Restoring wolves to Yellowstone National Park has brought an unexpected benefit — wetlands.
When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995, naturalists hoped to get more wolves. And they did. The number of wolves grew from the original 66 to an estimated 1,700 today. But what no one anticipated was that the wolves would, in turn, thin the elk herds, which allowed for the regrowth of streamside willows, which provided food and building materials for beavers, which were able to flourish again, building dams and creating ponds and wetlands.
That, very briefly, is the cycle described by Chip Ward in the September 28 LA Times. Amazing, isn’t it, what nature can do if we just get out of her way.
Western ranchers and hunters continue their court battles against the wolves, but now those on the side of the wolves have a new weapon in their arsenal — the restoration of entire ecosystems. That means water — possibly the single most valuable commodity in the history of the American west, a region now stricken with longterm drought.
For conservationists, saving wolves simply for wolves’ sake has been reason enough. Now, it seems, there’s another good reason.