INterestnglhy I was out photographing wolves at the MN Zoo this afternoon. What magnificent creatures. Unfortunately, before I got all of the shots I wanted, I ran out of memory - on both cameras. Oh well, that gives me an excuse to go again.
As I hve stated before, I hoep you will forgive me for my typs. Beign on extremely high doses of morphine seems to cause a short between my brain and my fingers.And when I am trying to proof read, between my brain and my sight comprehension. Because I know what I meant to say, I often do not see the typos until after I have posted it. And once it is posted I cannot edit it. So please forgive me and hang in there if you can.
There is no question that wolves have reduced the number of elk in the Yellowstone ecosystem. And it was known that this would happen, because, since big cattle ranches grew up on the edges of Yellowstone Park and the Teton National Wilderness Area, and the inception of the National Elk Refuge (mainly for the purpose of hunting, not for a balanced ecosystem) the number or elk, when considered as part of the ruminant species foraging on the wild plants of Yellowstone has, grown too big. The ruminant base has greatly impacted, and in some places destroyed, the native flora of that ecosystem.
That ecosystem did not develop into what it was before the National Elk Refuge, or modern hunting, without wolves as part of the equation, (along with bears, and mountain lions) to prey on the larger prey/fauna of ecosystem, in order to keep them in check within the carrying capacity of the habitat. It did not develop to hold that many elk, bison, mule deer, moose, bighorn sheep and pronghorns (but mainly elk) without wolves to keep them in check. Thus it was an unbalanced ecosystem - before ranching, and before the elk refuge. What it is now, is an artificially manage ecosystem, with wildlife viewing and hunting as two components of that management. This is not responsible ecosystem management – at all.
Most people today are unaware of what the Yellowstone area originally was, and what it was meant to be - by God (if you believe in Yahweh). All they know is the wolves reduce their precious elk numbers, which reduces the hunting availability. And that is all they care about. They do not care that the aspen, willow and cottonwood forests are no longer regenerating in some areas, making it hard for their precious elk to find forage in the winter, which, if it keeps up, can lead to starvation of their precious elk herds. The loss of those forests also affects songbird nesting and thus raptors; riparian forage habitat and thus waterfowl and shorebirds, shade to create cool streams and thus trout;, trout and thus wading birds, bears, mink fisher, weasels and otter; insects and crustaceans and mollusks and thus amphibians and reptiles. And on and on.
Now don't get me wrong, I probably know I enjoy watching, researching an hunting elk more than any hunter who is likely to respond to this post, because I have spent 10 years of my life guiding for elk, and 3 years researching elk. I like elk more than whitetails. If I could have my way, we would restore elk to all of the eastern 2/3s' fo North America, but is not feasible.
But wolf reintroduction is not about what ranchers or hunters want. It is about total ecosystem management, with a balanced predator / prey relationship, and keeping the prey species within the carrying capacity of the habitat.
Yellowstone never, at anytime in recent memory, developed into an ecosystem that was designed to hold as many bighorn sheep, mountain Goats, moose, mule deer and elk, as now live within the boundaries of the park. It currently holds more than 30,000 elk from 7-8 different herds in the summer, with approximately 15,000 to 22,000 wintering in the park. Lack of forage and deep snow depths are why elk and bison migrate out of the park every winter, and forage on the ranchers land and haystacks. There are too many elk in the Yellowstone ecosystem. Their number are artificially inflated because of the extinction of one of the keystone predators – the wolves, and the creation of the National Elk Refuge – for the purpose of wildlife watching and hunting.
Ranchers in the Yellowstone Ecosystem complain about the bison that leave the park every winter, because they may carry brucellosis. They would also complain about the elk, except that they would loose the money they get leasing the hunting rights to their property for elk hunts. But interestingly, it is not the ranchers that are complaining the most loudly about lower elk numbers, it is hunters, many of who do not have any economic stake in the area - just hunting rights - who complain most about the wolf reintroduction.
And they do it to save their hunting possibilities, with very little concern for the health of an entire very ecosystem. But, not just any ecosystem, the most beautiful, pristine, magnificent, geothermally active ecosystem, in the world.
If we do not restore all of Yellowstone to what it developed itself into being, we will eventually loose parts of it, and more parts, and more parts, until it can no longer maintain itself. All because hunters do not want the keystone predator of that ecosystem, to exist within it - just so they can keep hunting elk.
There is something really wrong with that thinking, or that lack of understanding and caring about our environment. No one, not ranchers, or hunters or developers - should have their voices be more relevant than the voices of the public as a whole, and the scientists.
May God help us all, to see the wisdom of total ecosystem management, helping it to become as close to natural as we can, or as close as we can maintain it.