Troublesome Wolves

“A tragic ending to what many people call the most successful wildlife restoration project of the century!” (Putten). The gray wolf has been an enemy to ranchers since the history of the United Sates began. The major problem that ranchers have with the wolves is that they destroy livestock. The solution to this was to exterminate the them. The wolves could once be found throughout the Rocky Mountains, but now are on the verge of extinction region. When the wolves are gone, there is no threat to farmers and their livestock. Recently, conservationists have reintroduced the gray wolf into Yellowstone National Park. The reintroduction has been a success to everyone except the ranchers. The gray wolf has been brought back from near extinction; however, is it possible to keep them off the endangered species list and ranchers land at the same time.

The gray wolf once roamed freely throughout the Rocky Mountain region of North America. When ranchers came and settled the land, they found the wolves killing there livestock and began to loss money. To put a stop this, in 1930, the American government decided to eradicate the wolves including those in Yellowstone National Park (“Lone” 19). This extermination dwindled the gray wolfs numbers so much that the species was placed on the endangered species list in 1967 (McKinsey 13). The total number of wolves killed is astonishing. “Nearly 60,000 wolves had been systematically exterminated through a government sanctioned slaughter earlier in this century” (Putten). The extermination not only effected the wolves population, but the entire echo system of the Rocky Mountains.
With the gray wolf gone, the food chain of the region was changed forever. The loss of the wolves left their cousin, the coyote, at the top of the food chain (Mlot 76). With the wolves gone, the coyotes were now free to prosper, for there was now no direct threat to them. This may not seem like that big of a change; however, the two animals contribute to the echo system differently. The Yellowstone echo system is not balanced without these wolves. The population of elk exploded, causing the parks vegetation to be depleted (Putten). Without the wolves, elk are almost free of any predators. Also the increase of the coyote population caused its pray to dwindle in numbers (Putten). The effects of eliminating the wolf were felt by almost all plants an animals in the park and the Rocky Mountain region. Finally, conservationists realized that there was a problem and only one solution.

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The decision was to reintroduced the gray wolf into Yellowstone National Park. In 1995, the wolf was brought back to the park and set free as part of the reintroduction program (Roach 1). Conservationist took the first step in restoring the park to its natural habitat. The wolf had never been seen by some, “Before the reintroduction program, wolves had not been seen in the area for more than 60 years” (Roach 1). As the wolves roamed freely, they adapted to there home quickly. Two of the wolves in this first batch, know as Number 9 and Number 10, mated and produced offspring (“Rebirth” 44). Later, more were introduced and the park and the wolves future looked promising. Edward E. Bangs, coordinator of the Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that around 155 to 170 gray wolves are now living in the Rocky Mountains (McKinskey 13). Overall, the entire project has gone exceedingly well. This restoration of is “Considered one of the greatest success stories of the Endangered Species Act, the gray wolf populations are currently thriving in the Rocky Mountain Region” (Roach 1). The success of the gray wolf population is having other effects on the environment.

With the reintroduction of the gray wolf, follows the restoration of the Yellowstone echo system. The reintroduction of the wolf has brought exploding elk and coyote populations down in check (Mlot 76). The coyote was on top of the food change while the wolf was absent, but now with its presents, many changes have occurred. The biggest is the change in the coyote population. Robert L. Crabtree of Yellowstone Ecosystem Studies, studies the wolf and coyote interaction and estimates that the coyote population had decreased about 50 percent since the third winter with the wolves (Mlot 76). This is somewhat catastrophic for the coyote; however, coyote population had exploded after the wolfs extermination. For the first time ever, there was more coyotes then wolves and the coyotes were now forced to adapt.

With wolves now installed in the valley, coyotes adopting new feeding habits. Theyhave taken to scavenging the carcasses left by their more efficient cousins-when the wolves will let them. . . Crabtree and his coworkers witnessed coyotes clashing with wolves 33 times. In 10 instances, the coyote was killed. . . Crabtree says hes seen them feeding side by side on a carcass. In this and other interactions, “its a numbers game,” he says. “Crudely, five coyotes are equivalent to about two wolves.” As the coyotes have begin to learn safety in numbers, their packs have become more cohesive though smaller says Crabtree. . . Of the 80 well-studied coyotes that maintained a stable population in the early 1990s, Crabtree says, 36 were still alive as of November 1997 ( qtd. In Mlot 77).

As the echo system in the Yellowstone National Park and the Rocky Mountain region seem to recover, a new legal factor now jeopardizes all of the conservationist progress. Ranchers are now threatening the gray wolfs existence once again. The ranchers fear is that the thriving wolf population will soon ravish their livestock. As a result, in December of 1997, in federal district court in Casper, Wyoming Judge William Downes ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had acted illegally in returning the gray wolf to the area (McNamee 20). This ruling was a shock to everyone involved in the conservation of the gray wolf. The lawsuit claims that the reintroduction of wolves violates the Endangered Species Act by not allowing the wolves to migrate naturally to the Rocky Mountain region (Putten). The wolves were placed there involuntarily and this has the ranchers in an uproar. The group, Defenders of Wildlife has compensated over 30 ranchers some $30,000 for wolf verified livestock death (Roach 2). Even though livestock mortality has been low since the reintroduction of the gray wolf, the ranchers still want them dead or gone. The ruling by Judge Downing was stayed immediately, pending an appeal, and will probably take several years to reach the federal appellate court (McNamee 20). The entire reintroduction program is on the line. The gray wolf has come a long way and it is possible that it may be headed back downhill. Thats why Hank Fischer, Defenders of Wildlife Rocky Mountain representative states, “The wolves are reproducing well, mortality is low, livestock losses are minimal; this is a success story. Why ruin it?” (Roach 2).

The gray wolf is said to be one of the greatest restoration projects of this century. This project has been a complete success in every way. The wolves adapted to there new home. They have multiplied and are totally dependent upon themselves. Also, the echo system in the Rocky Mountains and Yellowstone National Park have improved to their natural states. Finally, the wolves have been a minor threat to the ranchers livestock. The only threat that the wolves pose is there disappearance could be devastating to the Rocky Mountain region of North America