Sunday, April 19, 2009
The Wolf Issue, Part III
OK, I know this is sort of late. I've been preoccupied with other things and trying to compile my thoughts on this issue so that maybe you'd all get something out of it. I said last time that I'd talk about the positives of having wolves back in the wild. So, along with other things, let's talk about that.
Now, as I've already discussed, hunters are concerned about having wolves back in the wild; about having a predator to compete with. Some of you may have listened to hunters go on and on about how the wolves have or will deplete the elk herds, which wouldn't be right. People talk about how the elk numbers in Yellowstone have dropped significantly since the early 90s, before wolf reintroduction. That is actually true. Elk numbers have dropped by as much as half in certain parts of the park. But this isn't surprising. The elk went more than 60 years without a predator, which made them very comfortable; almost tame. During those 60 + years, the elk numbers actually got out of hand. There were too many elk. There was overgrazing in many areas, which leads to other problems. Elk would eat and trample the plants and grasses which lined stream/river banks, which, in turn led to erosion. Waterways became wider and took new turns. Native plants in those areas nearly went extinct. Where the water ran slow enough, beavers used to build dams and lodges. Once enough erosion occurred and changed the flow patters, beavers eventually became non-existent where before they had thrived. One of the most detrimental things was disease. You see, if the elk numbers become too great, and there's no reason for herds to move or break up into smaller herds, disease becomes rampant, being passed on to the young calves, over and over. For many reasons, it became obvious that something was missing in Yellowstone. The West needed its wolves.
Wolves generally cull the elk populations, by taking out the weak, the sick, or the old. (That's the general pattern--I realize it's not the case 100% of the time.) So, with the wolves in the picture, Yellowstone's elk are healthier. The presence of a supreme predator has caused the elk to change their behavior. No longer do they stay in one place, over populating and over-grazing. The elk now move around. They are much more alert. Native plants are making a comeback along the streams and rivers. Erosion has ceased being the major problem it was. Beavers are back. Fox numbers are up. And the great bio-community is much closer to equilibrium, that balance which is characteristic of a healthy eco-system.
The elk are not gone. They are just more aware of predators, including humans. They don't hang out off the sides of the roads as much. Now the hunters will just have to step their game up and actually hunt, in order to kill. Don't believe me? According to the USFWS, the elk populations of EACH of Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana are a minimum of 14% ABOVE state objectives. So, have wolves decimated elk populations? The simple, irrefutable answer is no.
I realize I've not yet talked much about the social behavior of wolves, especially pack dynamics. That will come in the 4th installment. I'll try to get it up within a week's time.
Here are some websites though, in case you are becoming more and more interested in this topic.
**The photo above is actually a coyote track, which is half the size of a wolf track, but extremely similar otherwise. It's all I had. And, although wolves and coyotes are closely related, by no means are they the same.