Conserving wolf populations stabilizes Yellowstone ecosystem

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Common fables centered around wolves such as Little Red Riding Hood, the Three Little Pigs or the Boy Who Cried Wolf, perpetuate ideas of wolves as vicious predators that serve no substantial purpose besides acting as a warning to what would become of misbehaving children. However, as results from Yellowstone national park’s wolf conservation program show, wolves are actually the good guys.

Yellowstone’s conservation plan for reintroducing wolf populations helps for growth of biodiversity and environmental stability.

The Institute of Wildlife Management wrote in their study of the benefits of restored wolf populations that, “In Yellowstone National Park, following the reintroduction of wolves has fostered many beneficial changes in the ecosystem.”

Associate professor of behavioral science, Alexander Simon, emphasized the importance of wolf populations among environmental communities. Not only does the reintroduction of wolves into the ecosystem help decrease the effects of overwhelming amounts of hooved animals, it also helps to balance the number of other wildlife and foliage in the area.

Simon is offering an introduction to environmental studies (ENVST 3000) course this fall that teaches environmental ethics and activism while also examining the role of wolves as predators in maintaining biodiversity.

“When wolves were reintroduced to the Yellowstone ecosystem, there were all of these positive effects because it helped to suppress the number of elk and deer,” Simon said. “This also improves areas around streams so there are more amphibians, more birds, more fish, and actually greater regrowth of trees.”

Stabilizing the wolf population in Yellowstone led to greater ecological diversity while also proving to be economically beneficial.

“Wolves have become an important source of ecotourism,” Simon said. “They added 35 million dollars a year to Yellowstone’s tourism economy. You can only kill something once, but there’s no limit to how many times you can photograph it. Wildlife viewing is about five times as popular as hunting.”

Despite all of the beneficiary elements that derive from reintroduced wolf populations, people were still afraid of the idea of wolves in their area.

The Institute of Wildlife Management took a survey from citizens in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming to understand their attitude toward Yellowstone’s reintroduction plan. They found 49 percent were in favor while 43 percent were opposed and eight percent didn’t know.

Simon commented on the stigmatization against wolves and their nature as being dangerous.

“There were a lot of European fables such as Little Red Riding Hood or werewolves portraying wolves as dangerous animals,” he said.

Along with studying the results from Yellowstone’s program, Simon also studied aerial wolf hunting campaigns in Alaska and its effect on wildlife.

While in Alaska, Simon encountered a wolf, later named Romeo, who entered into the area merely looking for companionship and didn’t seem to pose a threat to the people or animals around.

Though wolves might not pose a significant risk, Simon still emphasized the importance of keeping your distance and never feeding the wildlife when visiting Yellowstone or any area where wolves are present for fear of the animals becoming habituated.

“One of the myths of wolves is that they’re dangerous toward people. Wolves don’t pose a risk to humans but humans can pose a risk to wolves,” he said.