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Biology, Sustainability

A positive story for wildlife and farmers

There are so many stories about the conflict between wildlife and farmers. Each one is trying to make their living and their approaches aren’t always compatible. Burrowing animals create holes that animals like horses and cows can fall in and get injured. Predators can prey on animals on the farm. Herbivores can decimate crops. On the other side is lost habitat, lost food sources, and outright removal of wildlife. Unfortunately, issues like climate change are generally increasing these conflicts, but there is a positive relationship that is developing in the face of climate change.

In the northwest of Washington state the bald eagles have historically relied on salmon in the local river for their major food source. Climate change has changed the timing of the salmon spawning. The fish are spawning earlier in the year, closer to when the river flooding is at its peak. Because the river is higher, instead of washing up on the shore of the river where the Eagles can feed on them, the bodies of the salmon are being washed downstream by the high water. This effectively removes a vital food source for the Eagles.

In response to the changes at the river, the Eagles have been moving inland, bringing them over the nearby dairy farms. But, through interviews with the local farmers, Duvall, Schwabe, and Steensma (2023) found that this move is actually helping the farmers. The eagles, according to the farmers, are helping deter unwanted pests and clean up unwanted products including afterbirth from after a cow gives birth and the bodies of calves that did not survive.

This research shows that there can be positives from the presence of wildlife, including top predators, in agricultural environments. This is good news given that humans and wildlife are only expected to run into each other more as climate change, urbanization, and population growth continue to change the landscape. But I do wonder if there are negative attitudes that also have to be overcome before some individuals or groups could see any potential positives.

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.


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