseased or sick animals, but only after newborns, pregnant females, and most of the healthiest specimens in the prey base have been dispatched. Some wolf biologists have suggested that wolves can sense or smell disease in prey animals and have learned to avoid them.
Wolves increase ungulate mortality rates substantially, and a net reduction in the elk population would theoretically reduce the number of elk infected with CWD, just as Hobbs claims. But a mean reduction in the elk population does not necessarily translate to a mean reduction in the rate of infection in the percentage of elk infected with CWD in relation to the total population. In other words, having a herd of 100 elk where only 20 are infected with CWD is not “better” than having a herd of 1000 elk with 200 infected. While the actual incidence of disease has been reduced, the ratio of those infected has not changed.
Another factor Hobbs ignores is that wolves are responsible, not just for high depredation rates, but for actually spreading a wide variety of other serious diseases and parasites which infect and severely depress ungulate populations. Whether Hobbs chooses to ignore these facts or is just ignorant of them, is cause for speculation. But do notice where this paper is published and promoted: Mother Jones.com. Hobbs is preaching to a choir of armchair environmentalists and political socialists.
Similar “studies” purport to show that the presence of wolves may actually increase the size of ungulate herds. You heard that right, some folks are actually claiming wolves can INCREASE the size of ungulate herds! Wolves accomplish this amazing feat by utilizing their insatiable appetite to walk right past caribou or reindeer and instead choose to consume large quantities of rodent species, such as lemmings and rabbits. The reasoning goes that the reduction of rodents by wolves provides more forage for ungulate species such as caribou and elk. This ridiculous notion flies in the face of all the factual data demonstrating that cloven hoofed animals are the number one choice of prey for wolves everywhere wolves are found.
REWILDING advocates have employed an impressive new phrase called, “trophic cascade” to describe all the “benefits” wolves have on the ecosystem. Unfortunately, most of these trophic cascade studies are so one-sided as to be almost laughable, if not for the fact such “research” has done great damage to the definition of “science”.
While it is true that wolves do change prey population dynamics and distribution, which in turn affects a wide variety of other species and plant life, the effects cannot be deemed “good” or “beneficial”. Such value definitions are arbitrary depending on one’s interest and perspective. Wolves are neither “good” nor “bad”, however, their effects can be viewed as either beneficial or harmful depending on one’s values and perspective.
Another fallacy, of course, is the “balance of nature” concept. There is no such thing. The life and death pendulum between predator and prey populations is always swinging one way or the other. Trying to create or attain someone’s idea of “balance” is a wholly arbitrary decision which requires intensive management and/or environmental manipulation to achieve.
Another myth about to assume center stage is that wildlife, especially ungulates and large predators, need massive unimpeded “corridors” to insure survival and “biological diversity”. The reasoning is based on fanciful notions that all big game species need to interact over vast uninterrupted territories with other members of their species that live outside of their home range so as to insure “genetic diversity”. The natural observable scientific facts are quite the opposite. Genetic diversity, variations within a species, and species health and suvivability is often insured by habitat separation, not by unity. Habitat fragmentation and population separation insures that disease spread is limited.
Another under appreciated factor in the debate is that many ungulate species have proven to be quite at home in fragmented landscapes. These animals are not imperiled or impeded by suburbs and farmlands and other “privately” controlled areas that the REWILDING advocates want to see reduced or eliminated. In fact, when faced with heavy depredation from wolves, bears, and mountain lions, the last refuge for regional populations of many ungulate species are the suburbs and towns.
The push for new wildlife corridors is based on the historic migration and dispersal patterns for large “native” ungulates such as bison, caribou, and elk. It is a fact that un-managed wolves will kill off most of the prey species in a given habitat creating what is known as a “predator pit”. Ungulates such as elk historically withstood this predation pressure by leaving their summer ranges in the mountains and moving out onto windswept plains during the winter months. While human settlement and development can limit the ability of elk to migrate in large numbers to escape predation pressure from wolves, that limitation can be mitigated by only two methods. Either open up their ranges by removing all obstacles in their way, or manage the numbers of predators. REWILDING advocates want to open up ranges by reducing and eventually eliminating private property. The initial strategy involves such things as conservation easements, purchasing private land, or if all else fails, regulating how private land may be used through legal and legislative channels.
President Bill Clinton initiated the public/private Gap Analysis Program to support the REWILDING agenda by identifying land cover, land use, species range, and most importantly, land “stewardship”, (which is a very different concept from land ownership!)
GAP’s Protected Areas Database of the United States (PAD-US version 1.1) was used to determine land ownership and biodiversity protection status of all public lands for the continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. – [http://gapanalysis.usgs.gov/]
A Gap Analysis consists of mapping three data layers — land cover, predicted distributions of vertebrate species, and a stewardship layer. This data is then assessed to determine how much of a target species’ (plant or animal) habitat is in conserved areas. From this assessment, planning decisions can be made about whether further protection is merited. [http://gapanalysis.usgs.gov/gap-analysis/process/]
The Northwest Regional Gap Analysis Project (NWGAP) is an update of the Gap Analysis Program’s mapping and assessment of biodiversity for the five-state region encompassing Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, and Wyoming. It is a multi-institutional cooperative effort coordinated by the U.S. Geological Survey Gap Analysis Program. The primary objective of the update is to use a coordinated mapping approach to create detailed, seamless GIS maps of land cover, all native terrestrial vertebrate species, land stewardship, and management status, and to analyze this information to identify those biotic elements that are underrepresented on lands managed for their long term conservation, in other words, “gaps”. This project began in September 2004. [http://gapanalysisprogram.com/]
Identifying every piece of privately held land not totally under government control is critical in determining where and how to mitigate barriers to “biological diversity”. If you are a citizen who owns property in one of the “gaps”, you should consider yourself a threatened and endangered species. To find out more about the NGAP, click this link.