What Good Are Wolves by Norm Bishop

An  excellent article, by Norm Bishop.

Now, more than ever, it’s imperative we continue to shout down the ignorant , the uniformed and the hateful who seek to  demonize one of natures perfect predators, the wolf.  It’s our job to defend and  fight for them.


What Good Are Wolves?

A growing body of scientific research shows wolves are key to the ecosystems of the Northern Rockies. Here’s a condensed version compiled by a long-time wolf advocate.

By Norman A. Bishop, Guest Writer, 1-04-11

In 1869, General Phil Sheridan said, “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.” Others said, “The only good wolf is a dead wolf.”

Barry Lopez wrote of an American Pogrom, not only of Native Americans and wolves, but of the bison on which both depended. Between 1850 and 1890, 75 million bison were killed, mostly for their hides; perhaps 1 million or 2 million wolves.

“Before about 1878, cattlemen were more worried about Indians killing their cattle than they were about wolves. As the land filled up with other ranchers, as water rights became an issue, and as the Indians were removed to reservations, however, the wolf became, as related in Barry Lopez’s book, “Of Wolves and Men,” ‘an object of pathological hatred.’” Lopez continues: “The motive for wiping out wolves (as opposed to controlling them) proceeded from misunderstanding, from illusions of what constituted sport, from strident attachment to private property, from ignorance and irrational hatred.

In 1884, Montana set a bounty on wolves; in the next three years, 10,261 wolves were bountied. “In 1887, the bounty was repealed by a legislature dominated by mining interests. … By 1893 … desperate stockmen were reporting losses that were mathematical impossibilities. The effect of this exaggeration was contagious. The Montana sheep industry, which up to this time had lost more animals to bears and mountain lions than to wolves, began to blame its every downward economic trend on the wolf. … Men in a speculative business like cattle ranching singled out one scapegoat for their financial losses.”

Not until wolves were functionally extinct from much of the West did anyone begin to ask “What good are wolves?” to study wolves, and to report their beneficial effects on their prey species and on the ecosystems where they lived.

Adolph Murie realized that wolves selected weaker Dall sheep, “which may be of great importance to the sheep as a species.” His brother, Olaus J. Murie, thought predators may have an important influence during severe winters in reducing elk herds too large for their winter range. Douglas H. Pimlott pointed out that wolves control their own densities.

Yellowstone National Park wolf project leader Douglas W. Smith says that restoration of wolves there has added exponentially to our knowledge of how natural ecosystems work. It has also reminded us that predation is one of the dominant forces in all of nature, present in ecosystems worldwide over millions of years.

Bob Crabtree and Jennifer Sheldon note that predation by wolves is important to the integrity of the Yellowstone ecosystem, but we should realize that, before their return to Yellowstone’s northern range, 17 mountain lions there killed 611 elk per year, 60 grizzly bears killed 750 elk calves annually, and 400 coyotes killed between 1,100 and 1,400 elk per year.

P.J. White et al wrote that climate and human harvest account for most of the recent decline of the northern Yellowstone elk herd, coupled with the effects of five predators: wolves, grizzly bears, black bears, cougars, and coyotes. These are parts of a system unique in North America by its completeness.

Joel Berger et al demonstrated “a cascade of ecological events that were triggered by the local extinction of grizzly bears … and wolves from the southern greater Yellowstone ecosystem.” In about 75 years, moose in Grand Teton National Park erupted to five times the population outside the park, changed willow structure and density, and eliminated neotropical birds: gray catbirds and MacGillivray’s warblers.

Dan Tyers informs us that wolves haven’t eliminated moose from Yellowstone. Instead, burning of tens of thousands of acres of moose habitat in 1988 (mature forests with their subalpine fir) hit the moose population hard, and it won’t recover until the forests mature again.

Mark Hebblewhite and Doug Smith documented that wolves change species abundance, community composition, and physical structure of the vegetation, preventing overuse of woody plants like willow, and reducing severity of browsing on willows that provide nesting for songbirds. In Banff, songbird diversity and abundance were double in areas of high wolf densities, compared to that of areas with fewer wolves. Fewer browsers lead to more willows, providing habitat for beaver, a keystone species, which in turn create aquatic habitat for other plants and animals.

By reducing coyotes, which were consuming 85 percent of the production of mice in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley, restored wolves divert more food to raptors, foxes, and weasels. By concentrating on killing vulnerable calf elk and very old female elk, wolves reduce competition for forage by post-breeding females, and enhance the nutrition of breeding-age females.

Wolves promote biological diversity, affecting 20 vertebrate species, and feeding many scavengers (ravens, magpies, pine martens, wolverines, bald eagles, gray jays, golden eagles, three weasel species, mink, lynx, cougar, grizzly bear, chickadees, Clark’s nutcracker, masked shrew and great grey owl). In Yellowstone, grizzly bears prevailed at 85 percent of encounters over carcasses, and they usurp nearly every kill made by wolves in Pelican Valley from March to October.

Some 445 species of beetle scavengers benefit from the largess of wolf-killed prey. In Banff and Yellowstone, no other predator feeds as many other species as do wolves. Wolf-killed elk carcasses enhance local levels of soil nutrients, adding 20 percent to 500 percent greater nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium.

Dan Stahler and his colleagues saw an average of four ravens on carcasses in Lamar Valley pre-wolf. Post-wolf, that increased to an average of 28, with as many as 135 seen on one carcass. Eagles seen on carcasses increased from an average of one per four carcasses to four per carcass.

P.J. White and Bob Garrott observed that, by lowering elk numbers, wolves may contribute to higher bison numbers; decreasing coyote populations result in higher pronghorn numbers. They also said wolves may ameliorate ungulate-caused landscape simplification.

Daniel Fortin and others saw that wolves may cause elk to shift habitat, using less aspen, and favoring songbirds that nest in the aspen.

Christopher Wilmers and all tell us that hunting by humans does not benefit scavengers the way wolf kills do. Carrion from wolf kills is more dispersed spatially and temporally than that from hunter kills, resulting in three times the species diversity on wolf kills versus hunter kills. Wolves subsidize many scavengers by only partly consuming their prey; they increase the time over which carrion is available, and change the variability in scavenge from a late winter pulse (winterkill) to all winter. They decrease the variability in year-to-year and month to-month carrion availability.

Chris Wilmers and Wayne Getz write that wolves buffer the effects of climate change. In mild winters, fewer ungulates die of winterkill, causing loss of carrion for scavengers. Wolves mitigate late-winter reduction in carrion by killing ungulates all year.

Mid-sized predators can be destructive in the absence of large keystone predators.  In the absence of wolves, pronghorn have been threatened with elimination by coyotes. Wolves have reduced coyotes and promoted survival of pronghorn fawns. Pronghorn does actually choose the vicinity of wolf dens to give birth, because coyotes avoid those areas, according to Douglas W. Smith.

Mark Hebblewhite reviewed the effects of wolves on population dynamics of large-ungulate prey, other effects on mountain ecosystems, sensitivity of wolf-prey systems to top-down and bottom-up management, and how this may be constrained in national park settings. Then he discussed the implications of his research on ecosystem management and long-term ranges of variation in ungulate abundance. He cites literature that suggests that the long-term stable state under wolf recovery will be low migrant elk density in Western montane ecosystems, noting that wolves may be a keystone species, without which ungulate densities increase, vegetation communities become overbrowsed, moose and beaver decline, and biodiversity is reduced. But as elk decline, aspen and willow regeneration are enhanced. In this context, wolf predation should be viewed as a critical component of an ecosystem management approach across jurisdictions.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) could wipe out our elk and deer. Tom Hobbs writes that increasing mortality rates in diseased populations can retard disease transmission and reduce disease prevalence. Reduced lifespan, in turn, can compress the time interval when animals are infectious, thereby reducing the number of infections produced per infected individual. Results from simulations suggest that predation by wolves has the potential to eliminate CWD from an infected elk population.

Wildlife veterinarian Mark R. Johnson writes that wolves scavenge carrion, such as aborted bison or elk calves. By eating them, they may reduce the spread of Brucellosis to other bison or elk.

Scott Creel and John Winnie, Jr. report that wolves also cause elk to congregate in smaller groups, potentially slowing the spread of diseases that thrive among dense populations of ungulates.

John Duffield and others report that restoration of wolves has cost about $30 million, but has produced a $35.5 million annual net benefit to greater Yellowstone area counties, based on increased visitation by wolf watchers. Some 325,000 park visitors saw wolves in 2005. In Lamar Valley alone, 174,252 visitors observed wolves from 2000 to 2009, where wolves were seen daily in summers for nine of those ten years.

Wolves cause us to examine our values and attitudes. Paul Errington wrote, “Of all the native biological constituents of a northern wilderness scene, I should say that the wolves present the greatest test of human wisdom and good intentions.”

Aldo Leopold, father of game management in America, said, “Harmony with land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left. That is to say, you cannot love game and hate predators. … The land is one organism.”

Leopold also pointed out that the first rule of intelligent tinkering with natural ecosystems was to keep all the pieces. Eliminating predators is counter to that advice. Wolves remind us to consider what is ethically and esthetically right in dealing with natural systems.

As Leopold wrote in his essay “The Land Ethic,” “A land ethic … does affirm (animals’) right to continued existence … in a natural state.” He concluded, “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

Norman Bishop lives in Bozeman, Montana, and is a member of the advisory board of Living With Wolves, a group which raises awareness about wolves and their importance to healthy ecosystems. He worked for 36 years for the National Park Service, which included leading and supporting wolf restoration interpretation in Yellowstone National Park from 1985 to 1997. He was a reviewer of the 1990 and 1992 reports to Congress, “Wolves for Yellowstone?” and contributed to the 1994 Environmental Impact Statement, “The Reintroduction of Gray Wolves to Yellowstone National Park and Central Idaho.”


Large carnivores promote healthy ecosystems by keeping browsers on edge



Photo: Courtesy OSU Terra The Power of Research

Video: YouTube: ripple wolves aspen

Posted in: gray wolf, biodiversity

Tags: gray wolf, apex predator, biodiversity

Published in: on October 26, 2011 at 3:03 am  Comments (13)  
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13 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thank you for this excellent article and video.


  2. This is what I have been trying to get it through some people’s hard heads. That Wolves are a very benefit to our Ecosystem.
    Wolves help keep the Wild-Herds healthy and keeps the forests and grasses growing, by keeping the Wild-herds moving.
    Thank you for your information on the benefit of the wolves.


  3. It’s called SCIENCE – what a concept.

    Unfortunately the f_cking hunters can’t read or they just don’t understand logic.


    • The last count I had was for Idaho 60 killed by hunters and 83 killed by FGWS. In Montana 70 lilled by FGWS and 16 killed by hunters. So who is the bad guy here?
      FGWS is the organization which is suppose to protect Wildlife? Why are they the ones who have killed the most so far.
      Hunters are not far behind them.


  4. The general population in the U.S. should be given this information, either in writing or through the media. Our local TV stations are quick to report depredation by wolves, but rarely inform people about the benefit of having wolves in our ecosystem.
    Residents of the Pacific Northwest justify the slaughter of wolves with myths and lies passed down from father to son and spread by pro-hunting groups.
    The only way that this will ever change is through education. If Norm Bishop would tour cities and towns in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming and share his knowledge about wolves, it may stop the negative feelings that people have about wolves. If he could be a guest lecturer at colleges and universities and instruct aspiring wildlife managers in the importance of keeping a balance in nature, our future wildlife officials may be focused on protecting all animals and less interested in writing permits to kill them.


    • I wish I had transportation, so I could go to the cities in Idaho,Montana, Oregon and Wyoming.
      I know the importance of the wolves. They are very loving and caring pack. They take care of their packs better than some people take care of their families.
      Wolves do not abuse their babies or sexually assault them. They do not beat theor babies or even hurt them. I know that they do train them and teach them the pack order. Like good parents teach their children.


  5. Me too, thankyou. It’s timely.
    I’ve been reading Ill Nature by Joy Williams.
    Under the same title others, all powerful, especially Safariland and Animal people can be found at the link below, the link is to the entire book. but at this address it comes up Safari Land.


    Not found in Ill nature is this amazing brief essay.
    The Air is Electric with Elephant
    For the Animals

    “The air is electric with elephant.” Joy Williams, Safariland
    The accessibility of memory belongs to the care taking of the mother, the long line of songs that tell the story of each feeding, each day dying, each birth from its moment of creation through its tangle of thoughts into tissue and liquid, flesh.

    What we forget is how this pattern is made, and how it continues eternally, through time. As my father walks slowly into rooms, lays himself down onto beds, beneath covers, sighing that sigh which is only his and smiling a little in full contentment, I feel every rhythmic move and bent of this elephant line, the dignity and precious nature of life, the nurturing of both flesh and memory. We are triumphant in our small ways, in this contentment of life, when we reach it. Knowing, now, is to remember the long line of generations, in their motion and change, the dignity of bearing and creating each life, linking to more. Even knowing that “matter” is more energy than visible density, even as we see it, we require more “proof,” wood we can knock on, to let our thoughts go, without interference of some kind.

    I think of my beautiful mother, her strength and indomitable spirit, all the while as her cells are bombarded by chemicals sent in as special forces, to take out insurgents. I feel the fields of sounds wave as they ripple, and remember that without matter, there is no sound. Matter makes sound? Moments when a worry flutters through like the shadow of a bird across her face, the feelings spread themselves like water, deep, through her, and through all her time. What songs are these, how many verses, voices? Their beauty is eternal. The joy of each moment together, of thoughts touching, of urges and bangs, sparks and waves, brings the colorful changes to light.

    Mine are joys specific and general. A friend said one thing she appreciates about how we communicate is that it seems we never have to land. I feel the truth of this and the crest of waves with the rise of air. I have written to find the flow of my life, the threads that make up the beauty of fabric sewn to use, appreciate. The details, like the fruits of the garden – knowing which leaf comes from which seed, the character and life of each breed and presence – determine the flow of life. Now I know this, new. Chemicals carry the messages, the love notes, we write to ourselves every moment, cell to cell, circling, tribe to tribe, cluster to cluster, family to family.

    Outside the airplane window, I see a cloud standing free like a giant snowman, and a wisp like a fountain of water spouting. My passion is for mining these trails of life, an explorer at heart, but this time, of artifacts of a different kind. I feel no need to descend into caves and pits with tools and kits to precisely remove dust and centuries of accumulation. This I do internally, following the trails of others in their identifying tracks and making meaning from them in new ways. What a curiously deep satisfaction this is.

    I can’t quite reach you,” people have said to me in years gone by. Some clutched more, dug deep, but with different tools. Follow me in, I say, and I’ll do the same with you.

    Friends are a gift. “Confusion is resistance to seeing oneself in the energy of another. The vision is not loved if you are not loved by you. Understand you to understand me. Love yoruself to love me. We are one, you and me.”


  6. Norm Bishop is a great guy. He and I used to correspond regularly about reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone back in the early ’90s. I tried to get to see him when I visited Yellowstone where he was a ranger in 1993, but snow blocked the road to Mammoth. I did meet him at a lecture in Colorado. He encouraged me to keep working hard for wolf reintroduction.


  7. What a fantastic article! Thanks to Josh Alexander and his Wolf Defender blog for pointing the way to you. I plan to visit a lot.


  8. Anyone ever go riding (horses)? Have you had one step in a rodent hole as you canter or lope along? I used to ride on a ranch that killed every higher preditor that strolled across the property. The ground was like swiss cheese and she (my mare) stumbled a lot! Yuk and dangerous for both of us.
    I boarded her somewhere else and rode there too. Much better! JR


  9. This is great thanks so much!


    • Your welcome Brigid, glad to have you here.

      For the wolves, For the wild ones,


  10. I read something last night from a 2008 book on Yellowstone Wolves/ Cat Urbigkit and husband a lawyer husband/wife team who want/wanted to ‘preserve integrity of local species’, and who write from a very complex in fighters position on local species versus translocated gray wolves. They’re talking about Wyoming. Urbigkit offers lots of criticism of FWS and plenty of empathy for ranchers who are nevertheless feedlot feeding elk over winter to keep no.s up for hunters thereby habituating wolves to their range, and who leave out poisoned stock (no mention in book) graze on public land, but speak at congressional hearings with tears in their eyes for lost profits, while every year millions of cows in three states die from disease especially on finishing feed lots (that’s lifestyle for cows) not mentioned, nor that in general, ranchers who want to preserve their lifestyle (nostalgia for the range rider/great open spaces now empty of all but cows/mythos) want no responsibility in tending their stock. (that’s their lifestyle) and so make no move to electric fencing. It works in Alberta/Sheep Growers Association loves it.

    I can and will verify first of the week through a contact online but if anyone knows about reimbursement tied to delisting/trophy hunting status please post, that is, if Wyoming ranchers are reimbursed for wolf takes (only) when wolves are delisted and designated as trophy game. And is that true of Idaho and Montana?
    …pg 310..With delisting wolves in northwestern Wyoming are managed by state officials as a trophy game species. That means WGF will manage wolves as a huntable species, respond to livestock conflicts, and proved for compensation in areas where wolves are designated as trophy game.
    For the Wolves


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