The Tim Ferriss Show just released a two-hour podcast this week, interviewing Mike Phillips, one of the biologists who spearheaded the successful wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone National Park in the early 1990s, a long-serving Montana legislator, and currently a professional conservationist leading efforts to get gray wolves restored to the mountains of western Colorado.

According to Phillips, all it would take is 20 to 40 wolves in an initial reintroduction, which would increase naturally to a viable population of 250 wolves within a couple of decades, with a great deal of certainty and minimal intervention from humans. The successful reintroduction in wolves in Yellowstone demonstrates how readily, humanely, and cost-effectively it can be done.

Human society, too, benefits from the return of the wolf to the Colorado high country. Phillips argues that reintroducing wolves into their former habitats in western Colorado also has transformative potential for humanity, providing a measure of redemption to counterbalance the tremendous destructive force that our species has leveled at the natural world. 

“I believe that restoring gray wolves to western Colorado has tremendous power,” says Phillips. “We spoke about the Sixth Great Extinction Crisis. It’s tightening its grip on the planet, compromising all that is really important. But restoration reminds us that we can choose to be something other than misguided gods. It illustrates how we can change. It makes clear that restoration is an alternative to extinction.”

The interview also takes on the fairy-tale fearmongering that is so deep-seated and prevalent in EuroAmerican culture. “People embrace the mythical wolf,” Phillips observes. “The real wolf is not even a shadow of its mythical self. … First and foremost, we know that gray wolves are not a threat to human safety. They just aren’t. I never dismiss anybody’s fear. If they truly are concerned about their safety because of gray wolves, their fear is their fear and they’re entitled to it. I simply say, ‘Well, I appreciate your fear; it’s unfounded.’” Indeed, the number of people killed by wolves in North America throughout EuroAmerican history is vanishingly small.

The interview also discussed opposition to wolves from the livestock industry. Phillips pointed out, “Wolf depredations on livestock do not represent a threat to the livestock industry. Depredation events are just too uncommon. For example, in Montana, with eight or nine hundred gray wolves on the ground in Montana, there’s about fifty head of cattle killed a year. Fifty head of cattle, out of over two million [in the state] is not a threat to the industry.” 

The substantial wolf population in Montana also has failed to put a dent in elk numbers, despite the fears expressed by some hunting groups. “For years, I served as the ranking minority member of the [Montana] House Fish and Game Committee, and then I was the ranking minority member of the Senate Fish and Game Committee,” says Phillips. “Most of the time, people were coming to our committees to express concern about too many elk! Most of the elk management units in the State of Montana are either at management objective, as decided by Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, or over objective. … There are simply no data to support the claim that gray wolves are going to kill enough elk or deer to cause the big game apple-cart to fall over.”

“I think the gray wolf will continue to be protected under federal law in places like Colorado,” says Phillips. “And as I said earlier, the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project and the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund both aim to move the notion forward of recovering the gray wolf to this great big patch of opportunity that is in Western Colorado.” Volunteers are currently gathering signatures to launch a ballot initiative in Colorado to reintroduce gray wolves in the state’s western mountains, so this issue could be presented to Colorado voters as soon as November 2020.

In response to Phillips’ insights, Tim Ferriss pledged a $100,000 matching grant to help keep the campaign to return wolves to Colorado sustain its momentum. Members of the public can donate here by August 28th, and their donations will be matched by Tim Ferris. From Western Watersheds Project’s perspective, returning wolves to the Colorado Rockies would redress an ecological void that was created when wolves were extirpated in Colorado in the 1940s. Its return would help rebalance ecological problems like the chronic damage that overpopulated elk are doing to vegetation communities in Rocky Mountain National Park, and the echo of wolf howls among the peaks of the fourteeners would add tremendously to the wilderness experience for the millions of residents and visitors who venture into the Colorado high country each year.

Erik Molvar is a wildlife biologist and executive director with Western Watersheds Project, a nonprofit conservation group dedicated to protecting and restoring watersheds and wildlife throughout the American West.

 
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117 Responses to Key biologist from Yellowstone wolf reintroduction hopes to repeat success in Colorado

  1. avatar Rob Edward says:

    The interview is long, but worth every minute. Mike is a bigger than life character with great stories. Tim is a super well prepared and thoughtful interviewer, and his decision to make the cause of wolf restoration in Colorado a financial priority speaks to the visionary quality of this project. I coughed up $1k last night, and I’m not a typical wealthy donor, just someone committed deeply to the cause.

  2. avatar idaursine says:

    Now that’s good news.

  3. avatar idaursine says:

    “Phillips argues that reintroducing wolves into their former habitats in western Colorado also has transformative potential for humanity, providing a measure of redemption to counterbalance the tremendous destructive force that our species has leveled at the natural world.”

    So beautifully said.

  4. avatar Frank Krosnicki says:

    As a former Idaho resident, now living in Colorado, I believe that Wolf reintroduction in Colorado will be the toughest of all states for Wolves to make a recovery of any permanence.The politics, wealth of ranchers, and the negativity towards wolves from hunters, who feel they should be able to walk up to an elk to fill their tag, all work against the wolf who was brutally removed for good in the early 1900’s.Meanwhile, Elk freely roam the town of Estes Park, to the delight of merchants who profit from the tourism aspect of the huge elk numbers in town. It will be a tough battle and one that will surely result in tragedy for any wolves unfortunate enough to roam the state.

    • avatar idaursine says:

      I think you might be right that it isn’t going to be wildly accepted, but one can always hope.

      I find it strange that for the most progressive state in the West outside of California, that they can be so regressive about wildlife and wolves.

    • avatar Rob Edward says:

      Actually, polls conducted in Colorado multiple times over the past two decades show consistent, strong majority support for bringing wolves back to western Colorado. Here’s a link to one scientific article about polling conducted in Colorado: http://bit.ly/2nFxeJH

      “Western Colorado has 16 million acres of public land (over 70% of the entire area), wild places that host 280,000 elk and 420,000 deer. There’s plenty of room for wolves. Only 11% of Coloradans live on the West Slope. Polling in 2019 shows 67% of Coloradans support reintroduction.

      The American people collectively own over 70% of western Colorado as land managed by the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service. The idea that this wild region just “can’t support wolves anymore” is not supported by science. To the contrary, scientists agree that the vast public land base and teeming elk population of western Colorado represents one of the last, best places for wolves.

      Colorado has the largest elk population anywhere, with nearly 289,000 head of elk (per the most recent data from Colorado Parks & Wildlife). In fact, according to Colorado Parks & Wildlife, the state’s elk population is significantly over desired management objectives despite efforts to increase hunter opportunities. This overpopulation of elk is having a significant ecological impact and is negatively affecting the state’s deer herds (elk generally out-compete deer for habitat). Notably, Colorado’s deer population is tremendous, with over 400,000 as of the last count in 2017.

      • avatar idaursine says:

        Good to know! I don’t think it should necessarily follow either that killings will result from a reintroduction, or for killings to be the accepted standard, and those who would want to see them in their natural home are in the wrong! But the ranching/hunting minority seems to dominate the discussion.

        There has been a documented report of a wolf entering the state as well, from Wyoming:

        https://www.coloradoan.com/story/news/2019/07/10/colorado-wolf-sighting-confirmed-wyoming-pack/1696742001/

        What’s the incidence of CWD in Colorado, with so high a population, I wonder?

      • avatar timz says:

        A poll taken by Boise State prior to re-introduction in Idaho also found a majority favored it. Lot of good that did the wolves.
        As Frank stated above “The politics, wealth of ranchers, and the negativity towards wolves from hunters, who feel they should be able to walk up to an elk to fill their tag” applies here in Idaho as well.

        • avatar Rob Edward says:

          Actually,several polls, conducted over the course of two decades now, show solid majority support for restoring wolves to Colorado (74% in the latest statewide poll). It is simply not true to suggest that hunters don’t want wolves. Same with ranchers. The problem is, it’s the one who don’t want wolves that are always broadcasting their displeasure at every turn—”the vocal minority” as it were.

  5. avatar SANDY LEE says:

    I am really excited about the possible re-intoduction of wolves in Colorado however considering what Inslee has done in Washington and what Colorado is doing with prairie dogs, is it even morally right to bring them back only to be killed and persecuted when they succeed and get established?? Wolves given a chance do succeed and to fact the prospect of some politician and cattlemen deciding their fate is sickening. It is hard to know how to react, happy but wary of the ultimate end.

    • avatar idaursine says:

      I was thinking about the poor prairie dogs too, killed for development.

      It is right to try, I think – and morally wrong to keep killing them off, or try to limit them to an unnaturally low number, for the many reasons people have for themselves, but not the wildlife. Money is probably the first reason, and stubborn spite in places like MT ID and WY, to keep the number to an agreed-upon 100 (in each state?).

      That sounds to me like the assault-weapons ban that in order to pass as law, had to have a sunset clause! Fine while it lasted, but reverted back to the old status quo once it expired.

      And then again, there are those that will always want to kill them in this country and in Canada, so I think it is the right thing to do try.

      And why should those who don’t want them continue to dictate policy? It is natural to have them on the landscape.

      • avatar idaursine says:

        And WA and OR too, it looks like. Washington’s and Oregon’s wolf populations are around 100.

        But there’re more out there! *eyeroll* some say, which sounds like a new mythology.

    • avatar idaursine says:

      I’m still thinking about your comment.

      Ultimately, yes, I think it is moral and right, to right the wrong that was done when wolves were killed off almost entirely by early settlers. There was no intent, or official policy, to eradicate them by the indigenous peoples.

      It has always appalled me, and I still am appalled when I think of the history of what was done, how brutal and based on mistaken beliefs, as well as plunder of lands and resources.

      There will always be those who will try to kill them, but there will always be those who survive.

  6. As Wolf Depredation on Domestic Livestock escalates, in the U.S. and throughout the World with the Wolves successful re-introduction populations spread, the contentious anger between Livestock Producers and Conservationists does also spread. My published research Blog at http://WWW.FENCEFLAGWOLFTRAINING.COM is a tangible suggestion, with minimal cost, to mitigate the anger on both sides of the fence!DJK

  7. avatar Phil Maker says:

    It will take a while, but why not let the wolves just show up naturally. This will overcome the hysteria that goes along with the “government/greenies forced them upon us” rhetoric. I realize going this route probably won’t result in wolves in Colorado for some years, but trying to get a reintroduction up and running won’t either. USFWS is not interested in participating in further wolf recovery; noticed that they want to delist the species everywhere?

    • avatar Rob Edward says:

      It has been two decades since the government reintroduced wolves to Yellowstone and Central Idaho. In that time. Wolves from those tiny seed populations have now reclaimed Washington, Oregon, and even northern California. Yet, northern Colorado has only seen a handful of single wolves wander into the state during that same two-decade period. None of these solitary wolves have ever established themselves in the state, and none ever yielding a breeding population. Why? There are a couple of fundamental reasons.

      First, take a look at the habitat of southern Wyoming via Google Earth [https://goo.gl/maps/oQZYwKqXXx3SzjpS8]. Now, pan up and to the left to see how that compares to the connectivity between Idaho’s panhandle and the Pacific Northwest, finally panning down the coast to northern California. Notice anything? Yup, compared to those areas in the northwest, southern Wyoming is not the sort of habitat through which wolf packs can slowly drift southward during a few years. It’s open, relatively devoid of game and full of back roads where pickup trucks full of guns roam freely.

      Second, within all the open habitat south of Yellowstone, all the way to the Colorado border, wolves are classified as vermin. They can be shot anytime, in any number, with no license. Making that journey is a big gamble, and only made by dispersing wolves. They come to Colorado looking for love, undoubtedly howling from hilltop to hilltop plaintively—they come up empty, each time.

      So, it is with the above in mind that we continue to say that natural recolonization is a pipe dream at best, and the anti-wolf faction’s ruse de jour. Reintroduction is the only way those brave solo explorers wandering south out of Yellowstone into Colorado will ever find a reason to settle down in the Centennial State.

      • avatar Phil Maker says:

        It doesn’t take “wolf packs [to] slowly drift southward…”; just a couple of single wolves, which are very capable of passing through what you consider inhospitable habitat.

        • avatar Rob Edward says:

          Well, all I can go on is the word of a team of world renown ecologists and biologists. ¯\_(?)_/¯

        • avatar Nancy says:

          Phil, the rancher in this video is what wolves have to deal with if they try to repopulate areas they once roamed.

          https://denver.cbslocal.com/2019/07/09/gray-wolf-colorado/

          And lets not forget the hunters who can’t tell the difference.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTZRdz-wWgg

          I’m surrounded by public lands, forested areas (where I live in Montana) Great wolf habitat but ranchers also share the land and they make short work (or their hunting buddies do) of wolves that do show up. Unfortunately wolves won’t ignore sloppy ranching practices such as leaving lame, sick or dead livestock, scattered around the landscape.

          I’d suggest reading The Ninemile Wolves/Rick Bass, to get an idea of what wolves went through, trying to repopulate the northern part of Montana, before they were reintroduced to Yellowstone and parts of Idaho.

          • avatar Frank Krosnicki says:

            The Nine Mile Wolves are a good example of what happened to wolves who did migrate naturally. They tried hard but did not fare so well.
            For an excellent read on the brutal culling of the last wolves in Colorado, read “The Last Stand Of the Wolf” by Arthur Carhart w/Stanley P Young. It will break your heart even if you are not fond of wolves. There are many other “good ” reads in the sense of garnering the historical elimination of the wolf. I found The “Buffalo Hunters” written by Marie Sandoz to be an outstanding history of the Buffalo extermination (millions) Along with the buffalo, went the wolves, usually by poison. The buffalo were shot, mostly for “fun”. The plains then became quiet, no buffalo, no wolves, and a few sad natives (most of them had been exterminated too, in one fashion or another. We humans seem to become very interested in preservation of species about to fade away, only when they are in imminent danger of dying out for good. The same goes for our environment.

          • avatar Phil Maker says:

            Do these ranchers and unknowledgeable hunters just take out the wolves that are recolonizing naturally, but not those that are re-introduced? How is it that wolves exist in OR and WA if every one that tries to disperse naturally gets taken out? There is a lot of country in CO that wolves can move through/live in where there is a good chance for them to survive.

            • avatar Nancy says:

              Not sure what you’re asking Phil but here’s the Montana Regs on wolf hunting. Its a “free for all” starting next week and running through March. And you can bet many ranchers buy the limit in tags.

              http://fwp.mt.gov/news/newsReleases/hunting/nr_2479.html

              Idaho regs differ little from Montana except for length of trapping seasons:

              https://idfg.idaho.gov/sites/default/files/seasons-rules-big-game-wolf-2017-2018.pdf

            • avatar Hiker says:

              Phil, many wolves have survived the gauntlet and dispersed to OR and WA. A very few have made it to CO. The hazards on the way to CO, from WY (the most likely source), are very challenging. There is a lot of high desert to cross, wide open spaces where wolves can be killed at any time, for any reason. Because of this, natural dispersion to CO is problematic, not impossible, just extremely hard. Hence the discussion of reintroduction to speed things along. I would love to see wolves in CO, but doubt the political climate is ready.

              • avatar Rob Edward says:

                Actually, polls conducted in Colorado multiple times over the past two decades [including this year] show consistent, strong majority [greater than 70 percent] support for bringing wolves back to western Colorado. That support crosses political affiliation, gender age, hunter versus non-hunter,and West Slope versus Front Range.

                Bottom line: We’d not be ramping up this very expensive campaign if we were not mighty sure we were going to win.

                • avatar Hiker says:

                  Fair point, but polls and local support are half the story. Do you really think this administration, with it’s assault on the endangered species act, is going to allow this to happen? I hope you are right, but I think you are wrong. After all the agency that would oversee this answers to him and his swamp creatures.

                • avatar Rob Edward says:

                  We’ve built out a strategy that our lawyers and political wonks, some of the best minds from both camps, are confident about. That’s the best that we can do.

                • avatar Hiker says:

                  I hope you succeed!

        • avatar JB says:

          “It doesn’t take ‘wolf packs [to] slowly drift southward…’; just a couple of single wolves…”

          Phil et al.–

          I think it’s best to think of this probabilistically — yes wolves are capable, but it doesn’t happen frequently, and the probability of two dispersers meeting after a ~400 mile journey is pretty low.

          Re: OR, WA — Those states had wolves on two in two adjacent states/provinces.

          • avatar Phil Maker says:

            And yet CA has a wolf pack derived from wolves that went at least that far.

            • avatar JB says:

              And yet, no packs in South Dakota or North Dakota, no packs in Utah or Colorado despite decades of wolves presence in adjacent states.

              California is the exception that proves the rule.

              WM: I do not know about the more recent polls, but the CSU study conducted in ’94 found: “70.8% of Coloradans (+/-4.1%; 95% confidence interval) would vote in favor of wolf reintroduction while 29.2% would vote against it.”

              • avatar Hiker says:

                JB, I think tolerance goes a long way to explain wolf presence or not in various states.

                What’s interesting to me is the apparent tolerance in CO, yet lack of wolves. Political inertia seems to be a factor as well.

                • avatar WM says:

                  I think you will find support for wolves is geographically based, in large part. Western CO will be less supportive than the I-25 corridor stretching from Fort Collins to Denver to Colorado Springs and maybe even Pueblo.

                  The folks on the Western Slope are largely ranchers and farmers, with the exception of the elite ski area communities along either side of the Continental Divide. Lots of cows on private land and on adjacent federal lands. Hunting for elk and deer is a huge recreational industry, which I suspect the Colorado Wildlife (and Parks) Department will vigorously defend.

                  If I recall correctly former Senator Mark Udall (from Boulder) walked a tightrope on the wolf issue during his last campaign, carefully choosing his words, though in his heart likely a strong wolf supporter. He lost the election, by the way, to (R) Cory Gardner.

                  And, anyone who believes a seed crop of 25 wolves or so will only be 250 in 20 years is a blatant liar and and idiot (unless many, many are lethally removed along that time path). And wait until the reintroduction and some scientist says that 25 is not genetically sufficient for the reintroduction.

                  This will be interesting to watch. And, the more wolves there are on the landscape the more that will die if they get in trouble or are hunted (which will be inevitable).

                • avatar Hiker says:

                  WM, I read your post three times and can find nothing I disagree with.

                • avatar JB says:

                  Hiker:

                  I agree. Cryptic poaching (SSS) likely explains the lack of wolves in CO.

                  WM:

                  There are geographic differences, but they are not as pronounced as some would like to think. The same study I cited above (i.e., Pate et al. 1996. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 24(3): 421-428.) found that “73.8% of east-slope residents would vote yes to reintroduction compared to 65.1% of west-slope residents”.

          • avatar Mareks Vilkins says:

            if wolves use certain corridors (not just disperse at random routes) and taking into account their olfactory system then the chance for two wolves to meet is not that improbable.

            OR-7 was travelling a lot through areas where there were enough ungulates – apparently he was looking for a mate, and found one

            • avatar Immer Treue says:

              Yeah, but they’ve got to go through the minefield called Wyoming.

              • avatar Hiker says:

                Thanks, Immer. It seems most don’t realize the only safe place to be a wolf in WY is around the National Parks in the NW corner. Everywhere else they can and are shot on sight. It’s very improbable to disperse thru that to reach CO.

                • avatar WM says:

                  I have made that very point on this forum several times, Hiker.

                  It is also important to distinguish between natural recolonization and the public’s polled support for it, as distinguished from a reintroduction which involves translocation from other areas. I don’t know if the polling efforts mentioned above deal with that distinction.

                  My recollection from several years ago when the idea of reintroduction to Rocky Mountain National Park was mentioned by FWS, the folks in Northern Coloraod balked, as did the Fish, Wildlife and Parks folks, as well as their wolf management working group. Sorry, I can’t recall off the top of my head what it was called.

            • avatar Mareks Vilkins says:

              they can reach Colorado via Utah

  8. avatar idaursine says:

    Hmmm – Iknow that ranchers and hunters and irrational haters play a big part in wolf politics, but I wonder if that big of a percentage of the public says they want wolves returned to Colorado, why aren’t their voices and votes being heard? Why is Wyoming legally able to run over coyotes and nobody does anything about it? Why can’t people at least try to cut down on beef?

    I don’t believe the reintroduction of wolves and coyotes, special cases of wildlife ‘management’ because of the irrational hatred leveled at them, are as important to people as they claim.

    I wish the state would put as much effort into the environment and wildlife as they do to the legalization of recreational marijuana! Something so insignificant. I’m not against it, I just don’t care about it.

    That’s why CO is such a disappointment – (correct me if I am wrong) there seems to be a very progressive side and a very conservative Old West side? At least with WY, MT and ID, you know what you are getting. I have a hard time considering CO progressive.

  9. avatar Rob Edward says:

    Actually, polls conducted in Colorado multiple times over the past two decades [including this year] show consistent, strong majority [greater than 70 percent] support for bringing wolves back to western Colorado. That support crosses political affiliation, gender age, hunter versus non-hunter,and West Slope versus Front Range. If we can simply get this question on the ballot [by gathering enough signatures], this visionary venture will succeed.

    So, at the risk of be pedantic, please consider supporting the project via the links here: https://tim.blog/wolf/

    • avatar idaursine says:

      Thank you for posting!

    • avatar idaursine says:

      I should add that the project does sound very visionary, and I love the connectivity of it. Thanks again,

    • avatar Immer Treue says:

      A bit more credibility to the link is to get rid of that Wolves Change the Course Of Rivers thing. It’s not been proven to be true, the Wolves absence for close to 70 years allowed so much destruction that it may never recover to the hoped for state. The idea of Trophic Cascade has been all but debunked.

      Pretty to watch and nice if it were true, but one has to look at the whole cause/correlation conundrum.

      That said, would be nice to have wolves in Colorado.

      • avatar Rob Edward says:

        I’m sure that every member of the science advisory team from the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project [https://www.rockymountainwolfproject.org/about-us] would roundly disagree with the assertion that “the idea of Trophic Cascade has been all but debunked.”

        I grant you that the video you refer to oversimplifies the concept of trophic cascades, but getting people to understand and act on behalf of the natural world is, sadly, a tall order and sometimes educational tools fall short. That said, Tim runs his own show, and he wanted to place that video.

        • avatar Immer Treue says:

          There’s nothing wrong with the concept of trophic cascade, but when using a different soiled video to try and prove a point, is supporting one’s argument with a lie. That will not help wolves.

      • avatar JB says:

        Immer:

        I don’t think many ecologists would agree that the idea of trophic cascades has been debunked — that’s simply overstating in the other direction. Back in 2014, Rolf Peterson led a review of the evidence on trophic cascades associated with wolves; that review concluded that the answer to the question of whether wolves cause trophic cascades is (as it often is in science): it depends. They found very solid evidence of indirect effects of carnivores on lower trophic levels; but it seemed to occur under certain conditions. More broadly (i.e., beyond wolves) the existence of trophic cascades in other types of systems is broadly accepted by ecologists.

        Mech and others (e.g. Ben Allen) have attempted to ‘make hay’ of the issue by making prosecutorial claims against those who claim to have found trophic cascades, such as: “there is an increasing tendency to ignore, disregard, or devalue the fundamental principles of the scientific method when communicating the reliability of current evidence…” However, the claims they make borderline on hyperbolic, and are supported by even less evidence than the evidence provided by those who support the idea that large carnivores have caused trophic cascades (see: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2352249617300137).

        There is no doubt that: (i) large ungulates that lack predation have negative impacts on lower trophic levels; and (ii) large carnivores–under some conditions–can reduce ungulate abundance (which can mitigate those impacts). The real question is this: under what conditions will large carnivores actually impact ungulates enough that it will have a measurable benefit to lower trophic levels?

  10. avatar Bruce Bowen says:

    Reintroduction of wolves seems to me to be heroic and romantic but not necessarily ecologically sound. Wolves by themselves are not going to restore the ecology. And lets not forget that around 25% of the deer population in Colorado is infected with chronic wasting disease.

    Many of the articles you will see on the web will indicate that CWD is caused by prions only. They reject any possibility of viruses or bacteria. This is not good journalism or science because other good information exists.

    Thus, CWD continues to spread and a good question to ask would be-why introduce a high ranking predator to areas in which it’s food source is going to die off? There is also no guarantee that CWD will not cross the species barrier.

    Also, I have never come across thorough studies that indicate the true extent of habitat damage caused by human activity on lands that these large predators are supposed be able to inhabit. There seems to be an assumption that the land can still support the “whole nine yards of the food chain” even though the net primary productivity of most of the land has decreased. So where is the proof?

    I think wolves better become vegetarians.

    • avatar Rob Edward says:

      Hunters in states with wolves are experiencing record harvests of elk. Wolves make prey herds healthier, lowering incidents of diseases, including chronic wasting disease, by killing infected animals.

      Wolves are carnivores. More specifically, wolves are coursing predators, meaning they usually hunt in groups and chase their prey (as opposed to ambushing, like mountain lions). The primary prey of wolves in the Rockies is elk, although they will hunt deer and bison. Given that wolves evolved with the big game herds that sustain them, the myth that wolves could wipe out elk and deer populations doesn’t make sense; moreover, this myth is contradicted by a large body of science.

      Colorado has the largest elk population anywhere, with nearly 289,000 head of elk (per the most recent data from Colorado Parks & Wildlife). In fact, according to Colorado Parks & Wildlife, the state’s elk population is significantly over desired management objectives despite efforts to increase hunter opportunities. This overpopulation of elk is having a significant ecological impact and is negatively affecting the state’s deer herds (elk generally out-compete deer for habitat). Notably, Colorado’s deer population is tremendous, with over 400,000 as of the last count in 2017.

      • avatar Frank Krosnicki says:

        Thanks Rob. Your comments are spot on. In the first few years after wolf reintroduction, elk and other ungulates are pushed into less familiar habitats than they lazily occupied w/o a natural predator such as the wolf. Once hunters learn the “new” ways to hunt them, and the wolf population stabilizes over time, elk and wolf populations return to a natural balance. The wilderness, especially rivers and streams become more healthy and other mammals and birds return to their natural balances.

  11. avatar Louise Kane says:

    I wish that the biologist would work toward revising the ridiculous recovery goals in the ESA perhaps by doing everything possible to illustrate that once wolves are reintroduced and recover they are inevitably slaughtered. I too did some research of my own by using a document to record comments given when Montana and Idaho first proposed wolf hunts. The surprising thing was that a large majority were against hunting or at the Least against the initial relatively mild hunting regulations. Despite that Montana and idaho quickly reverted to snares, traps and near endless seasons. Miserable places for wolves to be. Likewise, Washington’s initial wolf plan illustrated high support for wolves and low support for lethal control. Yet that plan has been abrogated by the ranching community spearheaded by the mcirvine ranch. In Oregon same story …OR 4 a near 12 year old wolf and his family gunned down mercilessly. And it’s not just the ranchers to blame. Seems like most of the killing is negotiated by working groups that include conservationists whose compromise positions set wolves up for failure. How about a recidivist provision that day for example calls for any rancher coming into conflict with wolves more than twice must remove his cattle from public lands. Instead conservation international and others agreed to the four strikes and your dead rule. I’d love to see wolves everywhere but something must be done to force our legislators and wildlife agencies to pay attention to their majority constituents. The plight of the wild is tied to the plight of the ESA tremendous support for but our legislators gunning for them anyway. Jeremy brucksotter just published an article on the discrepancy between enormous public support for the ESA and the assault on it by legislators. I hope Colorado gets its wolves but I hope the introduction is accomplished with bullet proof protections including a no hunt provision that will stand the test of time regardless of a successful recovery. Wolves are not animals that should be hunted.

  12. avatar idaursine says:

    I don’t know if I’d say the trophic cascades concept has been debunked. Forgive my layman’s terms, but I’ve read that there really hasn’t been enough time to see the effects of the return of top predators.

    After all, Rome wasn’t destroyed in a day, and we live in a world where we expect instant results. So much damage was/is done by humans, and with so much complicated ‘domino effect’, that it can’t be simplified.

    But the return of wolves, an natural element of the environment has to have made a difference, it is only logical.

    http://wolfpark.org/animals/info/wolves/wolves-and-trophic-cascades/

    • avatar Immer Treue says:

      “I don’t know if I’d say the trophic cascades concept has been debunked. Forgive my layman’s terms, but I’ve read that there really hasn’t been enough time to see the effects of the return of top predators”

      Yep, that’s why the Wolves Changing the Course Of Rivers is playing with fire. I did preface my statement about TC(and the debunking Of TC refers to wolves overall effect in Yellowstone thus far) with the absence of wolves for 70 years and concentration of elk in Yellowstone, the damage may never be undone in our lifetimes.

  13. avatar Mareks Vilkins says:

    The Big Scientific Debate: Trophic Cascades

    by Douglas W. Smith, Rolf O. Peterson, Daniel R. MacNulty, & Michel Kohl

    https://www.nps.gov/articles/the-big-scientific-debate-trophic-cascades.htm

    In short, we have competing and very complex arguments. Is there any way to resolve this debate? Some say we need to design the right experiment, despite the vast size and cost of such an undertaking. Importantly, and other than the climate hypothesis, no one is arguing that top-down effects are not important, or that natural predation has no impact on the lower trophic layers. What is being debated is the extent that changes in woody plants are due to the effects of wolves (and other carnivores) on elk and how these top-down influences ripple through the food web. Part of the disagreement comes from crediting wolves as the only agent, ignoring cougar recovery and increases in bear numbers, and of course elk management outside of the park (which also reduced elk and kept them in the park). Another criticism is that too much impact has been attributed to elk, that other factors like water availability need inclusion in any explanation. In dry areas with reduced elk herbivory, no willow response was observed.

    Another question is the distribution of willows. There has been no increase in the area of willow and aspen, only a height increase in existing stands, which may be dependent on beaver occupation. Maybe the changes to Yellowstone mid-20th century were so significant that a couple decades of fewer elk is not enough to erase the long-term damage on woody plants (Wolf et al. 2007 ).

    Lastly, and most recently discovered, is an important elucidation of how wolves and elk really interact across the varied landscape of Yellowstone. Possibly the most intense debate centers on what wolves do to elk. This is the behavioral vs. numeric argument typically framed as one or the other. But what happens if that’s not how wolves and elk really interact? After years of painstakingly collaring wolves and elk, an answer may be emerging. Elk do respond behaviorally to the risk of wolf predation, but not all the time; they avoid risky areas only when wolves are active. This is a fascinating discovery and suggests the increase in woody vegetation is potentially attributable to a combination of fewer elk responding to wolf activity. Elk are not avoiding risky areas but are aware of wolves.

  14. avatar Bruce Bowen says:

    “David Mech, a biologist with the USGS who is considered the worlds top wolf expert, cautioned that until wolves and wasting disease actually interact, theories about wolves controlling the spread of the disease are just speculation” quoted from the Timber Wolf Info Network.

    I agree.

  15. avatar idaursine says:

    I see absolutely nothing wrong with that video; and I love George Monbiot’s enthusiasm. A microcosm of the natural world, as it would have been if undisturbed.

    Destroying one key member of the ecosystem had dramatic effects on the rest of the system, restoring it has improved it. The facts in a nutshell, IMO.

    • avatar Immer Treue says:

      In a nut shell, if you see nothing wrong with the video, you’re part of the problem.

      • avatar idaursine says:

        Explain to me then what is wrong? There may be additional details, but generally, isn’t it correct?

        Cattle and other ungulates, and man of course, certainly do change the course of rivers.

        • avatar Immer Treue says:

          We’ll begin here. This is the simplest and easiest to understand. This Middleton article has been posted many times before on TWN.

          https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2014/03/10/opinion/is-the-wolf-a-real-american-hero.amp.html

          • avatar idaursine says:

            Yes, I had read this before. I know that the science is ever fine-tuning; and I do think people realize that it is not simplistic, just in general terms.

            The big thing to me is that the wolf was virtually eliminated from the picture, grizzlies too – mountain lions and other predators were not. Having the wolf return did push the dominoes back a little.

          • avatar idaursine says:

            This one is excellent. But like the ‘saint or sinner’ comparison, I don’t think people think it is a simple thing.

            • avatar Immer Treue says:

              It’s not a matter of being a simple thing. As Save Bears used to write years ago, the number of people truly interested in wolves or the “controversy” surrouding wolves is statistically very small. So, when this video is viewed by 4 million people, truth matters.

              “It’s a lovely story, and I would love this to be true, but it isn’t,” Hobbs said. “[The video] is demonstratively false.”

              • avatar Mareks Vilkins says:

                what about The Grey ? how many millions watched it? and it was released at the time when wolf delisting was a hot topic

                https://blog.nationalgeographic.org/2012/02/03/would-real-wolves-act-like-the-wolves-of-the-grey/

                The Grey opened in North America on January 27, 2012 in 3,185 theaters and grossed $19.7 million in its opening weekend, with an average of $6,174 per theater, finishing first. The film ultimately earned $51.6 million domestically, and $25.7 million internationally, for a total of $77.3 million, against its $25 million production budget.[25]

                Controversy

                On January 19, 2012, British Columbia’s The Province featured an article about the movie’s crew buying four wolf carcasses from a local trapper, two for props for the film and two wolves for the cast to eat.[7] This angered environmentalists and animal activists, who were already irate that the film depicts wolves in a negative light, specifically at a time when grey wolves had recently been removed from the Endangered Species Act in many western American states.[26][27] In response to the portrayal of wolves in the film, groups including PETA and WildEarth Guardians started drives to boycott the film.[28][29] Open Road responded by placing a fact sheet about the grey wolf on the film’s official website, with cooperation from the Sierra Club.[29] Carnahan responded by downplaying the significance of the violent wolves portrayed in the film, instead highlighting the significance of man’s internal struggle for survival.[28]

                Awards

                The film was nominated in 2012 for the International Wolf Center’s Scat Award in Scare Tactics and Silly Information categories,[30] being granted said distinction in 2013.[31]

          • avatar idaursine says:

            Having a member of the ecosystem absent and then returned has to have made a difference, in their own way – but I don’t thing everyone believes improvements are solely due to wolves!

            Just that taking an important member of the ecosystem out of it had consequences. But we know it is more complex than that, like with the salmon and others.

            I wouldn’t put humans as helping the ecosystem by hunting at all – it’s in the state its in because of carelessness or ignorance, or unfounded belief (more harmful than any trophic cascades debate!). Oftentimes they want and take the biggest and strongest, which has detrimental effects on the health of herds. Or just kill randomly and wantonly, assume their dominance, run into a grizzly, and kill some more.

        • avatar Immer Treue says:

          From Mech, on Yellowstone beaver
          The role of beavers in the reported trophic cascade also bears fur- ther discussion. Beavers occupy a special place in the wolf-mediated
          trophic cascade in Yellowstone because of the many local ecological changes beaver ponds can bring (Naiman et al., 1986). Beavers depend primarily on willows in Yellowstone, and at the time of wolf reintroduction (1995) there were no actual beavers on the Northern Range (Smith et al. 2003). Willow regrowth in some areas during the past several years reportedly has increased, because of wolf effects on elk, which feed on willows. Beaver repopulation of Yellowstone, including its Northern Range has also begun (Smith et al., 2003), often attributed indirectly to wolves (Robbins, 2004; Ripple and Beschta, 2004; Chadwick, 2010). What has had little publicity, how- ever, was that ‘‘the rapid re-occupation of the Northern Range with persistent beaver colonies, especially along Slough Creek, occurred because Tyers of the Gallatin National Forest released 129 beavers in drainages north of the park’’ (Smith and Tyers, 2008, p. 11). In any case, the assumption that beaver increase in Yellowstone and all the subsequent effects is a result of wolf restoration overlooks the possibility that the willow increase resulted from the raising of the water table by beavers and/or an increased growing season (Despain, 2005).
          It should be clear from the above examples that sweeping, definitive claims about wolf effects on ecosystems are premature whether made by the public or by scientists. Some of the claims made to date might eventually be proven valid. More likely, some might be valid for specific times or places (e.g. Hebblewhite et al., 2005). Meanwhile it would be wise for all who are interested in wolves to remember the admonition of Ray et al. (2005, p. 426) cited earlier that ‘‘… scientists will likely never be able to reliably predict cascading impacts on bio-diversity other than prey.’’ These authors reached this conclusion after synthesizing 19 chapters of reviews relating to the ecological role of large carnivores.

          • avatar idaursine says:

            And the beavers disappeared by overhunting and trapping for their fur.

            So the one takeaway is that left alone without interference from humans, the ecosystem can repair the damage and sometimes very quickly, and all the elements come together as they should.

            I don’t know that anyone ever thought that it was all due to wolves, or that anyone had nominated them for sainthood, only that they are one of the key players of the ecosystem, out of several MVPs.

        • avatar Immer Treue says:

          Mech on Yellowstone coyotes

          Much has been made of the initial report that reintroduced wolves have reduced coyote numbers in Yellowstone National Park (Crabtree and Sheldon, 1999), a finding in accord with earlier work (Mech, 1966), and several other studies confirm that wolves kill coyotes and tend to reduce their numbers (summarized by Ballard et al. (2003)). What has grabbed the imagination of researchers and the public about a reduction in coyotes in Yellowstone is the
          possibility that it might lead to both increased coyote prey (Buskirk, 1999) that then fosters a ‘‘mesopredator release,’’ that is, an increase in smaller predators such as raptors, foxes (Vulpes vulpes), and badgers (Taxidea taxus) (Terborgh and Winter, 1980). Such a release has not been documented in Yellowstone, however. Furthermore the number of coyote packs in the part of Yellowstone where they were at first reduced has returned to pre-wolf levels although the packs may be smaller (Crabtree and Sheldon, unpub- lished, in Hebblewhite and Smith, 2010). Thus any wolf release of mesopredators in Yellowstone is yet to demonstrated.

        • avatar Immer Treue says:

          More from Mech

          wever.
          Wolf restoration has generated a fine assortment of interesting ecological studies and has generally improved our understanding of wolves and associated species and their interactions with each other and the environment. However, we as scientists and conser- vationists who deal with such a controversial species as the wolf have a special obligation to qualify our conclusions and minimize our rhetoric, knowing full well that the popular media and the internet eagerly await a chance to hype our findings. An inaccurate public image of the wolf will only do a disservice to the animal and to those charged with managing it.
          The wolf, while at the top of a food chain and a restored mem- ber of the world’s most famous National Park and a prominent member of others, remains as one more species in a vast complex of creatures interacting the way they always have. It is neither saint nor sinner except to those who want to make it so.

          • avatar idaursine says:

            “However, we as scientists and conser- vationists who deal with such a controversial species as the wolf have a special obligation to qualify our conclusions and minimize our rhetoric, knowing full well that the popular media and the internet eagerly await a chance to hype our findings. An inaccurate public image of the wolf will only do a disservice to the animal and to those charged with managing it.”

            Well, I certainly would agree with that. And it cuts both ways.

            Science tells us one thing, then when when there is additional information or a conflicting opinion, don’t blame the public! The video is a general overview for the non-scientist, whom one has to reach if there is to be positive change.

            ___________

            Another example is that removing dams from Maine rivers and others, the recovery is very quick.

            I don’t feel I’m changing the subject, it is all part of the same subject IMO:

            https://www.nrcm.org/waters/edwards-dams-kennebec-restoration/river-revival-kennebec-teems-with-life-5-years-after-dam-breach/

            Happy Labor Day weekend, all –

        • avatar Immer Treue says:

          Bears eating more berries on regenerating shrubs. Classic example of cause/correlation.

          From round table discussion at International Wolf Center, chaired by IWC curator Lori Schmidt, participants David Mech and Shannon Barber-Meyer.

          It cannot be said that the above phenomena is the cause of wolves preying upon elk, thus less elk pressure upon berry bushes. It could also be because as Whitebark pine (seeds of which are important food source of grizzly bear)are being reduced by beetle infestation and blister rust. Also, important food source of bears, cutthroat trout are being outcompeted replaced by lake trout, not a bear food source. So the bears eating more berries argument may have more to do with, that’s all they have to eat at that particular time.

        • avatar Immer Treue says:

          Analogy time. If you want to fully understand Melville’s Moby Dick, you immerse yourself in the novel

          https://www.google.com/search?q=moby+dick+novel&client=safari&hl=en-us&prmd=isvn&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwirxqC926vkAhUCXqwKHQ8vAUMQ_AUIFigB&biw=704&bih=643#imgrc=d9Da9Upt9NISmM

          Not the comic book

          https://www.mycomicshop.com/search?ItemID=47908749&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIgLix7tyr5AIVg4bACh1i9AlkEAQYASABEgI2_PD_BwE

          That’s what Wolves Changing the Course Of Rivers in Yellowstone as toward what is actually happing in Yellowstone.

          • avatar idaursine says:

            I personally prefer to immerse myself in a classic novel (Aldo Leopold), although I would not automatically discount the comic book version unless it contained glaring errors, and it may be more accessible to many.

            But I see what you mean, we don’t want the science to become ‘pop-culturized’, although that is hard to avoid in our world.

            • avatar Marc Bedner says:

              I regard Aldo Leopold’s “Sand County Almanac” as a classic novel. In that fictional work, Leopold claims to have recognized the value of wolves when he saw the “green fire” in the eyes of a wolf he killed.
              In reality, Leopold spent the next decades trying to extirpate wolves and mountain lions from New Mexico. He then went on establish the profession of game management, establishing the principle that state game agencies should answer not to the general public, but only to hunters and trappers.
              Not until the end of his life, when it was time to write his novel, did Leopold spell out his “land ethic.”
              http://foranimals.org/blog/2019/04/22/brutality-of-aldo-leopold/

    • avatar idaursine says:

      ^^this ought to be interesting, because we are forever hearing how much the public wants them returned to their rightful landscapes, and then everything just stalls.

  16. avatar idaursine says:

    Heh. Now this is what I call trophic cascades:

    https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/10/111028-condit-dam-removal-video/

    I think also in the Greg Smith article, it said we many never know just what the full effects of returning wolves to their rightful place will be, because their populations are so tightly controlled. So there is plenty of wiggle room. But it has improved things.

  17. avatar idaursine says:

    https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/04/19/aldo-leopolds-land-ethic-and-the-need-for-a-new-approach-to-managing-wildlife/

    BTW: I think, hope anyway, that I had an adult monarch emerge from the milkweed. Yay!

    Despite mosquito spraying, I’ve seen several species of butterfly (Eastern swallowtail, Tiger Swallowtail, Buckeye), and dragonflies and bees seem to be holding their own.

  18. avatar idaursine says:

    “A far-roaming female from Wyoming was killed Dec. 28 after a bounty hunter mistook her for a coyote.”

    A bounty hunter. It really does strain credulity.

    I suppose in the Northeast it would be the same, although I would love to see wolves returned here as well. After all, it all got started in our neck of the wolves, eradicating wildlife and stealing lands.

    I’ve said before and I’ll say again, the reason I howl so much about wolves above and beyond other wildlife is that the entire eradication plan for them was and is just so brutal and inhumane.

    They really are treated worse than other creatures, and it isn’t rational. So if some consider wolves more ‘special’ than other wildlife, it is because of that.

  19. avatar Andy says:

    There are already wolves in Colorado. There have been sightings in The NorthWest as well as the San Juan Mtns.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

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