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Wolves. Everyone has an opinion.
In my home state of Wyoming, wolves have been a controversy since my great-grandfather was a trapper there. Yellowstone Park was created in 1872. My great-grandpa earned his money by trapping beaver, mink, and wolves, and selling the pelts. He spent his winters in the area around Yellowstone. Then, in the 1880s, Mormon families officially settled in one of the valleys south of the Park, so he married and settled there, too. My dad told me that his grandpa tried farming, but ended up selling his land, moving the family to town, and went back out in the mountains to resume his trapper life.
When the farmers and ranchers established settlements in the area around Yellowstone, wolves became a problem for them. After all, what would be easier prey: elk with those big antlers, or chubby cattle, with no horns? So, the government put a bounty on wolves, and by the late 1920s, the wolf packs were gone. Individual animals were sighted for the next four decades, but the big packs were no longer a threat. But, it isn’t always possible to predict what else will be affected when one thing changes.
Once the wolf packs no longer threatened the elk herds there was a big increase in the elk population in Yellowstone and the surrounding wilderness areas. This resulted in a near-complete depletion of the willows and aspens that grew along the streams in the valleys, which also left the beaver population without dam building materials. The beaver population diminished, leaving the streams free to rush downstream with no ponds to adjust the flow. Fewer willows and aspens also contributed to the erosion and damaged the riparian/aquatic ecosystems.
So, pressure to reintroduce the wolves began to mount. Ultimately, the pro-wolf arguments won out, so in the 1990s, these animals were back in Yellowstone. There are now many wolf sightings, but also, there has been a noticeable reduction in the elk population. The elk moved away from the streams, back in the thick timber, as one way of avoiding the wolves. And they broke up into smaller groups as a way to lessen the attraction of the predators. However, as the wolves increase in number, the elk population is definitely decreasing.
In those areas where wolves were reintroduced, the elk count has dropped by a range of 30-80% (in Idaho and Wyoming). The wolf population is now dramatically over the percentage that was intended when the restoration was begun. Some areas allow wolf hunting. Idaho actually put out a limited hunting season with a bounty for wolves. Farmers and ranchers make their case against the higher wolf population. The preservation people push back against those who want to control the wolves’ growth.
If you really want to get an argument going, just pick a side, and start talking! There are heated opinions everywhere. I don’t live there anymore, so I don’t have a stake in the game. I’ve seen some photos on Facebook that give me pause.
This is an aerial shot of a wolf pack chasing down some elk–which is nature doing its thing, I know.
This is a Montana family’s quarter horse that wolves killed in its pasture on their ranch.
These are fifteen cow elk killed apparently for fun by a wolf pack in Wyoming.
They weren’t eaten, they were just killed in a big meadow. (Yes, humans lined them up for the photo.)
So, questions? Opinions? What do you think about the wolf/elk/rancher controversy? It is inevitable that when humans get involved, that nature is going to be affected. But, what solutions would you propose? Here are some websites of those with varying opinions that you could read. It won’t clear things up, I promise!Published in