After killing wolves relentlessly for most of our nation's history, we are now trying to restore these large carnivores. Gray wolves brought to Yellowstone from Canada four years ago are doing so well that they are close to being taken off the endangered species list.
The latest on the Yellowstone gray wolves was presented by Douglas Smith of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming at the June 1999 Society for Conservation Biology meeting.
Reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone was and remains controversial. Wolves were eliminated in the west in the 1920s and '30s and many ranchers bitterly oppose bringing them back. Nonetheless, wolves play an important part in the ecosystem and beginning in 1995 the National Park Service reintroduced 31 gray wolves to Yellowstone. The wolves have flourished, growing to about 120 last winter. "Yellowstone is some of the best wolf habitat in the world," says Smith, partly because it has the largest herd of elk.
The rest of the 17 million-acre ecosystem has flourished too. Wolves have boosted biodiversity in and around Yellowstone: for instance, there are fewer elk and coyotes, and more eagles, pronghorn, foxes and wolverines.
Gray wolves will be taken off the endangered species list when there are 10 breeding pairs in each of Yellowstone, Idaho and Montana. The wolves are nearly there: today there are 10 breeding pairs in Yellowstone, 11 in Idaho and 6 in Montana.
Right now ranchers are allowed to kill wolves that attack livestock and nine have been killed legally. Once the gray wolf is delisted, ranchers will be able to kill any wolves that enter their land. "This will concentrate wolves on public lands," says Smith.
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