Wolves of the Yellowstone Ecosystem

  • Blog Post by: T.R. Michels
  • September 22, 2011 - 1:57 PM

I recently receivd an e-mail with a link to a video on the Wolves of the Yellowstone Ecosystem. Here were my thoughts on it:

I watchced this film - on the wolves of Yellowstone - with interest,but as it went on I had a number of questions about what was beind said. And I did some in-depth checking on it.

It is not an investigative piece, it is obviously a personal opinion/desire piece, designed to sway the watcher into taking the side of the video maker. It does not present a balanced look at both sides of the issue. There is nothing wrong with trying to sway people, even if you present only one sideof the issue - I do it all the time on my Mineapolis Star Tribune Blog, But, one should always check their "facts' to be sure that the are in deed - facts. I, as s Christian, could not prsent this issue, or any other one, without making darn sure I have the facts on my side, and this video producer does not have them. It is inexcusable.

This piece is filled with many misleading statements, half truths and "out and out" falsehoods.

On the video:

Someone mentioned that wolves had never been a part of the Yellowstone Ecosystem. That is false, most westerners know that wolves were found all around it, and records that show they were in it. Nothing kept them out.

Someone said wolves killed more buffalo then whites and Indians combined. During some years that may have been true. Over the period of the existence of the wolf - certainly, because they werre here long before the Native Americans or Europeans. But, during the days of Wild Bill Cody, Buffalo Bill etc. hunters killed far more buffalo in a week, the wolves did in a year.

Someone mentiond 10's of thousands of wolves. There were only 50,000-70,000 wolves in the 80's - in all of North America - not the US - as implied. Currently the US has about 9,000 wolves, with about 4,00 of those in my home sate of Minnesota. And we do not complain like westeners do, and we do have livestock loses - becasue we do not have the large elk and bison herds that the west does. We do have whitetals, .

Someone said that wildlfe increase is healthy. That could be, but it is no healthy for the ecosystem, because many native plants are either in danger or no longer in existence in many areas, due to overgrazing by both cattle and wildlife. I'll write more about this later.

Someone said that a single wolf can raise 20 pups in 3 years, That is only true if there are abundant prey species in the area - every year. The Alpha female of a pck of wolved can have up to 6 pups per year, but- she is the only one of the pack (which may contain an average of 4 other females and 1-2 males (her pups) that normally has pups, and up to 80% of the pups born each year may die. So, out of a group of 100 wolves, there may be only 40 females, of which only 10 are Alpha females, that may raise to adulthood 10 wolves every 3 years - not 40. And in aera werh teh wolf populatin has reache balanced predator pry spcied number, that are also in balance with the ecosystem carrying capacity - enough wolves will die each year, from disease, injury or malnutrition - the ther is no increasein wolf number over th long term.

Here are the 2001 Yellowstone wolf study results.

At the end of 2010, at least 97 wolves (11 packs and 6 loners) occupied Yellowstone National Park (YNP). This is nearly the same size population as in 2009 (96 wolves) and represents a stable population. Breeding pairs increased from six in 2009 to eight in 2010. The wolf population declined 43% from 2007 to 2010, primarily because of a smaller elk population, the main food of northern range wolves. The interior wolf population declined less, probably because they augment their diet with bison. The severity of mange declined in 2010 and there was no evidence of distemper being a mortality factor as it was in 1999, 2005, and 2008. Pack size ranged from 3 (Grayling Creek) to 16 (Mollie's) and averaged 8.3, slightly higher than in 2009 (7.1), but lower than the long-term average of 10 wolves per pack. Eight of the 11 packs reproduced (73%). The average number of pups per pack in early winter for packs that had at least one pup was 4.8, compared to the 2009 average of 3.8. A total of 38 pups in YNP survived to year end.

Wolf Project staff detected 268 wolf kills in 2010 (definite, probable, and possible combined), including 211 elk (79%), 25 bison (9%), 7 deer (3%), 4 wolves (1%), 2 moose (<1%), 2 pronghorn (<1%), 2 grizzly bears (< 1%), 4 coyotes (1%), 2 ravens (<1%), and 10 unknown species (4%). The composition of elk kills was 43% cows, 25% calves, 18% bulls, and 15% elk of unknown sex and/or age. Bison kills included 4 calves, 6 cows, 7 bulls, and 8 unknown sex adults. Intensive winter and summer studies of wolf predation continued.

 The pup ratio per 100 wolves was 38:100.

What wolf reintroduction to the Yellowsoten Ecosystem is about, is a balanced "predator/prey/prey forage base" system and the associated bird, insect, fish, reptile, amphibian, crustacean, mullosk, and invertebrate populations - meaning that we should take into account how the loss of one of those components - impacts the whole ecosystem balance. In this case, when wolves were not in the Yellowstone ecosystem, elk and bison number increases, which resulted in the loss of many native plant speceis, and the suppression of other species (shrubs and wildflowers) - mainly aspen, cottonwood and willow, which are a primary food source for elk and moose during the winter.

 Here is one example of how the increase in elk, beyond blanced predator/pray number can affect an ecosystem.

 ... if the Northern Range elk population does not continue to decline -- their numbers are 40 percent of what they were before wolves -- many of Yellowstone's aspen stands are unlikely to recover

I suggest you read this account of scientific findings;
Hopefully it will help you see the other side of this issue. There are several other articles there, relating to this issue. It is much broader than just wolves, elk, bison and livestock.

What people around the world need to think about - if they want to continue to enjoy nature and its widllife - is total ecosystem based conservation - not just the wants, needs or desires of a few people - concerned for their own welfare.


God bless,




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