Does Reintroduction of the Wolf in Yellowstone have Environmental Benefits? Wendy Carter
Western Governors University
Wolves, having remarkable speed, strength and intelligence, were once abundant predators throughout the North American continent, including at least five species and two million animals (Leonard, Vila, & Wayne, 2005). However, in just a couple of centuries, the wolf population dwindled. By the early to mid-1900’s only five percent of the population remained in the contiguous United States, and wolves were completely eradicated from Yellowstone by 1926 (Knight, McCoy, Chase, McCoy, & Holt, 2005). Park rangers, officers of the law, federal predator control agents, and hunters, by means of trapping, poisoning and shooting, purposefully accomplished the extinction of wolves in Yellowstone. Over the next decade, the focus on Yellowstone as a national park went from being a “natural freak show” and entertainment to a place of education and a restoration of natural ecosystem (Knight et al., 2005). Between 1960 and 1972 ecologists, biologists, and the National Park Service agreed upon and stressed the importance of restoring the park’s ecosystem. This included returning the only missing native species, the wolf, which they discovered to be a fundamental part of a salubrious ecosystem (Knight et al., 2005).
In January 1995 thru 1996, the reintroduction of 31 wolves into the Yellowstone basin occurred after their removal from the region for nearly 70 years (Knight et al., 2005). Yellowstone has been going through a restructuring of the ecosystem since the reintroduction and is now home to mountain lions, grizzly and black bears, and wolves, all native species of large carnivores (Smith, Peterson, & Houston, 2003). Since the Yellowstone reintroduction, wolves are no longer on the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and there is a shifting paradigm towards conservation verses restoration (Millspaugh, Kunkel, Kochanny, Peterson, & Licht, 2010). Once people understand how wolves complete an ecosystem, such as Yellowstone’s, they can better accept wolves’ existence has a worthy predator.
The information found in this research will be helpful in support of the argument that the reintroduction of the wolf as a large carnivore into the greater Yellowstone basin has been advantageous to the reestablishment of a salubrious ecosystem that is beneficial to all as evidenced by increasing food sources for scavengers, an indirect positive effect on vegetation, and control over population, distribution, and behavior of other mammals such as the coyote and elk. The report, “Resource dispersion and consumer dominance: scavenging at wolf- and hunter-killed carcasses in Greater Yellowstone”, published by Ecology Letters, offers credible research on food resource dispersion and scavenger dominance of wolf- verses hunter- killed carcasses. Naturally complete ecosystems are dependent on constant and diversified food resources available throughout the seasons. Food resources are provided largely by carnivores such as wolves and the remains left behind by hunters. Their research shows that wolves more evenly disperse their carnage over a vaster region and it is more available throughout the seasons.
The researchers chose a variety of settings in the northern Yellowstone winter range of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem (GYE) to observe multiple species, the affects of food availability in relation to time, territory, and fluctuations in food quantities, and what effects the aforementioned have on growth and populations of species in the GYE. Yellowstone’s ecosystem is of particular interest, with wolves and hunters being the carnivores and coyotes, golden eagles, bald eagles, ravens, and magpies being the scavengers in order of hierarchy found at a carnage food resource (Wilmers, Crabtree, Smith, Murphy, & Getz, 2003). The Ecology Letters Report (2003) compares wolf carnage to gut remains left behind by hunters relevant to...
References: Berger, Joel, Smith, Douglas W. (2005). Restrorig Functionality in Yellowstone with Recovering Carnivores: Gains and Uncertainties. In, Large Carnivores and the Conservation of Biodiversity. (pp. 100-110) Island Press.
Knight T, McCoy M, Chase J, McCoy K, Holt R. Trophic cascades across ecosystems. Nature [serial online]. October 6, 2005;437(7060):880-883. Available from: MEDLINE with Full Text, Ipswich, MA. Accessed November 3, 2012.
Millspaugh, J. J., Kunkel, K. E., Kochanny, C. O., Peterson, R. O., & Licht, D. S. (2010). Using Small Populations of Wolves for Ecosystem Restoration and Stewardship. Bioscience, 60(2), 147-153.
Ray, Justina C. Berger, Joel Redford, Kent H. (2005). Restrorig Functionality in Yellowstone with Recovering Carnivores: Gains and Uncertainties. In, Large Carnivores and the Conservation of Biodiversity. (pp. 100-110) Island Press.
Ripple, W. J., Beschta, R. L. (2004). Wolves and the Ecology Fear: Can Predation Risk Structure Ecosystems? Bioscience, 54(8), 755-766.
Ripple, W. J., Beschta, R. L. (2005). Linking Wolves and Plants: Aldo Leopold on Trophic Cascades. Bioscience, 55(7), 613-621.
Ripple, W. J., Beschta, R. L. (2011). Trophic Cascades in Yellowstone: The first 15 years after the wolf reintroduction. Biological Conservation (2011), doi 10.1016/j.biocon.2011.11.005.
Smith, D. W., Peterson, R. O., Houston, D. B. (2003) Yellowstone after Wolves, Bioscience, 53(4), 330-340.
Please join StudyMode to read the full document