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Oregon State scientists detail how to re-establish threatened carnivore populations across the globe

TRIBUNE PHOTO: STEVE LAW - Lions move in to feast on a zebra killed by a pride member, in Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. Researchers at the College of Forestry at Oregon State University have identified more than 280 parts of the planet where large carnivores could be reintroduced to restore ecosystems. The species include lions, tigers, bears, wolves, and 22 other large land carnivores.

OSU post-doctoral researcher Christopher Wolf is the lead author of the paper, Rewilding the World's Large Carnivores, recently published in Royal Society Open Science, a professional journal. Wolf worked with William Ripple, an OSU distinguished professor of forest ecology.

"We wanted to examine the potential for reintroductions globally, not just at a few sites," Wolf said.

They identified 130 areas in 48 countries that would be optimal for such rewilding, including Olympic National Park in Washington and Everglades National Park in Florida.

They identified places where the footprint of human activity is smallest, and where carnivores could be compatible with people and potentially exert a beneficial impact on ecological function and biodiversity. In such "last of the wild" regions, they added, the animals would be most likely to have adequate prey, corridors for travel and low risks from interaction with agriculture, livestock, roads and other human activities.

"It's ironic, that many of these large carnivore species are moving closer to extinction, while at the same time scientists are discovering their important effects on ecosystems," Ripple said. "Large predators can limit herbivores, such as deer and elk, which can cause drastic changes through heavy browsing on shrubs, trees and other vegetation."

Eighty percent of the subject species are declining in population across the globe, while two-thirds of them are considered threatened.

The reintroduction of wolves in Oregon has been controversial among ranchers fearing loss of livestock.

But in Yellowstone National Park, Wolf noted, the reintroduction of wolves has led to an estimated $35.5 million in additional revenue each year from tourists who come to see wolves.

To see an abstract of the study: http://rsos.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/5/3/172235

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