A study was conducted by University of Montana researchers which found the presence of wolves in Yellowstone contributes many millions of dollars each year to the local economy, from tourists who visit the park to see wildlife.
This information is from a study conducted over five years ago on the economic contribution from Yellowstone wolves, but it is still very relevant due to the recent controversy surrounding the management of wild wolves in the United States.
They surveyed park visitors for about one year, and found wolves were the second most-desired animal that visitors wanted to see. Their first-choice animal to see was the grizzly bear. Previous data showed visitors wanted to see wolves even when wolves were not present in the park, as they had been all killed off. After they were reintroduced, visitors then began indicating wolves were one of their top picks of wildlife to see. (It should be pointed out that livestock losses due to wolf predation were stated to be only about $60,000 per year at the high point.)
Within the park, it has been estimated that there are only about 94-100 wild wolves, but the entire region including Idaho, Wyoming and Montana may have approximately 1,700. In 2008, there were about 124 wild wolves in Yellowstone, but disease reduced that number by over twenty percent.
Wolves provide an additional value to the smaller meat-eating animals in their habitat as well. A different study showed they tend to not finish eating their prey at times, which leaves free meat for coyotes, golden eagles, and other small creatures, and the distribution of the food occurs somewhat evenly throughout the year, which means there is a fairly steady supply of left over food for the smaller animals.
The controversy around how the wild wolves should be protected from human society is especially remarkable because it is obscuring the fact that the reintroduction of wild wolves to Yellowstone and the whole region has been a very successful venture.
It seems now what is taking place is paranoia and hysteria about the wolves, due to a lack of self-awareness on the part of some people. For example, Don Peay, who founded a hunting organization published some misinformation claiming that big game herds, “….can sustain tens of thousands of jobs…” (Source: Defenders of Wildlife) Really, herds of elk, and deer sustain tens of thousands of jobs? Which jobs?
It sounds like he is just making up nonsense, and has no idea what he is talking about. Of course, this misinformation is just his way of trying to claim that hunting contributes more economically than having even a small number of wolves scattered across several states. People like Mr. Peay, rather conveniently never cite any credible sources of information or research studies, however.
Image Credit: Doug Smith, National Park Service