What is Wilderness Without its Wolves?

Franz 200x150

What is Wilderness Without its Wolves?

By Franz Camenzind

 

For millennia, wolves have occupied nearly all the lands now designated as Wilderness in the western US, with the exception of coastal California. Yet today, fewer than two score of the approximately 540 Wildernesses west of the 100th meridian (not including Alaska’s 48) can claim some number of wolves as residents and only a dozen or so harbor wolves in numbers sufficient to be considered sustainable—in either the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Central Idaho Wildlands or Montana’s Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. Arguably, the long-term sustainability of wolves in other Wilderness areas is at risk due to the limited security provided by those smaller, often isolated landscapes.

The Wilderness Act defines Wilderness as a place where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by humankind, retains its primeval character and where natural conditions are preserved. Simply stated, Wilderness is meant to exist with minimal human interference. Yet within the vast majority of Wilderness areas, the wolf, the apex species with profound ecosystem influence, is now absent—an absence due entirely to the relentless killing by humankind.

We need look no farther than Yellowstone National Park to witness the influence wolves have on an ecosystem. The park’s wolves were exterminated by the early 1900s, ostensibly to protect the park’s favored elk herds. What followed was not surprising—an overabundance of elk which led to deleterious impacts to vegetation, particularly lower elevation riparian and willow communities.

Since the reintroduction of wolves to the park in the mid-1990s, elk numbers have dropped to levels most ecologists agree resemble something near carrying capacity. Similarly, park wolf numbers stabilized around 100, after initial highs of 150-170. With the wolf’s return, the park ecosystem is showing signs of reaching a dynamic equilibrium beneficial to all components. It’s not an exaggeration to say that wolves were instrumental in returning the park’s wildlands nearer to their primeval conditions.

Wolves hold apex status, in part, because of their far-ranging hunting behavior. Yellowstone-area wolf packs hunt in territories ranging from 185-310 square miles. Besides being smaller, the Yellowstone elk herd is more dispersed and spends less time in the lower elevation meadows and riparian-willow communities.

Most ecologists agree that the wolf’s collective impact on elk is contributing to the resurgence of the willow communities, which in turn is witnessing an increase in avian biodiversity and density. The revitalization of Yellowstone’s northern range willow communities has also enabled an increase in the beaver population, leading to positive changes to stream ecology, thus benefitting aquatic invertebrates and the fisheries. 

Many of the ecological changes brought about by the wolf’s return may take years if not decades to recognize and fully understand. But one thing is clear, today’s Yellowstone and the Wildernesses harboring robust wolf populations more closely resemble their primeval character than those lacking wolves. Wolves may just be nature’s best wilderness stewards.

Three states now account for the majority of the west’s wolves: Idaho (1,556), Montana (1,220) and Wyoming (347). Another 351 are tallied for Washington (178) and Oregon (173). Mexican Gray Wolves occur in two states: New Mexico (114) and Arizona (72). Combined, approximately 3,660 wolves currently reside west of the 100th meridian—a number that pales to the 250,000 to 2 million estimated to have resided in the entire United States before the European invasion. However, the current numbers are better than the few dozen residing in northwest Montana three decades ago, which were a result of wolves immigrating from Canada. 

Today’s bad news is that wolves in Idaho and Montana are once again facing the vigilante actions of the 1800s. Both state legislatures recently passed draconian legislation with the stated objective of reducing wolf numbers to near 150—the number at which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) will take over wolf management as per the states’ wolf management agreements in effect since Endangered Species Act protections were taken away from wolves.

The new legislation authorizes the state commissions to allow wolf-killing by pretty much any means imaginable: the use of traps and snares, unlimited quotas, extended hunting and trapping seasons, and in Idaho, night time hunting, aerial gunning and killing pups in dens. Idaho also designated $200,000 dollars to “cover expenses incurred” by private individuals while killing wolves—essentially imposing a bounty on wolves.

Idaho’s and Montana’s aggressive wolf-killing legislation has been temporarily dampened a bit by the states’ wildlife commissions which have some leeway when setting annual wolf hunting and trapping regulations. For instance, this season, Montana is limiting the open-ended quotas written into their legislation. But the intent and goals remain unchanged—it may just take a few more years to achieve those goals. Ironically, that means more wolves will be killed because each year the survivors will produce young, thus replenishing their numbers, resulting in “a need” to kill more wolves to reach the 150 goal. 

State wildlife agencies manage wolves by the numbers, ignoring the fact that wolves are one of the most social species on the planet, and function and survive not as individuals, but as members of highly structured packs. Consequently, intense, random killing can cause packs to break up, resulting in diminished hunting efficiency and pushing wolves toward easier prey, such as livestock.

Today, wolves and the wilderness ecosystems they inhabit are imminently threatened by these irresponsible state efforts to kill upwards of 90 percent of their wolf populations, including within Wilderness. A weakened or removed apex species inevitably results in a weakened ecological system. If this barbaric killing is allowed to proceed, ecosystem function and wilderness protection will be pushed back decades.

Wilderness Watch continues to fight for Wilderness and its wolves. On December 6, Wilderness Watch and a dozen allies filed a lawsuit and a motion for a temporary restraining order/preliminary injunction against the State of Idaho over its barbaric new wolf-killing laws. This followed a June 2021 Notice of Intent to sue Idaho and Montana for their new anti-wolf statues. We’ve petitioned the US Department of Agriculture to promulgate rules or issue closure orders preventing certain killing methods, hired killers, and paying bounties in Wilderness. Wilderness Watch also joined a petition authored by Western Watersheds Project to relist wolves under the Endangered Species Act in light of the new, aggressive wolf-killing statutes. In response, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it will undertake a status review of the gray wolf over the next 12 months.

 

A Wilderness denied of its wolves is a wounded Wilderness. If wolves can’t be allowed live in Wilderness, where can they live? Wilderness Watch will continue to do all it can to protect this critical, symbiotic relationship and the ecological integrity of Wilderness itself.

 

Franz Camenzind is a wildlife biologist turned filmmaker and environmental activist who recently retired from the WW Board after serving 6 years.

 

Wolf

Hulahula River Pingo
 

Comments 105

Guest - Els den Hoed on Monday, 10 January 2022 03:57

Wolves are beautifull and very important to the total envirement of nature. They keep everything in balance! So no more hunts,poisining or other cruel ways to kill them. Be aware what you are doing to nature. In the Netherlands we have since a few years wolves and the people and farmers are very mixed up anbout this issue. They kill sheep but the sheep in our country are not properly protected, it is an easy target for the wolf. But most of the killing is by dogs and not wolves.!!!!
I hope as a nature lover that wolves may stay and left in peace!!!!

Wolves are beautifull and very important to the total envirement of nature. They keep everything in balance! So no more hunts,poisining or other cruel ways to kill them. Be aware what you are doing to nature. In the Netherlands we have since a few years wolves and the people and farmers are very mixed up anbout this issue. They kill sheep but the sheep in our country are not properly protected, it is an easy target for the wolf. But most of the killing is by dogs and not wolves.!!!! I hope as a nature lover that wolves may stay and left in peace!!!!
Guest - Melissa Heithaus on Tuesday, 04 January 2022 08:33

We must work together to ban ALL hunting and trapping of ALL animals worldwide!!!!!!

We must work together to ban ALL hunting and trapping of ALL animals worldwide!!!!!!
Guest - Ken Martin on Wednesday, 12 January 2022 13:55

So right Melissa... You're so so right!!

So right Melissa... You're so so right!!
Guest - TimesArrow on Wednesday, 29 December 2021 10:07

Gray Wolves In Oregon Were Brutally Poisoned, And Authorities Still Haven’t Found The Perpetrator

https://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/109/704/292/

Gray Wolves In Oregon Were Brutally Poisoned, And Authorities Still Haven’t Found The Perpetrator https://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/109/704/292/
Guest - Izzy Hinkle on Wednesday, 29 December 2021 07:44

Someone who was formerly a hunter and trapper needs to hold classes in how to disturb hunters and remove traps from public land. I would pay good money to learn how to follow a trap line and take away traps. Action, not whining, solves more problems than not. If everyone stopped eating beef, ranchers would go away. Parents, teach your children compassion for wildlife. Teach children it's not necessary to reproduce. Not every sperm needs a name.

Someone who was formerly a hunter and trapper needs to hold classes in how to disturb hunters and remove traps from public land. I would pay good money to learn how to follow a trap line and take away traps. Action, not whining, solves more problems than not. If everyone stopped eating beef, ranchers would go away. Parents, teach your children compassion for wildlife. Teach children it's not necessary to reproduce. Not every sperm needs a name.
Guest - Laurie Denis on Monday, 27 December 2021 07:31

Wolves have a place in this world, we need to ensure they stay on this planet.

Wolves have a place in this world, we need to ensure they stay on this planet.
Guest - Cara Schmidt on Sunday, 26 December 2021 14:19

Stop Murdering & Start saving Wolves!! They deserve to live- more than some humans. The Wilderness Act defines Wilderness as a place where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by humankind, retains its primeval character and where natural conditions are preserved. Simply stated, Wilderness is meant to exist with minimal human interference. Yet within the vast majority of Wilderness areas, the wolf, the apex species with profound ecosystem influence, is now absent—an absence due entirely to the relentless killing by humankind.

Every time you hurt/remove a species from the chain of life- you damage the rest. GOD created a specific order of things and EVERY time man interferes- you screw it up. Wolves control other species which in turn control others which allows the right amount of food, etc. Again- you take away 1 section and the rest are out of balance.

Stop Murdering & Start saving Wolves!! They deserve to live- more than some humans. The Wilderness Act defines Wilderness as a place where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by humankind, retains its primeval character and where natural conditions are preserved. Simply stated, Wilderness is meant to exist with minimal human interference. Yet within the vast majority of Wilderness areas, the wolf, the apex species with profound ecosystem influence, is now absent—an absence due entirely to the relentless killing by humankind. Every time you hurt/remove a species from the chain of life- you damage the rest. GOD created a specific order of things and EVERY time man interferes- you screw it up. Wolves control other species which in turn control others which allows the right amount of food, etc. Again- you take away 1 section and the rest are out of balance.
Guest - Charlie Burns on Sunday, 26 December 2021 09:29

Please leave nature alone

Please leave nature alone
Guest - Ken Martin on Sunday, 26 December 2021 05:06

It's totally barbaric and a complete disgrace what the government allows to happen to all wildlife in this country. The government of the states and country should all be replaced by people that have genuine compassion towards ALL wildlife and the Environment in general. Unfortunately, that won't happen because we have to much sh** governing and living in this country!

It's totally barbaric and a complete disgrace what the government allows to happen to all wildlife in this country. The government of the states and country should all be replaced by people that have genuine compassion towards ALL wildlife and the Environment in general. Unfortunately, that won't happen because we have to much sh** governing and living in this country!
Guest - Pattie Meade on Friday, 24 December 2021 13:19

wolves are part of the natural landscape. They prey on rodents and small animals and need to be protected, not hunted and killed for sport!

wolves are part of the natural landscape. They prey on rodents and small animals and need to be protected, not hunted and killed for sport!
Guest - David Amrod on Thursday, 23 December 2021 21:01

Please protect the wolves. They deserve the right to live. The Wilderness Act defines Wilderness as a place where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by humankind, retains its primeval character and where natural conditions are preserved. Simply stated, Wilderness is meant to exist with minimal human interference. Yet within the vast majority of Wilderness areas, the wolf, the apex species with profound ecosystem influence, is now absent—an absence due entirely to the relentless killing by humankind.

We need look no farther than Yellowstone National Park to witness the influence wolves have on an ecosystem. The park’s wolves were exterminated by the early 1900s, ostensibly to protect the park’s favored elk herds. What followed was not surprising—an overabundance of elk which led to deleterious impacts to vegetation, particularly lower elevation riparian and willow communities.

Since the reintroduction of wolves to the park in the mid-1990s, elk numbers have dropped to levels most ecologists agree to resemble something near carrying capacity. Similarly, park wolf numbers stabilized around 100, after initial highs of 150-170. With the wolf’s return, the park ecosystem is showing signs of reaching a dynamic equilibrium beneficial to all components. It’s not an exaggeration to say that wolves were instrumental in returning the park’s wildlands nearer to their primeval conditions.

Please protect the wolves. They deserve the right to live. The Wilderness Act defines Wilderness as a place where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by humankind, retains its primeval character and where natural conditions are preserved. Simply stated, Wilderness is meant to exist with minimal human interference. Yet within the vast majority of Wilderness areas, the wolf, the apex species with profound ecosystem influence, is now absent—an absence due entirely to the relentless killing by humankind. We need look no farther than Yellowstone National Park to witness the influence wolves have on an ecosystem. The park’s wolves were exterminated by the early 1900s, ostensibly to protect the park’s favored elk herds. What followed was not surprising—an overabundance of elk which led to deleterious impacts to vegetation, particularly lower elevation riparian and willow communities. Since the reintroduction of wolves to the park in the mid-1990s, elk numbers have dropped to levels most ecologists agree to resemble something near carrying capacity. Similarly, park wolf numbers stabilized around 100, after initial highs of 150-170. With the wolf’s return, the park ecosystem is showing signs of reaching a dynamic equilibrium beneficial to all components. It’s not an exaggeration to say that wolves were instrumental in returning the park’s wildlands nearer to their primeval conditions.
Guest - Tony and Cindy Guarnieri (website) on Thursday, 23 December 2021 20:19

IT IS DISGUSTING AND DISGRACEFUL THAT SO MANY WOLVES HAVE BEEN HUNTED, TRAPPED AND KILLED. IT IS THE IGNORANT MINDSET OF WOLF HATERS THAT LETS THIS HAPPEN. THESE PEOPLE NEED TO UNDERSTAND AND ACCEPT THAT OUR MAGNIFICENT WILD WOLVES ARE SO VITALLY IMPORTANT TO OUR ECOSYSTEMS AND ENVIRONMENTS. THESE ANIMALS ARE INTELLIGENT AND SOCIAL, SENSITIVE BEINGS THAT CARE FOR THEIR OFFSPRING AND ONE ANOTHER JUST LIKE US HUMANS DO. WOLVES HAVE BEEN NEEDLESSLY KILLED JUST FOR BEING WHO AND WHAT THEY ARE. THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE. STOP THE WAR ON OUR WOLVES.

IT IS DISGUSTING AND DISGRACEFUL THAT SO MANY WOLVES HAVE BEEN HUNTED, TRAPPED AND KILLED. IT IS THE IGNORANT MINDSET OF WOLF HATERS THAT LETS THIS HAPPEN. THESE PEOPLE NEED TO UNDERSTAND AND ACCEPT THAT OUR MAGNIFICENT WILD WOLVES ARE SO VITALLY IMPORTANT TO OUR ECOSYSTEMS AND ENVIRONMENTS. THESE ANIMALS ARE INTELLIGENT AND SOCIAL, SENSITIVE BEINGS THAT CARE FOR THEIR OFFSPRING AND ONE ANOTHER JUST LIKE US HUMANS DO. WOLVES HAVE BEEN NEEDLESSLY KILLED JUST FOR BEING WHO AND WHAT THEY ARE. THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE. STOP THE WAR ON OUR WOLVES.
Guest - Karen Waltman on Thursday, 23 December 2021 17:29

The constant persecution of wolves in the United States has been going on forever, and is such an awful thing. Wolves are an integral and valued part of our country, and this continued persecution needs to stop, once and for all. They serve as a vital part of the ecosystem, and keeps things in balance. We need to protect wolves, and people need to value and respect this incredible animal.

The constant persecution of wolves in the United States has been going on forever, and is such an awful thing. Wolves are an integral and valued part of our country, and this continued persecution needs to stop, once and for all. They serve as a vital part of the ecosystem, and keeps things in balance. We need to protect wolves, and people need to value and respect this incredible animal.
Guest - Natalie Hall on Thursday, 23 December 2021 16:52

Love your essays Keep 'em coming!

Love your essays Keep 'em coming! :)
Guest - Michelle Sewald on Wednesday, 22 December 2021 21:10

This is animal blood sport, plain and simple. Science is completely ignored by Wildlife Services and the Bureau of Logging, Mining, Ranching and Drilling. This is fear and hatred of an incredibly special species that balances the ecosystem...something which humans have no concept of. A tenth of a percent of domesticated livestock are harmed in these hateful states. Where the livestock outnumbers humans by 2 to 3 times and wolves with numbers in the low 100's, who is the threat?

This is animal blood sport, plain and simple. Science is completely ignored by Wildlife Services and the Bureau of Logging, Mining, Ranching and Drilling. This is fear and hatred of an incredibly special species that balances the ecosystem...something which humans have no concept of. A tenth of a percent of domesticated livestock are harmed in these hateful states. Where the livestock outnumbers humans by 2 to 3 times and wolves with numbers in the low 100's, who is the threat?
Guest - Patti Mickelsen on Wednesday, 22 December 2021 20:14

Our country is at a crossroads...we seem to be divided (roughly equally) between intelligent, compassionate, thinking people, who would like to still have a habitable planet for our grandchildren and beyond...and the 'others' - lunatic sociopaths who love guns and killing anything that moves or they don't like, including many people of color (or other 'undesirable' groups)...polluters who don't believe in climate change, social justice, empathy, or any other positive trait. It is disgusting our government has not stepped up to protect our environment, and especially our apex predators - vital to a healthy ecosystem. Wolves are the most magnificent and important animals, and yet a few disgusting humans get to have permission to annihilate them for absolutely no reason. Anyone who can kill anything "for fun", should just automatically get locked up for being a psychopath. No wonder we are not safe on our streets, in our schools, or even in nature, where we might be mistaken for a poor animal. It is so horrifying we are in this situation in 2021...this simply has to be acknowledged for what it it - wanton disregard for our planet, our people, our animals, our future, our very souls. We must shout more loudly and drown out the voices of the people who will kill us all...

Our country is at a crossroads...we seem to be divided (roughly equally) between intelligent, compassionate, thinking people, who would like to still have a habitable planet for our grandchildren and beyond...and the 'others' - lunatic sociopaths who love guns and killing anything that moves or they don't like, including many people of color (or other 'undesirable' groups)...polluters who don't believe in climate change, social justice, empathy, or any other positive trait. It is disgusting our government has not stepped up to protect our environment, and especially our apex predators - vital to a healthy ecosystem. Wolves are the most magnificent and important animals, and yet a few disgusting humans get to have permission to annihilate them for absolutely no reason. Anyone who can kill anything "for fun", should just automatically get locked up for being a psychopath. No wonder we are not safe on our streets, in our schools, or even in nature, where we might be mistaken for a poor animal. It is so horrifying we are in this situation in 2021...this simply has to be acknowledged for what it it - wanton disregard for our planet, our people, our animals, our future, our very souls. We must shout more loudly and drown out the voices of the people who will kill us all...
Guest - Peggy Moody on Wednesday, 22 December 2021 16:38

Gun nutters with bloodlust allowed to slaughter precious, endangered wolves. This is beyond shameful. Why can't Biden and Haaland do the right thing and protect our wolves? This country's wildlife is for everyone to enjoy; they are not for special interest blood thirsty groups to slaughter.

Gun nutters with bloodlust allowed to slaughter precious, endangered wolves. This is beyond shameful. Why can't Biden and Haaland do the right thing and protect our wolves? This country's wildlife is for everyone to enjoy; they are not for special interest blood thirsty groups to slaughter.
Guest - Juli Kring on Wednesday, 22 December 2021 14:53

As a mother and grandmother, I believe it is our duty to protect and preserve wildlife as precious natural resources held in trust for all future generations. I also feel a deep responsibility as a Steward for all of Earth's Divine Creation, including wolves which are a very important part of Nature's delicate balance. That responsibility will always be more important than politics or profit.

As a mother and grandmother, I believe it is our duty to protect and preserve wildlife as precious natural resources held in trust for all future generations. I also feel a deep responsibility as a Steward for all of Earth's Divine Creation, including wolves which are a very important part of Nature's delicate balance. That responsibility will always be more important than politics or profit.
Guest - Richard Creswell on Wednesday, 22 December 2021 14:02

What is wilderness without indigenous people? We need to find ways to return care of the land to indigenous people who did such a good job on it for millennia.

What is wilderness without indigenous people? We need to find ways to return care of the land to indigenous people who did such a good job on it for millennia.
Guest - Patti Packer on Wednesday, 22 December 2021 12:22

I find it appalling that Montana and Idaho have recently passed legislation to reduce wolf numbers. The wolves must be protected under the Endangered Species Act again! How can this be justified??? Wolves are an important part of the ecosystem. They are a remarkable species.

I find it appalling that Montana and Idaho have recently passed legislation to reduce wolf numbers. The wolves must be protected under the Endangered Species Act again! How can this be justified??? Wolves are an important part of the ecosystem. They are a remarkable species.
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