The Carnivore Way
6 x 9
15 photos, 28 illustrations
6 x 9
15 photos, 28 illustrations
What would it be like to live in a world with no predators roaming our landscapes? Would their elimination, which humans have sought with ever greater urgency in recent times, bring about a pastoral, peaceful human civilization? Or in fact is their existence critical to our own, and do we need to be doing more to assure their health and the health of the landscapes they need to thrive? In The Carnivore Way, Cristina Eisenberg argues compellingly for the necessity of top predators in large, undisturbed landscapes, and how a continental-long corridor—a “carnivore way”—provides the room they need to roam and connected landscapes that allow them to disperse. Eisenberg follows the footsteps of six large carnivores—wolves, grizzly bears, lynx, jaguars, wolverines, and cougars—on a 7,500-mile wildlife corridor from Alaska to Mexico along the Rocky Mountains. Backed by robust science, she shows how their well-being is a critical factor in sustaining healthy landscapes and how it is possible for humans and large carnivores to coexist peacefully and even to thrive. University students in natural resource science programs, resource managers, conservation organizations, and anyone curious about carnivore ecology and management in a changing world will find a thoughtful guide to large carnivore conservation that dispels long-held myths about their ecology and contributions to healthy, resilient landscapes.
“Eisenberg is a fine writer...Examining each species separately, [she] is able to deftly touch on diverse themes: border fences; species life histories; ranching; hunting; and trapping; reintroduction efforts; drought and fire; public land availability and management; ranging and dispersal tendencies; and environmental laws and legal structures. The book, like its focal species, roams widely. The author is at her best when telling stories. By discussing how individual animals use their landscape, Eisenberg paints a picture of their trials and tribulations and how they make a living in an increasingly human-dominated environment.”
"Ecologist Cristina Eisenberg travels wildlife corridors between Alaska and northern Mexico, focusing on six species: the grizzly bear, wolf, wolverine, lynx, cougar and jaguar. Examining the science and public policy surrounding these majestic creatures, she argues that we need to give them room to roam—and we can do it in a way that allows us to peacefully coexist."
"[A]n eminently readable primer on predator ecology."
"In this call for a unified vision in conservation, ecologist Cristina Eisenberg argues that big carnivores such as grizzly bears underpin the corridor's ecological health, and need it in turn for dispersal into new territory. She interweaves multiple skeins of science—on predator population resilience, the success of wildlife crossings and more—to build a putative scenario of human-carnivore coexistence."
"Her doctoral research at Oregon State University and her 2011 book The Wolf’s Tooth made her a leading spokeswoman for the ecological roles of carnivores. Now, in The Carnivore Way, Eisenberg gathers her most compelling stories and the latest science from the Mexico to Alaska to help human beings learn how to coexist with the key carnivores in the Greater Rocky Mountains — the wolf, cougar, grizzly bear, lynx, wolverine and jaguar."
High Country News
"Eisenberg is showing us the greatest hope that may exist for a "carnivore way"--the people among us who care enough about the wildlife in their backyards to become engaged in a large carnivore conservation on their own terms."
Ecology, Ecological Society of America
"It is both informative and thoroughly enjoyable to read, with its combination of personal narrative and well-explained science."
"The Carnivore Way is an accessible, engaging expert’s view of the complex biological, social, and political situation of North American carnivore conservation."
"In today’s political hysteria, I found this profoundly refreshing. Fluidly written, engaging, and informative."
San Francisco Book Review
"...[Eisenberg] is skilled at translating complex ecological ideas into prose."
"An impressive synthesis of conservation and science, The Carnivore Way is the road map for carnivore conservation and connected landscapes in North America's Rocky Mountains. With keen insights into carnivores' roles in ecosystems, their behaviors, and their complex relationships with humans, Cristina Eisenberg compels us to understand why carnivores are essential to the health of ecosystems and our need to coexist with them."
Jodi A. Hilty, North American Program Executive Director, Wildlife Conservation Society
"Eisenberg investigates the extensive cascading biological medicine wheel we know as the natural world, continuing to prove carnivore coexistence is fundamental to our own survival—inextricable. The Carnivore Way makes a remarkable case for immediate overhaul of human intrusion. Our brothers and sisters in other forms depend on us to get this right and their wellbeing distinguishes our own sustained presence. Genius narrative, essential knowledge, this book is beautiful lifeblood."
Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, Author of Blood Run & Streaming and editor of Sing: Poetry of the Indigenous Americas
"With characteristic insight and clarity, Cristina Eisenberg paints the large-carnivore story across a vast canvas. Few can boil down the essentials like Eisenberg in prose that both informs and inspires. She has come through again with an engaging read about iconic species that put to the test our willingness to coexist with other life forms."
Douglas W. Smith, Senior Wildlife Biologist, Yellowstone National Park
"...Eisenberg is always worthwhile reading..."
"[Eisenberg] write[s] inspiringly about research on large carnivores and convincingly argue[s] for the need to deeply understand large carnivore behavior and ecology in order to better manage and conserve them."
"an exceptionally well-written book"
Natural Areas Journal
Introduction: Journey into Wildness
PART I. Wildways
Chapter 1. Corridor Ecology and Large Carnivores
Chapter 2. The Ecological Role of Large Carnivores
Chapter 3. Crossings
PART II. Where the Carnivores Roam
Chapter 4. Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos)
Chapter 5. Wolf (Canis lupus)
Chapter 6. Wolverine (Gulo gulo luscus)
Chapter 7. Lynx (Lynx canadensis)
Chapter 8. Cougar (Puma concolor)
Chapter 9. Jaguar (Panthera onca)
Conclusion: Earth Household Notes
About the Author
Join Cristina Eisenberg at the High Desert Museum on Tuesday, April 12 at 7:00 pm.
Join predator ecologist Cristina Eisenberg as she explores the return of large carnivores such as wolves, wolverines, lynx and grizzly bears to the Northwest. She will discuss the relationships between humans and carnivores in the West, the ecological benefits of large carnivores on whole ecosystems, and the social challenges that come with coexisting with them in a mixed-use landscape. She will share stories from years spent afield worldwide studying these relationships as a scientist and will read from her book, The Carnivore Way: Coexisting with and Conserving America's Predators.
Free, but seating is limited and RSVP is required. More details here.
The most powerful environmental law on Earth, the Endangered Species Act (ESA), is under the gravest assault it has ever faced. Last week I spent time in Washington, DC briefing US congressional leaders on ESA threats and brainstorming about how to safeguard this venerable law.
The ESA has faced previous formidable challenges. While it has withstood some, it has succumbed to others. One of the most strident attacks occurred when Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) introduced the Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2005. While his fulminations against the ESA failed, the 2011 gray wolf delisting quietly proposed by Montana Senator John Tester (D-Mont.) as a federal budget rider succeeded. This unorthodox pathway to delisting opened a Pandora's box of species attacks.
Flash forward to 2015, when seven bills aimed at "reforming" the ESA (S 112, S 292, S 293, S 655, S 736, S 855, S 1036) are rapidly advancing through the 114th Congress. These bills, discussed on May 6, 2015 by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, work in concert with three bills (HR 843, HR 884, HR 1985) that would remove protection from gray wolves in the Upper Midwest (Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota) and the West (Washington, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming). Ominous as all that may seem, it's just the tip of the iceberg.
Our legislators have attached myriad insidious riders to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016 (HR 1735), which passed in the House of Representatives on May 15, 2015. Many congressional offices I visited were unaware of some of these riders, which are literally buried in the bill. (It's necessary to scroll far down in this 934-page bill to find them.) One rider calls for eliminating possible protection for sage grouse, a species whose critical habitat is severely threatened by energy development and cattle ranching. Another would halt recovery efforts for the sea otter. Beyond the ESA, many of these riders also threaten other benchmark environmental laws, such as the Clean Air Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
Some of the bills under review would eliminate the right of citizens to sue the government if they think the ESA is being misapplied, would obviate the use of "best science" as mandated by the ESA, and would counter "critical habitat" consideration for species risking extinction. Some would apply economic and state political filters as criteria for listing species.
Taken individually, each bill and rider represents a significant menace. Taken collectively, a disturbing picture emerges of a smoothly-orchestrated effort to gut the ESA. While it is troubling to see proposals to remove current or future protection for sensitive species such as the gray wolf, red wolf, sage grouse, grizzly bear, wolverine, and many others, equally troubling is this unconstitutional effort to open our natural resources for corporate exploitation.
Beyond a Noah's Ark approach to saving species, the ESA safeguards ecological processes, such as predation, and maintains biodiversity. Today best science tells us that the most effective way to mitigate climate change is by maintaining ecological resiliency. The ESA protects keystone species, such as the gray wolf and sea otter, which create more resilient ecosystems by increasing biodiversity of entire food webs--a mechanism called trophic cascades. According to the journal Science, at time when climate change is already greatly accelerating extinction, we should not encourage further extinction.
We've made enormous national conservation policy inroads since the 1940s, but we risk losing all we have gained. In 1948, when Aldo Leopold entreated us to "think like a mountain" and conserve species such as the gray wolf due to their ability to benefit entire ecosystems, he also emphasized the importance of keeping "every cog and wheel" when managing public lands. Today, thanks to his influence and that of leaders such as Rachel Carson, no other nation on Earth has a policy safety net with the strength and beauty of our American environmental laws. To preserve our American environmental heritage at this critical juncture, please urge your senators and representatives to maintain the integrity of the ESA.
I was speaking in Congress when the gray wolf was delisted in 2011 via a budget rider. Back then, as now, I watched the Obama administration allow the ESA to be used as a partisan bargaining chip. Today I see our presidential administration enabling the same thing. However, the strong avowal of the importance of the ESA by the majority of congressional offices I visited last week gives me hope that we will overcome these challenges.
Dr. Cristina Eisenberg is the lead scientist at Earthwatch Institute, a Smithsonian Research Associate, and a Boone and Crockett Club professional member. She is the author of The Wolf's Tooth and The Carnivore Way.
A. n the mid-1990s, our family moved to a part of northwest Montana where there were more large carnivores (grizzly bears, black bears, and cougars) than there were people. By the late 1990s wolves had begun to naturally recolonize our land, dispersing south from Canada, driven by their instinct to leave home, find a mate, and claim new territory. One day my young daughters and I saw a pair of wolves hunting on our land. The following year we heard wolf pups howling—evidence that the wolves had formed a pack and produced pups. And within four years, things had changed noticeably on our land. The deer and elk had to be much more alert to avoid getting killed by wolves. This reduced these herbivores’ impacts on plants. Soon a meadow that had been heavily browsed by deer and elk became filled in with tall shrubs and trees. At the same time, bears and cougars continued to live on our land. These fascinating food web relationships inspired me to become an ecologist. I waited until my daughters grew up a bit then went to graduate school to learn more about how large carnivores help create healthier ecosystems—and how humans can live more peacefully with them.
A. I characterize our human relationships with carnivores as being in flux. Initially, these relationships resembled a war. We killed as many carnivores as we could, because as we settled North America and ranching spread across the West in the 1800s and early 1900s, the prevailing wisdom was that the only good predator was a dead one. However by the 1930s and 1940s, conservation leaders such as Aldo Leopold and Adolph Murie were teaching us that carnivores are essential to the healthy functioning of ecosystems, as part of nature’s “checks and balances.” Inspired by these conservationists’ insights into how nature works, between 1970 and 2000 we created powerful environmental laws in the US, Canada, and Mexico. Since then we have been working hard in these nations to recover species such as wolves, grizzly bears, and jaguars. As endangered carnivores are reaching the recovery goals mandated by environmental laws, we have begun to remove protection from them. In the US, the federal government has given state governments responsibility for carnivore management. In the case of the wolf, states are proceeding to greatly reduce numbers of this species through hunting and control actions. Some experts believe that by managing wolves as intensively as we are today (i.e., reducing their numbers severely), we are taking a huge step backward and resuming the predator wars. In other places, such as Alaska and the Yukon, predators have never been protected. In these far northern lands, today we are debating adopting a more tolerant approach toward predators. All of this suggests that while we have come a very long way in carnivore conservation, we still have far to go in learning to coexist with recovered populations of these animals.
A. Of all the species I profiled in The Carnivore Way, I was most surprised by the wolverine. Widely characterized as a fierce, tenacious carnivore, I was astonished to discover that even under the best conditions, members of this species often starve to death. When you add to that the profoundly negative impacts on the wolverine of climate change, fur trapping, and human development, you see that this species faces a most uncertain future. Today heroic measures are being considered to save this species from extinction in the 48 contiguous United States, such as a reintroduction in Colorado, which has more than twenty peaks above 14,000 feet in elevation. Yet, despite these measures and the wolverine’s formidable nature, it remains highly at risk.
A. To thrive, carnivores need connected habitat. Habitat connectivity is the ability of the landscape to allow animal movements and other ecological flows. The ability to move is the key to survival for large carnivores and many other species. Movement corridors function like lifelines, enabling animals to flow from one core area to another and to disperse from the place where they were born to a new home. Carnivores and other species use dispersal as a key survival mechanism to maintain genetic diversity. Species also use dispersal to adapt to climate change. Large carnivores have taught us that they need lots of space, and that national parks aren’t enough to meet their fundamental needs for food and a mate. For example, in the 1990s, during an eighteen-month period, Pluie, a young Canadian radio-collared wolf, traveled an area that encompassed more than 40,000 square miles, crossing more than 30 legal jurisdictions, including two Canadian provinces and several US states. She demonstrated that carnivores need connected landscapes that transcend political boundaries, and that thinking about conservation on a continental scale is essential in order for us to restore and recover carnivores. Pluie inspired conservationists and scientists to find continental-scale solutions, using the science of corridor ecology. These solutions include crossing structures, such as the Bow Valley wildlife crossings in Banff, which enable animals to find safe passage over the Trans-Canada Highway’s four lanes of heavy vehicle traffic.
A. That we have any carnivores left at all today is due to the web of environmental laws that protect them. This imperfect web provides the framework for wildlife conservation across the three nations in the Carnivore Way: Canada, the United States, and Mexico. In Canada, the Species at Risk Act, SARA, protects species from extinction. However, Canadian citizens have a limited ability to hold their federal government legally accountable for this law’s enforcement. In the United States, we have the Endangered Species Act (ESA), one of the most powerful environmental laws in the world, because it directly prohibits what we can do to wildlife. US citizens dissatisfied with this law’s implementation can sue the government. However, the ESA is cumbersome and expensive to apply. For example, as of 2013 it had taken one and a half decades to create a lynx recovery plan, two decades to protect the wolverine, and four decades to fully protect the jaguar and create a recovery plan. While successes such as the wolf in the Northern Rocky Mountains (NRM) demonstrate that this law works, we have failures, such as the case of the Mexican gray wolf in the southwestern United States, which, due to illegal killing by humans, hasn’t reached the modest recovery threshold of 100 animals despite almost two decades of conservation efforts. Of all three nations, Mexico has the weakest environmental laws. But even there, people are making headway in conserving carnivores, such as the jaguar, with government support of private land stewardship. Tribal law sustains the rich cultural heritage and traditions of Canadian First Nations, US Native Americans, and Mexican indigenous people, via treaty rights and tribal sovereignty. However, these rights are far stronger in the US and Canada than in Mexico.
A. Large carnivores are showing us that their wildness serves a real ecological purpose. Large carnivores, which touch everything in the web of life, create biodiverse, healthy ecosystems. Richer in species, ecosystems that contain large carnivores will be more resilient to climate change, and therefore will better enable humans to live sustainably, capably, and happily on this planet.
Throughout the Carnivore Way, wolves, lynx, and other carnivores are teaching us about how rewilding nature by bringing them back from the brink of extinction is as necessary to the exchange of energy in food webs as the flow of soil nutrients. By creating trophic cascades—food web relationships in which apex predators affect their prey, which in turn affects prey food consumption—wolves and other apex predators increase ecosystem health. For example, lynx prey on snowshoe hares, which eat willows. By reducing snowshoe hare numbers, lynx indirectly create healthier willows, and these healthier willows can provide better habitat for songbirds. But in addition to actual, direct acts of predation, these predator–prey relationships can have indirect effects related to fear. In Glacier National Park, for example, fear of wolves makes elk more alert. To avoid getting attacked by wolves, elk must move around more and avoid spending time in aspen stands that have burned and become filled with deadfall. The downed trees in these burned stands make it difficult for elk to run to escape wolves. In Glacier, burned stands now contain thickets of aspen saplings growing vigorously above the reach of elk. Thus, together with fire, wolves are helping aspen flourish.
However, some carnivores, such as cougars, which are solitary and stealthy and can eat many different types of animals, do not have as strong of an apex predator signature in an ecosystem. Yet they are highly important members of an ecological community because of being predators. When cougars kill an animal, they eat their fill and typically cache the leftover meat to eat later. These carcasses end up providing a precious food resource to hundreds of other species—everything from golden eagles to weasels to insects.
A. It’s really difficult to pick a favorite story, as over the years I’ve had so many powerful lessons about coexistence from the carnivores. However, as I was finishing writing my book, I received a “capstone” lesson from a bear in the Great Bear Rainforest in coastal British Columbia. One morning near dawn, I sat very close to a wild grizzly bear mother, watching her teach her tiny cub to fish for salmon. She kept catching salmon and passing them to her cub. And the cub kept dropping the fish. At one point the frustrated bear mother looked at me calmly, making eye contact with me, a classic “What’s a mother to do?” expression on her face. And in that moment the distinction between species was gone and we were just two mothers at a stream. She and the other bears in that rainforest taught me that there are still places on this Earth where humans and carnivores can just live in peace. Spending time with those bears at the height of the salmon run showed me how it once was, between humans and wild creatures sharp of tooth and claw, long before we thought we knew everything and could grow forests and elk like crops. While we can’t quite re-create the close relations that we may once have had with living things and that I experienced in the Great Bear Rainforest, we can envision a world in which we base our relationships with carnivores on respect and trust.
A. Science tells us that if we want to have a healthy world, we need to conserve the carnivores. Doing so necessitates creating a new model for coexistence. This means developing a contemporary land ethic, one that takes us beyond seeing wildlife as a crop or a renewable resource. This means envisioning a world in which we base our relationships with carnivores on respect, rather than fear, and where we allow them to fulfill their ecological roles as much as possible. To do so, we need to give them room to roam, so that their benefits can cascade through whole ecosystems.
Sharing this Earth with thriving, healthy carnivores comes down to coexistence. The problem is that coexistence means different things to different people. To some people, coexistence means keeping carnivore numbers as low as possible short of extermination, in order to produce more moose for hunting by humans. Conversely, some define coexistence as protecting every carnivore, completely and always. Realistically, in our fragmented, modern world, coexistence lies somewhere between these two perspectives. To create and support thriving populations of large carnivores in our rapidly changing world we need to learn to live more sustainably and ethically on the earth. While science and environmental laws can help us learn to share landscapes with fierce creatures, ultimately coexistence has to do with our human hearts. Editor's note: Our Rewilding Adventure sweepstakes with Cristina is almost over! Enter by March 22 to win a trip for two to Yellowstone National Park for her Carnivores and Corridors course.
Publicity and marketing associate at Island Press; avid reader and tea drinker.
As was the case for other large carnivores in the lower 48 United States, by the 1960s grizzly bears were nearly extinct. This species had dropped to less than 2 percent of its former range south of Canada and occurred in six small, discrete populations, totaling 800-1,000 individuals.
In response, the US federal government listed the grizzly bear as "threatened" under the new Endangered Species Act (ESA). In 1983, Congress approved a recovery plan and convened the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee.
Grizzly Bear in Yellowstone (stock image)
Protection worked. Between 1975 and 2007, Yellowstone's grizzlies increased from 136 to 571, inspiring US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to delist the species in 2008. The Greater Yellowstone Coalition sued, due to inadequate regulatory mechanisms post-delisting and whitebark pine decline.
While grizzly bears can eat over 270 different foods, they require high protein at specific times of year--such as before hibernation. Protein-rich, high-fat items like pine nuts enable them to pack on pounds. For breeding females, body fat determines their ability to reproduce. Pregnant females going into hibernation with insufficient body fat absorb their fertilized eggs. Given the importance of whitebark pine to this species, scientists linked grizzly bear reproductive decline to climate change.
Grizzly Bear Mother and Cubs (stock image)
Due to federal failure to apply best science, US District Judge Donald Molloy ruled in favor of relisting the species. He then asked USFWS to look further into the relationship between whitebark pine and grizzly bear demography.
Meanwhile, from 2008 to 2012, grizzly bear numbers in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) held steady at over 600. Some experts believe this population has reached carrying capacity and that because the grizzly is an omnivore, whitebark pine decline is unlikely to have a negative impact on it.
For any species, recovery hinges on the portion of the population capable of reproducing, called the ecologically effective population. Species with a low reproductive rate, such as the grizzly bear (which doesn't begin to reproduce until the age of 6-8 years, and then only has 1-3 young every 3 years), will have a low ecologically effective population. For example, a population of 100 bears may have only 15 reproducing females. Scientists have identified sustainable mortality for females with cubs of the year of 4 percent. Based on new science, in 2013 USFWS adjusted this to 7.6 percent, although not all agree.
How one counts grizzly bears has emerged as a leading delisting challenge. In 2013, USFWS found 741 grizzlies roaming the GYE, well above the recovery threshold of 500. However, this count may be biased because whitebark pine and cutthroat trout declines have altered bear feeding patterns, driving them to alternative high-protein, high-fat foods, such as army cutworm moths. The moths live on open, rocky slopes, above treeline. According to Daniel Doak and Kerry Cutler, bears eating moths are more visible and easier to count, making it seem like their numbers have gone up. These scientists suggest that the GYE grizzly population has probably increased far less than is believed. In 2013 in response to questions about habitat, climate change, and how one counts grizzly bears, USFWS published several recovery plan supplements.
Continue reading the full post here.
Dr. Cristina Eisenberg is the lead scientist at Earthwatch Institute, a Smithsonian Research Associate, and a Boone and Crockett Club professional member. She is the author of The Wolf's Tooth and The Carnivore Way.