Unless you are an elk, or rancher, I guess. But they are a great example of the importance of top predators to entire ecosystems.
Reintroducing the wolf to Yellowstone is arguably the world’s greatest wildlife experiment. The wolves’ progress has been documented meticulously by a team of hiking, driving and flying biologists and passionate volunteers — so much so that no wolf study comes close to yielding its abundance of information. The research generated has been distilled into a new book, “Yellowstone Wolves: Science and Discovery,” assembled by three of the biologists who studied the wolves’ return.
“It’s the best place on the planet to view wolves,” said Dr. Smith. Elsewhere, wolf biologists must fly and canoe and hike into remote areas and sneak through forests to spy on wolves. In Yellowstone, says Dr. Smith, “I can drive out to watch wolves with a cup of coffee in my hand.”
At the time the first 14 wolves were released in 1995 (followed by another 27 wolves over the next two years), some 20,000 elk populated the park’s northern range, known as the Serengeti of North America for its profusion of wildlife. With few predators, elk had for decades gobbled up anything green that poked above ground. Today, the elk population totals 6,000 to 8,000. Wolves, at the same time, have made a full-scale return to the Northern Rockies. They now number about 1,500 in Montana, Idaho (where another group was released) and Wyoming, with 350 to 400 in and around Yellowstone. Outside Yellowstone, they can be hunted.
Some believe allowing wolves to be hunted makes their presence more acceptable. “A little blood satisfies a lot of anger,” said Edward Bangs, the retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who was in charge of reintroducing the wolves in 1995.
Of course, in my world there would be no combustion engines in Yellowstone, so anyone who wanted to see wolves (and wildlife) would have to walk. And for sure instead of anger (and hunting) there should be gratitude for the insight and changes the wolves have brought to Yellowstone, and a commitment to restoring predator-prey balance in wild landscapes because that is what wilderness needs to thrive.
That requires elevating the interests of wilderness alongside human interest, and in some cases above it, which would transform our relationship with nature and be a huge step toward revitalizing the natural world.
But, back to wolves. And a podcast that will enthrall you even more with their lives and culture.