Regression in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

Black Wolf

The conservation movement essentially started with John Muir’s pen roughly 150 years ago. From there, it blossomed into an entire National Park Service that’s preserved small chunks of land scattered around the country, as well as worldwide presently. The movement itself has been gaining significant ground in recent decades, but still has a long way to go in overcoming what one would think would be the simplest of obstacles.

When the National Park Service was introduced, the borders for the national parks were set without taking wildlife into consideration. They were just meant to preserve pretty places for Americans to escape to. As more scientists and biologists began studying the wildlife around these new parks, they saw that more protection was needed. In Grand Teton National Park, predators were nonexistent at the time of its expansion, having been wiped out in prior generations, so the expanded borders really only accounted for the migrating bison and elk herds. Now that these predators are back in their rightful homes though, we need to take another step back and look at the landscape without boundaries, the same as an animal sees it. The entire Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and beyond is all one place to an animal. It’s one house with a lot of different rooms. It doesn’t realize that 10 feet to its east, for example, in what looks like the same room, are completely different rules in whether or not it can continue to live. It’s all one ecosystem, and should be treated as such.

I wrote a blog post last week about the Grand Teton National Park elk hunt, and left off at the conclusion that despite great strides by the park service in reestablishing wolves and grizzly bears, that more protection is needed to allow this fragile region to bring itself back into balance. The point was made that the elk hunt originated because there weren’t any natural predators feeding on elk, and as a result, the population ran out of control. With the reintroduction and growth of predator species however, the elk hunt is becoming less required to maintain the elk population. The only problem is that protection of wolves now solely applies to within Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park boundaries. Thus the population of them is currently at a stagnant and much less than ideal number, and yet being opened up to hunting regardless.

Once you step out of the national park boundaries, you have ignorantly corrupted politicians that simply don’t understand the value of such an important ecosystem right in their own home, nor the enormous benefits of having wolves on the landscape. They’re making the argument that the main concern is ranchers whose valuable livestock is at risk, yet only a fraction of them, both ranchers and politicians, are doing anything to implement proven, effective methods for protecting those stocks against predators.

Governor Matt Mead, proving he has no understanding of the value of his own home state, even went so far as to say “We have lost significant numbers of elk and moose, and we have not had a say in the management of an animal inside Wyoming.” …Which is exactly why this ecosystem was doing so well in reestablishing its original balance! The animals he cites were also overpopulated, hence the entire reason there are elk hunts all over the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to begin with! This is a clear-as-day example of politicians doing what’s best for the short-sighted payoffs of financial responsibility, and not the long-term wealth that conservation has proven to provide.

Those who are most resistant to allowing wolves and grizzly bears to roam the landscape freely, foster a very old school mentality that is the exact same thinking that threw the entire balance of the ecosystem out of whack to begin with. It’s an incredibly narrow-minded point of view that is causing more destruction to such a frail and beautiful place with each day that passes. These blinded bureaucrats are showing no concern for their own home as we slowly regress and wipe out decades of research, simply because ranchers refuse to adapt.

There is a silver lining though. This generation has a historic opportunity to turn this all around and push the balance back into the right direction once and for all. We are presently at a significantly monumental point in time where we have the chance to reestablish not just a species, but an entire ecosystem to its original state. If you think National Parks bring in tourism dollars, what about a National Ecosystem? Or even better, how does an International Ecosystem sound? Just imagine endless miles of hiking trails and remote and pristine wilderness for hundreds of miles, flourishing just as it had before European settlers arrived. Something of that magnitude would dwarf profits from all the elk hunts combined! We’re on the cusp of one of the greatest accomplishments in conservation history, but as we’re currently seeing, it’s not going to go anywhere as long as we’re still putting politicians into office with a 19th century mindset.

I’m not out to start a war with ranchers. I only ask that they try to understand that we are in the predators’ homes that were violently stripped away from them. Wolves and grizzly bears have more right to be here than we do, but with a few small and slight adjustments, there’s absolutely no reason we can’t thrive together and create a huge catalyst to this economy of this entire region and more.

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  1. Great view point – on our drive up to Jackson just this last weekend my husband and I talked about how things just weren’t adding up logically with the wolves removed from the protected list but elk hunting is needed to control the population…. I am curious though (as I am new to this sticky issue in Wyoming) what are the things that ranchers can do to protect their cattle from hunting wolves and bears?

    • Thank you, Angelique!  I linked one article that pointed out that some ranchers have been riding with their herd, which forces them to group together and protect their young.  This creates a much more natural approach so that when a wolf does come nearby, they’ll have those natural instincts set in place for when a predator is near to protect them.

      There’s also a ranch here in Teton Park that is actually right next to a wolf den and they’ve claimed to have never lost any of their stock to wolves.  They actually have someone riding around on horses almost all day (obviously not one person) and this keeps predators away.  I’ve only heard from this through other people so I haven’t been able to fact-check on it, but it seems logical enough.

      Another method is using motion sensors around the fences to detect when a predator is getting through.

      All of these methods have been used by at least one ranch with great success.

      Of course a completely different issue I’ve often wondered about is why do we even have cattle farms when we have bison that are native to the land and in every case, better for the land here?  That’s another topic though.

      • Thanks – didn’t realize there were links and they are great info pieces. It is a lot to think about, as I said before I am new to this discussion having just moved to Wyoming last December. I did not realize there were ranchers that were peacefully co-existing with the wolves….. at this point though I wonder what can be done with the wolves so recently removed from the protected list. I look forward to any other thoughts you will be posting on these issues!

        • Well hopefully everything I post from here on out is good news.  But hopefully I didn’t make ranchers out to be the enemy.  Like I said, there are some that are trying to new methods and seeing positive results, but unfortunately the vast majority of them at the moment just see wolves as an animal that shouldn’t even be around, despite it being their home.  It’s going to be interesting to see where it all goes, but it clearly should be in the favor of the wolf.

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