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Habitat and Predator Management

Intricate Balance Between Predator and Prey
2/16/2018 10:47:35 AM
By Richard Rummel, MDWFP Black Bear/Exotics Species Program Leader

Is the absence of predators always a good thing? Predator/prey relationships are extremely complex and often misunderstood. Simply removing or attempting to remove a predator species from the landscape does not guarantee that it will benefit the prey species. In fact, the long-term result may be just the opposite. 

A classic example is in the first decade of the 1900’s when a million-acre game preserve was established by President Theodore Roosevelt on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. In just over 10 years, government hunters zealously and systematically killed off at least 600 cougars to “protect” the mule deer population. In less than 20 years, the deer herd responded by increasing from 4,000 to nearly 100,000 and in the process stripped the landscape clean which resulted in a massive crash in the deer population and decades for the forest vegetation to recover. 

On a smaller scale, predators such as the bobcat and coyote which certainly may include wild turkey, white-tailed deer fawns, and rabbits in their diets, may be feeding primarily on cotton rats, deer mice, and other small rodents. Left unchecked, these small consumers of insects, seed heads, grasses, fungi, and other vegetation may have the capacity to alter the habitat of ground-nesting birds or fawn cover on a local scale. 

Certainly, there are situations under which predator management is the appropriate course of action. However, before such action is implemented, it would behoove us to keep in mind the words of the early naturalist John Muir who said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe”.

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