Center for Wildlife Research/Fisheries Management
Max McGraw never lost his insatiable curiosity about man’s proper place in the natural world. He sought to leave a legacy, through the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation, to encourage that same curiosity and activism in others.
As a result, the Foundation is known across the continent as a leader in wildlife conservation research and education. Much of this work has been done at the request of federal, state and local agencies, which recognize the expertise McGraw scientists bring to the table.
Indeed, one of the most significant projects in which the Foundation is involved is the “Urban Coyote Ecology and Management” study led by Stan Gehrt, PhD., associate professor at The Ohio State University, and chair of McGraw’s Center for Wildlife Research. It has been more than 10 years since the Foundation partnered with Ohio State, Cook County Animal and Rabies Control, and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. The study also receives support from the Brookfield Zoo and the Zoological Pathology Program from the University of Illinois.
What the study has revealed has contributed mightily to the knowledge base of not just the inevitability of coyotes sharing our fields, forests, farms and neighborhoods, but how to co-exist with them. This project is described in detail at the website: http://www.urbancoyoteresearch.com/
The study provides information regarding the rapid spread of coyotes from rural America into metropolitan areas. Since its inception in 2000, the team has live-captured and marked some 743 coyotes and radio collared more than 420. The invaluable knowledge they have gained continues to help urban dwellers better understand these highly adapted carnivores.
Coyotes are among the smartest of mammals, moving into suburbs and cities where they still can find ample prey (such as rodents and waterfowl eggs) and processed human foods (often garbage left where they can access it easily).
They are, for all intents and purposes, at the top of the food chain in their environment and therefore, they have no real natural enemies other than man. Instinctively, they carve out territories as their population expands.
Often, this territorial nature collides with our own and we find coyotes sharing our neighborhoods. Occasionally this can result in conflict, particularly when coyotes view domestic pets as food or competition, though in general urban coyotes have shown little propensity to attack humans.
“They just try to avoid us – and citizens should seek to maintain that relationship,” says Gehrt. “Feeding [coyotes] or leaving garbage in the open is just an invitation for disaster if it results in them losing their natural fear of humans.”
Coyotes in neighborhoods are usually not nuisance animals; typically animals become a problem only after they have become habituated to human activities (such as being attracted to well-intended wildlife feeding stations like bird feeders).
As a leading expert in the field of urban coyotes, Gehrt has been featured in local news stations and on shows aired by National Geographic. He is often contacted to educate the public on coyote behavior.
Gehrt recently was called upon to act as a consultant to Nova Scotia officials investigating the very rare fatal coyote attack on a 19-year-old woman hiking alone in the wilderness. This may help identify factors leading to more extreme behaviors of coyotes in different environments.
Gehrt’s work, however, is only one example of research established through the support of the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation. Dating back to 1965, there have been some 100 studies related to wildlife conservation, with many of them ongoing.
This work has been documented in numerous papers, journals, articles, and other publications. The studies include everything from bats and butterflies to waterfowl and wetlands. The knowledge base from this work has helped biologists around the country to better understand the evolving nature of mankind’s relationships with the natural world and how to most effectively manage them.
But what is going on in research at McGraw above the ground is only part of the story. Tom Harder, McGraw’s former fisheries/aquaculture manager, sees the Foundation’s work as a contributor to solving a worldwide demand for protein from fish.
The foundation’s research on walleyes and smallmouth bass and other game fish is, of course, important to McGraw members who fish. But, equally important, McGraw’s research is contributing to the body of knowledge of the importance of fish as a source of protein the world over.
It is estimated that in the very near future, the majority of the world’s protein will come from fish. And aquaculture, in both freshwater and saltwater, will be a key element.
This is why the work of McGraw is so important. Since 1975, McGraw’s fisheries biologists at McGraw’s Fisheries Research Center have been studying and improving the ways and means of improving the healthy propagation of freshwater game fish. Game fish are at the top of the food chain. Thus they can be no healthier than the environment in which they live.
y studying how they live and grow in a controlled environment, McGraw’s work helps other fisheries biologists understand the optimum conditions they need to thrive in natural environments.
Much of McGraw’s learning comes from a unique “Water Reuse Aquaculture System,” built in 2007 which enables the Foundation to raise fish over the winter in a contained environment. Working with Doctors Robert Summerfelt and his son, Steven, renowned aquaculture experts at Iowa State University and the Freshwater Institute, respectively, Harder and McGraw’s co-fisheries biologist Gordy Gotsch, the team has made significant strides in learning more about the life-cycles of walleye and smallmouth bass.
To be sure, walleyes, though one of the most popular of game fishes, are nutritionally among the most beneficial. They are filled with Omega 3 and Omega 6 acids, which nutritionists have long promoted as an important element in a healthy diet.
The work done at McGraw assists both public (state natural resources departments which raise fish for the stocking of public lakes and streams) and commercial fish farms, which sell fish to restaurants and other private entities. McGraw’s funding of research contributes to the body of knowledge that every lake, river, stream and pond is more than just a home for game fish. It is part of an entire ecosystem. Just as we discovered the effects of harmful pesticides on birds of prey that were at the top of their food chain, we know that when game fish are not healthy, it is most likely their environment that is causing it. It is why game fish are often called ”indicator species.” They allow us to understand the health of the whole of the environment.
Indeed, the McGraw team has pioneered and led or co-led some 35 studies and presentations on aquaculture designed to assure an enlightened approach to effectively raising healthy fish. McGraw’s fisheries management professionals are active in assisting both the private and public sector in fisheries management. In essence, what is being learned at and disseminated from McGraw is contributing to the whole. Even the smallest advance could help others who want to take the next step.
By funding aquaculture research, the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation retains an important role in the world of fisheries biology. And who can tell how that research may lead to someday helping to feed the world?