The topic of predators in general, and wolves in particular, conjures much emotion on both sides; one need look no further than the comments posted on various articles in this blog to see how hot people’s blood runs. Look closer at these comments, however, and you’ll notice that where the emotion runs particularly high, the credibility of the statements made often runs particularly low.
Notably, the subject of wolf restoration seems to draw the same tired old assertion that wolves are wiping out their prey. A bit of horse-sense would lead most to the conclusion that if wolves were prone to eat themselves out of house-and-home that they’d have gone extinct long ago. But we strive to go beyond horse sense here. To the largest extent possible, we aim to back-up our assertions with peer-reviewed science. So, in that spirit, I present below a refutation of one such bit of wolf folklore. More importantly, I will edit individual comments to this blog that continue to perpetuate wolf hysteria with links back to this and other posts that refute such myths.
Public dialog is important. Thoughtful, well informed dialog is even more important. So, consider this:
Question: Are wolves responsible (or primarily responsible) for the decline in the density of Yellowstone’s Northern Range elk herd?
Ongoing research in Yellowstone National Park indicates that the decline of Northern Range elk is multi-causal: climate effects due to drought, predation (wolves, bear and cougar), increased hunter harvest of female elk at the time of wolf reintroduction. At the time of wolf reintroduction, elk density was 13-15 elk per square kilometer on the Northern Range, a very high elk density. Now elk density is 6-7 elk per square kilometer, still very dense. Most areas outside Yellowstone National Park are below 1 elk per square kilometer. Therefore elk in Yellowstone National Park have declined from very dense to just dense. Data indicate that fewer elk is proving beneficial to other aspects of the system (vegetation, scavengers, bears, songbirds, etc).
John A. Vucetich, Douglas W. Smith, Daniel R. Stahler. 2005. Influence of harvest, climate and wolf predation on Yellowstone elk, 1961-2004. Oikos. 111 (2), 259–270.
Roger J. Anderson and Alice Wondrak Biel. 2005. Ten Years of Yellowstone Wolves (1995-2005). Yellowstone Science. 13 (1). 2-45.