Outdoors in the Sun: ‘How wolves change rivers’ | #childpredator | #onlinepredator | #sextrafficing

The flights have been booked for Montana. However, instead of packing binoculars, sleeping bags, hunting licenses, and rifles, this trip will be for the continuation of work. The Northwest Mosquito and Vector Control Association will hold its annual meeting in Whitefish, MT later this month. Though Stacey and I will be in attendance, plans have been made to spend a few days exploring the Northwest, and hopefully, Glacier National Park will be one of our stops. Weather becomes dicey this time of year and it’s a good chance that much of the park will already be closed for winter. There’s nothing I can do about that and for the meeting dates, it is what it is. 

Just the other day I was “YouTubing” things to see, do, and visit, near Whitefish. While searching, I ran across several interesting attractions that captured my interest. Then I found it, that is, my inspiration for this article. The title immediately captured my total attention and alas, my search for “entertainment” in a few weeks was put on hold. “How wolves change rivers” took center stage.

The debate regarding the gray wolf has long since been a highly controversial subject and this will not likely change anytime soon. This debate became overly heated when there were plans to reintroduce this species into Yellowstone National Park in 1995. Before we look at what has taken place regarding this endeavor, we must first explore where we have been with the “management” of the wolf and what the status of the species is.

In the 1800s, the only good wolf was a dead wolf. Conflicts between settlers and the wolf was common. Not that settlers and pioneers were physically attacked, but the competition for livestock and wild game was intense. Wolves have always been an apex predator and they are very proficient in taking game for their survival. When you mix in cattle and sheep, these additional target species enhance the wolf’s ability to feed themselves and reproduce. Deer and elk were regarded as more desirable species and to enhance their populations, wolves, along with cougars, bears, and coyotes, were hunted and trapped to the point of extinction in many areas. In fact, it is reported that the last wolf was killed in Yellowstone in the 1920s. So why the interest in re-establishing the species in Yellowstone National Park?

Yellowstone National Park was the world’s first national park. The first question that should be asked is what should a national park be like? The consensus was that the founding philosophy of a park should be “natural.” This would allow for the park to function as the earth did for thousands of years before man. This included the need for natural predators. The introduction of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 included wolves in the list of threatened species stating we cannot wipe some species off the face of the Earth. Therefore, the brainstorm for the re-introduction of the gray wolf evolved.

So how do wolves change rivers? Prior to the re-introduction of wolves into the park, deer and elk herds were spiraling out of control. Overgrazing of the landscape by these animals removed so much of the vegetation that certain species of plants became almost non-existent. Unprotected soils eroded by wind and heavy rainfall soon found their way into waterways polluting them with sediment. With no definitive banks, rivers were left as raging torrents tearing apart exposed soils allowing water to continue to spread with no direction, gouging the landscape leaving nothing behind but deep crevasses barren of plant life. Rivers, fish, songbirds, and many other species suffered greatly due to the lack of plant life.

After re-introduction to the park, wolves began reducing the deer and elk population. With their predation, they soon had a remarkable effect on the behavior of these hooved species. The elk began avoiding certain parts of Yellowstone where wolves were more prominent. This allowed for a recovery of plant life. With the reduction in grazing pressure, the regeneration of cottonwood, aspen, and willow occurred quickly. Plant life along streams slowed water flow and allowed the beaver to begin constructing ponds which sustained additional life like fish, waterfowl, and songbirds. Rivers were tamed. There was less erosion, allowing for more stable banks. 

Flowing waters now had direction, but more methodical in their movement without taking everything with it downstream. Instead of muddy torrents, water clarity prevailed which in turn was much more conducive for the propagation of invertebrates, insects, mollusks, and shellfish, which in turn sustained the otter, the muskrat, and the trout. It is uncanny how one species can have such a profound impact on our natural world, and in this case, for the good of all species.

Balance of nature is imperative for a healthy ecosystem. Biodiversity is key in achieving this balance. Wolf recovery played a vital role in keeping this natural part of the continent sustainable. Fewer elk helps brings about this balance and allows for all species to be healthier, including the elk and deer. This is a simple law of nature, but so many times, it is so difficult to achieve. This is especially true when man has a hand in the outcome. We tend to mess things up more than improve matters in many instances.

The other side of this debate is when the wolves venture outside the park and begin to become problematic for more densely human populated areas. Of course, cattle, sheep, and other livestock at times are impacted by wolf predation. This directly affects rancher’s livelihoods. Even the loss of one farm animal by predators can cost the landowner thousands of dollars. Thankfully, there is a difference between preservation and conservation. Preservation, regarding wildlife management decisions, is the non-use of the resource. Conservation is the wise use of the resource. Where and when needed, there are provisions for man to intervene when circumstances dictate. Fine tuning these provisions is also a delicate balance between wildlife managers, the private sector, and the political sector. Of course, we all know when political philosophies vary, it can get ugly quickly.

What are your thoughts on this controversial subject? Do you favor allowing nature to take its place with no manipulation or intervention by man. Should these wolves have been re-introduced back into Yellowstone? Should they have ever been removed in the first place? Which species have a greater “value” for mankind? Would you prefer to see bull elk tending cows during the rut or would you prefer to watch a pack of wolves and observe their social hierarchy and how they interact with one another? Perhaps in a well-balanced ecosystem, we can be afforded the opportunity to witness both. Let me know your thoughts on what has been done for the wolf recovery in Yellowstone. I’m not sure there is a perfect answer, but I sure would like to hear another perspective, that being yours. Drop me a note sometime at [email protected]. I look forward to hearing from you soon. 

Until next time enjoy our woods and waters and remember, let’s leave it better than we found it. 

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