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In summary Douglas Chadwick's article, “Wolf Wars” deals with the question regarding whether or not wolves should still be protected in the lower 48 states of the United States. Douglas compares and contrasts different sides of the issue from the points of view of ranchers, hunters, conservationists, and biologists working for government agencies. Douglas does seem to lean more on the conservationist/biologist side now that I've read the article several times, and that seems to be implied anyway, this being a National Geographic article and all and Douglas being a wildlife biologist himself. Douglas raises the possibility that a problem may exist between humans and wolves because wolves can still be considered humans' number one non-human competitor for protein sources and land in the northern hemisphere (38). Douglas also implies that the problem between humans and wolves may exist due to the striking similarities between human and wolf (38). Like people wolves are: strong, competitive, strategic, top-predators (38). Wolves like humans work together in team/family units, are fiercely loyal to these pack units, and defend each other to the death often (38). Wolves like people have a great direct or indirect affect on their surroundings (38). In Douglas Chadwick's article considering return of the wolves and spreading territory across the northern Rocky Mountain States the overall question is should wolves be removed from the endangered species list in the lower 48 states? I say no due to many reasons cited in this article.
For one thing wolf numbers are still not near what they once were many, many years ago and the wolf population seems to be self or naturally regulated in some areas without human interference. There are examples in the article of fixes to the problems that ranchers are having with wolves. There are examples in the article of the reality of the conflict between big-game hunters and wolves, and how often wolves aren't the problem, rather other issues caused by us, poor economic times, or poor weather are the real problem. According to examples provided in this article wolves' direct or indirect affect on their surroundings is typically more beneficial for their fellow wildlife and the environment as a whole.
The fact that wolves are doing well and starting to spread across the northern Rocky Mountain States is great. Wolf population numbers are widely considered to be good. However, Wolves once ranged across most of North America. Wolves still do pretty well in Canada and Alaska and are not considered endangered in those areas even though they don't inhabit their full original range in those areas either. The fact that the wolves are finally starting to thrive again in part of the lower 48 states, specifically the northern Rocky Mountain States doesn't seem reason enough to remove them from the endangered species list in the areas where they are starting to do well again, especially considering they used to be all over the U.S. at one time long ago. Realistically wolf populations will probably never be what they once were, but I say for now they should be protected in the lower 48 states. Wolf populations are also being controlled from within and naturally so to speak without the help of humans.
According to Doug Smith, leader of the Yellowstone Wolf Project, he says, “We have a declining wolf population.” Also reported by Doug Smith, “‘Numbers never got as high as we expected based on the availability of prey.' ‘This suggests that once wolves reach a certain population density, you start to get social regulation of their numbers.'” (42-43)
Basically the wolf packs compete for food and competing wolf packs fight to the death in battles over food. Another cause of natural death that has affected the wolf population at Yellowstone is different canine diseases. The population of wolves in Yellowstone has also been lowered by a smaller food supply of elk in the park, which is thanks to the wolves and some bad winters. The elk have adapted to better avoid the wolves and better protect themselves from the wolves too. These two issues combined make hunting more challenging for the wolves at Yellowstone because wolves don't just hunt any animal, they go after weak, old, injured, and generally unprotected animals. Fewer elk to go around plus the changed behavior of the elk, both of which are in response to the wolves, means less chance of catching a meal for the wolves, thus increasing competition between packs and lowering wolf population numbers.
One important fact is wolves only account for about 1% of the causes of death for livestock in the northern Rocky Mountain States areas. However, it does still happen, and as mentioned in the article sometimes injuries and harassment from the wolves can cause serious problems for the livestock to include a change in behavior, poor health, and difficulty breeding. If ranches in the northern Rocky Mountain States were to go under due to losses caused in part by livestock killed, injured, or harassed into poor health by wolves, ranchers would sell their land to housing developers. In some cases ranchers already have done so. Important ecosystems are lost when this happens. There are programs mentioned in the article that are in practice, which have had favorable results for both wolves and ranchers. One such a program mentioned in the article is the range rider program where a range rider keeps an eye on wolf packs in ranch areas and reports the status of the wolves to ranchers so that the ranchers can take measures with their livestock to avoid the wolves (41). Another method reported in article is some ranchers have surrounded calving grounds with electrified wire.
In addition, the ranchers have used the fladry technique, a proven wolf deterrent method from Europe, which involves draping brightly colored flags along the wire to warn the wolves through their sense of sight (41). Another problem is bone piles, which involves leaving the dead bodies of livestock out in the open where wolves, among other predators, can be attracted to the easy food source and as a result can develop a taste for livestock and get into trouble. To prevent this problem dead bodies of livestock are now immediately taken far away from the ranches and composted (42). In the interest of keeping everyone involved happy these methods should be more widely employed at the ranches in the wolf affected areas.
Regarding the hunters' problem with wolves they should be informed of the fact that overall in the Northern Rocky Mountain States big game are still at pretty good levels for the most part, maybe less in some areas, and maybe more in other areas. I can understand that in these poor economic times hunting for your own food could be beneficial to some people and in some cases vital. Big game hunting is also vital to some area's economies.
According to Craig Jourdonnais, state game department wildlife biologist for Montana's Bitterroot Valley, says, “big-game hunting in Ravalli County is worth $11.2 million annually.” (55)
However, don't go blaming the wolves for difficulty in finding enough big game to hunt. Wolves are not the only cause of reductions in population of big game. More often than not loss of habitat due to human development and poor weather are a bigger cause for big game population reductions and as mentioned before wolves only go after the weak and unprotected game not just any prey animal. Poor weather and loss of habitat can affect whole herds not just the weak and unprotected.
Wolves have had a trickle-down effect on the overall environment at Yellowstone. Before the wolves came back to Yellowstone, the Elk were overpopulated and the Elk overgrazed many important shrubs and tree saplings in different parts of the park. These plants were important homes for various animals and contributed to the overall ecosystem's well being. When the wolves returned to Yellowstone and helped bring the elk to more natural levels of population, these hurting plants bounced back. Many birds returned to Yellowstone. Water flow in the park was returned to healthy levels thanks to the bounce back of important vegetation on river banks. Insects could now fall from overhanging vegetation along banks into rivers feeding the aquatic life. Beaver populations rose thanks to improved vegetation and water flow. The beavers improved the aquatic ecosystem even further. The beavers created habitat that could be used by moose and other animals and provide a summer water supply. Wolves don't hide their leftovers after they've eaten their fill like some predators do. Other animal species are able to benefit from the food source that wolves leave behind to include some birds of prey, scavengers, Bears, etc. Coyotes were in abundance in the absence of the wolves and upon the return of the wolves the coyotes were reduced to more natural levels by the wolves, which in turn allowed Pronghorn Antelope to bounce back in population numbers at Yellowstone. Buffalo are thriving more in the park thanks to the reduction in elk caused in part by the wolves, which gave Buffalo more area to graze and inhabit. Wolves also avoid Buffalo due to the Buffalo's temperament and power. Wolves either directly or indirectly benefited their surroundings at Yellowstone. (43-54)
In conclusion wolves shouldn't be removed from the endangered species list just yet and probably not for a long time to come. Ranchers have better ways of dealing with wolves at their disposal. Human hunters have nothing serious to fear from wolves with regard to Big Game number reductions. Bad weather and human development may be the real cause of Big Game number reductions in some areas. Overall, wolves help their environment, not hurt it like we tend to do. Hopefully you'll agree with Douglas Chadwick's primarily conservationist point of view regarding wolves in the northern Rocky Mountain States. His article seems fair based on the evidence he provided, and it covers most sides of the story, which only adds to its fairness.
Douglas H. Chadwick. “Wolf Wars.” National Geographic Mar. 2010: 34-55.
Doug Smith, leader of the Yellowstone Wolf Project, quoted in Douglas H. Chadwick's article, “Wolf Wars.” National Geographic Mar. 2010: 42-43.
Craig Jourdonnais, state game department wildlife biologist for Montana's Bitterroot Valley, quoted in Douglas H. Chadwick's article, “Wolf Wars.” National Geographic Mar. 2010: 55.