Too Many Deer? Call in the Wolves, Scientists Say
Posted: Tue Feb 02, 2010 11:01 am
Article found here:(Feb. 1) – Scientists are calling for a formidable new cadre of pest exterminators to prowl America's national parks: wolves.
A coalition of researchers has proposed trucking wolves into parks and other wild places to curb booming populations of deer and elk, which upset the natural order by mowing down native vegetation.
Using wolves to keep deer and elk populations in check could "help bring ecosystems back into balance," wildlife biologist David Licht said.
The researchers argue that even a small number of wolves living in a small park could do a lot of good. They say that fences, birth control and other methods could be used to keep the wolves from spreading outside the park boundaries and eating local sheep, cattle and pets.
By "using the wolf as a tool," park managers could "help bring ecosystems back into balance," says Daniel Licht, a wildlife biologist who leads the scientists advocating this approach. "There would be enormous positive benefits, and they would outweigh the negatives."
It's an odd twist for a species that Americans once tried to eradicate. Bounties for dead wolves were offered as late as the 1960s, and by the early 1970s the wolf had been erased from all but a tiny corner of the contiguous United States. Protected in 1973 under the Endangered Species Act, the wolf has made a gradual comeback.
Now an animal long regarded as vermin could help eliminate the vermin plaguing national parks and many other wildernesses. Licht points to the ripple of changes at Yellowstone National Park after wolves were imported to the park in 1995. Wolves began chasing the park's elk, which meant the newly wary elk spent less time snacking. That allowed more willow trees – a favorite elk munchie -- to grow, encouraging the comeback of beavers and songbirds. Grizzly and black bears, which feast on the carrion from wolf kills, have also prospered.
Wolves could help knock many other landscapes into shape, Licht says. He thinks the main obstacle to getting help from wolves is not the wolves. It's tradition.
Importing a small number of animals "as a stewardship tool ... is counter to 100 years of wildlife management in America," he says. "It's going to take a different paradigm" – as well as a fair amount of money to build fences, attach tracking collars and provide contraceptives to keep the wolves from spreading to places where they're not wanted.
Others say wolves, which have rebounded so well that they've been taken off the endangered species list in many places, are too wily to be managed like sheep.
"Wolves are going to be wolves, so depending on fencing is probably not a very practical solution," says Bob Irvin of Defenders of Wildlife, one of the foremost groups advocating wolf restoration. "They are pretty adaptable (at) occupying habitat and also spreading to new habitat." He worries about trouble in communities, leading to "new hostility toward wolves" if the animals colonize surrounding neighborhoods.
If wolves broke out of the parks where they were at work, environmentalists would fight to let them continue to spread, fears John Youngberg of the Montana Farm Bureau Federation, which represents ranchers and farmers.
"On paper this might look like a great idea," he says. "But ... you have too many outside influences, political and human-caused."
The scientists' wolf proposal appears in the February issue of the scientific journal BioScience.
Filed under: Nation, Science
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I found the idea of using birth control for the wolves interesting. In that sense, the local population could never grow and would always be under control of the supervisors. A lot of people who dislike the use of wolves as population control always argue that their numbers will go out of control, but by this method it eliminates that possibility.