LETTING NATURE WORK: THE ARGUMENT FOR ENCOURGAING THE RETURN OF MOUNTAIN LIONS TO IOWA

By Paul Strubell of Dirt Orcas – 4/28/17

As an Iowa resident you are likely to hit a deer with your vehicle once every ten years. Each yeah we see the dollar amounts associated with deer related collisions rise to unbelievable figures. Since 2004 our deer population is actually on the decline. Yet as more and more Iowans take to the roads, deer related accidents continue to rise. Add that to the average repair cost to newer more expensive vehicles and you have yourself a very expensive problem. I suggest we let nature do the work in fighting back. We should be supporting the reintroduction of apex predators like mountain lion instead of being afraid of it.

According to this piece by Washington University in St. Louis, “Each year deer cause 1.2 million vehicle collisions in the U.S., triggering more than 200 deaths, some 29,000 injuries and $1.66 billion in costs associated with vehicle damage, medical bills and road cleanup.” Which means in just a decade insurance companies are likely to pay out more than $10 billion in claims related to hitting a deer with your vehicle!

As we continue to watch the DNR take no positive steps for change year after year it is clear that we ought to try something new. The outdated thinking needs to come to an end and we need to use the available data and science to improve our land.

Bringing back mountain lions and other apex predators is a justifiable option in my opinion. Not only should be we protecting mountain lions in Iowa, but we should actively be encouraging their return in abundance. The presence of an apex predator is vital to the health of any ecosystem. They create a trickle down effect that benefits the health of the entire food chain and will produce the side benefit of reducing deer / vehicle collisions.

One of the biggest reasons our deer population is so rampant is due to the perfect “edge” habitat created by Iowa’s farm lands. Deer love the “edge” land of wooded areas and open grasslands. It provides grazing opportunities as well as suitable cover for them.

We have also planted ample food sources to fatten them up and keep the population extremely healthy. Several record sized bucks have been coming more and more increasingly out of Iowa the last ten years. Their overpopulation needs balancing and it is clear our current methods are not working with the human demands of our roadways.

Deer are also just the current problem in Iowa. In many parts of the country, feral pigs are destroying farm land costing farmers billions. It is only a matter of time before this unwanted species makes it way here to SE Iowa from Missouri; Adding another new challenge to the health of our ecosystem and to maintaining road safety.

The return of the apex predators like mountain lion and wolves to our state would drastically reduce the populations of these animals and also positively effect their herds. Nature has a way of balancing itself. When wolves or mountain lion hunt, they seek to make their lives easier, taking the smaller or even sick members of a species. Human methods of hunting deer has the opposite effect. The focus being on getting the largest and most healthy of the species. Leaving the remaining population of smaller or sick members to repopulate and unbalance the natural order.

This isn’t meant to be an indictment on hunting. The reintroduction and protection of apex predators will not interfere with our current hunting seasons and the state revenue generated from hunting licenses should remain in place. Still the overpopulation of deer continues to exist and the combination of responsible hunting and the addition of apex predators should balance things out in time.

Researchers found that within 30 years of cougars recolonizing the Eastern U.S., large cats could thin deer populations and reduce vehicle collisions by 22 percent — each year preventing five human fatalities, 680 injuries and avoiding costs of $50 million. Something that personally strikes a cord with me and you can read about that here.

The other issue to deal with if we move forward with this is the often comment raised about apex predators affecting livestock populations. While there is evidence to support that wolves will occasionally kill and eat livestock, the numbers are pretty small. Mountain lions are much less likely to prey on livestock. Even if this issue is a real concern, the insurance companies have always paid for the loss of the finical value of the animal. Making the livestock owner whole on his eventual investment.

The farmers next argument is always the emotion one. That it is “difficult to witness one of your animals be killed by wolves or mountain lion” and that they will not stand for it. This argument falls quite flat for me. While some emotional trauma no doubt exists from seeing a carved up and bloody carcass, eaten by a wild animal, it is a tough pill to swallow. Are we suppose to believe that this animal who are raising for slaughter has some special place in your heart? The insurance covers the lost income and if you don’t have the stomach for dead animals maybe you reconsider your choice of career.

The time has come to move into a wiser phase in our efforts to conserve and protect our lands and livelihoods. While there are some valid concerns about the return of apex predators to our states, most of those concerns are based on poor information and old wives tales. New data suggests that the benefits of reintroducing apex predators far outweigh the downsides. It is time to adjust our thinking and return our lands to a place of greater health.

People are more likely to be struck by lightning in the United States than to see a mountain lion in the wild. These secretive animals hunt by night and will have little impact on the daily lives of our citizens. However their biological impact will be noticed greatly, in a reduction of collision related financial loss with or even death of people we care about.

Yes, there will be a rise in livestock fatalities, but certainly the reduction in human fatality from these collisions outweighs the hardship of cleaning up the occasional dead sheep.

In fact, I think the insurance companies that pay billions of dollars a year would be more than happy to even get involved in these reintroduction efforts. Possibly funding programs to improve road safety and reduce auto damage with the side benefit of creating a healthier ecosystem.

This is a proposed solution to a growing problem that will benefit many and harm few. It’s time to use the available data to improve our state and not let outdated fears govern or decisions.

2 replies
  1. Jim
    Jim says:

    I’m with you on this one Paul. Reintroducing apex predators has proven to improve ecosystems everywhere it’s been done. For example, reduction of elk and deer in other areas due to apex predators being allowed to grow back have balanced other populations to the point of majorly reducing river bank erosion due to overgrazing by deer, therefore allowing back bird populations because of restored habitat , reducing mid-level predators allowing smaller game to gain population, etc. etc. etc.!

    Hunters can still hunt deer, we just don’t have to wipe out other species for provide for them. Nor can we afford to allow the beef industry to dictate what creatures live and die just for their profit.

    Make no mistake, though, the mountain lion is an apex predator. They just have the right to exist as much as man does…

    Reply
    • Dirt Orcas
      Dirt Orcas says:

      Thank you for your thoughts Jim. The overall health of the ecosystem really is the goal. The benefit of reduction in deer/car collisions is just a really great side benefit.

      Reply

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