Wolves In The West

Official Blog of the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project

The Environmental Benefits of Reintroducing Wolves in Colorado

Posted by Rocky Mountain Wolf Project | May 14, 2019 at 8:38 AM

The wild wolf is part of America's natural heritage. The gray wolf once roamed Colorado. It's unfortunate that wolves were a misunderstood species.

In the minds of ranchers and settlers, wolves were an evil animal killing and hunting without restraint. Ranchers feared wolves would diminish their cattle and sheep stocks.

Even the government gave the go-ahead. The wolves in Colorado were hunted to extinction in the 1940s

Colorado has one of the most beautiful ecosystems in the world. Reintroducing wolves in Colorado is crucial for biodiversity. 

Read on to learn more about the need for reintroducing wolves in Colorado. 

 

The History of Wolves in the United States

Native Americans recognized the kinship between wolves and man. Wolves, like humans, have a strong family and social structure. You can see wolves in much Native American art. 

It's estimated that at one time about two million wolves roamed the continental United States. One of the first known wolf bounties was in the colony of Massachusetts in the early 1600s. 

Wolves were hunted with the U.S. government's blessing for the next 400 years. European colonization was especially disastrous for wolves. The settlers feared the predators and worried about their livestock. 

Wolf skulls and pelts brought lucrative bounties. The killing was merciless with death by shooting, trapping, and poisoning. People tortured and even burned wolves alive. 

Barry Lopez, a naturalist writer, had this to say, "...the history of killing wolves shows far less restraint and far more perversity."

Within a couple of hundred years, the wolf population went from over about two million to only hundreds. The only wolves left were in the deep woods of what is now Michigan and Minnesota.

Myths about wolves persisted for many years. Even Teddy Roosevelt said, "The wolf is the arch type of ravin, the beast of waste and desolation." The U.S. government offered bounties for wolves until the 1960s.

 

Protecting the Wolf

In 1974, the gray wolf became a protected animal under the Endangered Species Act. Understanding that the wolf was almost extinct, humans finally stepped up. 

In 1985, a pack of wild wolves crossed from Canada into Montana. This was a huge step toward recovery for the gray wolf. The pack was dubbed "The Magic Pack."

Other packs migrated from Canada. In the early 1990s, Glacier National Park welcomed the first baby wolves born there. 

In 1995, another big moment came for wolves as they were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park. This gave scientists a chance to study the ecosystem before and after the wolves.

There's now scientific evidence and recognition of the value wolves add to the natural environment.

 

The Trophic Cascade and Regulation of Ecosystems

Wolves have a positive impact on the ecosystem. The loss of predators from the natural environment hurts the ecosystem. 

Since the reintroduction of the wolves to Yellowstone, the ecosystem has balanced. This is due to something called a trophic cascade. 

Different levels of the food chain are trophic levels. Plants, insects, and predators are all different trophic levels. 

Cascade refers to the way a stream falls over a cliff and scatters to many inlets, tributaries, and other cascades. 

Wolves are the large carnivore at the top of the food chain. The wolf affects every level of the trophic system as it works its way down. This is the cascade.

Wolves are a natural part of the ecosystem, and the trophic cascade helps the system run smoothly. 

Other animals, such as the elk and deer, are stronger since the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone. This is because the wolves chase them, and they're forced to run. 

When the prey run from the wolves, their hooves aerate the soil. The soil then retains water better and the grasses grow stronger and taller.

The elk and deer can't stay in one place with predators around, so the grasses, aspens, and willow aren't overgrazed. 

The coyote population was out of control. But since the wolves returned to Yellowstone, they're no longer a problem. 

Even the grizzly bears benefit from the wolves through the increased vegetation. 

Reintroduction of the wolves to Yellowstone had a trophic cascade effect. It created a healthier, more balanced, and a better ecosystem. Wolves are a critical keystone species in the ecosystem.

 

The Benefits of Bringing the Wolves Back to Colorado

The evidence from Yellowstone strongly supports bringing wild wolves back to Colorado. 

Wolves are not a threat to humans. In general, they avoid humans. There has never been a wolf attack on any camper while hiking in a national park. 

Trophic cascade is a necessary part of ecosystem balance. Without predators like the wild wolves, the natural balance is endangered. Population growth of other species remains unchecked.

Even the grasses and other vegetation don't grow as well. 

Colorado is the missing link in the gray wolf population of the Rocky Mountains. They once spanned the high arctic to the Mexican border. Reintroducing wolves into Colorado will reconnect the Western wolf population.

There's no need for ranchers to fear wolves. They are not evil animals with unbridled appetites.

Government compensation for wolf depredation of livestock could bridge the financial gap. Wolves seldom inhibit livestock weight gain. 

 

Let's Reintroduce Wolves in Colorado

It's crucial for the environment that we introduce wolves in Colorado. They were a natural part of the ecosystem until humans hunted them to extinction. 

The history of the gray wolf is a sad one. Humans feared and misunderstood this elegant predator for generations. But scientific evidence proves that wolves are a natural and necessary part of the ecosystem.

There's no reason why humans and wolves can't coexist peacefully. In fact, humans and the natural environment are better off if we do. It's time to stop poaching wolves and recognize them for the valuable asset they are. 

Bringing wolves back to Colorado would be a huge conservation achievement. Please take action! Let your voice be heard by signing the action letter to reintroduce wolves in Colorado. 

Topics: Wolves, Ecosystem, reestablishment, reintroduction