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About Our Wolves

Wolves Control the Ecosystem

When the first pack, comprised of eight grey wolves from Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada, were re-introduced to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming on January 12, 1995, very interesting things happened:

  • The elk population declined; turns out that each wolf kills 22 elk annually.

  • The elk have been pushed from meadows into the forests. With a poorer diet, this has lowered the elk birthrate naturally.

  • The coyote population is down 60 per cent, and they have been forced from meadows to steeper terrain.

  • Fewer coyotes have allowed foxes, hares, small mammals, and ground-nesting birds to flourish in the meadows.

  • The re-introduction of wolves led to the increase of beaver colonies, creating more wetlands for aquatic birds and amphibians. 

  • Animal carcases left by wolves feed a variety of mammals like wolverines and carniverous birds like ravens, eagles, and magpies.

  • Willows, cottonwoods and aspens are returning as are other indigenous plants and insects.

It took 70 years of biologists, naturalists, and park rangers to conclude that wolves were actually necessary to keep all flora and fauna in Yellowstone National Park healthy and thriving. 


The top-down effect of the reintroduction of an apex predator like the wolf on other flora and fauna in Yellowstone's ecosystem is called a trophic cascade. Wolves were responsible for the renaissance of all other species in Yellowstone. All this just from about 100 wolves. That's powerful. 














Wolves Control the Balance Between Predators and Prey

When Yellowstone National Park was created by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872, the focus was on attracting visitors to the park. But by then, the wolf population was already in decline anyway from hunters looking for sport and fur pelts.  

From 1872 to 1926, wolves were hunted to eradication in Yellowstone. And they were hunted with more vigour than any animal in U.S. history.  

With the wolves gone, the elk population exploded and moved to the meadows, causing over-grazing, soil erosion, and the loss of plants. They grazed their way across Yellowstone, with voracious appetites, killing young saplings of at-risk tree species and other unique vegetation.


As early as 1933, scientists were alarmed by the fast degradation at Yellowstone. And the population explosions of other other animal species. In less than 10 years, the ecosystem got completely out of whack. 


For 30 years, from the 1930s to the 1960s, park rangers tried to control elk populations through culling; it didn't work. The elk populations surged anyway. With the wolves gone, the coyote population surged as well and wreaked havoc with the pronghorn antelope population. All fauna and flora were negatively affected without wolves, the apex predators. 

"Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf Scientist" is a feature story by Christopher Solomon published in The New York Times, July 5, 2018. It is the story of Rob Wielgus, a preminent wolf scientist and his advocacy for grey wolves. An excerpt:

Crunching a quarter-century of data about wolf attacks on livestock in three other states, the authors found something unusual: Killing wolves one year was associated with more, not fewer, deaths of livestock the following year.


The paper further suggested that killing wolves may cause the increased livestock deaths. Just because two things are correlated doesn’t mean that one causes the other, but Wielgus posited a firm connection.


As he explained to me, killing wolves fractures the highly regimented social order of the pack. “So, if you kill wolves, you get more breeding pairs, you get more livestock depredation.” This was a piece of the puzzle with his previous work: When humans kill the apex predator, a chaotic reshuffling is set into motion, with unintended consequences.

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SOURCE: Wolf Conservation Center

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