Losing these important predators would have a ripple effect on the entire ecosystem.
The gray wolf has made a stunning comeback in the northern Rockies. In the late 1920s, wolves had been completely eradicated from western Wyoming as well as the rest of the Lower 48 states. Conservationists reintroduced wolves to the region in the 1990s, successfully restoring new populations to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, as well as the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway, a 24,000-acre tract of land managed by the National Park Service that connects the two parks.
Today, the animals are well on their way to recovering. This should be a success story. However, now that the federal government plans to “delist" the wolves in Wyoming—remove them from endangered species protection—officials will view them as predators over the majority of the state, allowing people to shoot them on sight. Although wolves would still be protected within Yellowstone, the animals could be hunted as trophy game animals in the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway, unless the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service specifically exempts national park lands from wolf hunting before wolves are delisted.
Why protect wolves? If you are not moved by the beauty and significance of the animals themselves, consider their relationship with the rest of the region. The loss of predators such as wolves has a ripple effect that throws an entire ecosystem out of balance, affecting not just other wildlife, but plant populations, too. Recent research from Oregon State University (reported in ScienceDaily last month) reinforces the role of predators in wildlife management. The researchers, OSU Professor William Ripple and Professor Emeritus Robert Beschta, examined 42 studies from the past 50 years on how large carnivores affect ecosystems in North America, Northern Europe, and Asia, finding similar results throughout these studies: that loss of wolves and bears creates an overpopulation of game animals such as deer, and in the case of Wyoming, elk, which in turn reduces plant life and harms biodiversity. Since plants naturally sequester carbon, the impact of predator loss to ecosystems may even have an impact on the climate. According to the study, hunting by humans simply does not offer the benefits that natural predators do in the wild.
More than 54,000 NPCA supporters have already voiced concerns about wolf hunting in Wyoming to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, asking him to protect wolves in national parks. To date, however, the Department of the Interior has not made changes to the final wolf delisting rule to exempt wolf hunting in these areas. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now accepting comments on the proposed wolf delisting, giving wolf supporters another chance to weigh in—but only until tomorrow, May 16.
Since the wolves can’t submit their own public comments, it’s vital that national park supporters speak out for their protection.
About the author
Sharon Mader Senior Program Manager, Northern Rockies
Sharon joined NPCA in July 2007. She works as a Senior Program Manager in the Northern Rockies region, advocating for the protection of Grand Teton’s outstanding natural and historic resources, and promoting NPCA’s national strategic priorities in Wyoming.