Q&A: Professor discusses his experiences working with wolves
Thomas Gehring, a biology faculty member at Central Michigan University, has experience in wildlife conservation.
Coming from a farming and hunting background, Gehring was compelled to earn three degrees in ecology.
Gehring started at CMU 20 years ago, he chose it for its mix of chance for research and opportunity to connect with students. He has been a part of several research projects during his stay on this campus.
He teaches many biology and ecology courses here at CMU on-top of being known for his work regarding the non-lethal methods of wolf prevention for farmstock.
Central Michigan Life met with Gehring to talk about his experiences and his opinions on wildlife conservation.
CM Life: How important is the role of the average person in wildlife conservation?
Gehring: It’s critical. How the public thinks and feels on these things drives everything wildlife. So just to be even aware of outside and wildlife, as people have a natural affinity to nature, getting out there and being aware allows for a bigger connection. Every individual is critical in this process. Everything you do like make a decision to reduce waste and your carbon emissions can be linked back to those environments that you like to be out in.
Any suggestions for individuals who want to help with conservation?
I think all the awareness is the first part, but to get critical mass, you have to be more than one person for it. Getting active with clubs or organizations is very helpful for this. Some of these people will have different viewpoints on these things, and that’s actually a good thing. You will have the commonality of your club’s message. In Congress, there’s legislation to protect grassland systems in the U.S., and you could work on lobbying with these groups for some of this change. Now it’s gotten even bigger than just the individual.
Which is a greater threat to livestock, illness, or predators? Which is taken more seriously?
Hands down, illness. Now which one is taken more seriously? If you look at the noise out there, it’s definitely predators, but in the day-to-day, the farmers are taking disease prevention more seriously, and in solving those issues, they’re making progress in preventative medicine.
Do you favor any method of wolf prevention over others?
The livestock guarding dogs. There’s no one perfect tool here, but I think the dogs are the best overall option. The cost issue also makes these dogs the most effective and they are already extremely effective at loss prevention to begin with. None of the other tools are living as they are simply tools. Dogs, being living things, have that connection and that bond. This makes the farmers even more invested in the dogs, and that’s just tremendous.
If given a team and a grant right now, what would you focus your studies on?
I would go livestock dogs predominantly, and I would be placing these dogs on farms everywhere. The farmers willing to accept these dogs, free of charge, would help us integrate research to see where we would succeed and where we might fail, how we can do better even. I’d actually have a farm to have students help caretake livestock and learn agriculture, with these dogs being kind of ambassadors for this program.
How do you feel about the morality of putting bounties on predators?
I would say overall, it’s a poor choice and would probably be immoral. I mean, it’s exterminating a species on purpose, right? In humanity, we just don’t do that, so you could argue it’s immoral outside of humans as well.
Do you think wolves should remain a protected species permanently?
I personally wouldn’t be interested in hunting them but I’m not anti-hunting them. I want to make sure we do it correctly though. Since there’s always the risk of too many wolves being removed and heading back towards where we came from with localized extinction and then having to recover them. So I would want to make sure we have our heads on straight on his stuff and we manage this accordingly.
What have you found that wolves and other predators often go unappreciated for?
Having them in the system promotes more diversity of other species. As the predator gets better and smarter, so does the prey. These animals are the way they are because of a natural predator, like deer, always getting faster and more alert. It allows for the prey to evolve alongside the predator and lets us appreciate the beauty of not only the prey but the predator as well.
How has wildlife conservation changed over your career?
We’ve gotten better, we’ve improved our science and the outreach with stakeholders and other groups. My fear, however, on the public opinion side of things is that we haven’t stood up for it as much as we maybe should.
Do you have a favorite wildlife protection organization? Or a personal idol?
Tough question, there are so many that do some great work out there. I’m gonna pick the Aldo Leopold Foundation, which is in Wisconsin, only because it is both environmental education and restoration with conservation. For the idol, Aldo Leopold has and will always be the biggest one just for a wide variety of reasons. Another professional hero would have to be Rachel Carson, a great example of how an individual can greatly influence conservation and public health policy, while also being an incredible scientist.
What prompted you to become a doctor in wildlife ecology?
If I were to boil it down, I wanted to teach for sure, and at the same time, I also wanted to do my own research and answer the questions I was interested in. I also wanted the ability to direct the research I wanted to perform and not necessarily be told how I must do things in a certain way.
What’s the best way for students to connect to you and your research?
They can just shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and set up a virtual meeting in this virtual world we live in, or at some point, just come by my office and see me.