Washington Wildlife Agency Issues Kill Orders for Two More Wolf Packs

For Immediate Release, November 7, 2018

Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495, ngreenwald@biologicaldiversity.org

https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2018/washington-wolves-11-07-2018.php?fbclid=IwAR3RmhlDUSRvnx4BtVqlhT7E-W0H4erFqocVY8q7-UicKUkQtqbvbkQwKOE

OLYMPIA, Wash.— Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind today authorized the killing of wolves in the Smackout pack in Stevens County and the remaining wolves of the Togo pack in Ferry County. The Department already has been trying since Oct. 27 to kill the last adult and pup of the Old Profanity Territory pack in Ferry County.

“We’re devastated that Washington officials are killing still more endangered wolves when science shows it won’t reduce livestock loss or improve tolerance for these misunderstood animals,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Three kill operations going at once on an endangered species by a state wildlife agency is very disturbing. They’re wiping out pack after pack, mostly at the behest of one livestock owner.”

Since 2012 the state has killed 21 state-endangered wolves, 17 of whom were killed for the same livestock operator, a longtime, vocal opponent of wolf recovery. The ongoing kill operation to kill the OPT pack’s father wolf and only remaining pup, as well as the kill order issued today for members of the Smackout pack, are on behalf of the same individual.

In September the Department killed the father wolf of the Togo pack, leaving his mate to fend for their two pups on her own. In October the Department killed the breeding female of the Old Profanity Territory pack and a five-month-old pup from the pack, leaving the breeding male on his own to provide for the sole remaining pup.

Both kill actions made it more likely the adults would attack more livestock, since livestock are easier prey than deer or elk for a lone wolf to successfully hunt. In both instances that proved to be the case, and even though it was the Department’s own actions that set these packs up for more conflict, the Department intends to eradicate both wolf families.

“Washingtonians overwhelmingly support wolf recovery,” said Greenwald. “Restoring these beautiful, intelligent animals will result in some loss of livestock, which is why the state compensates ranchers for their losses. But wildlife officials should not continue to kill this still endangered species.”

Smackout pack wolf

Smackout pack wolf photo by Carter Niemeyer. This image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

www.biologicaldiversity.org

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Washington Fish and Wildlife targets 2 more wolfpacks

Wolfpacks in Stevens and Ferry counties have been attacking cattle; state authorizes killing wolves.

Don JenkinsCapital Press

Published on November 7, 2018 9:50AM

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed Sept. 7 that wolves in the Togo pack attacked this calf. The calf survived but was euthanized to end its suffering. Fish and Wildlife issued a permit Nov. 7 allowing the rancher to shoot the pack’s remaining three wolves if caught in a private fenced pasture with cattle.

COURTESY PHOTO

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed Sept. 7 that wolves in the Togo pack attacked this calf. The calf survived but was euthanized to end its suffering. Fish and Wildlife issued a permit Nov. 7 allowing the rancher to shoot the pack’s remaining three wolves if caught in a private fenced pasture with cattle.

Washington Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind today authorized the killing of wolves in two packs attacking cattle in the northeast corner of the state. The orders come as the department continues to try to remove the rest of a third wolfpack.

The department plans to kill one or two wolves in the Smackout pack in Stevens County. Susewind also gave permission to a rancher in Ferry County to shoot the remaining three wolves in the Togo pack in Ferry County if the wolves enter a private fenced pasture with cattle.

Fish and Wildlife is continuing an effort to remove the remaining two wolves in the Old Profanity pack, also in Ferry County, the department’s wolf policy coordinator, Donny Martorello, said Wednesday. The department killed wolves in the pack in September and resumed targeting the pack Oct. 26 because of depredations on cattle continued.

Fish and Wildlife won’t immediately undertake removing the Togo pack because it’s occupied with the two other packs, but may in the coming weeks, according to the department.

Fish and Wildlife shot one Togo pack wolf in early September, but the pack has continued to attack cattle. The wolf already had been wounded by the rancher, who said he was approached by the wolf and shot in self-defense.

The department protocol calls for removing one or two wolves initially and waiting to see whether wolf depredations on livestock stop.

Fish and Wildlife won’t start the lethal-removal operation against the Smackout pack, or allow the shooting of Togo pack wolves, until Thursday at the earliest. The early morning directives today give environmental groups one day to go to court to challenge the order.

The notice is fallout from a lawsuit by environmental groups challenging an order last year to kill wolves. A Thurston County Superior Court judge dismissed the lawsuit, but said the department should give time for courts to review future lethal-removal orders.

The Smackout pack has killed four heifers and injured one calf on private land since Aug. 20, according to Fish and Wildlife. Four of the attacks occurred between Oct. 14 and Nov. 1.

Fish and Wildlife considers lethal removal after a pack attacks three times in 30 days or four times in 10 months. The department policy calls for ranchers to do whatever they can to prevent the attacks and for wildlife managers to conclude that the attacks will continue unless the state intervenes.

The Smackout pack has four or five adult wolves, according to recent surveys by the department. The pack includes one female wolf that had been trapped and fitted with a radio collar that transmits her location. The department has not seen evidence that the pack produced pups this year.

The Togo pack has attacked cattle at least six times in the past 10 months, according to Fish and Wildlife. Two of the attacks were confirmed after the department shot one of two adults in the pack. The department confirmed the first attack Sept. 7, but held off restarting lethal removal because the department was concerned that killing the last adult would doom the pups given their size at the time.

Fish and Wildlife confirmed Oct. 26 that the pack had attacked another calf. The latest depredation indicates the pack will continue to prey on livestock, according to the department.

Fish and Wildlife said in a statement today that it did not expect the lethal-removal operations to harm the state’s overall recovery objectives. The goal is to have wolves established and regularly reproducing at least as far west as the Cascades. Washington wolves now are mostly confined to Eastern Washington, particularly in four northeast counties.

The wolf population in the eastern one-third of Washington is more than three times the recovery goal for that region, according to Fish and Wildlife.

As the wolf population has grown in that corner of the state, so has attacks on livestock. The department has removed wolves before, dating back to 2012, but has never had three lethal-removal operations active at the same time.

Fish and Wildlife approves killing of remaining two wolves in the old Profanity Peak pack area

UPDATED: Fri., Oct. 26, 2018, 10:31 a.m.

FILE - This April 18, 2008 file photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife shows a grey wolf. The final two members of a wolf pack occupying the old Profanity Peak Pack area will be killed, according to a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife news release. (Gary Kramer / AP)
FILE – This April 18, 2008 file photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife shows a grey wolf. The final two members of a wolf pack occupying the old Profanity Peak Pack area will be killed, according to a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife news release. (Gary Kramer / AP)

The final two members of a wolf pack occupying the old Profanity Peak Pack area will be killed, according to a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife news release.

The kill order comes after members of the pack, which the department dubbed the Old Profanity Territory pack, killed or injured at least 16 cattle. The most recent was on Tuesday, according to the release.

WDFW killed a member of the pack on Sept. 16 following documented depredations. Per agency policy WDFW then monitored the area to see if lethal removal was effective. Despite two depredations in early October WDFW refrained from killing more wolves due to concerns about whether the range riding and other nonlethal deterrents were being implemented effectively.

The livestock in question are on a federal grazing allotment. Per allotment rules the producer was supposed to have his cattle off the land on Oct. 15. However, because of the “dense timber and rugged terrain” 10 percent of the producer’s cattle remain on the federal land.

In an interview Thursday Jay Shepherd, the wolf program lead for Conservation Northwest and one of the founders of the Northeast Washington Wolf-Cattle Collaborative, said in past years wolf-cattle conflicts had usually tapered off by now.

“It’s a weird year,” he said. “It just keeps going.”

WDFW must wait eight court hours between the announcement of a lethal action order and the execution of the order. In the past environmental groups have used that time to challenge the kill order.

Despite losses of roughly a dozen wolves a year from selective state-authorized lethal control, plus poaching, vehicle collisions and other human-related causes, Washington’s wolf population has grown each year. A minimum of 122 wolves, 22 packs and 14 successful breeding pairs was reported by the WDFW this winter.

This story will be updated throughout the day.

The full news release is copied below:

WDFW Director Kelly Susewind today reauthorized department staff to lethally remove the remaining two wolves from a pack that has repeatedly preyed on cattle while occupying the Old Profanity Territory (OPT) in the Kettle River Range of Ferry County.

On Sept. 28 the department initiated an evaluation period to determine whether removing two wolves from the OPT pack last month has changed the pack’s behavior and reduced the potential for recurrent wolf depredations on livestock.

The Wolf Conservation and Management Plan and the department’s protocol indicate that a post-removal evaluation period should consider any depredations that take place after one or more wolves are removed from a pack.

The department documented two wolf depredations to calves found in the allotment between Oct. 5-7, and determined that the depredation by the OPT on Oct. 5 likely occurred after the removal period.

That incident would have supported a decision to remove more wolves at that time, but the Director sustained the evaluation period to consider the details and complexities of the situation in the field.

The U.S. Forest Service allotment where the affected producer grazes his livestock is large and lies entirely within the territory of the OPT pack. After the Oct. 5 depredation, the department took additional steps to document the range-riding operation on the allotment to make sure it is as effective as it can be.

However, the department documented another wolf depredation to livestock on Oct. 23, bringing the total to 16 wolf depredations by the OPT pack.

The affected producer was scheduled to remove his livestock from the U.S. Forest Service allotment by Oct.15. In practice, about 90 percent of the livestock are usually removed by that date. Due to the dense timber and rugged terrain, it may take several weeks longer to round up all the cattle on the allotment.

The producer is transporting a portion of his cattle to private grazing lands west of the Kettle Crest and another portion out of state. The private grazing lands west of the Kettle Crest are within the OPT pack territory, although they are at a lower elevations and on the periphery of the pack territory, which may reduce the likelihood of wolf depredations in these areas this winter.

There are also several other allotments with cattle within the OPT that are in a similar situation in terms of removing them from Forest Service grazing allotments.

The livestock producer who owns the affected livestock has continued to employ non-lethal methods to deter wolves from preying on his herd. Strategies used include contracting range riders to monitor his herd, removing or securing livestock carcasses to avoid attracting wolves to the rest of the herd, and removing known sick and injured livestock from the grazing area until they are healed.

Wolves on the rebound across B.C. — here’s how to live with them

Once widely hated and killed, the wolf is making a comeback across the province. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

It took a close encounter to twig Paula Wild to the charm — and danger — of the once-threatened wolf.

After crossing paths with the carnivore while driving her car near a remote Quadra Island hiking trail, Wild wondered about her initial “tingling up the spine” reaction, she told On the Coast guest host Margaret Gallagher.

“There was this huge wolf in the middle of the road,” she said. “And I thought, how would I have felt if I had been walking back on the trail all by myself? What would I have done?”

That feeling spawned the author’s upcoming book, Return of the Wolf: Conflict and Co-existence, a guide to living with a wolf population that has been steadily increasing across the province for the last 50 years.

The grey wolf has disappeared from broad swathes of the world, including most of western Europe. But the B.C. population began to return to healthy levels during the 1970s, according to a 2015 provincial report.

There are an estimated 8,500 in B.C. today.

Wild’s encounter with a wolf led to a book about how humans can learn to live with the storied carnivores. (Rick James)

Once ‘demonized’, now photography fodder

Wolves are now returning to areas they haven’t inhabited for decades, Wild said, making encounters with them more likely. Despite a “misconception” that healthy wolves won’t attack humans, it does happen, she added — and it’s usually due to human interference.

“People aren’t used to wolves. They’re not sure what to do,” Wild said. “Wolves are proving capable of adapting to living near human settlements.”

But Wild warns that humans don’t always share the same skill. Feeding wolves, or even getting close enough for a photograph, can habituate a wolf to humans and make bold behaviour more likely.

Keeping wolves wild

She thinks more education could teach nearby residents to keep their distance, make noise to scare away the more curious pack members and keep dogs on-leash when walking through wolf territory.

Poisoning wolf packs was widespread practice during the first half of the 20th century, and culling programs remain in place today.

But the centuries-long relationship between humans and wolves, Wild said, has been defined by shifting perceptions.

The wolf pops up in myths, fairy tales and common expressions, Wild said, pointing out their importance to language and culture.

“We’ve demonized wolves, but now people tend to either fear them or idolize them,” she said. “And we’re maybe not giving them the respect they need as wild animals that do have potential for danger.”

“I hope people will learn to see wolves for what they are, not for what we want or perceive them to be,” she said.

“Wolves will survive on our landscape today if we allow them to, if we learn how to live with them.”

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife seeks Wolf Advisory Group candidates

http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2018/oct/19/washington-department-of-fish-and-wildlife-seeks-w/

 Fri., Oct. 19, 2018, 3:10 p.m.

Washington’s Wolf Advisory Group is looking for new candidates to serve on the citizen committee that advises the department on wolf recovery and management.

There is one vacancy on the 18-member WAG, according to a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife news release.

Terms last for three years.

WDFW Director Kelly Susewind will appoint members to the group from the applications and nominations the department receives to fill positions that become vacant within the next year.

“This advisory group has been extremely helpful in advising the department on the challenging issue of recovering and managing gray wolves in our state,” Susewind said in a news release. “We are looking for candidates who can work cooperatively with others to develop management recommendations that reflect a diversity of perspectives.”

However, Washington’s wolf policy has been attacked by both ranchers and conservation groups this year after wolves were credited with several cattle attacks and WDFW shooters killed members of the Togo Pack and wolves inhabiting the old Profanity Peak Pack area.

Ranchers and some northeast Washington politicians argued that the state waited too long to kill wolves which had documented cattle depredations while some conservation and environmental groups questioned whether the state can legally kill wolves.

WAG members represent the interests of environmentalists, ranchers, hunters and agriculture. New members must be available to meet as early as February 2019. The group meets four times a year.

Applications and nominations must be submitted in writing and address the following items:

  • The applicant or nominee’s name, address, telephone number, and email address;
  • People or groups making nominations must also submit their own names and contact information;
  • The candidate’s relevant experience, organizational affiliations, and reasons why they would be an effective advisory group member;
  • Familiarity with Washington’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan and current wolf recovery status and management issues; and
  • Experience in collaborating with people who have different values.

The deadline for submissions is 5 p.m. Nov 30, 2018. Applications and nominations may be emailed to Donny.martorello@dfw.wa.gov or sent to Martorello at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, P. O. Box 43200, Olympia, WA 98504-3200

Wolves — keystone predators — topic of talk

181011 BMLT Gray_Wolf The Spokesman-Review.jpg

A female wolf from the Minam pack outside La Grande, Ore., after she was fitted with a tracking collar.

Wildlife biologist Mark Vekasy will discuss the dangers and benefits of reintroducing wolves in the Blues from 7-9 p.m. on Oct 18 at the Walla Walla Public Library, 238 E. Alder St.

The presentation is an opportunity to learn about the role of the wolf population in the Blue Mountains.

Wolves have been endangered across the West for decades because of various factors, including loss of habitat and extermination by livestock owners concerned for the safety of their animals.

Currently, the whole Northwest is home to only 122 gray wolves. Since these animals are keystone predators, their absence affects the entire ecosystem.

Vekasy is assistant district wildlife biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s third district.

District 3 covers southeast Washington and the Blue Mountains north of the Oregon border and extends to the Snake and Columbia rivers.

Vekasy has worked in and around the District for more than 10 years, first as a biologist with the Hells Canyon Bighorn Sheep Initiative in lower Hells Canyon and currently as a District biologist based in Walla Walla.

Mark has a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s degree in zoology and has been working in wildlife research and management for more than 30 years on a variety of game and nongame species.

This free event is open to all ages.

For more details, contact Lauren Platman at lauren@bmlt.org or bmlt.org/.

De-listing of Gray wolf passes House


Congressman Dan Newhouse,

Congressman Sean Duffy (R-WI) and Congressman Dan Newhouse (R-WA) released the following statements after bipartisan legislation they introduced to return management of gray wolves to state control advanced in the House of Representatives. The House Natural Resources Committee approved the legislation in a committee markup today.

“Wisconsin farmers are now one step closer to having the legal means to defend their livestock from gray wolves,” said Congressman Duffy. “I’d like to extend a big thank you to the members of the Natural Resources Committee who also agree that states should be the ones to responsibly manage their own gray wolf populations – not Washington bureaucrats.”

“I thank Chairman Bishop and my colleagues on the House Natural Resources Committee for advancing this important legislation to delist the gray wolf,” said Congressman Newhouse. “The best-available science used by the U.S. Department of Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows that the gray wolf has recovered and is no longer endangered. I continue to hear from and work with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, which has been asking for the federal delisting of the gray wolf since 2013. We must return management of the species to states to allow for more effective and accountable management that responds to the needs of the ecosystem, other species, and local communities.”

Background: Management of these gray wolves was transferred from the state to the federal level following two 2014 U.S. District Court decisions that reinstated gray wolves under the protections of the Endangered Species Act. These designations leave farmers and ranchers in those states without a legal avenue to protect their livestock from wolves.

Judge rejects effort to temporarily halt killing of wolves

Gray wolf (File photo)

AA

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — A Washington state judge on Friday rejected efforts to temporarily block the killing of wolves that are preying on livestock in Ferry County.

Thurston County Superior Court Judge Carol Murphy turned down a request from a conservation group for a temporary restraining order to block the killing.

The Center for Biological Diversity contended that killing wolves ignores science, causes long-term environmental harm and goes against the wishes of the great majority of state residents.

“We’re disappointed this kill order remains in place but we’re hopeful the courts will eventually stop this tragic string of state-sanctioned wolf killings,” said Amaroq Weiss, wolf advocate for the center.

She said Washington had a “trigger-happy approach to wolf management.”

It was not immediately clear when the wolf hunts would begin.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife on Wednesday approved killing one or more members of a new wolf pack that had attacked cattle near the Canadian border in northeast Washington. Wolves had killed a calf and injured five others on federal grazing land in Ferry County since Sept. 4, the agency said.

The new wolf pack has been dubbed the Old Profanity Territory Pack because the attacks occurred in an area once occupied by the Profanity Peak pack. The Profanity Peak pack was killed by the state in 2016 for preying on cattle.

Wolves were killed off in Washington early in the last century. But the animals started returning to the state early in this century from Idaho and Canada. There are at least 122 wolves in 22 packs in the state, according to the latest annual survey.

The agency contends that killing off some or all of the new pack will not harm recovery efforts.

Wolves are protected as an endangered species throughout the state. But a protocol developed by the agency and others to reduce conflicts between wolves and livestock allows the state to kill wolves if officials confirm a certain number of livestock attacks within a certain time period.

The state has killed a total of 19 wolves in recent years, including a member of the Togo pack earlier this month.

Washington State to Kill More Wolves in Ferry County

by Evan Bush / Seattle Times
Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind announced plans Wednesday for the agency (WDFW) to kill at least one of the wolves reportedly responsible for a recent rash of attacks on cattle in Ferry County, according to a department news release.
It’s the second time this year that WDFW has resorted to killing wolves as confrontations between the animals and cattle continue to bedevil the agency responsible for the canine species’ recovery in Washington state. A WDFW marksman earlier this month shot and killed a member of the Togo wolf pack, which was also preying on Ferry County cattle. Two conservation organizations filed a legal challenge over the agency’s decision about the Togo wolf. That lawsuit is ongoing.
WDFW will not be able to kill members of the new wolf pack until Thursday afternoon, and new legal challenges loom. Amaroq Weiss, a wolf advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, said her organization will seek a temporary restraining order to prevent the killing.
The wolf pack WDFW plans to target has tried to prey on cattle six times this month on federal grazing lands, killing one calf and injuring five others, according to WDFW. The pack, which was first identified by the department in May, is so new it does not have an official name. The agency believes the pack is made up of three or four adult wolves and two pups. WDFW biologists were able to collar the new pack’s adult male earlier this summer.
The wolf pack is living in the Kettle River Range, the same area that the Profanity Peak Pack once occupied. WDFW killed the members of the Profanity Peak Pack in 2016. Last year, the agency also targeted the Sherman Pack nearby.
Because it’s the third year in a row the agency intends to kill wolves in the area, some conservation organizations, including those that have supported lethal removal in the past, wonder if it’s time to try something new.
“It’s a really highly desirable landscape for wolves to be in. They keep coming back,” said Paula Sweeden, policy director for Conservation Northwest. She said the area is thickly forested, steep and often roadless. Cattle there are widely dispersed, which makes it difficult for range riders to keep track of them.
Sweeden said it was clear that the nonlethal methods employed by ranchers to prevent wolves from preying on cattle were clearly not working, but killing wolves there was not working, either.
“Three times in the same place indicates that combination is not working,” she said. “We want to call for a step back.”

Yellowstone’s wolves are back, but they haven’t restored the park’s ecosystem. Here’s why.

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YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyoming – Yellowstone’s wolves are back, helping revive parts of the ecosystem that changed drastically when this top-of-the-food-chain predator was killed off nearly a century ago. But Yellowstone is still not 100% back to normal – and it may never be.

“You put the predator back, that’s great, but conditions have changed so much in the intervening decades that putting the predator back is not enough to restore the ecosystem,” said Tom Hobbs, a Colorado State University ecology professor. “There’s not a quick fix for mistakes like exterminating apex predators.”

It’s a sign of both the promise – and the limitations – of a multi-decade wildlife recovery effort. The reintroduction of the wolf nearly 25 years ago to the country’s first national park has brought change: Overpopulated elk herds have thinned, allowing some willow and aspen groves to return and thereby creating better habitat for songbirds and beavers.

But even as this ecosystem shows signs of recovery, a complete restoration is nowhere to be found.

“In some places, I don’t expect a full recovery of the ecosystem,” said Bill Ripple, a distinguished professor of ecology at Oregon State University, who started working in Yellowstone in 1997. “It’s going to be a mixed bag for the longer term now in coming decades.”

Yellowstone’s vanishing wolves

The park radically changed after humans exterminated the gray wolf from Yellowstone in the mid-1920s due to predator control efforts. Elk herds ballooned over the next 70 years, overgrazing vast tracts of land and trees such as willow and aspen. Fewer trees sent the songbird population into decline. Beavers lost their food source and the lumber to build their dams. The lack of those dams caused streams to erode, making them deeper and not as wide and further degrading the conditions willow need to grow.

Today, nearly 25 years after wolves were reintroduced into the park, the top predators have helped parts of the ecosystem bounce back. They’ve significantly reduced elk herds, opening the door for willow, aspen, beaver and songbird populations to recover. But the wolves haven’t been a silver bullet for the ecosystem as a whole.

“This idea that wolves have caused rapid and widespread restoration of the ecosystem is just bunk,” Hobbs said. “It’s just absolutely a fairytale.”

More about the park: Breathtaking Yellowstone sparkles in the off-season

Going to the park?: 10 tips to make the most of your visit

‘You don’t know what you’ve got here’: Why Yellowstone is one unique national park

Yellowstone’s partial recovery has set off a heated debate in academia over how much bringing back an apex predator, such as the wolf, can help restore a devastated ecosystem. It’s one with consequences stretching from the U.S. to India and Africa, where naturalists have pinned their hopes on keeping fragile ecosystems as intact as possible by avoiding the elimination of lions, tigers, sharks and other top predators.

“Maintaining intact ecosystems may be easier than fixing them after you’ve lost some of the parts,” Hobbs said.

Fewer elk, more songbirds

Most ecologists agree that Yellowstone has rebounded some. When Doug Smith, Yellowstone National Park’s wolf biologist, first arrived in 1994 shortly before wolves were reintroduced, some willow and aspen trees only came up to his knees. “Now I can’t see through it,” he said. “It’s like a forest.”

But the trees aren’t coming back in every corner of the park: In many spots willow groves haven’t returned. Because willows need beaver to keep the streams from eroding and beavers need the willows to build their dams, it’s rather hard for both to come back simultaneously and in large numbers, said Hobbs, whose team has been conducting a long-term willow growth study in the park for 17 years.

The decrease in elk hasn’t allowed willows to recover because the streams changed significantly when wolves were absent.

“It doesn’t really matter very much whether they’re being browsed or not. They don’t have adequate habitat to thrive,” Hobbs said. “The conditions that changed while wolves were absent created conditions that made it very difficult to restore willows.”

Grizzly population rebound

It’s not all about the wolves, even if they get the most attention. Over the past several decades, the number of other carnivores like the grizzly bear and mountain lion have also climbed, multiplying the impact of the top predators on the ecosystem.

“As a scientist, the challenge is to figure out how much ecological change since wolf reintroduction is attributable to wolves and how much of that change is due to other forces,” said Dan MacNulty, an associate professor at Utah State University who studies the ecology of wolves and elk in the park.

How large the wolf’s impact on the Yellowstone ecosystem is difficult to tease out in part because of nature’s complexity and capacity for frequent change, he said. But money also plays a large role: It is difficult to adequately monitor all the potential drivers of change when funding for long-term research is so limited, he said.

“One of the grand challenges in ecology is to understand the consequences of predator removal and restoration in large-scale systems like Yellowstone. But the resources aren’t there. That really limits our power to know what’s going on,” he said. “A key reason why there’s so much scientific disagreement is that we haven’t been able to take all the necessary measurements over a long enough time and over a large enough number of organisms to come up with a more definitive answer.”

Despite all the disagreement, most ecologists say removing predators today would be a mistake.

“The way ecosystems put themselves back together after such a problem is still something that scientists are trying to understand,” Ripple said. “The lesson is let’s not let things get as bad as they did with 70 years without wolves.”

But there’s an even broader question that needs to be addressed: Can we restore apex predators and coexist with them?

“There’s not many places in the rest of the United States where this is happening,” Smith said. “There are lessons here that we can do this on human-dominated landscapes in other places, but I don’t know because it might involve more wolves, cougars and bears, and right there you have a problem because people have trouble living with those three carnivores.”