ENG 102- MWP2
21 October 2013
It was 1926 when Westerners rode through the forests of Yellowstone National Park in their search to eradicate the grey wolf. Tracking the wolves down to their dens, with extreme prejudice they slaughtered the last known wolves using poison gasses, and guns. Hunters and trappers had finally eradicated the grey wolf from the forests of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and Colorado. Douglas Chadwick once pointed out that it wouldn’t be until 1940 that people began to speak up about bringing the wolves back, and it was not until the Endangered Species Act of 1973 passed that grey wolves would be a protected species. In 1995 the environmentalists would win, overcoming extreme resistance, and the grey wolf was finally reintroduced to Idaho and Yellowstone (Chadwick). The reintroduction of wolves is a good thing because it brings balance to the ecosystem.
Consequently as part of the reintroduction, the wolves were considered an experimental, non-essential species so that the federal government could have the freedom to kill them again should the need arise. However, in an article “Wolf Howls Yellowstone Back to Health” Chip Ward stated, “The controversial experiment has been a stellar success” (Ward). The reason the experiment has been so successful is because the wolves have kept the populations of other species in balance. For example, once the wolves had been killed off, the elk populations began to grow, overgrazing the lands. The overpopulation of elk led to casually drinking at streams and grazing with no real fear of predators. In the article “Wolves Are Rebalancing Yellowstone Ecosystem” Robert Beschta stated, “Long-term elk browsing had been preventing any seedlings from getting taller" (“Wolves are Rebalancing Yellowstone Ecosystem” qtd Beschta). This in turn affected the food source for beavers, leading to low beaver populations, leaving few beaver dams to preserve water for wildlife in the park and affected spawning beds for fish. However, with the return of the wolves all this has changed. The beavers are now back in healthy numbers, the aspen and willow trees are able to grow, and the elk have been brought back down to an average population size which has stopped the overgrazing. In addition to Yellowstone, other states have had other positive results with the return of wolves. In Idaho and Montana the elk and deer populations have also been brought down to manageable levels. Manageable meaning that their habitat can support the number of elk and deer that live in the area.
Even though the reintroduction of wolves has had a positive impact on the ecosystem, it has created controversy between environmentalists, ranchers, and hunters. In “Wolves and the Balance of Nature in the Rockies” Frank Clifford observes that, “By the end of 2007, wolves had been implicated in the deaths of about 2,700 livestock in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming in the dozen years since their reintroduction” (Clifford). In making this comment, Clifford argues that this number makes up a very small percentage of total causes of livestock deaths. Nonetheless, it has enraged ranchers throughout the West, with some even threatening to take matters into their own hands.
Although ranchers are reimbursed for livestock that are killed by wolves and allowed to kill wolves that are threatening the cattle there is still a large amount of anger over the reintroduction. Ranchers claim that their cattle are losing weight because they have to move so often and are not able to graze as often as before. In addition, the cows cannot be replaced as quickly as some people are losing them. Often times, pregnant cows are aborting their pregnancies or cows are simply not reproducing at all. In “Wolf Wars” Douglas Chadwick stated, “Cattle harassed by wolves over one season can lose 30 to 50 pounds each. On top of that, hormonal effects from stress kick in” (Chadwick). Chadwick’s point in this is that