Thursday, November 15, 2012

The predator war in Sweden

Yesterday I attended a half-day seminar with the title "The predator-war, a journey through times" arranged by the Swedish Forest Historical Society. Karin Dirke from Stockholm University started with a presentation about the historical view of the top 4 predators in Sweden (Wolf, Brown-Bear, Bobcat and Wolverine). In the 18th century the view was that predators were greedy thieves that committed murder. At the same time they were seen as righteous executioner that carried out Gods verdicts. There was also a belief that men could transform into wolves, and wolves were regarded as "A living imprint of a human who carries on with that which is evil". The Swedish term for Werewolf came from the word for man and wolf.

In the 18th century media referred to wolves now and then, but they did not dominate the news by any means. The reports consisted of methods for trapping and news about attacks made by rabies infected wolves. These stories were usually from abroad, and all attacks by wolves on humans were regarded as abnormal behavior, usually connected to rabies infection. The risk of rabies spreading was seen as a greater threat than the wolf. One news story describes how a wolf was chasing a dog that decided to run into the house for cover. The wolf could not get in through the door, so it jumped in through the window and bit a woman. Another woman managed to kill the wolf with an axe. They opened up the wolf and found that the intestines were empty, and this is given as the reason why the wolf attacked. Another factors that is used to describe why wolves attack is extreme cold. The message is that this is not a natural behavior.

A conservation perspective starts to slowly appear in the 19th century. It is through a nationalistic touch that praises the diversity of this wide-stretched nation, and the wolf is seen as belonging to the Swedish fauna. Until then the political view had been that the wolf should be exterminated from Sweden or driven to the borders of the nation. The view of Brown-Bears was not at all as negative as that of wolves, probably because that they were not seen as full predators.

After Karin Dirke, Kjell Donell and Roger Bergstam from The Agricultural University in Uppsala described the war against predators that started already as the ice retreated to 1969 when the last one of the big four predators (The wolverine) became protected. In 17th century Sweden historical texts state that predators should be exterminated wherever, whenever, however and by whom ever.

The public was forced to participate in the hunt for predators, and refusal resulted in fines or prison. The mandatory hunts were strongly connected to holidays, and the last day of the holiday was the day of the mandatory hunt. The reward for participating was bag-money, high status, skins and reduced predator populations. An example was Herman Falk, a hunt-master appointed by the king, who alone killed more than 100 bears. He is also regarded as having saved the moose population by recommending the king to install a 10 year ban on moose-hunting at a time when the moose-population was almost extinct.

The way to receive bag-money was far from straight-forward and a skin would have to be presented to 3-4 courts before the bag-money could be paid to the hunter. This resulted in that it could take more than a year to receive the payment. Converted into the monetary value in 2009, the bag money in US$ was $71 for a brown-bear, $53 for a bobcat, $35 for a wolf and $18 for a wolverine. Outside the big four, the bag money was $6 for a fox as well as for eagle and $3 for a European Pine Marten.

The penalty for not participating ranged from fines to time in prison with only bread and water. Those employed by the state to hunt predators could get reduced salary if they failed to fill a certain quota of predators. If a state employed hunter had problems filling a quota of a specific animal due to that the region for example had few wolves, he could compensate this by shooting x numbers of another predator following an exchange rate. The penalty system was constructed so that the cost for the state would be minimal, which meant that reduced salaries from state employed hunters went to finance bag-money.

The methods used to hunt predators included an enclosed area with baits inside. The enclosed area was also surrounded by a ditch. The walls were leaning inwards allowing wolves to jump in, but prevented them from coming out. When a flock of wolves had come into the area, farmers could climb the walls and shoot the wolves. Other methods included a large group of people driving wolves towards a net, wolf pits, use of poisoned baits (Arsenic and Strychnine were often used), slip knots, scissor traps, log or stone traps, self-shooting weapons that fired when a bait was touched. 

Sweden contributed with a very cruel method that in North America became known as the Swedish Method. The method focused on concentrating the effort to the breeding place. At the den all wolves that could be seen were killed except one wolf-pup which was hung upside down in a nearby tree. This lured out any other wolves in the family that might be nearby. After that the young wolf-pup was killed as well. 

Another gruesome method included feeding a dog with Arsenic, and later putting it out for wolves to feed on. The amount of poison was regarded as enough, when the dog started losing its fur. The dog was then strangled and put as bait to wolves. The reason for strangling the dog instead of any other method was to save as much of the mercury loaded blood.

Everybody was supposed to have a wolf-net at home that had a certain length and strength. Regular inspections were done, and if a farmer's wolf-net broke when the strength was tested he could be fined.

The efficiency of many methods were poor. Driving a predator towards a net took 600 man-work-days/predator, were the term man-work-days referred to the amount of work one man could do in one day. For wolves the efficiency was 286 man-work-days /wolf. A wolf-pit had the terrible efficiency of 1 wolf/20 years, whereas a poisoned dog was reported to have an efficiency of 13 wolves and 1 bob-cat.

The result of this war on predators was very successful, with all of the big four predators having their populations severely reduced. Around 1830 the numbers of shot wolves were between 650-700 per year, but 40 years later the number was down to 50 wolves per year.

With the last of the big four predators, the wolverine, being protected from hunting in 1969 the large state supported war on predators could be said to have come to a stop, although it had since long lost in intensity with people no longer being forced to participate in hunts.

Since then all the big four predators have seen increased population-numbers, and new conflicts between humans and predators have emerged. Hopefully we have learned from the past, and will try to solve conflicts where they occur before chasing every man and woman out of the house for mandatory predatory hunts in a forest filled with self-shooting weapons, monstrous traps and a fair amount of Arsenic and Strychnine.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Ecer 2012, Day 4: The Novel Ecosystem Brawl

Day 4 of the ECER 2012 conference was the day for my presentation on the topic of using functional analysis as a tool to detect environmental filters in ecological restoration. It occurred at the same time as a much visited and controversial full afternoon session on Novel Ecosystems took place. I had time to listen to the beginning of this brawl.
Cara Nelson, Vice Chair of SER International, opened the session by making the point that new concepts can cause strong oppositions due to unclear terms. She stated that people are many times closer to each other than they think. “Well, let´s see about that!”-commented one professor.  After Cara, James Aronson explained the scale from undisturbed systems-hybrid systems-novel ecosystems, with novel ecosystems being systems that came into being due to human influence, but that no longer needs human input to stay alive. He commented that people have been using environmental disasters (e.g. oil-spills) as example of novel ecosystems, and stressed that this was never the intention. My comment to this is that such an exception is hard to make, since an oil spill fueling the growth of oil-eating bacteria is indeed a novel ecosystem, that has replaced the system that was previously there. If I understand the novel-ecosystem camp correctly, examples where we should accept novel ecosystems are when restoration is not possible (that is not a choice), or when the restoration comes with an environmental cost, that is higher than what can be gained from the restoration of the ecosystem.
When the debate opened for all listeners to contribute the fight was on. One professor stood up and said that he basically did not think the novel-ecosystem people had contributed with anything new, and that their definition of what´s novel is wrong to start with, since systems are changing.
A Belgian scientist stood up and got a lot of attention when he stated that he thinks that this topic is a dangerous topic, which we should not discuss (blogging about it is probably forbidden to). He stated that those who are keeping this debate alive are playing with fire. The reason for his fear is that the E.U. is investing a lot of money into ecological restoration, and we may find ourselves in a situation where a politician makes the argument that restoration is not necessary since the degraded site is now a novel ecosystem. Although I share the fear that many politicians would do this, and one person in the audience from the U.S. stated that this is already a reality in the U.S., I still object to the notion that something should not be discussed due to fear of it being misused. Especially when the topic has been published repeatedly in leading scientific journals, and gotten media attention. We may not like the terrible destruction that can be caused by fission processes, but the knowledge of nuclear physics will not disappear just by stopping people from talking about it.

We should never accept the novel ecosystem argument as a reason not to restore, when restoration is possible, and can be done without causing more damage than what can be gained. At the same time we have to realize that we have already accepted novel ecosystems. The once wide-stretched European primeval forest has in most places in Europe been replaced by monocultures of grains originating from the Fertile Crescent. Cities protected by floodwalls have replaced flood meadow, and become a good place for those species that have learned to make use of human architecture and lifestyle.

The day after I drove from Ceske Budejovize to Prague Airport and headed home enriched with new input from many great presentations by outstanding scientists.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

ECER 2012: Recap of Day 3, One of those days.

Day 3 was a day for excursions, and I had signed up for going on what was called the peatland-complex route. It was clear already when the bus left from the hotel that this would be a challenging day for my wind-protecting but not very waterproof jacket. As we left the bus to start a 6 km walk along a peatland forest that had been excavated some decades ago, the entire sky opened and my jacket fought the water bravely initially, but eventually gave up. Apart from one site were ditches had been blocked and trees cut, most of the forested peatland had too low water level. It is generally a warning-sign when you have to go down into the bottom of a 3 m ditch to find typical mire species. In one area the ditches had been blocked, and the trees had been cut, and this was the only site that looked like a nicely restored peatland. An odd sight in the middle of the peatland-forest was an old peat-excavator that had been left as a museum of old times. Since the peat excavation was still going on adjacent to the site, it felt as if perhaps it was not correct to refer to it as a period of degradation that now finally was over.

After the Peatland-complex route I did my best to find a place for the jacket to dry before it was time to head off to the guided tour of Budweiser Budvar brewery. My jacket had not dried, but a brewery is after all a building were people work indoors I thought (which says everything of my lack of visits to breweries). For some reason I had managed to get a booklet about restoration of Finnish boreal forests with me to the brewery that I walked around with. At least half of the guided tour was outdoors, and yes, the sky opened again. Realizing that I had the nice booklet about Finnish restoration of boreal forests, I used it as a desperate rain protection. I don´t know exactly how high the odds would be that the person in front of me would happen to be the author off the booklet, but this was one of those days, and when I heard him call out “No, it´s not supposed to be used like that”, I had stopped being surprised. Finns are nice people, and he allowed me to keep ruining his publication. Having only eaten an excursion sandwich at 11, I was quite hungry when it was time for the treat of beer in the cozy 2 degrees “warm” beer cellar. The tour finished with having a look at the bottling process were 40 000 beers were bottled every hour, and it was nice to see the recycling of bottles working first-hand. 

The tour was over, and at 21:00 I was back at the hotel, ready to eat an entire boar If I saw one. Finally, close to 22:00 I eventually got something to eat before it was time to rehearse the presentation I was going to give the day after.

ECER 2012: Recap of day 2

Recap of Day 2

Kozub held a presentation on the different impact of the two common fen restoration methods rewetting and top-soil removal on the release of methane and the concentration of inorganic nitrogen and phosphorous. The rewetted sites had a higher concentrations of inorganic nitrogen and inorganic phosphorous than the top-soil removal sites had. Interestingly the methane release from the top-soil removal sites was not only lower than the rewetted sites, but also lower than the reference site, and comparable to the degraded control site.

Bishoff held a very thought-provoking presentation based on his research on local adaptation of plants. Theory suggests that if local adaptations really exist, than local plants should have higher fitness and perform better on their home field, compared to other plants that are brought in. The fitness of species should also decrease with increasing distance from their source population. Bischoff´s long distance transplant-experiments between different countries in Europe showed however that although local plants performed better in two cases, the third case did not show this at all. There were large differences between the provenances in fitness in the transplant experiment, but there is no general proof that local genotypes are superior. He stressed that the lack of clear evidence for local adaptation is not an argument against using local donor-sites in restoration, since the opposite (superior aliens), can be detrimental to the local populations in the long term as well.

Scott from the organization Lifeland held a presentation on how Lifeland produces seeds for the creation of meadows on abandoned land in the UK, and how the local community is involved in everything from initially wanting the meadow, to helping with the sowing and seed collection. It was a great example on how thinking outside the box, can lead to great education, community involvement and appreciation of nature in urban areas without very high investments.

Monday, September 10, 2012

ECER 2012: Day 1

European Conference on Ecological Restoration 2012, Budejovice, Czech Republic
The first day of ECER 2012 was filled with only plenary talks. Richard Hobbs who co-authored the Davies et al 2011 paper “Don´t judge species based on their origin” defended their paper that received a lot of criticism among people who did not like the approach of accepting novel ecosystems with invasive species as the new normal. My general reflection of this paper is that I don´t understand what is so controversial about it. The paper basically states that invasive species should not be eradicated, unless they are a problem, in which case they should be eradicated. Professor Hobbs warned about what he saw as a trend that the sound-bite society with polarized camps on most debates, with few taking a middle ground is moving from the mainstream media to the scientific debate. He stated that he does not mean that we should give up on invasive species, but if we are struggling with getting rid of the species and e.g. repeatedly use pesticides, we should ask ourselves “What are we doing?”. One person in the audience commented that his ideas are not controversial among managers who are the ones who have to do the work. Professor Hobbs agreed, and said that the problems are the academics.

Professor James Aronson spoke about Natural capital and Ecosystem services.
Natural capital is the stock e.g. natural and near natural ecosystems and their biodiversity. The ecosystem services represent the dividend (flux) that flow from Natural capital. Although I generally like the concept of Ecosystem services, and agree with that we need to put a price tag on nature to be able to explain what the loss of an ecosystem service would cost, I see a big problem with this. No matter how high the value of an ecosystem service is (climate regulation from wetlands by carbon storage), this value is still fictional as long as someone can destroy the asset without having to pay for it. If I break your computer, I will have to pay for it. If I start a coal-power plant, I will not have to pay for changing the climate or the contribution to premature deaths nearby the power-plant, no matter how valuable clean air is. That is, polluters don´t pay.

Rudy van Diggelen finished the day with a fiery talk, where he asked where SER Europe is now that big changes are occurring in EU Nature legislation. He mentioned the EU 2020 biodiversity targets that include a statement that 15% of the degraded areas should be restored. This is a remarkable statement, if one thinks like I do, that most of Europe is a degraded ecosystem he continued. He was also worried about the focus on the hyped term resilience that is gaining foothold in EU nature legislation. This concept, although not new, has gotten a lot of attention recently, and there is for example a research institute in Stockholm that focuses on resilience science. The host, Karel Prach strongly urged people to not use the term resilience, and Professor Hobbs has stated that resilience risks leading to conceptual mudding without providing an operational utility. Rudy named an example were EU environmental subsidies had gone to transform a potato-field into a golf-course, and the argument given has been that “Well, a golf-course is a much more resilient ecosystem than a potato-field. We need, to have answers to this, otherwise we will just be standing on the sideline only being able to later say “I told you so”. I personally do not see the term resilience as a threat, and I think Elmqvist et al´s (2003) paper shows clearly how the concept of resilience is useful.

The day finished with a welcoming dinner, and a mandatory Budweiser Budvar.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Inecol 9 day 5, and the flight home

Friday was the last day of Intecol 9. Idecided  to not attend the talks, since I was busy packing and working on a manuscript. The flight from Orlando to Warsaw via Frankfurt went fine, and I brought with me a lot of good memories from the conference. When I finally went to bed, I had been awake for 36 hours. In 8 days we are moving from Warsaw to Sweden, although I will fly down to Warsaw for meetings.

Intecol 9 day 4, when all hell broke loose

Thursday was showtime for me, but the day started with a plenary talk by climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf. He went through what many already know, that the warming that has occurred already had its theoretical explanation laid out more than hundred years ago, and that the warming that has occurred was predicted before it happened. He compared the current situation to the last IPCC report, and the conclusion is that the last report underestimated the rate of the melt of th arctic sea ice, as well as the rate of the sea level rise, which has gone from a linear increase, to an accelerating increase. This led to questions from the audience about the North Carolina bill, that forces planning for sea level rise in North Carolina, to be made after a linear increase. Rahmstorf answered that he just came from a meeting in North Carolina were one of the bills founders was present, and he could only say that the North Carolina bill basically makes it illegal for planners to take reality into account. Sea level has gone from increasing with 1 mm per year to now increasing with 3 mm per year.

Then came Tom Armstrong who talked about what the U.S. Is doing to combat climate change. He pointed out that the cost of climate related damages is increasing in the U.S. It would turn out that one person in the audience would lash out at Armstrong later.

Rebecca Rooney talked about the environmental cost of "Ethical oil" as Canada likes to call its tar-sand oil. This is a topic that really interests me since it is insane amounts of peatlands that are destroyed, which makes the oil more polluting than any other oil on the planet. I was however the next one to speak after Rooney, so my concentration was partly on her presentation, and partly on my presentation.

My talk went perfect, and I received questions about the level of water level increase, and if peat-production can be used as a functional trait. The water level increased wit ca 20+ cm (Hedberg et. al 2012, Biological Conservation), and peat production can be a trait. The simplest way is a binary trait (yes for plants that produce peat, no for plants that don´t produce peat). Another option is a discrete scale with grades for how good plants are at producing peat.

After me Kevin Hedge presented a really nice biomimicry for cleaning water. It is floating islands with thousands of small pores that mimic the water-cleaning effect of wetlands. The thousands of small pores create a huge surface area that bacterias that bind Phosphorous, Copper, Zink, Nitrogen and ammoniac bind to. Vegetation can be planted on the islands, and they have made some very decorative islands for some customers were making the harbor environment more beautiful was a part-goal. When plants are added, the nutrient removal increases with 50%. The number of islands and the size can be adjusted after how polluted the water is. Currently 4400 Floating Treatment Wetlands ( as they call them) have been installed.

After the lunch I had a great tweetup with Jeff Trullick from the US Army Corps of Engineers who was tweeting with the hashtag #Intecol9 just like I did. We had a good talk about the gas-exploration going on in the. U.S, as well as the protection of the rivers that create the majestic waterfalls along the Maryland fall line.

In the afternoon I sat and listened to Tomasz Okrusko from the Agricultural University of Warsaw who talked about the ecosystem services provided by European wetlands. After him Ed Maltby from the U.K. talked about the way wetland ecosystem services are now identified in the U.K. And how there has been a trend from seeing wetlands as purely a nature conservation issue, to taking into account their huge functional importance.

Then Edward Richards went up on stage and all hell broke loose. I had already thought of leaving. Edwards title "The challenge of steady coastal law in the time of rising oceans" was of course interesting, but I was tired, and wanted to get a paper submitted before a 12 hour flight the next day. I did not plan to stay, but what can I say? When someone starts a presentation by saying that his title could just as well have been "The highway to hell" you react. When the same person goes on to say that "people are going to die and wetlands will disappear, unless scientists stand up", then you´re stuck. He mocked how the plenary speaker Armstrong talked about how the government cares about climate change, and said that the only department that takes climate change seriously is the department of National Security, because they have to look at the reality, of for example the consequence to national security in a situation where most of Bangladesh's population emigrate to other countries. He was particularly angry about what he saw as the madness in how people in New Orleans seam to believe that it is a human right for them to be able to live were they always have lived, despite that the land is sinking (1 m within 100 years), and that the sea level is rising at the same time. This is done by the government financing an unsustainable levee system according to Richards. A 1 m sea level increase would force everybody to move 40 miles inland, because Louisiana is flat, very flat. Currently sediments are dropped outside the Louisiana coast, where they according to Richards only can create some patchy marsh vegetation. The best place to dump the sediment would according to him be be in the area were the poorest people live in New Orleans,  and that lies 8 feet below sea level, then we might be able to accomplish something he said. He added that this idea is however not very popular with the people living there, and if you say that they have to move, you will be called a racist, just because you don't think that the people living there deserves to drown first. He stated that "We look at the dutch, but there wouldn't bee any dutch if Europe had hurricanes." "Some of you are working with trying to get others to reduce their carbon footprint. I applaud you, but it is not going to work. There is not going to be a global agreement in the coming 50, perhaps even 100 years, so we are pretty much set for this time period."

He finished with saying, "I have three minutes left, but I am going to stop here for questions, because I could go on an rant about this for days. It would be like Castro and the Polit bureau.

Ok, let's make one thing clear. Edwards is not a wetland scientist, but he is a professor in law, who has been entrusted by the government on issues relating to National Security, and working as a professor in Louisiana he is familiar with the situation in New Orleans, and holds classes in coastal law. Together with this he has an undergraduate degree in biology. Most people probably agree with him that there is very little signs of progress when it comes to an international binding agreement to limit the release of greenhouse gases.

I ran into Richards during the coffee break, and thanked him for a very humorous and interesting presentation. Oh well, he said, I don't think I changed anything, but when the next hurricane comes I will at least be able to say, "I told you so".