Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


To the left is a pair of Neotropical tongue-feeding Lonchophylla robustum bats. While this species has not recently made the newspapers to my knowledge, the distantly-related Ozark Big-eared bat (Plecotus townsendii ingens) has. Forester Pat Gwinn discovered a new colony of the endangered bats while appraising land for a planned timber sale on the Cherokee Reservation in eastern Oklahoma. The subspecies, which is geographically isolated from the rest of its otherwise western species, is estimated to number around 2,000 individuals. Social bats are particularly vulnerable to disturbances during hibernation and summer whelping, and the proposed timber exploitation could be devastating to the colony. Last week the Cherokee nation agreed to pay several thousand dollars for a conservation easement to protect the bats.

Here in Utah's Wasatch Mountains the Moose population has burgeoned since the mid-70s. Since 1979 the Utah and Colorado Divisions of Wildlife have been transplanting Wasatch Moose to the Grand Mesa National Forest near Grand Junction. In over 25 years the Grand Mesa population has failed to thrive, so the DOW has upped the ante, and in the past two days twenty cows and calves were helicoptered to Colorado from Utah's Cache National Forest.

In recent years, I've been surprised and slightly humbled by the success of the Rocky Mountain Wolf reintroductions. At the moment, however, wildlife managers are assessing a recent setback. The Yellowstone Wolf population has grown considerably each year since the project's inception in 1995. The annual winter survey was just completed, and the park's current wolf population is estimated at 118, compared to last year's 171: a 30% drop. Of 49 pups whelped on the Northern Range last year, eight have survived. While the cause of this high mortality is not clear, the prime suspect is parvovirus, an infectious disease of domestic dogs that is particularly dangerous for pups. The current hypothesis is that the virus was transmitted to wolf pups that sniffed the feces of visitors' dogs. While parvo is deadly, the Wolves of Isle Royale, MI rebounded from a suspected parvo outbreak that killed nearly 80% of the population in 1980. Biologists plan to test Yellowstone Wolves for the virus. If it exists in the population, they are expected to affect a vaccination program.

I've resisted the temptation to comment on these Sisyphean projects; my own feelings about the whole notion of wildlife management are wildly ambivalent, and, frankly, not fully formed. I simply serve as your messenger—for the moment, at least.
illustration: MARKEA NEURANTHA (1995) Acrylic 30" x 15"


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your last paragraph about sums it all up for me. On good days - if I can fairly call them that - I am passionate about conservation/management, but one mood turn later, I become skeptical and ambivalent. In any event (no matter the perspective), the task remains Sisyphean. Sometimes I long to leap ahead on the geologic timeline, see what's up down the road...

12:55 PM  

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