OSU Study: Changes in Federal Land Management Would Save Habitat

Oregon State University scientists are proposing management changes on western federal lands that they say would lead to more wolves and beavers and restore ecological processes.

In an article published today inBioscience“Rewilding the American West,” co-lead author William Ripple and 19 other authors suggest using portions of federal land in 11 states to establish a network based on the potential habitat of the gray wolf – an apex predator capable of triggering powerful and widespread ecological attacks. effects.

Within these states, the authors identified areas, each at least 5,000 square kilometers, of contiguous federally managed land containing prime wolf habitat. The proposed Western Rewilding Network states, which would cover nearly 500,000 square kilometers, are Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona , New Mexico and Utah.

“It’s an ambitious idea, but the American West is going through an unprecedented period of converging crises, including prolonged drought and water scarcity, extreme heat waves, massive fires and loss of biodiversity,” said said Ripple, a distinguished professor of ecology at the OSU College of Forestry.

Gray wolves were hunted to near extinction in the West, but were reintroduced to parts of the northern Rockies and Southwest beginning in the 1990s through measures made possible by the Wildlife Act. endangered species.

“Yet the current range of the gray wolf in these 11 states is only about 14% of its historic range,” said co-lead author Christopher Wolf, postdoctoral researcher at the College of Forestry. “They probably once numbered in the tens of thousands, but today there are only maybe 3,500 wolves in the whole West.”

Once-robust beaver populations across the West have declined by around 90% after settler colonialism and are now non-existent in many waterways, meaning ecosystem services are no longer provided, according to the authors.

By cutting down trees and shrubs and building dams, beavers enrich fish habitat, increase water and sediment retention, maintain water flows during drought, improve water quality, increase carbon sequestration and generally improve habitat for riparian plant and animal species.

“Beaver restoration is a cost-effective way to repair degraded riparian areas,” said co-author Robert Beschta, professor emeritus at OSU College of Forestry. “Riparian areas occupy less than 2% of land in the West, but provide habitat for up to 70% of wildlife. »

Similarly, wolf restoration provides significant ecological benefits by helping to naturally control native ungulates such as elk, according to the authors. They say wolves facilitate the regrowth of plant species such as aspen, which supports diverse plant and animal communities and is in decline in the West.

The document includes a catalog of 92 threatened and endangered plant and animal species that have at least 10% of their ranges within the proposed Western Rewilding Network; for each species, the threats linked to human activity have been analysed.

The authors determined that the most common threat was livestock grazing, which they say can lead to the degradation of waterways and wetlands, affect fire regimes, and make it more difficult for woody species to regenerate. especially the willow.

Nationally, about 2% of meat production results from federal grazing permits, the newspaper notes.

“We are suggesting the removal of grazing on federal allotments of approximately 285,000 square kilometers within the rewilding network, which represents 29% of the total 985,000 square kilometers of federal lands in the 11 western states that are grazed every year,” Beschta said. “That means we need an economically and socially just federal compensation program for those who give up their grazing permits. Reseeding will be most effective when the participation concerns of all stakeholders are taken into account, including Indigenous peoples and their governments.

Besides Beschta, Wolf, and Ripple, Oregon State authors include J. Boone Kauffman, Beverly Law, and Michael Paul Nelson. Daniel Ashe, former director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and now president of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, is also a co-author.

The article also included authors from the University of Washington, University of Colorado, Ohio State University, Virginia Tech, Michigan Technological University, University of Victoria, Turner Endangered Species Fund, National Parks and Conservation Association, RESOLVE, Florida Institute of Conservation Sciences, Public Lands, Media and Wilderness Heritage.