In the Pacific Northwest, salmon are the iconic species that draw attention and funding; but carnivores are essential components of our ecosystems too. The states and wildlife conservation groups like Conservation Northwest are working to monitor and protect carnivore populations throughout the region.
Carnivore research helps scientists protect carnivores and their habitat. Some research questions cannot be answered adequately through the use of non-invasive research methods. For more specific data collection, scientists must sometimes use invasive research methods, meaning that individual animals must be handled by humans. Scientists do not take the decision lightly because they know the risk to the animals; keep in mind that most people go into wildlife biology because they care deeply about wild animals.
At Santa Monica Mountains NRA, wildlife biologists were tracking bobcats and cougars within the park and in the suburban areas surrounding the park. They needed to know whether bobcats were using the patches of undeveloped land between housing developments. They wanted to know how mountain lions were coexisting in the park, which is too small for a large population of such large carnivores, but is cut off from larger areas of habitat by large freeways. They particularly wanted to understand why bobcats in the park and urban surroundings were dying off due to a mange epidemic; what in their environment might be making them susceptible to such bad mange afflictions? I spent three months as a volunteer wildlife biologist at the park helping study the park’s carnivores (and lizards, but that’s another post).
Planning for carnivore conservation should be at the forefront of our minds in the Pacific Northwest. Wolves are slowly returning to Washington and Oregon, with the first pack confirmed in each state in 2008. Grizzlies have become so rare that October 2010 marked the first confirmed grizzly sighting in the Cascades in 15 years; the US Fish & Wildlife Service estimates that only 20 grizzlies live in the entire North Cascades. Wolverines are being considered for Endangered Species Act protection. Protecting carnivores — critical players in keeping ecosystems healthy — requires extensive research to identify the best areas for protection. Continue reading