Category: Bay Area

Fear and Loathing in Wolf Country

Here’s a great all around article about wolves by Liza Gross, just appearing in QUEST, which draws on some of our research in Yellowstone and Alaska.

Though Ecology 101 tells us that healthy ecosystems need top predators, researchers are just beginning to understand how the presence—and absence—of wolves affects other species.One study found that wolves may buffer the effects of climate change in Yellowstone National Park, where winters have been getting shorter, by leaving their moose and elk leftovers for eagles, ravens, coyotes and other scavengers. Another papersuggests that the absence of wolves may explain the precarious status of the Canada lynx. No wolves means more coyotes—which hunt snowshoe hares, the lynx’s favorite food—and more elk and deer—which eat the shrubby vegetation that sustain and shelter hares. And a 2011 paper in Biological Conservation supports earlier work showing that wolves in Yellowstone influence the behavior of deer and elk, releasing grazing pressure on vegetation, which in turn increases songbird habitat and diversity.

Read the full article here.

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UCSC biologist: Sea otters could help fight climate change

From the San Jose Mercury News and Santa Cruz Sentinel, an interesting article relating our recent otter/carbon paper to California’s new carbon emission trading program.

Designated by the California Air Resources Board, carbon offset credits qualify as environmental processes scientifically proven to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases.

The board has four carbon offset categories: forestry management, tree planting in urban areas, capture and destruction of methane emissions from livestock manure, and destruction of coolant gases. Whereas the first two directly suck carbon out of the atmosphere, the latter two eliminate existing greenhouse gases.

Legally establishing these categories takes time. The forestry project alone took a decade to make scientific sense within the framework of carbon credits, said board spokesman Stanley Young.

Otters currently do not fit into any of these categories. And Wilmers, an assistant professor in UCSC’s Environmental Studies Department, acknowledges that getting them in the game would be difficult.
“Literally trying to do that in the future would take a lot of work,” he said.

But officials involved in evaluating offset programs for the board say the idea is not entirely out of the question. The board, eventually, intends to expand its list. A wetland management category, for example, is among the most promising potential additions — and has been in the works for several years.

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Otters’ Effect on Kelp Offers Clues to Predators’ Link to CO2

From KUSP, another nice NPR piece about our sea otter research.  Clink on the play button below to listen.

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The ghost cat: Mountain lion slips across Highway 17 regularly

From the Santa Cruz Sentinel/San Jose Mercury News, a nice article on 16m’s penchant for crossing roads.  Not sure where they got the name Atlas from, but so it goes.  By the way, that large scare he has in the photo above on his rump – we think he got hit and dragged by a car on hwy 17, but he survived and is doing well now.

But what sets this mountain lion apart is the expanse of his territory. Atlas, at he is sometimes known, roams the mountains on either side of Highway 17, crossing the busy road regularly to reinforce his domain. He is distinguishing himself not only by the risks he assumes, but by surviving them.

“What he’s basically done is set up a home range that has Highway 17 as a line right down the middle of it,” said Chris Wilmers, who heads UCSC’s Santa Cruz Puma Project, which has tagged and tracked nearly 40 lions throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Read the full Sentinel article here.

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Luring mountain lions to learn to live amongst them

From Crosscurrents on NPR, I love this radio piece about our puma project.  Pay close attention to my toothbrush quote!

Although they live all around us, encounters with lions are unusual because there just aren’t a lot of them and each lion has a large territory. In the Bay Area, males use about 200 square miles and females about 50. People are increasingly hiking and biking in mountain lion country, yet attacks remain exceedingly rare – although media hype may make it seem otherwise.

WILMERS: With over 30 million people in California and thousands of lions, there’s only been six lethal attacks in the entire history of the state. So basically that means there’s a very, very, very small probability of ever getting attacked, and if you do, of dying. You’re much more likely to die from getting struck by lightning or from impaling yourself on your toothbrush than you are from a mountain lion.

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Tracking Urban Lions

From NPR, an excellent radio spot about our puma project.  The online version has a bonus video to accompany it.


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Tracking mountain lions – for their own good

From the San Francisco Chronicle, a Sunday front page article on our recently launched puma project.

The tired, sweaty trackers scrambled up a steep, muddy slope in a remote canyon in the Santa Cruz Mountains to the towering madrone tree where the hounds were barking.

Poised on a thick, bare branch on a brilliant day in late December was a panting, snarling mountain lion.

“There she is, straight up above us,” said Paul Houghtaling, a 33-year-old researcher for the Bay Area Puma Project, as he dug his boots into the soft leaf matter on the nearly vertical hillside.

The muscles in the tawny lion’s back legs rippled 30 feet above him. The cougar’s mouth was open and her nose was working, sniffing, perhaps, for her cub, which had darted off in another direction.

Led by researchers from UC Santa Cruz, the project is the first attempt to track Bay Area mountain lions, which are being seen in greater numbers as urban areas spread into the region’s wildlands.

For the next three years, the team will track their behavior and movements in the Santa Cruz Mountains – including mating habits, favored prey, survival needs and travel routes. Researchers hope to expand the study for several more years after that to include the Diablo Range and the North Bay.

The 90-pound cat turned her gaze from the dogs to the humans, staring first at Houghtaling, then at each of the other five humans as they clambered into view on this brilliant sunny day just before the New Year.

“It is an intense feeling to be in the presence of such a powerful animal,” Houghtaling said. “I think they feel somewhat safe being in a tree, but they know they are cornered and they are looking for a way out. I feel a sense of awe and also a sense of responsibility that the animal is being captured and collared for a good reason – namely, that we are increasing our understanding of them and contributing to their long-term conservation.”

The researchers were after the mother lion because they wanted to replace a device called an accelerometer in her collar. The specially designed gizmo, which uses software similar to that found in interactive video games, will allow researchers to plot movements like running, stalking, pouncing or even mating at any given time.

Since May, four mountain lions – two males and two females – have been captured, darted and fitted with collars that have Global Positioning System devices and an accelerometer. The other female recently lost her collar during a violent struggle with a deer, the remains of which were later found along with the collar.

Chris Wilmers, the lead investigator for the project, said the data from collars – which can be retrieved every couple of weeks using a remotely triggered radio uplink – will be used to calculate daily calorie consumption and energy demands. The ultimate goal, he said, is to determine how vulnerable pumas are to environmental and habitat disturbance.

Click here to read the full article SF chronicle article.

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Alaska Bay Area British Columbia carbon cascade climate change collars connectivity corridor elk energetics evolution fear fish habitat fragmentation Lyme disease overexploitation predator puma salmon scavenger sea otter treadmill wolf Yellowstone