Trophic Cascade: The Case For Wolves

Trophic Cascade: The Case For Wolves. By Deb Donahue.





  1. jerry b Avatar
    jerry b

    If we could just get people to read and understand this I think they’d look at this “battle” differently.
    This is something everyone who has any interest in wolves should read.

  2. Brian Ertz Avatar

    This is a wonderful article. Everyone should read this.

  3. JB Avatar

    Good stuff, but I can already “hear” the chorus response from those who oppose predators: that is–“I don’t want to trade abundant ungulate populations for willows, aspens, and cottonwoods.” Shoot, I bet they’ll even argue that elk are harder to hunt with all those trees around! 😉

  4. Brian Ertz Avatar

    usually we see citations of the importance of wolves given trophic cascade right alongside calls to help Livestock “coexist” with wolves.

    it is welcome to read an article that includes the fact that domestic livestock are largely responsible for the simplification of these systems as well as the pacified wild ungulates.

    if we are to be honest about promoting the cascade throughout the systems – restoring the wolves is critical – but addressing the deleterious impacts of livestock grazing in an honest way ought also be a part of those efforts – so that wolves’ grace can truly be felt on public lands and with diverse species. That’s not going to be popular with livestock producers – but it’s honest.

  5. Virginia Avatar

    I would like to thank Ralph and Brian and the other knowledgeable people who contribute and research the wonderful scientific information for this blog. I have learned so much from all of you and from the links you supply to even more fascinating writings. This blog is the first thing I read every day and the last thing I read at night. It is amazing to share all of this “great stuff.” Thanks again.

  6. Chuck P Avatar
    Chuck P

    Deb Donohue’s article exemplies the beneficial role that one of our most hated preditors serves. To me it’s another illustration of the importance of the balance of nature. Just because we have yet to understand perhaps 99.99% of all the interdependent specie ecosystem equilibrium relationships doesn’t mean they don’t exist. We need to move to higher ground at some point and argue for the ecosystem, not only a particular specie in peril. Why not enlarge Yellowstone national park to include the entire Yellowstone Ecosystem plus critical wildlife cooridors where nature can achieve its own balance and man is restricted to enforcing compliance and not unnecessary wildlife management? Just a thought … .

  7. Brian Ertz Avatar

    We need to move to higher ground at some point and argue for the ecosystem, not only a particular specie in peril.

    Chuck P, this ideal is currently underway. Many conservationists/environmentalists understand the promise/implications of the Endangered Species Act in exactly this way – as a means to achieve relief and restoration for entire ecosystems.

    When a particular species is designated as “listed” – that designation affords protections that blanket entire ecosystems – as a function of providing relief from extractive industrial use – and can have positive benefits to landscapes and species that might not otherwise have them because they are not “charismatic” enough to get listed themselves or defend against political backlash from industry associations with interest in extracting/using that “resource” themselves – in a way detrimental to a given species and entire ecosystem.

    This is why it’s so important that conservationists push for every inch in promoting administration/enforcement for “iconic” or “charismatic” species protections because these species are on the forefront in galvanizing political support – and although it’s theoretically not supposed to be – these “popular” species often have a better time at establishing advantageous judicial decisions that ameliorates into more robust precedent that equally applies to protections for other less “charismatic” species and landscapes.

    If Sierra-Nevada bighorn who gain “listed status” in Northern California – and that listed status affords the political and legal leverage to buy-out or otherwise shut down domestic sheep allotments on public lands – those bighorn are not the only species to benefit from that relief. The entire ecosystem benefits from that.

    One of the fronts of this push often takes place when agencies are determining the area with which a particular candidate species is to be recovered.

    This is why we have seen so many attempts to dilute/reform habitat designations – one example would be Jim Caswell’s calls in the past to alter Distinct Population Segments to areas of existing populations rather than “viable” or “historical” habitat designations – he did so with bull trout.

    Another front would be where Livestock Industry beholden Republicans in congress were the first to push for reintroduction of wolves, rather than allow wolves from Canada and northwestern Montana to recolonize themselves – because “reintroduction” provided for the “non-essential experimental” designation and 10(j) rule that diluted the protections afforded wolves and allowed livestock producers leeway which would not have been the case with re-colonization on their own. Several conservationists – it’d probably be fair to say some of which who held more strongly to the “whole ecosystem” purview/promise of the ESA, disagreed with the “non-essential experimental population” designation – wanting wolves to re-establish on their own in a way that enjoyed full protections and would provide political and legal leverage to extend the benefit of those protections more robustly to entire ecosystems as well as wolves. They sued and lost.

    It will be interesting to see whether the commercialization of the conservation movement continues, as it has under this dire political environment – or whether a resurgence of hope and ambition affording humility to the benefit of the passive restoration of entire ecosystems gains tread in a more beneficial political environment.

    some that i’ve talked to are pretty averse to this “whole ecosystem” view – they see it as a political liability or that it falls into the trap of the extractive industry’s successful framing of an “environmental agenda” – perhaps wisely, this reservation takes a more pragmatic tact. Fair enough – you can guess to which promise of the ESA i subscribe – but the fact is, everyone with different ideas is good – and quite often they can work to the co-mutual benefit of everyone involved. and i don’t think environmentalists should be afraid of their shadows in either event.

    just another musing…

  8. Chuck P Avatar
    Chuck P

    Brian … thanks for your informative and helpful reply … I understand every battle needs to be fought, but I as others worry this may not be enough to save environments 100 years from now … I would certainly suspect the whole ecosystem view has substantive and larger barriers to face than individual battles face, but a lot depends on how such a movement would be positioned and sponsored … my ‘naive’ thought would be to get global support for preserving the relatively unique Yellowstone ecosystem in perpetuity where the balance of nature is allowed to play itself out as intended for the most part … I believe this is an issue of preserving wild space in enough size before its too late … while I know this controversial, I don’t think this is a local interest issue although there are are great deal of sensitivities to consider … why not rally around something like Yellowstone Vision 2022 (150 yr) a detailed plan is in place for transforming the current NP’s into the a Gem Ecosystem for the world to honor and learn from? … maybe I’m dreaming, but that would be a real strategy for perpetuity!

  9. Catbestland Avatar

    Does anyone recall the author of and the correct wording of the quote to the effect of: “Was it not the wolf’s tooth that honed the fleet limb of the antelope?” I would like to use it in a project I am working on.


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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Ralph Maughan