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Grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars/ mountain lions,bobcats, wolverines, lynx, foxes, fishers and martens are the suite of carnivores that originally inhabited North America after the Pleistocene extinctions. This site invites research, commentary, point/counterpoint on that suite of native animals (predator and prey) that inhabited The Americas circa 1500-at the initial point of European exploration and subsequent colonization. Landscape ecology, journal accounts of explorers and frontiersmen, genetic evaluations of museum animals, peer reviewed 20th and 21st century research on various aspects of our "Wild America" as well as subjective commentary from expert and layman alike. All of the above being revealed and discussed with the underlying goal of one day seeing our Continent rewilded.....Where big enough swaths of open space exist with connective corridors to other large forest, meadow, mountain, valley, prairie, desert and chaparral wildlands.....Thereby enabling all of our historic fauna, including man, to live in a sustainable and healthy environment. - Blogger Rick

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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Our friend, Carnivore biologist John Laundre has written a "tomb" to our natural world that should be required reading in the halls of Congress, the Supreme Court and the White House...........Every Governor and state Representative, every state Wildlife Commissioner and every High School and College student, teacher and Professor should take John's "course" in how we are all a part of the circle of life including the big cats, bears and wolves that share our planet with us..................In fact, it is these large predators, (including us human animal predators) that help maintain the balance, health and positive ebb and flow of life on the one planet we all call home.................As another good friend, Cougar Rewilding's Chris Spatz recently told me, "JOHN LAUNDRE SHOULD RECEIVE A NOBEL PRIZE FOR HIS REVELATIONS, ANALYSIS AND SET OF COMMANDMENTS ON HOW WE SHOULD GO ABOUT REWILDING OUR WORLD"----Happy Sunday everyone and thanks John for your contributions!!!!!!!

Ghosts of the Appalachians 

or the Missing Actors? 

John Laundre;living


When we pass through 
the Appalachian Mountains 
along its vast 
extent from the humid
 southeast of Alabama and 
Georgia to the
 cold and barren of Nova
 Scotia and Newfoundland, 
we cannot help
 but marvel of its beauty
and extensiveness.  Unlike 
its western cousin,
 the Rocky Mountains, which 
is a mixture of
 forested ranges imbedded in
 a matrix of 
lowland shrub and grass
 ecosystems, the Appalachians
 are heavily
 forested mountains 
imbedded in what is likely one 
of the largest 
forest ecosystems in
 the world.  One can only
imagine the 
extensiveness of the original
 eastern forest, extending to
 the north
 as far as the tundra, to the
 south to the Gulf of Mexico
 and to the 
west until the beginning 
of the Great Plains.  It is this
 eastern "endless"
 forest that provided 
the opportunities and resources
 to the Earlier
 Americans who lived
 there for centuries.  It is also 
this bountiful 
forest that gave the 
European explorers who
 followed their toehold
 on the continent.
  Rich in plant and wildlife
 resources, the eastern
 forest likely had
 one of the highest densities
 of Earlier Americans
 in North America.  Even today,
 the eastern forest
 continues to support the highest
 density of Current

    Much has been written about
 the destruction
 of the eastern forests by early
 European colonists
 and their descendants.  
However, today past
 abuses and 
cars of these earlier settlers
 have been covered
 over by an extensive
 mantel of young and thriving 
forest mixed in
 with verdant farmland.  In fact, 
the structure 
of the current forest ecosystem
 of the east is 
much like that before Europeans
 arrived, a
 mixture of open farmland and
 dense forest. 
Today, as in those earlier times, 
the open 
farmland provides areas 
of high productivity where many
of wildlife can find food 
while the forest provides shelter
 from the

    To the viewer's eye, it would
 seem that
 the eastern forests, 
especially the Appalachian
 Mountains, have
 returned to much 
of their former beauty and
 glory.  Even in
 the more populated 
areas of the East, the forest
 extends its fingers
 into the fringes
 of the cities.  It is only in the
 East that
 abandoned land quickly
 reverts to forest!  In these
 extensive forests
 all along the eastern 
seaboard, abundant wildlife,
 small song birds
 and mammals, larger 
turkeys, hawks, and even 
larger deer and bear,
 are again abundant
 in many parts of the 
Appalachian chain.  
Though much was lost in
 the past, the recuperation 
of the eastern 
forest ecosystem 
throughout the eastern 
seaboard makes it
 a true success story, 
a paradise gained!  All
 this in light of one
 of the highest human
 densities in North America!

    But has the Eastern Forest
 truly returned
 to its past glory as an 
ecosystem?  An ecosystem is 
not like a museum,
 not just a static
 collection of parts, plants
and animals.  It is a
 dynamic entity, one
 that constantly changes, 
grows, dies. All its
 parts have a function,
 a function vital to the health
 of the ecosystem.
  The plants of an 
ecosystem function as extensive
 solar traps, 
each day, month, year, 
capturing immense amounts 
of solar energy. 
 That energy is
 transferred along to other
 parts of the
 ecosystem in a cascading 
chain of actions reaching 
the smallest
 corners, maintaining the 
diversity of life found there.  
In each step,
 energy is transferred,
 energy is lost.  Eventually 
that energy
 passes out of the ecosystem, 
replaced by new waves of
 solar radiation.
  In a true sense, the 
function of an ecosystem is
 this transfer 
of solar energy from
 one component to the next. 
 It is this 
energy transfer that keeps 
the ecosystem "alive", 
maintaining its
 integrity and its diversity. 
    The role, then, of plants
 and animals
 in the ecosystem is in
 successfully performing 
this transfer. 
 This is no small task and
 like an elaborate play, is
 by a well choreographed
 cast of thousands, of millions, 
parts honed by millennia 
of co-evolution.  All this is 
carried out
 on the stage of the ecosystem,
 the physical, the biological
 props and
 scenery that we see.  For
 most of the players in this
, theirs is a dual role, they 
capture that energy and pass
 it on to
 others.  They are both 
consumer and consumed, 
 and prey.  Half of the 
ecologically important role
 of prey
 is to be eaten by their predators.
  In doing so, they pass their energy
 on to the next step, fulfilling
 their ecological mission. How this
 is all done is the intrigues, the 
sinuous plots of this elaborate play. 
 At each step, the predators,
 take the energy to the next level. 
Many of these predators, in turn,
 have their own predators, fulfilling 
their dual role.  That is how the
 system works. In each step, energy
 is transferred, energy escapes, 
leaving less energy for the next
 consumer, the next predator. 

What is that final passage 
of energy within the system? 
 Who are the ultimate or "top" 
consumers/predators?  It is the
 largest predators, the Wolves,
 the Cougars, the Lions, animals
 that normally don't have another
 predator trying to eat them. 
 The remaining energy that reaches 
them passes through their bodies,
 leaving the system.  These top 
predators, then become the critical,
 the climax actors in the final
 act of this ecological play.  It is 
through them this energy, initially
 captured by plants from the sun,
 flows, completing its run, its final
 curtain call. However, it is a never 
ending final call, a never ending
 play as new energy continues 
moving up, new prey, new predators,
 new actors, providing life, vitality,
 diversity to the stage of the
 ecosystem, the play of life. 

What happens if these top 
actors are missing?  Can the play 
go on?  Can a system fine tuned 
over evolutionary time whose function
 depends on each part being 
connected, continue to work in the 
absence of its climax actors?  
We have ample evidence that suggests
 not.  Predators in general
 and large ones in particular, have 
always bore the brunt of
 humans' dislike and scorn.  Viewed
 as villains rather than 
stars in the play of life, they have
 always been the first to be
 removed from the stage.  This has
 happened not only in the
 Eastern forests but in most ecosystems
 in the world.  What
 has happened in these ecological plays
 when the top actors
 have been removed?  Without predators, 
the energy flow 
become blocked and can no longer flow
 upward.  The blockage
 of this energy flow, as with the blockage
 of a river or of any 
flow-through system, the flow backs up, 
disrupting the system,
 the ecosystem.  It concentrates in the
 form of excess numbers
 of consumers, normally prey for higher
 levels, and it builds up.
  Like a volcano building up pressure 
and eventually exploding
 in a series of violent eruptions, 
destroying the mountain, increasing
 consumers destroy the ecosystem.  
In Yellowstone National Park, 
removal of the Wolf led to an over
 population of Elk, leading to
 losses of plant species Elk preferred,
 to losses of other species
 dependent on these plants,  to 
eventual losses of Elk who starved 
and died under their own population
 weight.  Yellowstone changed 
from a smooth flowing river of energy
 to one of fits and starts, of
 energy blockage, a system of violent
 cycles.  This pattern has 
repeated itself many times over, the 
Kaibab plateau after the 
removal of Cougars, the Moose on
 Isle Royale, introduced 
without their predator, the Wolf.
  To remove the top predators
 in these ecosystems was an ecological 
crime, committing these
 systems to a slow agonizing death.

 How about the Appalachian 
forests?  Is the cast of ecological 
players complete? Unfortunately,
 the East is also missing its star
 performers, Wolves and Cougars, 
having been long killed out by 
our well-meaning but misguided 
ancestors.  All that remains are
 the ghosts of these past performers,
 apparitions that seemingly appear
 periodically but are of little 
substance.  Regardless of all these
 ghostly sightings, real or
 otherwise, the cold fact remains,
 the Wolf and Cougar are
 ecologically extinct in the 
Appalachians.  In the absence of 
these actors, the stage is set for
 a different script.  Without 
Wolves and Cougars, their main
 prey, White-tailed Deer,
 have returned with a vengeance, 
in many eastern states 
numbering in hundreds of 
thousands to millions of animals.  
Each of these individuals ravenously 
eat around 1,500 pounds
 of plants per year.  As a result,
 the eastern ecosystems are 
time bombs waiting to explode.
  Some have already; after years 
of excessively high deer densities, 
forest flowers and animals 
dependent on them are disappearing
.  As importantly, 
tree seedlings, the forest 
of the future, are also vanishing
 under the constant chewing of 
millions of deer.  The ecological
 fabric of the Appalachian 
ecosystem is unweaving before our
 very eyes.  What we see in the
 verdant, seemingly vibrant forests 
is a façade hiding a rapidly decaying 
stage of life, burdened by too 
many prima donnas.  What we see is
 not an endless play of life but 
a short-lived tragedy doomed to failure.


The fact is clear, 
the Appalachian play is missing
 its star performers and an 
ecological disaster is unfolding on 
the stage.  Can the ending
 of this play be changed by bringing 
back the stars?  Can it be 
as simple as that? Scientifically, 
the answer is a resounding yes.
  However, before society agrees,
 many questions need to be 
answered.  The first of which is: 
can Wolves and Cougars still
 survive on the modern stage 
that is the Appalachians of today? 
 If so, what are some of the dangers, 
if any, of them coming back.
  After all, aren't they large and 
dangerous animals??? 
 If we agree that they should come
 back, how do we as a
 society help them back?  These
 and many more questions 
I hope to address in future posts
 to this blog.

John Laundré

I was born and raised in 
the Midwest (Wisconsin) and received
 my bachelors and
 masters degrees there.  I received my 
PhD from Idaho 
State University in 1979.  Since then,
 I have been working 
in large mammal predator-prey
 ecology for over 30 years
 and have studied predators and 
their prey in the western 
U.S. and northern Mexico.  My 
experience includes working
 with cougars, wolves, coyotes,
 bobcats, deer, elk, bison,
 and bighorn sheep.  I have
 conducted one of the longest
 (17 years) studies of cougar
 ecology and behavior to date
 and have published over 15 
scientific articles both on this
 work and work conducted in 
Mexico.  I am the originator 
of the concept of the landscape 
of fear that proposed that
 fear of prey for their predators
 drives many, if not all 
ecological processes.  The one 
important aspect of this
 concept is that predators
 become instrumental in 
maintaining the balance 
between prey species and 
their habitat, not so much 
by killing their prey but
 affecting how they use the
 landscape.  I am the author 
of the newly published book, 
Phantoms of the Prairie: The
 Return of Cougars to 
the Midwest that looks at the
 phenomenon of cougars
 actually moving back into 
the Great Plains region of 
the U.S.  I am currently living
 in Upstate New York in
 Oswego where I am an adjunct
 faculty member at
 the SUNY Oswego and also 
active in issues concerning
 cougars in the Northeast. 
 I am the vice president of the
 Cougar Rewilding Foundation
 whose goal is the eventual
 re-establishment of viable
 cougar populations in the Eastern U.S.

Want to Learn More?

Laundré JW (2010). Behavioral
 response races, 
predator-prey shell games, 
ecology of fear, and patch use 
of pumas and their ungulate prey. 
Ecology, 91 (10), 
2995-3007 PMID: 21058559

 R. (2004). Wolves and
 the Ecology of Fear: Can Predation 
Risk Structure
 Ecosystems? BioScience, 54 (8) DOI:

1 comment:

Mark LaRoux said...

Superimposing a national distribution map of current feral pigs on top of one for nine banded armadillos, and you can see the areas that scream out for some apex predator control. Hmm....maybe the red wolf reintroduction in the Smokeys needs a 're-reintroduction'....lots more to eat now. If they can't handle the young ferals, the panthers undoubtably could.