Northern Rocky Mountain Wolves
Wolves Restore Diversity and Landscapes
Since that time, conservationists have learned of the invaluable role wolves contribute to western landscapes and wildlife as “keystone species”. Studies demonstrate that wolves promote a “trophic cascade” whereby wolves’ interactions with prey engenders a diversity of plant and animal life within the ecological communities that wolves inhabit. Often cited is wolves’ contribution to aspen and willow regrowth as the top-level predator’s presence on a landscape alters elk and other browsing ungulates’ behavior, preventing them from over-grazing by pushing elk off of riparian areas (stream-banks) and across landscapes more regularly. The effect is more grasses, aspen, and willows which makes for better critical habitat for beaver (another “keystone species”), birds, insects, and others. In turn, fish can benefit, other predators that depend on fish benefit, etc. The restorative contribution “cascades” throughout the natural community as habitat becomes more complex providing for more diversity of fish and wildlife.
Similarly, wolves have been shown to bring coyote populations into balance. In turn, the mice and rodents that coyotes prey upon become more abundant for foxes who fill in the ecological niche once uniquely enjoyed by coyotes.
Because wolves had been eradicated in the past, we’re just now beginning to test and understand many of the ideas scientists had posited about what the re-introduction of wolves would mean for western watersheds and wildlife communities.
To learn more, read WWP Advisory Board member Deb Donahue’s essay:
Wolves and Public Lands Ranching
Public land livestock grazing diminishes and precludes wolves’ restorative contribution to western public landscapes
Unfortunately, many of the most important restoration effects are relegated to Yellowstone National Park and a few privileged public landscapes where cattle and sheep are not present. As mentioned previously, many of the benefits wolves contribute to western landscapes take place as a function of moving grazers off of steam-banks (riparian zones). When wolves do little more than excersize their ecological niche on public lands subjected to livestock grazing, they often get shot or otherwise “controlled” by government agents. It’s backward, ESA protected species shot to “protect” pubic lands ranching from the natural world.
Public land livestock grazing degrades the condition of riparian zones across landscapes throughout the west, including among much of the land that wolves inhabit. The livestock industry and its politicians have dampened the protective measures of the Endangered Species Act largely precluding wolves’ restoration and wholly undermining their contribution to the restoration of riparian areas on public lands that are grazed. Enough is enough – public lands belong to all of us.
Intolerance of Wolves
Despite recovery efforts demonstrating the minimal negative impacts to livestock and big game hunting opportunities over the last decade and despite the good-faith efforts of wolf advocates to respond to financial concerns, little has changed to curb intolerance for wolves. Right now, those adversarial to wolf restoration on our public lands have influence over local and national politicians – and they’re using that influence to kill and drastically reduce protections for wolves on public landscapes. Entire packs of wolves are being slaughtered by means reminiscent of what extirpated wolves from the west in the first place. All of this is being paid for with tax-dollars and government agents to appease ranchers on public lands. Ranchers have never been required to implement non-lethal ranching techniques, techniques that have been demonstrated to be effective at reducing conflict, as a condition of permitted use of your public landscape. Why should wolves be killed for conflicts that are preventable ? Why should public lands ranchers not be required to do everything in their power to prevent conflict when leasing our land ?
It’s time to do something about it – Join WWP and insist that the federal government maintain ESA protection of wolves, revoke federal funding for Wildlife Service’s government-sponsored slaughter of wolves, and put an end to the unwarranted lease of public lands to livestock grazing when operators are unwilling to keep an eye on their herds – setting the stage for conflict.
Documenting Wolf Management
WWP has been documenting wildlife managers in public meetings, hearings, and committees. Our attendence at these local meetings has ensured that wolf-managers recognize a strong voice for wolves at every turn. WWP is making the content of these meetings available to the public to help inform citizens about the agency processes, decisions, and the mindset of the people charged with making these important wildlife management
The Montana Wolf Management Plan
As imperiled wildlife, wolves were placed under the protection of the Endangered Species Act to ensure their recovery in Montana and across the Northern Rockies. An important part of that recovery is transferring management of wolves to the states. For that critical step to take place, Montana and the other states must produce workable plans that ensure sound science-based management and sustainable wolf populations.
Montana Plan Summary
The Montana Wolf Management Plan was finalized after a lengthy process that gathered input from a wide spectrum of interested stakeholders. On the positive side, the plan contains language stating the Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ commitment to the successful recovery of the wolf in Montana, as well as recognition of the wolf as an integral part of Montana’s wildlife heritage. Also, the plan does, indeed, approach management of wolves in a similar manner to management of other game such as bears and mountain lions.
What Could Be Improved
Though much of the plan is solid, we believe it is short on substantive conservation standards for achieving its stated intent. We are also concerned that Montana FWP continues to place a heavy emphasis on lethal control of “problem wolves” in lieu of proactive, non-lethal, wolf-livestock conflict avoidance measures.