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The Weekly News Source for Wyoming's Ranchers, Farmers and AgriBusiness Community

If We Only Knew

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Published on Feb. 8, 2020

Around 25 years ago, a few Canadian wolves were released in Yellowstone Park. For some, it has saved Yellowstone Park. For others, the cost of those released wolves was not worth the trouble of having to live with them today.

            Bringing those wolves to Yellowstone Park was a controversial issue to say the least. One was either for it or against it. It was kind of like watching the impeachment hearings the last few weeks. 

            The livestock community was citing facts about what was going to happen if the wolves were released, and those wanting more wolves in Yellowstone were slinging more balls of mud against the wall hoping a few would stick no matter how untruthful they were.

            I still remember very well at one hearing in Cheyenne, a southwestern Wyoming sheep rancher was yelling at some wolf supporters, “How many wolves do you want?” 

The wolf supporters just stood there as they had never thought of a number or what the park would support. 

            Of course, we knew the answer, was “all we can get.” Some of the supporters thought the wolves would never leave Yellowstone Park, so much for that theory.

            What we all didn’t know was just how fast the wolf numbers would increase in the park with all of the food sources available, and how fast those wolf numbers would explode away from the park and across the northern Rockies. 

            Today, they all have travel agents. We all heard how the wolf numbers were going to restore the ecosystem in Yellowstone Park and how willows and shrubs would return to the Lamar Valley and other places.

            Well that mud ball stuck to the wall years ago, but has since fallen off. In an article written in USA TODAY in September 2018 by Katharine Lackey, discussed some improvements and some limitations. 

            Tom Hobbs, a Colorado State University ecology professor was quoted saying, “You put the predator back, that’s great, but conditions have changed so much in the intervening decades that putting the predator back is not enough to restore the ecosystem.” 

            Bill Ripple, a professor of ecology at Oregon State University, who started his work in Yellowstone Park in 1997, said in the article. “In some places, I don’t expect a full recovery of the ecosystem. It’s going to be a mixed bag for the longer term now in coming decades.” 

            The article stated today, nearly 25 years after the wolves were reintroduced into the park, the top predators have helped parts of the ecosystem bounce back. They’ve significantly reduced elk herds, opening the door for willow, aspen, beaver and songbird populations to recover. But the wolves haven’t been a silver bullet for the ecosystem as a whole. 

            Hobbs was quoted in the article saying, “This idea that wolves have caused rapid and widespread restoration of the ecosystem is just bunk, it’s just absolutely a fairytale. Maintaining intact ecosystems may be easier than fixing them after you’ve lost some of the parts.” 

            Hobbs went on to say, “The decrease in elk hasn’t allowed willows to recover because the streams changed significantly when wolves were absent. It doesn’t really matter very much whether they’re being browsed or not. They don’t have adequate habitat to thrive. The conditions that changed while wolves were absent created conditions that made it very difficult to restore willows.”

            And the controversy over wolves still goes on, we can only learn as time goes by. But what about the livestock producer out there? 

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