Awakening to the spirit and beauty of the northern Great Plains
Friday, November 27, 2009
Coyotes bad; ponies good
More on coyote bounties:
This comment came from an ecologist who read the post on coyote bounties and adds. . . . “The coyote is, technically speaking, a K-selected species - but the useful point about the r-K selection continuum concept, in speaking of the coyote, is that the coyote is on the r-selected end of the spectrum because it responds to an elevated mortality rate by producing more off spring. A very strongly K-selected species, such as a blue whale or a giant redwood, would respond to elevated mortality by going locally extinct (or maybe globally extinct if the increase in mortality rate was great enough). So the r-K selection idea is useful in talking about whether one species is more r-ish or K-ish compared to another species. It's a nice shorthand but, strictly speaking, most of the big, long-lived species are more K-selected than r-selected (in the classical sense). I think a good website for your readers might be this one.”
I love ponies as much as the next person, but horses do a lot of damage to native grassland when they are unmanaged and left to multiply. It is so much easier to get people to love and protect a charismatic creature like a wild pony, than it is to get them interested in the native prairie and the many grassland species in trouble in Saskatchewan. And it is frustrating to think that this kind of naïve, misguided gesture is made on behalf of a species that is merely an escaped population of farm animals—and a threat to the ecological wellbeing of our grasslands. Fortunately, this particular group of 40 horses is in a wooded area with perhaps little native grass. But what if another herd becomes established in a vulnerable piece of grassland—e.g. the Great Sand Hills—and the same legislation is applied? Here is what a conservationist friend (who wishes to remain anonymous) had to say about the situation:
“If we can't be bothered to protect our indigenous wildlife then we definitely shouldn't be putting legislation in place to protect some feral livestock. I do not know if Saskatchewan’s wild horses are damaging habitat in the Bronson Forest, but I have done a lot of work in the Alberta foothills where they have wild horses and I can tell you that they are causing a lot of damage there. Like many invasive species, horses have advantages that the indigenous wildlife do not have. Unlike bovids, they have both upper and lower front teeth which allows them to graze very close to the ground. In addition, they are the only ungulate out there without a cloven hoof - as you can imagine, the uncloven hoof makes them much harder on the soil. As unmanaged livestock, they are causing considerable damage. Unlike cattle, the wild horses in Alberta are out grazing fescue grassland just as it greens up in the spring which is the most damaging time of year. The wild horses in Alberta also tend to hang out in the same general location year round - close enough to human development so they don't have trouble with predators and on the most productive grassland. Alberta has a huge wild horse support lobby, as well as legislative protection for their wild horses, so it is difficult for Alberta Sustainable Resource Development to do anything about the ever-expanding wild horse populations. I would hate to see Saskatchewan put in the same position.”
Once again, we seem eager to adopt the worst of Alberta’s mistakes and turning them into law.