By Reno Berkeley
Sustainability. For conservationists, it’s one of the single most important issues facing our planet today. For others, it’s an inconvenient issue serving as a thorn in their side that prevents industrial and agricultural progress. The issue is very real, however, and even the smallest change in any given ecosystem can wreak havoc on the life that depends upon it.
Take the wolf, for example. While cattle ranchers and farmers don’t think anything of killing them for destroying their livestock (which is actually detrimental to our natural environment), the fact is, these animals are imperative for a healthy natural environment.Sustainable Man illustrates this point quite well in his video regarding how reintroducing wolves into Yellowstone National Park changed the ecosystem for the better. In 1995, the National Park Service reintroduced the gray wolf into the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone after the animals had largely been absent since about 1926. According to the NPS, the last wolf pack was killed in the park, but individual wolves were sometimes spotted.
Almost immediately, the small wolf packs began to make a difference. Prior to reintroduction, the deer population was out of control. Not even human efforts could curb the growth. As a result of this, vegetation began to decline due to overgrazing. After the wolf made its majestic reappearance in the park, the deer population fell, becoming more sustainable. The remaining herds learned to avoid certain places, like gorges, valleys, and anyplace they could easily be cornered.
Vegetation boomed, and because of this the rivers began to change. As George Monbiot explains in the video, the wolf’s presence had a positive domino effect: Because deer weren’t overgrazing and even avoiding places, all manner of vegetation made a comeback. Because the vegetation regenerated, the rivers through the park experienced less erosion. The rivers, which had previous Because of this rapid regrowth, birds and beavers returned. And beavers, as Monbiot states, helped create environments for other species, like otters and ducks. And the river became different. It slowed down in places, creating pools.
All this new life, all this new regeneration, because one predatory species was given a new chance in a place it had once called home for thousands of years. Because of federal government’s protection, the wolf population has grown to such an extent that they have been removed from the endangered species list. But the fight is not yet over.
Only the Mexican gray wolf remains federally protected, but even this species has its opponents. In New Mexico, one wolf is being removed from the wild due to a recent cattle-killing spree. Area ranchers aren’t happy and want the wolves gone. In California, the wolf may be removed from the protected list there.
In 2008, then-Alaskan governor allowed the issuance of aerial hunting licenses so hunters could kill wolves. Her reason? To increase the caribou and moose population so humans could hunt and kill them for their dinner. It was not due to any real conservation efforts; it was for selfish purposes.
Obviously, wolves that prey on domesticated animals or those that hunt in areas humans frequent need to be controlled and removed. In the lower 48 states, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has suspended its plan to allow the killing of gray wolves pending further investigation. After learning more about how this species keeps its ecosystem in balance, I believe any plans to allow non-essential killing would be a bad idea.