Are wolves or climate change bringing back the willows [in Yellowstone]?

This is from Rocky Barker’s blog today. Idaho Statesman.

I’ve been aware for some time that not everyone believes the now readily apparant (and predicted) spurt of growth of willows, aspen, and cottonwood on the Northern Range of Yellowstone is not a wolf upon elk effect.

I think it could be both wolves and a warming climate, not just one or the other. However, research on willow growth changes outside the Park needs to be done. It needs to be done in areas without wolves and finally in areas with wolves that are not inside Yellowstone Park or directly adjacent.



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  1. Cowboy the Cat Avatar

    I realize that cattle pressure and elk pressure on willow growth are two different things, but I imagine that at some density of grazing, you could compare the two. Between Kemmerer and Cokeville Wyoming there is the Rock creek valley where grazing pressure has been monitored at different levels for years now. I don’t know if any of the data has been published. But Looking at the gradient of pressure from grazing at zero preditor influence, I think that the global warming effect is being overstated here. Very few cows, and I amagine not many elk, if left alone, can chew down the banks of a stream in no time. Sure, things are growing longer, but not enough to have this dramatic effect. I will concede that it’s a combination, but maybe 2% global warming, 98% predator pressure.

  2. Monte Avatar

    So, global warming is not all bad? I know Ralph and others that frequently comment on this website are too smart to buy into human caused global warming. You guys use it as a tool to achieve other worthy environmental goals and I understand that, but I wish you would just state the truth rather than tout the myth that humans are to blame for warming. Mercury emissions, for example, are always bad for people and wildlife. Pollution is always bad. We don’t need to cite natural global warming as a reason to clean up obvious envionmental problems.

  3. Cowboy the Cat Avatar

    Monte, get over it. It is real and it has been triggered by, if not completely driven by human activity. Stop listening to that windbag Limbaugh and look at the FACTS.

    You and your ilk have got to wake up.

  4. Cowboy the Cat Avatar

    Ralph, sorry to put a link to my page on your blog. It was the most concise explanation that I could think of. I hope you don’t mind.

  5. mikarooni Avatar

    “Are wolves or climate change bringing back the willows in Yellowstone?” Who cares? Native species belong in their native range; whatever happens to other native species is interesting, but mostly irrelevant to the question of whether the party of the first part is a legitimate resident.

  6. timz Avatar

    “Stop listening to that windbag Limbaugh and look at the FACTS.”

    I never listen to Rush. But I’ve heard several of the worlds most prestigous weather experts scoff at the notion global warming is human caused. Are they too windbags?

  7. JB Avatar

    timz asks: “I never listen to Rush. But I’ve heard several of the worlds most prestigous weather experts scoff at the notion global warming is human caused. Are they too windbags?”

    Perhaps. I just posted this in response to another story, but I think it applies equally well here:

    “The most likely way the climate could be influenced by either natural or artificial means seems to be through a trigger mechanism that ultimately changes the radiation balance … the burning of fossil fuels would presumably lead to more absorption of long-wave terrestrial radiation in the atmosphere and consequently to greater heating.”

    Abraham Oort. (1970) “The Energy Cycle of the Earth,” Scientific American, September.

    From what I’ve read, pretty much all climatic scientists agree the globe is warming, and the VAST MAJORITY believe that global warming is, at least to some extent, human-caused. The relevant question at this point (and what the scientists disagree about) is the extent to which global warming is human caused.

    Personally, I think the more conservative action would be to assume that global warming is human-caused and do everything in our power to limit our contribution. If you don’t think global climate change could be problematic, I’d point you to the large desert that now sits in the middle of what used to be a vast inland lake in northern Utah and southern Idaho. Now imagine that sort of desertification happening in the nation’s breadbasket.

    I’m not saying this scenario will happen, or even that it is likely. But we know from past climatic shifts that regional climates can be severely altered. Since the U.S. currently has a climate that is very favorable to food production, I’d say that avoiding future climate change should be a priority.

    Just my 2 cents.

  8. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    Let’s not forget that much of what is now the Sahara Desert was at one time the breadbasket of the Roman Empire.

  9. timz Avatar

    South America last year– coldest winter in over 50 years.
    South Africa– Snow for the first time in 25 years.
    Canada– Predicting the coldest winter in 15 years.

    “From what I’ve read, pretty much all climatic scientists agree the globe is warming, and the VAST MAJORITY believe that global warming is, at least to some extent, human-caused” Sorry but this is flat out wrong.

    Dr. Klaus-Martin Schulte recently updated this research. Using the same database and search terms as Oreskes, he examined all papers published from 2004 to February 2007. The results have been submitted to the journal Energy and Environment, of which DailyTech has obtained a pre-publication copy. The figures are surprising.

    Of 528 total papers on climate change, only 38 (7%) gave an explicit endorsement of the consensus. If one considers “implicit” endorsement (accepting the consensus without explicit statement), the figure rises to 45%. However, while only 32 papers (6%) reject the consensus outright, the largest category (48%) are neutral papers, refusing to either accept or reject the hypothesis. This is no “consensus.”

    The figures are even more shocking when one remembers the watered-down definition of consensus here. Not only does it not require supporting that man is the “primary” cause of warming, but it doesn’t require any belief or support for “catastrophic” global warming. In fact of all papers published in this period (2004 to February 2007), only a single one makes any reference to climate change leading to catastrophic results.

  10. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    A recent post in Real Climate gives good confirmation that there has been real warming in the last 7 years, showing that warming can be pulled out of the “data noise.”

    The article also shows the warming has been dramatic since 1975.

  11. timz Avatar

    I think most agree there is warming, the argument is it a natural cycle or is my Ford F-250 causing it.

  12. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    There are still those who deny any warming at all, Tim. They are flat out wrong, of course, but they are out there.

    By the way, I just posted a somewhat relevant article about the long drought in Yellowstone.

  13. JB Avatar

    “Sorry but this is flat out wrong.”

    Actually, I am not “flat out wrong.” The study you cite is a very questionable review of the recent (2004-2007) climate change literature that was not published in a peer-reviewed journal. Moreover, the author has been alleged to have links to the oil and gas industry (see second link).

    Here are some highlights:

    “Schulte’s paper…places great emphasis on the fact that only one paper endorses ‘catastrophic climate change’. This is a classic straw man argument. Oreskes’ 2004 paper [the work Schulte’s is based on] never refers to an imminent catastrophe.”

    “The fact that so many studies on climate change don’t bother to endorse the consensus position is significant because scientists have largely moved from what’s causing global warming onto discussing details of the problem (eg – how fast, how soon, impacts, etc).”

    And what of the 6% that specifically rejected the consensus? “Two of the papers conduct no actual scientific research but merely review social aspects of climate science….three papers focus on specific aspects of climate change but don’t actually reject the consensus.” And at least some of the others have serious methodological problems (see link below).

    And perhaps most importantly, the paper was NOT ACTUALLY PUBLISHED in a peer reviewed journal. Note, the editor for Energy and Environment, where the paper was submitted, referred to it as “a bit patchy.”

    Now, from the 2001 U.S. National Research Council’s report on climate change: “The changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly due to human activities, but we cannot rule out that some significant part of these changes is also a reflection of natural variability…The IPCC’s conclusion that most of the observed warming of the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations accurately reflects the current thinking of the scientific community on this issue.”

    As for the anecdotes you provide, they are simply that.

    From Skeptical Science:

    More on Klaus-Martin Schulte:

    Schulte’s paper not published:

    Summary of 2001 report on climate change:

  14. Cowboy the Cat Avatar

    Thank you, JB. I am so tired of this bull crap. If there were any merit to the pseudo-science of the deniers, it would show up in real, peer reviewed publications. Of course, the deniers claim that there is a liberal bias in everything that doesn’t go their way, so they hire their own “scientists” to say whatever they need to have said.

    What kind of world do we live in where flat-out lies can be advertised as truth, and the truth is condemned as liberal bias? It’s like 1984 or something.

  15. timz Avatar

    Global warming and it’s cause is like debating politics a lost one. You could go back and forth with the he said this, or they said that until hell freezes over (if global warming doesn’t prevent that) Every time I see something that tries to prove it’s caused by man I see something that says it isn’t. I would rather commit to something I can actually do something about. Generally and comparitively speaking the U.S. has some of the strictest environmental laws in the world. Who is going to tell India and China (where it snows black) to cut back on their emmisions? In the meantime I’ll try to cut back on my methane gas emmisions.

  16. JB Avatar

    “…You could go back and forth with the he said this, or they said that until hell freezes over (if global warming doesn’t prevent that) Every time I see something that tries to prove it’s caused by man I see something that says it isn’t.”

    Timz, that is their very intent! This is a political tactic to make people think that their is less consensus about global warming than there actually is. The oil and gas industry funds organizations with sciency-sounding names that do “research” that promotes their agenda. These organizations release reports (referred to as grey literature) that, to most people, are indistinguishable from science. The intent is to mislead people into thinking that there is a controversy among scientists when none exists, ultimately leading them to adopt the exact opinion you expressed above. Oil and gas learned this tactic from the Tobacco industry (see link below on tobacco institute).

    Basically, they know (from real research) that if there’s a controversy, people will tend to oppose government intervention (why intervene until we know for sure). Thus, they perpetuate the myth that a particular scientific finding (e.g. tobacco is harmful, the globe is warming) is controversial for their own political gain. I’m not saying that the global warming research is definitive, just that the consensus among real scientists is much greater than we have been led to believe.

  17. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I notice the global warning denial scientists are few in number and don’t publish in referred journals.

    Some, such as Fred Singer, were tobacco-causes-cancer denialists back 30 years ago. You can get funding if you are denialist scientist (from the private interests). It is much harder if you are mainstream scientist who believes that anthropogenic warming is so well confirmed that the issue is settled from the standpoint of climatology.

    The best place for the intelligent non-specialist to follow the debate is the blog Real Climate.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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