ALGONQUIN PROVINCIAL PARK, ONTARIO — Our environment is fluid, changes within the ecology happen frequently. But just because it’s Nature doesn’t mean that all change is natural. Far too often the catalyst for change is man.
Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park has seen some interesting and dramatic changes in it’s predator-prey dynamic over the last century, caused by the hand of man. Logging began the transformation. David Legros is the park’s Natural Heritage Education Specialist.
“There was rather extensive logging, and subsequently a lot of forest fires resulting from the slash piles and careless fires and things like that,” he said. “So this logging, cutting down all the trees, and these fires created a lot of new vegetation, which was excellent feed for deer. At the same time, wolves were being heavily persecuted in this area, not just by local people but also by park rangers.”
The changes in habitat and the removal of wolves, an apex predator, allowed the deer population to explode and both wolves and moose diminished. That changed once again in the 1990s when wolves began to make a comeback in the park.
“This area would have originally been dominated by moose,” explains Legros. “As those early forests began to mature, and wolves were no longer being killed, the number of predators increased for the white tailed deer, the habitat was becoming less good for them, and moose were actually able to rebound, and now,in Algonquin Park, we have over 2600 Moose.”
Deer sightings are now rare, while moose are seen quite frequently. Moose watchers are now common, especially in the Fall. Though the secretive wolf is still tough to spot, just the chance to see one has been a tourism boon. The park offers unique “wolf-howl” excursions during the summer that attract hundreds of hopeful wolf lovers.
“We’ve been doing public wolf howls since the 1960s,” Legros says. “We’ve taken lots and lots and lots of people out to actually hear wild wolves. After a park naturalist howls off into the distance, hopefully wild wolves howl back, and people get to experience wolves that way.”
With more public education, the once rampant fear of these beautiful predators have gone the way of the deer, and though the Algonquin landscape will never again be as it was, mankind, in this instance, has made amends.
“If you’re going to take something apart, with the intention of putting it back together, the first step is really to keep all of the pieces,” says Legros. “You don’t want to lose any, you don’t want anything to roll under a counter top or something like that, so by having all of your pieces together, you ensure your landscape more or less stays intact.”