Who Are Apex Predators in Ohio? We Are. OH Really?

Dec 23, 2019
Originally published on December 27, 2019 1:14 pm

Deer hunting season is winding down in Ohio. As it does, we’re considering a question about Ohio wildlife from a WKSU listener. Nicholas Kavalec asked our OH Really? team about apex predators—those at the top of the food chain. We connected him with a wildlife manager at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) in Akron.

Tucked off of Portage Lakes Drive, Myers Island is home to the ODNR’s Wildlife Division District 3. On the narrow road that takes you back to the building you pass a small fishing pond families use in the summer. This fall we visited with Geoff Westerfield, assistant wildlife management supervisor in District 3.

“In Northeast Ohio, despite our heavy urban population that we have, we also have a very diverse amount of wildlife," Westerfield said. 

Listener Nicholas Kavalec enjoys that wildlife and being outdoors. "I live in Twin Lakes so I would always go down towards Twin Lakes and just be on the boat there." We connect with Nicholas via Skype. He’s a college student in between classes at John Carroll University.

He asks Geoff Westerfield the question he submitted to us at OH Really? "I know that other states have been relatively successful in introducing some of their population of larger apex predators, things like wolves. I haven’t done any scientific research, I’ve just looked at your basic stories online of the people of Yellowstone Park reintroducing wolves for example and how that made the ecosystem so much stronger. And I was just wondering if that would be viable in Ohio?"

Westerfield says there are many barriers to something like that being done in Ohio. He contemplates under what circumstances anything like that might be considered. "The biggest, I guess, probably area where you might be looking at that apex predator would be in something like, you know, in a management scenario of 'Okay, let’s say we have too many deer, we can utilize that as a tool to help address that problem.'"

Westerfield says the current deer population in Ohio is stable and ODNR has not and is not considering reintroducing wolves. "Species such as wolves probably would not have a major impact on you know, attacks on people, and that’s probably not a huge concern. We do have a lot of livestock in the state, so we have to be receptive to those issues that come up," Westerfield said. "The really tough thing with apex predators is they typically need a lot of space right there at the top of the food chain."

Changing dynamics

Wolves roamed Ohio in the early 1800s, but human expansion pushed them out by the early 1840s according to Ohio History Central

"It’s really tough to look at it from the natural world scenario, because the reality is, especially for a state like Ohio, we are anything but natural," Westerfield said. "As much as we love to go hiking in the woods and enjoy the metro parks and the state parks and that kind of thing you know we humans have done a great job of really screwing this place up. We are the apex predator."  

Living with wildlife

"Gary, quit it, you're gonna start a howl." The film Zootopia humorously animated the howling wolves are best known for. You won’t hear that sound in Ohio woods and again there is no plan to bring wolves back. But another canid—coyotes—are thriving here. The ODNR’s Geoff Westerfield says bobcats are also making a comeback. These wildlife require understanding. 

"Whether it be a coyote or a bobcat killing domestic chickens you know, those are real issues. The perceived issues tend to want to come to the forefront more often than not," he said. "So you know people--and a coyote is a prime example of that. We regularly work with city leaders, Ohioans in general that have major concerns over a coyote in their backyard; that the coyote is going to kill the pet, is going to harm themselves."

Westerfield says education has been key in addressing those concerns. And the state is always monitoring wildlife populations. "We try to minimize the invasives, keep diversity; that tends to be two kind of big key points to really have a good solid ecosystem. So where we can do that the better. That’s why as an agency we try to work on reintroduction projects and try to maintain species that are out there."

Westerfield points to efforts to help the monarch butterfly population. As far as reintroducing species, he says a 1980s effort to bring back river otters has been successful. And early in the 1900s the state reintroduced deer and turkey populations. Knowing these things, helps Nicholas Kavalec better understand Ohio wildlife and the natural world he enjoys. "I think that you’ve done a really good job answering my questions, and I really appreciate it. I’ve learned a lot. This was fantastic. I really enjoyed this."

Have a question? OH Really? would love to hear from you:

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