Yellowstone aspen trees, willow and cotton wood are growing where large elk populations use to be, which prevented the tree stands from expanding. The return of gray wolves to the park has reduced elk herds, which in turn allows certain trees to reproduce and expand in number, and new study has shown.
William Ripple, one of the study’s authors said, “They’re more than just charismatic animals that are nice to have around. We’re finding that their function in nature is very important.” Source: Chicago Tribune)
Climate change and wildfires also can play a role in the tree growth, but research has confirmed wild wolves contribute too. Their presence can have a cascade effect, meaning when new trees grow they then provide more habitat for birds, and beavers have more fodder for building dams. With new dams comes more ponds for fish, frogs, and insects.
The role of wild wolves in relation to Yellowstone’s trees has been disputed by various researchers, and they say other things like stream levels also are factors, but it is looking like wolves contributions are being confirmed by science.
As Ripple and Beschta said in their study, “In ecosystems where wolves have been displaced or locally extirpated, their reintroduction may represent a particularly effective approach for passive restoration.” (Source: Oregon State University)
A University of Montana study found some years ago, that the presence of wolves is worth about $35 million dollars annually to the local economy. Many tourists to Yellowstone say one of the wild animals they most want to see is wolves.
Most of the wolf-related news recently published has been about their destruction such as the approval for aerial shooting of them in Idaho. Also a hunter’s group offered a reward of $100 per dead wolf to encourage hunting them.
Image Credit: National Park Service, Public Domain