Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Canadian Wildlife: Dr. Geist lecture

On a whim, I attended a lecture given by Dr. Valerius Geist about the future of Canadian wildlife, which was extremely interesting. Dr. Geist is very engaging and approachable.  So much that I even started taking notes on a topic on which I know basically nothing.
A few points:
  • The need to keep wildlife as a public resource, so it does not turn into a private plaything for the elite (as it has been in other places).  This 2009 article, The Peasant Wars, has some great quotes:

    “The miracle of North American conservation is that it is basically a blue-collar system, grounded in the political and financial support and the active participation of large numbers of middle-class citizens who bring their basic honesty and decency to bear on important issues. This is just the opposite of the elitist system that has existed throughout Europe for centuries and is spreading like cancer around the world today, even right here at home.

    “Because of the democratic nature of American hunting and wildlife management, and the demands for accountability it implies, our system has worked miracles in returning wildlife to a continent that, just a hundred years ago, saw the near-extinction of most big game animals and other wildlife. In my mind, this represents the world’s greatest environmental achievement of the last century.”
    “Take away wildlife or make it irrelevant to the citizen, and wildlife winds up as private property, jealously defended. There is good reason for this as wildlife is a creator of wealth and privilege and thus very valuable.
    Currently, simple-minded efforts to spread and multiply wolves lead to a depletion of wildlife – severe enough to lose the hunting public and with that the passion for wildlife. And with that it moves very surely into private ownership.
    “And when wolves, grizzly bears and cougars are private property, the public has no say over their fate. I need not emphasize that even in North America the de facto grasp for wildlife by large land owners has led to the defense of that wildlife against the public with force of arms."

  • Game farming is another step in the wrong direction.

    • Destroys wildlife as the first step is domestication. Animals are bred to be placid and lose fear; domestication is not a conditioned response - it is genetic.
    • Large handlers create a trophy market. However, large antlers are only seen on bulls in the wild who don't breed... so from a farming perspective, this doesn't make a lot of sense. This is also seen in bison farming, where they are bred for trophies and to resemble large cows for the choice cuts of meat.
    • Quickly become centres of disease and pathogens, which soon become bridges of transmission to other animals and humans. Elk farming resulted in predicted epidemics of bovine tuberculosis and chronic wasting disease in the 1990s. CWD is particularly worrisome as it is transmitted via fluids and can jump species.
    • Dr. Geist is quoted in an article from 2000 in The Atlantic, Money Game, which discusses game farming from a more financial perspective, but also addresses the same biological and health concerns.
  • Wolves
    • Traditionally considered vermin and actively hunted and killed, but became protected and idolized by conservation groups. Populations are increasing rapidly to the point where there are scarcely any deer left.
    • Have no natural predators, like cougars.
    • Will interbreed with any canine, like coyotes and domesticated dogs.
    • Geist suggests a need to curb this population as soon as possible. Because they breed so quickly, killing 80% of the population would be required just to maintain status quo.
    • Wolves/coyotes/canines carry and spread hydatid disease, also known as echinococcosis. This is one nasty parasite for which there is no treatment other than surgical removal of cysts and chemotherapy. (Geist reported a 90% infection rate for the wolf population - I didn't get the details on which one.) The eggs are in their feces and are easily transmitted through the air or liquids to dogs and humans.  This parasite is no joke. I didn't need to see some of the pictures that I happened to run across. Ugh.
    • Dr. Geist knows of no case where humans and wolves co-existed.
    • Are becoming a danger to livestock and humans, as their natural prey are running out. In light of the death of a student attacked and killed by wolves, his article: Where Wolves Have Become Commonsums up these issues nicely.
    • The January 2010 issue of The Outdoorsman also provides quite a lot of information about the concern of hydatid disease. It's quite disconcerting.
Very interesting. Also, a little unsettling.

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