Wolves have been on my mind lately. Not only because I no longer live in an area where they live and I’ve been missing having them around, but also because of a couple policy items that have shown up in the media in the past week. The most exciting news is that a federal court reinstated the Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in Wyoming. Apparently they found that the US Fish and Wildlife Service had violated that law when they removed those protections from wolves in 2012. Having seen advertisements and evidence of wolf trophy hunts all around northwestern Wyoming in the past year, this is a thrilling development! During my studies and experiences living in northwestern Wyoming, I became aware of the underlying complexities of a developing intact ecosystem. The river health was increasing due to reduced browsing (especially by elk) of the plants that shade them, the herbivores were becoming less overpopulated in the area, and the humans were beginning to regain the humility that comes from not always being the top of the food chain. Yes, it can be a challenge to manage livestock in wolf-populated areas, but can’t our large cerebral cortexes solve that occasional problem in a way that does not reduce ecosystem health? Many ranchers in Wyoming were making some successful attempts already. Having the opportunity to live in an intact ecosystem and explore the underlying complexities of a region that still has these apex predators is an incomparable experience I wish everyone on Earth could have.
The second wolf news item was the end of the public comment period regarding whether to keep the Red Wolf Recovery Program going in the southeastern United States. Red wolves started being the subject of many conservation measures in North Carolina about 30 years ago when they were determined to be just on the cusp of extinction. Now, there are only about 100 of these wolves living in the southeast–yet there is a question about whether to continue their Recovery Program. Given that red wolves have clearly not recovered in the southeast, there should not be a question about whether to continue the program aiding their recovery.
Here’s a gallery of photos I took of some gray wolves from the Canyon Pack in Yellowstone last spring feeding on an elk they had killed the night before. The first image shows not one, but two species that were on the cusp of extinction until humans made the decision to help reinvigorate and conserve their populations: the bald eagle (in the top middle) and the gray wolf. Let’s hope we can continue making such decisions into the future.