Opinion: Wolf is unique in maintaining ecosystem health

“There were 16 percent more elk in the northern Rockies in 2009 than there were in 1995 when wolves were reintroduced.” Kirk Robinson. Western Wildlife Conservancy.

This is an interesting opinion piece. Wolf is unique in maintaining ecosystem health.  By Kirk Robinson. Salt Lake Tribune.



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  1. Craig Avatar

    I think wolves will better the Elk herds as long as they are kept in check and are managed. We have seen both benifiets and negatives in many situations and they all differ. Managing Wolves is going to be a key to keep everyone happy! What is happening now is going to cause extreme pressure and non realistic management just to get an upper hand on either side! It’s sad and ALL wildlife will suffer from are bullshit political nonsense, both sides loose doing what we are doing!

  2. Rita K. Sharpe Avatar
    Rita K. Sharpe

    Craig,So true and so sad.

  3. Jon Way Avatar

    By ‘managing’ I assume you mean killing wolves, correct? If so, is it going to keep people happy for killing them or actually having evidence that that improves elk herd numbers.
    Outside of wildlife mgmt, of course, managing can take many different contexts (such as corraling livestock at night).
    I am not against hunting per se but humans need to manage things astounds me (this comment is not directed at your post).
    Thanks for any input…

  4. David Avatar

    One thing I have not seen (not saying it hasn’t been mentioned here) but I’m curious about more informed position on the following: The Isle Royale wolves and moose go through boom-bust predator/prey relationship (well documented over many years) much like many other predator/prey relationships. I have never seen it mentioned in conjunction with wolf/Elk population debates. Is that because it does not exist? Or, is it a much more stable relationship due to the size of the system? Or are we so far from carrying capacity for wolves that currently the elk population is expected to decrease and wolves are expected to continue increasing for some time? Anybody have any thoughts on this?

    1. WM Avatar

      Isle Royale is a closed system – small island with no inputs of new anything. Carrying capacity is only one of its problems. No new wolf genetics (which has resulted in very unhealthy skeletal structures) and no new moose genetics (also flukes, ticks and who knows what else that maybe one gets, then they all do and no way of escape). A very bad experiment IMHO. Akin, to a real life version of the secret island of Dr. Moro. Forget Isle Royale.

      1. David Avatar

        Thanks for the response….. Ok, so forget Isle Royale. There’s lynx/snowshoe hares, and many others that suggest this dynamic can exist. Is it your opinion that the boom-bust dynamic will not manifest itself in the case of the NRM wolf population full stop? Or will the effects just be greatly diminished by regional differences in population dynamics? There have been several ups and downs in wolf reproduction already haven’t there? I’m just curious.

      2. WM Avatar

        And, I should mention Isle Royale was used by plaintiffs (an inappropriate scare in my view because it is so unique) in the NRM delisting lawsuits and pleadings before Judge Molloy, as an example of what can happen in the absence of genetic diversity.

      3. WM Avatar


        ++the boom-bust dynamic will not manifest itself in the case of the NRM wolf population full stop?++

        This is really a question for the hard core wolf and ungulate scientists, who unfortunately don’t post here much.

        Personally, this is the kind of thing the states, with management authority under their federal government approved wolf plans, would address on a continuing basis, theoretically anyway.

        Upon delisting, wolves were/are to be “managed” in conjunction with other state wildlife values, including prey harvest takes by hunters and impacts on livestock (at least that is the way I read the wolf reintroduction EIS and selected alternative).

        Supposedly, “crashes” of prey base would be less likely under close management of all elements (weather, obviously being one that cannot be controlled, but the effects of it can result in adjusting other elements that can be controlled). The accusation of lack of genetic diversity of wolves in the NRM, as asserted in the delisting suits, has now been debunked as a myth (erroneous non-fact) as of about 2004, according to a study released just weeks ago.

        As wolf range expands, it certainly would seem to have a dampening effect on the likelihood of a wide-spread drop in total wolf numbers due to inavailability of adequate prey. Other factors, such as legal or illegal take of wolves, would seem to be the larger concern.

        Others are certainly more knowedgeable on this, but the only major reproduction or disease issues, of which I am aware, are outbreaks of parvo and distemper in the Yellowstone wolves that resulted in lower pup survival a couple years back. Read more here:


        Also recall the wolf population in Yellowstone peaked at something like 224 a few years back and has decreased to less than 100 after they ate their way through what some would call an excess population of elk there (result of the late 1980’s fires and habitat increase) and moved out to new areas in search of more plentiful and easier prey.

      4. JB Avatar

        Re: Isle Royale-

        My understanding is that the boom & bust cycles witnessed among moose there were not driven by wolves (possibly for the reasons WM mentions, but also [perhaps] because wolf populations were reduced through the introduction of disease). Thus, the primary factor limiting moose was and is habitat.

        Re: Your question-

        In all honesty, I don’t think we actually know enough about the population dynamics of all of the species involved (i.e., multiple predators and ungulates) and how they will interact in this system, to be able to answer that question. However, I would agree with WM that if state’s manage wolves their goal will be to keep wolf populations low enough that there is no measurable impact on ungulate populations. In fact, states [Idaho in particular] have articulated this a number of times.

        Reducing the possibility of a “boom and bust” cycle serves state F&G agencies interests quite well–it provides a continuous harvestable surplus of high-dollar big game species for human hunters. However, I have yet to hear any meaningful discussion about the long-term effects of maintaining this type of “managed” system. It seems to me that management for maximum elk hunting opportunities is likely to play a “homogenizing” role in these systems, which ultimately favors certain species over other species. In part, YNP provides a “control” that will be very interesting to watch post-delisting.

  5. David Avatar

    Thanks, WM. I do recall the distemper and parvo outbreaks, and I guess that’s what I was thinking of….


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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