Rocky Mountain National Park would rather allow Park employees to shoot their over-browsing, over-abundant elk population instead of bringing in wolves to do what they’ve been doing for hundreds of thousands of years, keeping elk herds healthy and in check. The stupidity of this is mind-boggling.
“Rocky Mountain National Park sometimes has so many elk that they overgraze the vegetation, leaving other animals without enough food and habitat. Few natural predators are left there, and hunting is prohibited, so little remains to keep the elk population in check.
The park launched a 20-year program in 2008 to thin the herd by having park employees and trained volunteers under park supervision periodically shoot and kill elk. The program also includes fences to protect vegetation from elk and redistributing some of the animals.”….The Australian
Park Service employees have shot 131 elk since 2008 and even allow volunteers to join in as well. Sounds like hunting in a National Park to me?
WildEarth Guardians sued the park in 2008, challenging their elk culling program. They lost that challenge and appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, who is considering the case.
The excuses the park offers, for not introducing wolves to control their burgeoning elk population, are toothless.
“Officials said reintroducing wolves to control elk numbers was infeasible. They cited a lack of support from other agencies, safety concerns of people who live nearby, expected conflicts between wolves and humans and the amount of attention that a wolf population would require of park officials.”…..The Australian
The Tenth Circuit heard arguments from the US Park Service on why wolves were not an option to control the vegetation-elk-munching-population. WildEarth Guardians countered that the wolf option was never given serious consideration or opened for public comment. The Tenth Circuit gave no hint on when they would rule.
We’re living in bizarro world, where up is down and down is up. Wolves are elk’s natural predator, they keep herds, healthy and strong by culling the weak, sick and old. Yet instead of reintroducing them to RMNP, the US Park Service would rather have an elk cull/hunt.
Many of our national parks are facing the same fate as RMNP, out of control elk and deer populations, which destroy park vegetation. This is due to LACK OF PREDATORS, mainly wolves, who were systematically slaughtered by the US government in cooperation with ranchers in the 1900′s and are now carrying out the same slaughter in the Northern Rockies and soon the Great Lakes if litigation challenging the killing is not successful.
You would think the Park Service would have learned their lesson by now but oh no. We can’t have apex predators controlling their natural prey. That would be too forward thinking. Instead they opt for the elk/hunt cull. Look to Yellowstone for guidance RMNP and see how the park has been re-born, due to the reintroduction of canis lupus.
Someone give these people a copy of Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, where he coined the phrase “Thinking Like a Mountain” and describes it this way:
“Aldo Leopold first came up with this term as a result of watching a wolf die off. In those days of Leopold’s adventures, no one would ever pass up killing a wolf because fewer wolves meant more deer, which meant great hunting experiences. However, when Leopold saw the “fierce green fire dying in her eyes” he knew that neither the mountain nor the wolf deserved this. Leopold stated in his book, A Sand County Almanac:
“Since then I have lived to see state after state extirpate its wolves. I have watched the face of many a newly wolfless mountain, and seen the south-facing slopes wrinkle with a maze of new deer trails. I have seen every edible bush and seedling browsed, first to anaemic desuetude, and then to death. I have seen every edible tree defoliated to the height of a saddlehorn … In the end the starved bones of the hoped-for deer herd, dead of its own too-much, bleach with the bones of the dead sage, or molder under the high-lined junipers … So also with cows. The cowman who cleans his range of wolves does not realize that he is taking over the wolf’s job of trimming the herd to fit the change. He has not learned to think like a mountain. Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers washing the future into the sea.”
In this example Leopold shows that the removal of a single species can result in serious negative consequences in an ecosystem. While avoiding trophic cascades is one way to think like a mountain, there are countless other environmental actions that can be categorized under this broad and interconnected concept.”…Wikipedia Commons
US Park Service defends refusal to use wolves in Rocky Mountain National Park
September 21, 2012 4:54AM
Top Photo: WyoFile
Bottom Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Posted in: Wolf Wars, biodiversity
Tags: Rocky Mountain National Park, closed-minded, over browsing elk herds, National Parks in need of predators, Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, WildEarth Guardians, wolves, trophic cascades, Aldo Leopold, Thinking Like A Mountain, A Sand County Almanac
Wolves – IMAX enlightens us regarding the true nature of this iconic apex predator. Some information is quite dated, traveling back to the heady days of wolf reintroduction in the Northern Rockies, specifically central Idaho. The Nez Perce tribe, like other wolf advocates, had high hopes for the wolves’ return, after their long absence. How the worm has turned.
Looking back, I see how we were all duped into thinking wolf reintroduction would have a happy ending. In reality, it’s clear there was never any real intent to maintain a viable, robust population of wolves outside the national parks. It seems “the plan” all along was to slaughter wolves in trophy hunts or kill them outright when they ”recovered”. Recovery is never defined, except in the outdated, original capitulation to ranching and hunting interests, of 100 wolves and ten breeding pairs per wolf state (Wyoming, Montana, Idaho) Those numbers are not based on science but politics and were never revised to reflect scientific findings or what constitutes a healthy wolf population in the Northern Rockies. Wolf recovery is whatever the “wolf managers” deem it to be. Ten wolves, a hundred, thousands? That’s not a question the states seem interested in answering on their relentless march to decimate wolves .
The arrogance of hunters and ranchers who think they have the right to dictate which animals will be allowed to exist on public lands, is stunning. These lands belong to us all. They’re lucky Americans have been “asleep at the wheel”, allowing the anti-wolf crowd to dictate policy to Western politicians, ready and eager to do their bidding.
Things won’t go their way forever. Congress demonstrated that by stripping the Lummis wolf/ delisting rider from the budget bill. I’m sure it was due in large measure to the outpouring of anger and outrage by conservationists at the stunt Congress pulled this past Spring, delisting wolves in five Western states via budget rider. Doing the same thing again in the same year was not something the Dems were willing to risk, not this close to the 2012 elections.
I hope to see more victories for the wolf in the coming year.
During this holiday season, please take a minute to renew your pledge to do all you can for wolves in 2012. Please remember the 286 fallen wolves, taken so far in the brutal Idaho and Montana hunts. The hunts have splintered, divided and disrupted wolf families, leaving those who remain to struggle on, with no guarantee they’ll live to see another Spring.
For the wolves, For the wild ones,
Video: YouTube Black7Cloud, IMAX Wolves – HD
Photo: Courtesy kewlwallpapers.com
Posted in: gray wolf, biodiversity
Tags: IMAX – Wolves HD, gray wolf, trophic cascades, Yellowstone National Park, wolf pack, wolf intolerance, Nez Perce
This extremely beautiful, powerful and factually correct poster was created by artist and illustrator Jackson Root. Please visit his blog to view more of his creative and mesmerizing work.
Thank you Jackson for highlighting, through your artwork, the importance of the gray wolf .
Poster: Courtesy of Jackson Root
Posted in: gray wolf, biodiversity
Tags: gray wolves, vital apex predator, ungulate overpopulation, trophic cascade
Thought this post was worth another look.
October 2, 2009
This is what conservationists have been saying all along. Killing off top predators, like the wolf, have a negative effect on the environment. They are a vital part of our ecosystem, contributing in ways we are only beginning to understand.
This cautionary tale is one I would hope wild life managers around the world will sit up and take notice. The world was not created for humans alone, we have to be better stewards of this earth. Let the top predators roam free and the world will be a better place for it.
“We reached the old wolf in time to watch the fierce green fire dying in her eyes… There was something new to me in those eyes– something known only to her and the mountains. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch. I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer that no wolves would mean hunter’s paradise, but after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.”
~ Aldo Leopold
Loss of top predators causing surge in smaller predators, ecosystem collapse
Science Centric | 2 October 2009 12:43 GMT
The catastrophic decline around the world of ‘apex’ predators such as wolves, cougars, lions or sharks has led to a huge increase in smaller ‘mesopredators’ that are causing major economic and ecological disruptions, a new study concludes.
The findings, published today in the journal Bioscience, found that in North America all of the largest terrestrial predators have been in decline during the past 200 years while the ranges of 60 percent of mesopredators have expanded. The problem is global, growing and severe, scientists say, with few solutions in sight.
An example: in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, lion and leopard populations have been decimated, allowing a surge in the ‘mesopredator’ population next down the line, baboons. In some cases children are now being kept home from school to guard family gardens from brazen packs of crop-raiding baboons.
‘This issue is very complex, and a lot of the consequences are not known,’ said William Ripple, a professor of forest ecosystems and society at Oregon State University. ‘But there’s evidence that the explosion of mesopredator populations is very severe and has both ecological and economic repercussions.’
In case after case around the world, the researchers said, primary predators such as wolves, lions or sharks have been dramatically reduced if not eliminated, usually on purpose and sometimes by forces such as habitat disruption, hunting or fishing. Many times this has been viewed positively by humans, fearful of personal attack, loss of livestock or other concerns. But the new picture that’s emerging is a range of problems, including ecosystem and economic disruption that may dwarf any problems presented by the original primary predators.
‘I’ve done a lot of work on wildlife in Africa, and people everywhere are asking some of the same questions, what do we do?’ said Clinton Epps, an assistant professor at OSU who is studying the interactions between humans and wildlife. ‘Most important to understand is that these issues are complex, the issue is not as simple as getting rid of wolves or lions and thinking you’ve solved some problem. We have to be more careful about taking what appears to be the easy solution.’
The elimination of wolves is often favoured by ranchers, for instance, who fear attacks on their livestock. However, that has led to a huge surge in the number of coyotes, a ‘mesopredator’ once kept in check by the wolves. The coyotes attack pronghorn antelope and domestic sheep, and attempts to control them have been hugely expensive, costing hundreds of millions of dollars.
‘The economic impacts of mesopredators should be expected to exceed those of apex predators in any scenario in which mesopredators contribute to the same or to new conflict with humans,’ the researchers wrote in their report. ‘Mesopredators occur at higher densities than apex predators and exhibit greater resiliency to control efforts.’
The problems are not confined to terrestrial ecosystems. Sharks, for instance, are in serious decline due to overfishing. In some places that has led to an explosion in the populations of rays, which in turn caused the collapse of a bay scallop fishery and both ecological an economic losses.
Among the findings of the study:
Primary or apex predators can actually benefit prey populations by suppressing smaller predators, and failure to consider this mechanism has triggered collapses of entire ecosystems.
Cascading negative effects of surging mesopredator populations have been documented for birds, sea turtles, lizards, rodents, marsupials, rabbits, fish, scallops, insects and ungulates.
The economic cost of controlling mesopredators may be very high, and sometimes could be accomplished more effectively at less cost by returning apex predators to the ecosystem.
Human intervention cannot easily replace the role of apex predators, in part because the constant fear of predation alters not only populations but behaviour of mesopredators.
Large predators are usually carnivores, but mesopredators are often omnivores and can cause significant plant and crop damage.
The effects of exploding mesopredator populations can be found in oceans, rivers, forests and grasslands around the world.
Reversing and preventing mesopredator release is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive as the world’s top predators continue to edge toward obliteration.
‘These problems resist simple solutions,’ Ripple said. ‘I’ve read that when Gen. George Armstrong Custer came into the Black Hills in 1874, he noticed a scarcity of coyotes and the abundance of wolves. Now the wolves are gone in many places and coyotes are killing thousands of sheep all over the West.’
‘We are just barely beginning to appreciate the impact of losing our top predators,’ he said.
At OSU, Ripple and colleague Robert Beschta have done extensive research and multiple publications on the effect that loss of predators such as wolves and cougars have on ecosystem disruption, not only by allowing increased numbers of grazing animals such as deer and elk, but also losing the fear of predation that changes the behaviour of these animals. They have documented ecosystem recovery in Yellowstone National Park after wolves were reintroduced there.
Photo: Courtesy WyoFile
Categories posted in: biodiversity, gray wolf
Tags: trophic cascades,endangered species act, gray wolf
Recently Howling For Justice was joined by NIWA and Wolf Warriors , to complete the substantial project of sending “Lords of Nature; Life in a Land of Great Predators” to 75 Senators in Washington DC. This excellent documentary, which illustrates the essential role that wolves play in a healthy ecosystem, was produced by Greenfire productions of Oregon.
Our deepest gratitude goes out to Maggie and the other wonderful volunteers who delivered Lords of Nature and our “Wolf Truth Letter”, to the Senate today.
We sincerely appreciate all the people who helped with this project behind the scenes; some that we have never even met!
We are grateful for the opportunity to send this very important message to Washington on behalf of the wolves of the Northern Rockies. Today both Budget bills have been defeated, our timing turned out to be perfect.
Now Senators have an opportunity to watch the ground breaking documentary, Lords of Nature, which so beautifully outlines the vital role wolves play in nature. We hope Senators gain a better understanding of the importance of apex predators, like the wolf.
Wolves do not belong in budget bills. We have to ensure that whatever version of the budget the Senate adopts, delisting wolves will not be part it.
Photo: Courtesy Lords of Nature
Posted in: Endangered Species Act, biodiversity
Tags: Lords of Nature, Senate, “Wolf Truth Letter”. Biodiversity, Trophic Cascades, gray wolf
This amazing piece was written by Chip Ward and is a must read!! It was reprinted on Truthout.com.
The Big Bad Wolf Makes Good: The Yellowstone Success Story and Those Who Want to Kill It
Tuesday 28 September 2010
At long last, good news. Fifteen years have passed since wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park and the results are in. The controversial experiment has been a stellar success. The Big Bad Wolf is back and in this modern version of the old story, all that huffing and puffing has been good for the land and the creatures that live on it. Biggie, it turns out, got a bum rap.
The success of the Yellowstone project is the kind of good news we long for in this era of oil spills, monster storms, massive flooding, crushing heat waves, and bleaching corals. For once, a branch of our federal government, the Department of the Interior, saw something broken and actually fixed it. In a nutshell: conservation biologists considered a perplexing problem — the slow but steady unraveling of the Yellowstone ecosystem — figured out what was causing it, and then proposed a bold solution that worked even better than expected.
Sadly, the good news has been muted by subsequent political strife over wolf reintroduction outside of Yellowstone. Along the northern front of the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Utah, and Colorado, as well as New Mexico and Arizona, so-called wolf wars have added fuel to a decades-old battle over the right to graze cattle or hunt on public land. The shouting has overwhelmed both science and civil discourse. This makes it all the harder to convey the lessons learned to an American public that is mostly ecologically illiterate and never really understood why wolves were put back into Yellowstone in the first place. Even the legion of small donors who supported the project mostly missed the reasons it was undertaken, focusing instead on the “charismatic” qualities of wolves and the chance to see them in the wild.
No Wolves, No Water
Here’s the piece we still don’t get: when we exterminated wolves from Yellowstone in the early 1900s, killing every last one, we de-watered the land. That’s right — no wolves eventually meant fewer streams, creeks, marshes, and springs across western landscapes like Yellowstone where wolves had once thrived.
The chain of effects went roughly like this: no wolves meant that many more elk crowded onto inviting river and stream banks where the grass is green and the livin’ easy. A growing population of fat elk, in no danger of being turned into prey, gnawed down willow and aspen seedlings before they could mature. Willows are both food and building material for beavers. As the willows declined, so did beaver populations. When beavers build dams and ponds, they create wetland habitats for countless bugs, amphibians, fish, birds, and plants, as well as slowing the flow of water and distributing it over broad areas. The consequences of their decline rippled across the land.
Meanwhile, as the land dried up, Yellowstone’s overgrazed riverbanks eroded. Life-giving river water receded, leaving those banks barren. Spawning beds for fish were silted over. Amphibians lost precious shade where they could have sheltered and hidden. Yellowstone’s web of life was fraying and becoming threadbare.
The unexpected relationship between absent wolves and absent water is just one example of how big, scary predators like grizzlies and mountain lions, often called “charismatic carnivores,” regulate their ecosystems from the top down. The results are especially relevant in an era of historic droughts and global warming, both of which are stressing already arid Western lands. Wolf reintroduction wasn’t a scheme designed to undermine vacationing elk hunters or harass ranchers who graze their cattle on public lands. It wasn’t done to please some cabal of elitist, urban environmentalists eager to show rural rednecks who’s the boss, though out here in the West that interpretation’s held sway at many public meetings called to discuss wolf reintroduction.
Let’s be clear then: the decision to put wolves back in Yellowstone was a bold experiment backed by the best conservation science available to restore a cherished American ecosystem that was coming apart at the seams.
The Biggest Losers
Today, wolves are thriving in Yellowstone. The 66 wolves trapped in Canada and released in Yellowstone and the Idaho wilderness in 1995-96 have generated more than 1,700 wolves. More than 200 wolf packs exist in the area today and the effect on the environment has been nothing short of astonishing.
There was one beaver colony in the park at the time wolves were reintroduced. Today, 12 colonies are busy storing water, evening out seasonal water flows, recharging springs, and creating habitat. Willow stands are robust again and the songbirds that nest in them are recovering. Creatures that scavenge wolf-kills for meat, including ravens, eagles, wolverines, and bears, have benefited. Wolves have pushed out and killed the coyotes that feed on pronghorn antelope, so pronghorn numbers are also up. Riverbanks are lush and shady again. With less competition from elk for grass, the bison in the park are doing better, too.
Elk are the sole species that has been diminished — and that, after all, was the purpose of putting wolves back in the game in the first place. The elk population of Yellowstone is still larger than it was at its low point in the late 1960s, but there are fewer elk today than in recent decades. The decline has alarmed elk hunters and the local businesses that rely on their trade.
Worse yet, from the hunting point of view, elk behavior has changed dramatically. Instead of camping out on stream banks and overeating, they roam far more and in smaller numbers, browsing in brushy areas where there is more protective cover. Surviving elk are healthier, but leaner, warier, far more dispersed, and significantly harder to hunt. This further dismays those who had become accustomed to easy hunting and bigger animals.
A lively debate is underway among game wardens, guides, and wildlife biologists about just how far elk numbers have declined, what role drought and other non-wolf variables may be playing in that decline, and whether elk numbers will — or even should — rebound. State wildlife agencies that once fed hay to bountiful populations of elk to keep them from starving during harsh winters depend on hunting and fishing licenses to fill their coffers. Predictably enough, they have come down on the side of the frustrated big game hunters, who think the wolves have killed too many elk. Hunters have been a powerful force for conservation when habitat for birds and big game is at stake, but wolf reintroduction hits them right in the ol’ game bag, and on this issue they seem to be abandoning former conservation allies. Of course, wolves themselves can be hunted and selling the privilege of doing so has proven lucrative for state wildlife agencies. Montana recently expanded its wolf-killing quota from 75 to 186, while Idaho licensed 220 wolf kills in 2009.
Beyond the Bovine Curtain
As wolf reintroduction took hold and wolves migrated out of Yellowstone as far as Oregon to the west and Colorado to the east, it became clear that surrounding states needed plans to deal with their spread. Once regarded as an endangered species and legally protected by the Endangered Species Act, wolves were taken off the formal list of protected creatures wherever states created plans for restoring and managing them. The intention of the federal government was to allow states to participate in, and so take some control over, the recovery process in the West.
As it happened, however, most states took a strikingly hostile approach to their new wolf populations, treating them as varmints. A federal court took away Wyoming’s power to regulate wolves within its borders when it decided that the state’s management goal would be no wolves at all outside of the Yellowstone and Teton national parks. Other Western states are now planning to keep their numbers as low as possible without triggering a federal takeover, too low to play their ecological role, or even survive over the long run, according to conservation biologists. After wolves were “delisited” in Idaho in 2009, 188 of them were killed by hunters before the year was out.
In August 2010, a federal judge ruled that wolves everywhere but in Minnesota and Alaska (where wolf populations are plentiful and healthy) must be relisted as an endangered species and afforded more protection. How this major decision will shape the debate from here on out is uncertain. Since relisting precludes sport hunting, state wildlife agencies are now making plans to kill more wolves themselves to keep their numbers low. Critics worry about a return to the days when wolves were routinely shot, trapped, poisoned, and gassed in their dens.
Up until now, where wolves and cows mix, cows have ruled. What wildlife advocate George Wuerthner calls the “bovine curtain” limits full wolf restoration to within Yellowstone’s park boundaries. Outside the park, where the feds have less power and control, wolf packs continually form but are often slaughtered, usually at the insistence of ranchers who can legally shoot wolves that attack cattle. They are also compensated for wolf-kill losses from both state funds and privately donated ones. Wolf predation accounts for only about 1% of livestock deaths across the northern Rockies, but those deaths generate disproportionate resentment and fear.
Ranchers are the first to understand that, in the arid West, a cow may require 250 acres of forage to live. In the states where wolves are spreading, cows wander wide and don’t sleep safely in barns at night as they do in the east. Wolves need room to roam, too. Overlap and predation are the inevitable results. If wolves are ever to effectively play their ecological role again across the West, significant changes in animal husbandry, like adding range riders and guard dogs, would be required, as well undoubtedly as less grazing overall. The implied threat to limit grazing provokes fierce opposition from cattlemen’s associations, a powerful and influential Republican constituency throughout the West. Real cowboys don’t sip tea, but as anger over those wolves builds they may be riding off to the nearest tea party nevertheless.
At public hearings across the rural West wherever wolves are rebounding, near-hysterical locals claim that their children will be carried off from their yards by those awful beasts set loose by evil Obamacrats willing to sacrifice life and limb to win favor with tree-hugging easterners. In New Mexico, such hostility has led to poaching that has decimated an endangered species of gray wolves reintroduced 12 years ago after the last survivors of that species were trapped, bred in captivity, and released into the wild.
Eco-Commodities or Ecological Communities?
Today’s wolf wars pit opposing perspectives on how (or even why) our public lands should be managed against each other. The disagreement is fundamental. On one side is a historic/traditional resource management paradigm that sees our Western lands as a storehouse of timber, minerals, and fresh water; on the other side, a new biocentric orientation driven by conservation biologists who see landscapes as whole ecosystems and all species as having intrinsic value. At one end of the spectrum lie strip-mining coal companies; at the other, deep ecologists. In between you can find conflict, contradiction, and confusion as we sort out a new consensus about how to manage vast public land holdings in the West.
In the beginning, Americans assumed that nature was inefficient (if efficiency is defined as getting the most bang for the buck) and that humans could manage the planet better than Mother Earth. Wild rivers, after all, spill their liquid bounty where they will and then empty themselves into the sea. What a waste! In the same way, forest fires were viewed as a prime example of Nature’s wanton destruction. To a rancher who is leasing public land, wolves and cougars are monsters of inefficiency.
It’s far clearer now that nature is, in fact, efficient indeed, if creating healthy, viable ecosystems is what’s on your mind. Matter and energy are never wasted in food webs where synergy is the rule. Because we have come to appreciate how rich nature’s interconnections are, we are now committed to protecting species we once would have wiped out with little regard. Health (including the health of the planet), not wealth alone, is becoming a priority. Think of wolf reintroduction, then, as a kind of hinge-point between the two paradigms. After centuries of not leaving the natural world’s order to chance, micro-managing wherever we could, we are now encouraged to take a chance on Nature, to trust the self-organizing powers of life to heal ecosystems we have wounded.
While organizing campaigns to make polluters accountable, I learned that citizens generally won’t take them on until they grasp that the deepest link they have to their environment is their own bloodstreams. Once they understand the pathways from a smokestack or a poisoned watershed to the tumors growing in their children’s bodies, they can become a powerful force. But first they have to know what’s at stake.
In this regard, ecological literacy is not a side issue. It’s a prerequisite for survival. The articulation of reality is more primal than any strategy or policy. If greed is turning the Earth into a scorched planet of slums, ignorance is its enabler. Just as American farmers once realized that erosion follows ignorance and learned how to plow differently, just as most of us finally learned that rivers should not be used as toxic dumps, so today we must learn that environments have the equivalent of operating systems. Predation by large carnivores is written deep into the code of much of the American landscape. Today, a rancher who expects to do business in a predator-free landscape is no more reasonable than yesterday’s industrialist who expected to use the nearest river as a sewer. Living with wolves may be a challenging proposition, but it’s hardly impossible to do — as folks in Minnesota or Canada can attest.
Hard days are ahead as the weather, once benign and predictable, becomes hotter, drier, and ever more chaotic. Western landscapes are already stressed — whole forests are dying and deserts are becoming dustbowls. To maintain their vitality in the face of such dire challenges, those lands will need all the relief we can give them. We now understand far better the many ways in which nature’s living communities are astonishingly connected and reciprocal. If we could only find the courage to trust their self-organizing powers to heal the wounds we have inflicted, we might become as resilient as those Yellowstone wolves.
Chip Ward lives in Capitol Reef, Utah, where songbirds are eaten by housecats, housecats are eaten by coyotes, and coyotes are eaten by mountain lions. He is the author of Canaries on the Rim: Living Downwind in the West and Hope’s Horizon: Three Visions for Healing the American Land. His essays can be found at chipwardessays.blogspot.com.
Posted in: gray wolf/canis lupus, Yellowstone wolves, biodiversity
Tags: wolf reintroduction, predation, Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone National Park, trophic cascades
A deep chesty bawl echoes from rimrock to rimrock, rolls down the mountain, and fades into the far blackness of the night. It is an outburst of wild defiant sorrow, and of contempt for all the adversities of the world. Every living thing (and perhaps many a dead one as well) pays heed to that call. To the deer it is a reminder of the way of all flesh, to the pine a forecast of midnight scuffles and of blood upon the snow, to the coyote a promise of gleanings to come, to the cowman a threat of red ink at the bank, to the hunter a challenge of fang against bullet. Yet behind these obvious and immediate hopes and fears there lies a deeper meaning, known only to the mountain itself. Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf.
Those unable to decipher the hidden meaning know nevertheless that it is there, for it is felt in all wolf country, and distinguishes that country from all other land. It tingles in the spine of all who hear wolves by night, or who scan their tracks by day. Even without sight or sound of wolf, it is implicit in a hundred small events: the midnight whinny of a pack horse, the rattle of rolling rocks, the bound of a fleeing deer, the way shadows lie under the spruces. Only the ineducable tyro can fail to sense the presence or absence of wolves, or the fact that mountains have a secret opinion about them.
My own conviction on this score dates from the day I saw a wolf die. We were eating lunch on a high rimrock, at the foot of which a turbulent river elbowed its way. We saw what we thought was a doe fording the torrent, her breast awash in white water. When she climbed the bank toward us and shook out her tail, we realized our error: it was a wolf. A half-dozen others, evidently grown pups, sprang from the willows and all joined in a welcoming melee of wagging tails and playful maulings. What was literally a pile of wolves writhed and tumbled in the center of an open flat at the foot of our rimrock.
In those days we had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf. In a second we were pumping lead into the pack, but with more excitement than accuracy: how to aim a steep downhill shot is always confusing. When our rifles were empty, the old wolf was down, and a pup was dragging a leg into impassable slide-rocks.
We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.
Since then I have lived to see state after state extirpate its wolves. I have watched the face of many a newly wolfless mountain, and seen the south-facing slopes wrinkle with a maze of new deer trails. I have seen every edible bush and seedling browsed, first to anaemic desuetude, and then to death. I have seen every edible tree defoliated to the height of a saddlehorn. Such a mountain looks as if someone had given God a new pruning shears, and forbidden Him all other exercise. In the end the starved bones of the hoped-for deer herd, dead of its own too-much, bleach with the bones of the dead sage, or molder under the high-lined junipers.
I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades. So also with cows. The cowman who cleans his range of wolves does not realize that he is taking over the wolf’s job of trimming the herd to fit the range. He has not learned to think like a mountain. Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers washing the future into the sea.
We all strive for safety, prosperity, comfort, long life, and dullness. The deer strives with his supple legs, the cowman with trap and poison, the statesman with pen, the most of us with machines, votes, and dollars,but it all comes to the same thing: peace in our time. A measure of success in this is all well enough, and perhaps is a requisite to objective thinking, but too much safety seems to yield only danger in the long run. Perhaps this is behind Thoreau’s dictum: In wildness is the salvation of the world. Perhaps this is the hidden meaning in the howl of the wolf, long known among mountains, but seldom perceived among men…….
“The seminal essay “Thinking Like a Mountain” recalls another hunting experience later in life that was formative for Leopold’s later views. Here Leopold describes the death of she-wolf killed by his party during a time when conservationists were operating under the assumption that elimination of top predators would make game plentiful. The essay provides a non-technical characterization of the trophic cascade where the removal of single species carries serious implications for the rest of the ecosystem.”
Lessons from Aldo Leopold’s historic wolf hunt
The nation’s legendary conservationist saw the value of preserving wildness. Perhaps someday politicians will too.
December 13, 2009|By James William Gibson
Photos: Kewl Wallpaper
Posted in: Biodiversity, gray wolf/canis lupus
Tags: Thinking Like A Mountain, Aldo Leopold, trophic cascades, apex predators