How Does a Wolf Provide Cold Water For Fish?
by David A. Martin, AKA Ranger Pine
One of the most important parts of Environmental Education in this present era is to show connections. As humanity lives on an increasingly grander scale, what we do in our daily lives affects the natural world. Inversely, the natural world affects our daily lives. These connections are not well known nor easily seen or taught, providing a uniquely challenging task for Environmental Educators. Rangers John Duston and I found some creative ways to broach this wisdom gap during a recent MPEC camp.
Mission: Wolf Camp is a three day two night camp at a wolf sanctuary west ofGreenhornMountain. We work together providing support to MW’s volunteer organization by performing a variety of service projects. Campers also learn about wolves, wolf re-introduction, predator-prey habitat relationships and the current scientific findings in the attempt to restore environmental balance by re-wilding areas ofAmericaand actually meet some real live wolves
Inspired to engage the campers’ critical thinking towards a real and personal connection between themselves and their world, we posed a question to the campers: “How does a wolf provide cold water for fish?” This may at first sound like a mysterious Zen koan, however some of the campers are graduates of MPEC’s Earth Studies and already know much about food chains and predator/prey relations giving them ecological fundamentals to help with this riddle.
While the campers met “ambassador wolves” that are accustomed to meeting people, MW founder and director Kent Weber talked about wolf reintroduction efforts inYellowstone. Through story and Socratic questions,Kenthelped the campers realize how the wolf reintroduction was directly responsible for some amazing ecological restoration.
They learned how the restored presence of wolves directly impacts grazing behaviors of elk, making the large ungulates more wary while grazing riparian areas. After wolves were extirpated from Yellowstone eighty years ago, their swelling numbers did significant damage to aspen, willow and other stream side vegetation, drastically decreasing the health of riparian habitat for fish and other species. With wolves back in the picture, elk habits returned to how they used to be, spending much less time along streams due to their being more vulnerable to wolf predation while in these areas. These changes in elk behavior are resulting in an increase in riparian vegetation. The re-growth of aspen and other shading plant species along streams is creating cooler water temperatures, allowing more dissolved oxygen for fish and aquatic insects and ripple effects throughout the ecosystem.
Having solved this riddle, the campers were faced with a final question; how does our work here at MW help those fish in other places and communities have cold water? The campers were right there with the answer: working and helping to support the work at MW allows their staff more time to care for the wolves and spread the word through their traveling educational programs to schools. The campers realized that by taking home and sharing their personal story and new knowledge, they might raise the level of ecological consciousness of their community. They too are now ambassadors with a message. By working both physically on the service projects and contemplatively on the mysterious question of connection, these campers earned a personal knowledge and wisdom that they can embody and share with the world.