Sunday, September 18, 2011

For Want of a Wolf, the Lynx Was Lost?

I quote from Science magazine:
The Canadian lynx (Lynx canadensis) is thriving in Canada but is a threatened species in the United States. The chain of events that led to the mysterious decline of lynxes in the United States, scientists now say, may have begun with the extirpation of another species: the gray wolf (Canis lupus), which was hunted to near extinction in the United States during the 20th century. Today, wolf populations are growing in parts of the west and Minnesota. 
The loss of the wolf may have set in motion an “ecological cascade,” William Ripple, an ecologist at Oregon State University, Corvallis, and his co-authors write 30 August in Wildlife Society Bulletin. Without wolves, populations of coyotes and herbivores (such as elk and deer) have soared—leading to a double whammy for the lynx's primary prey, the snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus). First, there are more coyotes to hunt them; and second, elk and deer consume the shrubby cover hares eat and seek for protection from predators. The result: fewer snowshoe hare for the lynx to hunt. Climate change may be another factor; snowshoe hare and lynxes thrive at high elevations with deep snow packs, but milder winters open up these areas to coyotes. 
Since their reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, wolves have sharply curtailed the coyote population, altered the behavior of both coyotes and herbivores, upped the number of snowshoe hare, and helped restore overall ecosystem health, the authors say. So wildlife managers should consider wolves' “ecological role”—and value as top dog—when deciding their fate.
I recently posted on the decision of the U.S. government to allow hunting of wolves again in the Rockies, including in Wyoming. Here is more information on research that shows how complex is the web of life, and how sensitive that web is to the top predators in an ecosystem, as the wolves are in Yellowstone.

I think all Americans (with the exception of some cattle ranchers and western politicians) want our national parks to remain pristine, and especially want Yellowstone to remain as a reminder of what this continent was like before 1492. Moreover, the United States committed itself internationally to preserve Yellowstone as a natural World Heritage site for our descendants and our neighbors.

So lets stop hunting wolves, at least until they become more common in Yellowstone than they were in 1492, and thereby help maintain the Yellowstone ecosystem more as it once was!

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