Social Carrying Capacity Politspeak Bamboozle

May 13, 2019

|https://www.grizzlytimes.org/single-post/2019/05/13/Social-Carrying-Capacity-Politspeak-Bamboozle

David Mattson

As a scholar and social scientist I get annoyed when concepts are deployed for partisan purposes without regard for intellectual integrity. Having said that, I suspect that most politicians would find my distress silly, which is to be expected of a breed that exists to promote partisan ends using whatever rhetoric serves the immediate purpose. More to the point, politicians specialize in propaganda, one definition of which is: “Official government communications to the public that are designed to influence opinion. The information may be true or false, but it is always carefully selected for its political effect.” So, politspeak, in the spirit of Politburos and other perversions of public service.

But I expect something quite different from public servants working for administrative agencies. These people are tasked with implementing legislated policy as honestly and faithfully as possible, and, through that, maximizing benefits for the broader public they serve. Policy-relevant information is to be obtained, used, and communicated openly, with as little prejudice as possible. In other words, public communications by folks working for government bureaus should not be in the form of propaganda—not politspeak, at least in a democratic society, at least ideally.

Lethal Invocations

This brings me to public statements made during recent years by spokespeople for the federal and state agencies that manage our wildlife—more specifically, the use of a particular concept by grizzly bear managers in the Yellowstone ecosystem: that of “social carrying capacity.” To be fair, this usage is nested within a broader movement among wildlife managers who invoke “social carrying capacity” as justification for killing all sorts of animals, which may partly explain but not excuse such prevarications.

And that’s the point. “Social carrying capacity” is invariably used to justify killing more animals. Here’s a sampler: by the Florida Wildlife Commission to institute a sport hunt on the threatened Florida black bear and increase lethal control of the endangered Florida panther; by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife to increase levels of sport hunt on black bears in Maine; by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to increase the harvest of mountain lions; by David Mech, a USGS wildlife scientist, to justify hunting wolves in Oregon and Wisconsin; and by the US Fish & Wildlife Service and state wildlife management bureaus of Montana and Wyoming to remove Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections and institute a sport hunt on grizzly bears in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, which is my focus here.

The Amorphous “We”

So what do wildlife managers seem to be saying when they invoke “social carrying capacity” as justification for killing these animals? Basically, it comes down to this: the assertion that “people” will not tolerate any more of these large carnivores (read grizzly bears for Yellowstone), which means that “we’ve” reached the limits for how many can be supported in a given area, which means that “we” need to start reducing numbers by killing more animals. In the case of Yellowstone’s grizzlies, the preferred method for killing these bears is through a sport hunt. “People” are viewed as a homogeneous blob, and socially-defined “carrying capacity” as some kind of objective fixed reality.

Conceptual Pedigree

It is worth noting that none of the wildlife managers deploying the concept of “social carrying capacity” have any obvious expertise in conceptualizing, assessing, or otherwise measuring social phenomena. They are certainly not social scientists. And they are certainly not acquainted with the pedigree of the concept they so freely invoke.

So what are the academic roots of “social carrying capacity”? This concept was first developed by social scientists thinking about the numbers of people that could recreate in an area before their collective enjoyment was critically impaired. Alan Graefe, currently at Penn State, and Jerry Vaske, of Colorado State University, wrote an article in 1984 that reviewed “social carrying capacity” applied to recreation and concluded that it was “…not an absolute value waiting to be discovered, but rather a range of values which must be related to specific management objectives for a given area.” Bill Burch, of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (as well as a friend of mine), wrote the concept off as being essentially useless in papers that he published during 1981 and 1984 in the journal Leisure Sciences. One of his articles was aptly titled “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Nonetheless, Dan Decker and Ken Purdy, both at Cornell, wrote a paper in 1988 that extended the concept to wildlife management, modifying the term to read “wildlife acceptance capacity.” Various academics have since tried to apply this wildlife-specific concept, resurrecting the moniker of “social carrying capacity.” Ben Peyton of Michigan State University recently related the concept to wolves in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Not surprisingly, he concluded that there were four sub-populations of people typified by differing degrees of tolerance for wolves (from highly tolerant to highly intolerant), and that these levels of tolerance were rooted in basic beliefs about the benefits of wolves as well as concerns about negative impacts. He was not brash enough to construe from this how many wolves might be able to live in the Upper Peninsula. Rather, he noted that there was a wide range of highly fungible ideas about what that number might be.

An Amorphous Concept

To be fair, the concept of “social carrying capacity” gets at something fundamentally important, which is that people hold different perspectives about animals such as grizzly bears, which might translate into different ideas about how many of these animals they want, as well as willingness to encounter them or sustain material harm.

But there are huge problems with trying to package all of this in a concept such as “social carrying capacity,” which implies an ability on the part of wildlife managers to derive an unambiguous estimate of how many animals—say, grizzly bears—can live in an area, and from that arrive at some unimpeachable justification for deciding how many of these animals to kill. But such has been the presumption in virtually every instance where a wildlife manager has deployed the concept of “social carrying capacity.”

Morphous Differences

In fact, people have perspectives that engender different attitudes and expectations, with implications for how wildlife are managed. And these perspectives vary widely in reflection of different world views, different life experiences, and different external circumstances, all of which can be related to demographic proxies such as gender, age, race, place of residence, level of education, type of employment, and so on.

More explicitly, social science research has shown over and over again that white males with less education, living in rural areas, and employed in agriculture have notoriously little tolerance for large carnivores such as grizzly bears. Interestingly, most of these guys are hunters. And, of direct relevance to the drama of Yellowstone’s grizzly bears, these guys dominate wildlife management by holding the purse strings and controlling wildlife commissions. Moreover, they are among the politically best connected of all in the states of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana where we are trying to sustain the few grizzly bears left in the contiguous United States.

Put another way, “people” are not a homogeneous blob when it comes to political power or perspectives about grizzly bears. Nor are there an unambiguous number of grizzlies (or any other wildlife species) that can be sustained given the diversity of these human perspectives. In reality, peoples’ perspectives are way too varied and fungible to be translated into anything like an estimate of “carrying capacity,” including for grizzlies in Yellowstone. Different people want different things, with only inexact notions of how that might translate into size and distribution of a wildlife population–or levels of conflict and rates of encounter.

As important, people can have huge effects on these more concrete outcomes by how they behave and whether they chose to modify their behaviors. For example, whether ranchers in the Upper Green River Basin of Wyoming chose to employ husbandry practices know to substantially reduce conflicts with grizzlies, or whether the US Forest Service chooses to revoke grazing permits for regressive ranchers who don’t make a good faith effort.

Politspeak

So, what the heck is going on with our wildlife managers? More specifically, what’s going on with state and federal managers charged with managing grizzly bears in Yellowstone?

The answer is pretty straight-forward. Grizzly bear managers are using “social carrying capacity” as rhetorical cover for maintaining the status quo. And the status quo is largely about serving political masters (read conservative white male hunters, ranchers, or energy executives) who dominate wildlife commissions and have direct-line access to congressional delegations, state legislatures, and governor’s offices controlled by fellow regressive conservatives.

More correctly, wildlife managers are talking about political carrying capacity configured by their assessment of career prospects and the budgetary or other special interests of the wildlife management agencies they work for. To be fair, agency culture is also a major factor, including a deep-seated prejudice against predators that kill animals that would otherwise generate agency revenues through the sale of licenses to hunt large herbivores—at least according to agency myth.

Lethal Consequences

In Yellowstone, the consequences for grizzlies and those who care about them have been dramatic. The solemn intonation of “social carrying capacity” by wildlife managers has served as justification for drawing lines on maps with profound consequences for the life expectancies of grizzly bear. The current Primary Conservation Areas and Demographic Monitoring Areas for managing grizzly bears delimit the bounds beyond which these bears vaporize into the oblivion of institutionalized intolerance. Importantly, these existential lines do not denote much that is explicitly “social,” but rather much that is regionally political.

Interestingly, the notion of “social carrying capacity” was seized upon by opportunistic agency managers during 2004-2007 to capture rhetoric voiced by “advisory councils” constituted by the governors of Montana and Wyoming during 2002-2003. Notably, these highly politicized “councils,” billed as representing a “wide range of stakeholder interests,” served primarily to set the stage for the 2007 removal of ESA protections for Yellowstone grizzly bears—a move later over-turned by federal courts. This recent history uncannily foreshadows the current widely-publicized move by Montana’s governor to convene yet another “advisory council” that will no doubt intone, yet again, the presumed diktat of “social carrying capacity” as, yet again, presumed imperative to remove ESA protections for grizzly bears throughout the Northern Rockies. Or, more transparently: kill more grizzly bears as a balm to the wounds of ranchers, farmers, and conservative ideologues sustained by already ample federal subsidies.

Betraying the Public Trust

All of this brings me back to where I started. I am aggravated, not just by the betrayal of intellectual integrity implicit to how Yellowstone’s grizzly bear managers are using “social carrying capacity,” but also by the extent to which this usage is clearly part of a propaganda campaign that serves the partisan interests of wildlife management agencies and the politically well-connected few that they serve—not the broader public interest. It is especially egregious that a federal bureau such as the US Fish & Wildlife Service is so fully complicit in this betrayal of the public interest when this agency should be representing the interests of all people in the United States, not just ranchers and hunters in states such as Wyoming.

Social carrying capacity? The term should be relegated to the trash bin of Orwellian Politspeak.

Yellowstone’s Beloved Wolf, Spitfire, Was Killed by a Trophy Hunter

  • by: Care2 Team
  • recipient: U.S. National Park Service
238,957 SUPPORTERS
240,000 GOAL
Spitfire was beloved by many. The young wolf was often spotted at Yellowstone National Park, much to the delight of wolf enthusiasts, biologists, and tourists. 

Sadly, future park-goers will never catch a glimpse of Spitfire. The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks just confirmed that she was cruelly killedby a trophy hunter. What’s even worse is that her murder was completely legal. Spitfire had wandered just outside of the park, where she was no longer protected.

Please sign this petition calling for a no-hunting buffer zone around Yellowstone National Park to protect more animals from being senselessly killed for sport.

Spitfire’s mom met a similar fate six years ago, leaving Spitfire as the new leader of the Lamar Canyon Pack. According to wolf lovers, she “led her pack through a number of very difficult circumstances” and “showed incredible strength, courage and resilience in everything she did.” Now she’s gone, and the Lamar Canyon Pack is yet again without a leader.

It’s not uncommon for animals to roam just beyond national park boundaries — which is why their protection should be extended. Sign now to demand buffer zones around Yellowstone National Park.

Photo credit: Facebook

https://www.thepetitionsite.com/503/335/245/?src=ca_facebook_ads&campaign=sign_503335245-23843335022030015&fbclid=IwAR3M27CiwKI2_Je36dTO7sJ56NnXJqZDAJTMB5XzAGOlgble24oDWUXTRBI

 

Yellowstone traps 23 bison; going to slaughter

MTBison
A bison feeds on a hillside in Yellowstone National Park. Last week, 23 of the animals were trapped and will be sent to slaughter as part of the annual effort to thin the park’s herd.

Yellowstone National Park trapped 23 bison early March 13, taking advantage of a large group that migrated north in search of food.

Yellowstone spokeswoman Linda Veress said in an email that the 23 were part of a group of about 500 bison that moved north of Mammoth Hot Springs. About 300 were spotted near the park’s Stephens Creek Capture Facility, a set of corrals on the west side of the Yellowstone River near Gardiner, Mont., where bison are trapped.

The park ordered an area closure around the capture facility last week, a move that comes each year just before trapping begins.

Shipment to slaughter for the 23 bison will likely come this week, Veress said. Meat from slaughtered bison is distributed to Native American tribes. More complete numbers on bison removals will be posted to the Interagency Bison Management Plan website later this month, Veress said.

The capture of the bison comes as the window for trapping narrows. Park officials typically don’t capture bison beyond March. This year’s relatively late start could have consequences for managers’ attempts to remove between 600 and 900 bison from the population between hunting and shipments to slaughter.

Biologists estimated there were about 4,500 bison in Yellowstone late last summer. The removals are meant to either slightly reduce the population or keep it stable.

Bison migrate out of the park each winter in search of food, which is when they become vulnerable to hunters from seven tribal nations and the state of Montana. The migration is completely dependent on weather forcing the bison out of the park’s interior. Until this month, this winter was one of little bison movement, making things tough on hunters whose seasons ended early in the year.

The migration appeared to begin in the last two weeks. One group of animals crossed into the state last week, where they were met by gunfire. A total of 16 were killed, said Mark Deleray, regional supervisor for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Two died inside the park borders where hunters can’t retrieve them.

Deleray said he is working to gather harvest data from the various Native American tribes who hunt bison on the outskirts of the park, but acknowledged that the numbers are likely low. None of FWP’s 80 regular tags were filled. Deleray said he’s still waiting to hear on the state’s five backcountry tags.

Bison trapping began much earlier last year, with 96 captured over a few days in mid-February. By this time in 2018, the park had already sent more than 300 bison to slaughter.

Park officials are still holding 79 bison in two specialized pens at Stephens Creek for a brucellosis quarantine program. Quarantining bison is meant to provide live animals to enhance other wild herds or establish new ones, and officials and some bison advocates hope it will eventually prove a viable alternative to slaughter.

Trump administration appeals ruling that blocked grizzly bear hunts around Yellowstone

When the ruling came down in October, Wyoming and Idaho were on the cusp of hosting the first, public grizzly bear hunts in the Lower 48 U.S. states since 1991.
Image: Grizzly bear

A grizzly bear cub searches for fallen fruit beneath an apple tree a few miles from the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park in Gardiner, Montana on Sept. 25, 2013.Alan Rogers / The Casper Star-Tribune via AP

By Associated Press

BILLINGS, Mont. — U.S. government attorneys filed notice Friday that they are appealing a court ruling that blocked the first public hunts of grizzly bears in the Northern Rockies in decades.

The appeal challenges a judge’s ruling that restored threatened species protections for more than 700 bears in and around Yellowstone National Park.

Protections for the animals had been removed in 2017. When the ruling from U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen came down in October, Wyoming and Idaho were on the cusp of hosting their first public hunts for grizzly bears in the Lower 48 U.S. states since 1991.

Federal biologists contend Yellowstone-area grizzlies have made a full recovery after a decades-long restoration effort. They want to turn over management of the animals to state wildlife agencies that say hunting is one way to better address rising numbers of bear attacks on livestock.

But wildlife advocates and the Crow Indian Tribe successfully sued to stop the hunts. Their attorneys persuaded Christensen that despite the recovery of bears in Yellowstone, the species remains in peril elsewhere because of continued threats from climate change and habitat loss.

The Yellowstone population has rebounded from just 136 animals when they were granted federal protections in 1975.

Grizzlies in recent years have returned to many areas where they were absent for decades. That has meant more dangerous run-ins with people, such as a Wyoming hunting guide who was killed this fall in a grizzly attack.

Christensen’s ruling marked the second time the government has sought to lift protections for Yellowstone bears only to be reversed in court.

The agency initially declared a successful recovery for the Yellowstone population in 2007. But a federal judge ordered protections to remain while wildlife officials studied whether the decline of a major food source — whitebark pine seeds — could threaten the bears’ survival.

The Fish and Wildlife Service concluded last year it had addressed that and all other threats.

There was speculation the agency would not appeal the latest ruling and instead draft a new proposal to get the animal off the threatened list.

That possibility was raised by the agency’s grizzly bear recovery coordinator during a meeting last month with Wyoming state lawmakers, according to the Powell Tribune.

Friday’s appeal signals that at least for now the court battle over grizzlies will grind on.

But Andrea Santarsiere with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the plaintiffs in the case before Christensen, said the government still has the option in coming months to dismiss the case.

“I think Fish and Wildlife should go back to the drawing board and come up with a new plan to actually recover grizzly bears across the West, rather than a piecemeal approach,” she said.

Also pending before the 9th Circuit are appeals from parties that intervened on behalf of the Fish and Wildlife Service. They include the states of Idaho and Wyoming and groups representing hunting interests, gun rights and agriculture.

Cody Wisniewski with the Mountain States Legal Foundation said that if allowed to stand, Christensen’s ruling could make it harder for other species to be taken off the threatened and endangered species list.

“Opinions like this move the goalposts,” he said.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Jennifer Strickland referred questions about the case to the Department of Justice, which did not provide an on-the-record comment.

Beloved Yellowstone Wolf ‘Spitfire’ Killed By Trophy Hunter

The wild wolf, also known as 926F, died the same way her famous mother did in 2012.

A wild wolf beloved by wolf watchers and biologists who visit Yellowstone National Park has been shot dead by a hunter.

The 7-year-old female wolf, known to scientists as Lamar Canyon Wolf Pack member 926F, had wandered just outside Yellowstone last weekend and was legally killed by a trophy hunter.

Nicknamed “Spitfire” by wolf enthusiasts, the slain she-wolf was the daughter of famous alpha female 824F, who inspired the book American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West.

824F ― best known as “06” (a reference to the year she was born) ― was a tourist favorite at Yellowstone and the leader of the Lamar Canyon pack until she was killed by a hunter in 2012.

926F, also known as "Spitfire," was killed by a hunter last month after wandering just outside Yellowstone National Park.

MARK PERRY VIA GETTY IMAGES
926F, also known as “Spitfire,” was killed by a hunter last month after wandering just outside Yellowstone National Park.

“The 06 Legacy,” a Facebook group for wolf lovers, honored 926F’s life in a Facebook post Wednesday.

“926F showed incredible strength, courage and resilience in everything she did,” the Facebook post says. “She had a special bond with her daughter Little T and they stayed together all these years.”

The post continued: “We had so much to celebrate when we saw five strong and healthy pups this fall. And now it took just one bullet and 926F is gone. Just like her mother 06 and her uncle 754M before her. With current wolf management practices, the tragedy just doesn’t end. … Rest In Peace our beautiful Queen.”

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks confirmed Spitfire was legally killed by a trophy hunter less than five miles from the northeast entrance of Yellowstone.

The beloved wolf’s death has reignited calls for a buffer around Yellowstone, a hunting-free zone, to protect animals who wander beyond the park’s invisible boundary.

“Perhaps Montana should take a closer look at the economics of wolf hunting,” the New York-based Wolf Conservation Center wrote in a blog post Wednesday. “Seems that Yellowstone wolves are worth a lot more alive than dead.”

Famous Yellowstone park wolf shot dead by trophy hunter

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Hunting and killing wolves is legal in Montana

One of Yellowstone National Park’s most popular wolves has been shot dead by a trophy hunter.

Spitfire, also known as Wolf 926F, was killed legally a few miles outside a park entrance in Montana, according to animal rights group Wolves of the Rockies.

The organisation shared the news on its Facebook page on Wednesday.

Spitfire was previously the alpha female leader of the Lamar valley wolfpack.

Spitfire and her pack attracted animal lovers from all over the world (Leo Leckie)

Her mother was also killed by a hunter in 2012 and Spitfire was credited with keeping the pack together after her death.

Both animals were stars in an area described by Yellowstone officials as a “wolf-watching mecca”, which attracts animal lovers from all over the world.

The hunter who killed Spitfire was acting legally according to The Dodoas it is currently hunting season for wolves in MontanaIdaho and Wyoming, the states that Yellowstone covers.

Wolf hunting licences in Montana cost just $19 (£15) for residents and $50 (£39) for others, according to the Wolf Conservation Centre.

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The predators were reintroduced in Yellowstone in 1995 but remain at the centre of a debate in the US between conservationists who argue that the US wolf population needs protection, and hunters and farmers who argue that rising predator numbers are out of control.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/wolf-926f-spitfire-killed-hunter-yellowstone-national-park-lamar-valley-a8660741.html

Yellowstone news: Climate change is DESTROYING national park, experts warn

https://www.express.co.uk/news/science/1049384/yellowstone-volcano-news-climate-change-global-warming

CLIMATE change is DESTROYING Yellowstone National Park and experts say it is a matter of decades before the face of the region is radically changed.

Yellowstone volcano: Super eruption seems LIKELY says scientist

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Yellowstone is not only home to one of the world’s most powerful volcanoes, but is the only remaining place in the United States where large packs of wolves and bison roam freely. However, this will soon change for the snow-covered national park, with experts warning that rising global temperatures will soon put a halt to this. Researchers who have spent years studying the 8800 square kilometres say the next few decades will see decreased snowfall, increased fires, less forest and more grassland.

Since 1948, the average annual temperature of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which is a massive 89,030 square kilometres across the State of Wyoming, has risen by 1.1 degrees Celsius.

With this, scientists say winter has become 10 days shorter on average.

And this steady warming will see Yellowstone National Park drastically change.

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Patrick Gonzalez, a forest and climate change scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, said: “For the Northern Rockies, snowpack has fallen to its lowest level in eight centuries.

yellowstone

Yellowstone news: Climate change is DESTROYING national park, experts warn (Image: GETTY)

bison

Bye-bye bison: Animals are leaving Yellowstone (Image: GETTY)

“By the time my daughter is an old woman, the climate will be as different for her as the last ice age seems to us.”

Recent years have seen a migration of elk away from the park as there is less of a ‘green wave’ – where greenery flourishes during summer.

And where the elk go, the wolves follow, meaning the ecosystem is steadily changing too.

Andrew Hansen of Montana State University said: It is a very interesting mix of land-use change and climate change, possibly leading to quite dramatic shifts in migration and to thousands of elk on private land.”

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Waterways are also receding which will have a huge effect on the landscape of Yellowstone National Park.

Daniel Isaak of the US Forest Service told the New York Times that as waters recede, fish become more concentrated allowing disease to more easily spread, which in turn will contribute to their die off, and those of animals higher up in the food chain.

He added: “We can very definitely see warming trends during the summer and autumn.

“Stream and river flows are declining as snowpack declines.”

Yellowstone hit by global warming, increased visitation: report

PINEDALE, Wyo. (Reuters) – Hotter, drier conditions have led to more severe wildfires in Yellowstone National Park, while growing numbers of visitors have harmed everything from prized hydrothermal features to its famed grizzly bears, the park said in a report on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: A bison walks in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, U.S. on August 10, 2011. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

Average temperatures in Yellowstone, which has been designated as both World Heritage and Biosphere Reserve sites by a United Nations panel, are exceeding historical norms even as climate change is blamed for a string of fires that have increased in size and which last longer, according to the study.

The 60-page “The state of Yellowstone vital signs and select park resources, 2017” report is one of just four compiled in the past decade. They are designed to track one of the largest, nearly intact temperate ecosystems in the world.

Yellowstone is celebrated for geothermal areas that contain about half the world’s active geysers, as well as forests, mountains, meadows, rivers and lakes considered a crucial sanctuary for the largest concentration of diverse wildlife in the Lower 48 states. The report shows it has seen warmer summers with less moisture and shorter winters in recent years.

At Mammoth Hot Springs in the northwest of the park, for example, the average annual daily minimum temperature has increased by 3.9 degrees Fahrenheit from 1941 to 2016 even as total annual precipitation has for the most part been below the long-term mean of 15.3 inches and snowpack has generally declined, scientists found.

Researchers noted an increase in the size of wildfires that impact vegetation and degrade air quality and said the future holds more of the same.

“If climate trends continue along their current trajectory, fires within the park will continue to be larger (and) burn for longer durations,” according to the report.

The millions of visitors who flock to Yellowstone each year from around the globe are behind a trend that includes vandalism to unique thermal features.

The thermal features have been subjected to everything from a drone crashing into one of them to crowds surging onto fragile grounds surrounding the features.

And while the grizzly population in the Yellowstone area is considered stable at roughly 700 bears, humans engaged in such pastimes as driving, hiking, camping and cycling can disrupt bear activities and even contribute to their deaths.

Yellowstone, most of whose 2.2 million acres sit in Wyoming but which also encompasses portions of Idaho and Montana, saw a record 4.2 million visits in 2016 and recorded its second busiest year in history in 2017.

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.”

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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.”

How O-Six became Yellowstone’s ‘most beloved’ wolf

Every hunter that kills a wolf ends a wonderous adventure, says author

CBC Radio · 2 hours ago

<https://i.cbc.ca/1.4760707.1532518854!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/16x9_780/nate-blakeslee-and-book-cover.jpg>

The Wolf author Nate Blakeslee says every hunter that kills a wolf ends a wonderous adventure. (Penguin Random House Canada)

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Listen23:23

Originally aired on November 28, 2017.

Read Story Transcript <http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-november-28-2017-1.4421390/tuesday-november-29-2017-full-episode-transcript-1.4423592#segment2>

When Alberta grey wolves were introduced into Yellowstone National Park in 1995, not everyone who lived around the park howled with delight.

Wolves had been absent from the area since they were killed by hunters in the 1920s.

“Because so much of that land is controlled by the federal government, you see this us versus them, this local control versus intrusive federal bureaucrats — at least that is how it is cast in the West,” says Nate Blakeslee, author of The Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West.

“The ranching industry is so powerful there, the hunting industry is so powerful there, all those state legislatures were largely opposed to reintroduction, even though a number of people there were very excited about it,” Blakeslee tells The Current’s Anna Maria Tremonti.

While wolf experts initially thought the wolves would be pretty invisible to humans, living deep in the park, some of the packs lived in open areas easily watched by nature enthusiasts.

She was such an accomplished hunter.- Nate Blakeslee

And of those wolves, none was more loved or photographed than an alpha female called O-Six, who lived and hunted close to humans.

“She was a grey wolf. She had uncommonly attractive facial markings, sort of this owl-like mask around her eyes,” says Blakeslee.

“She was such an accomplished hunter.”

* Grey wolf wins Canada’s Greatest Animal contest <http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/grey-wolf-calgary-zoo-canada-greatest-animal-contest-1.4123430>
* Using poison to cull wolves in Alberta is inhumane, says animal advocacy group <http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/alberta-wolf-cull-animals-poison-1.4388721>

The wolves of Yellowstone were free to hunt and roam the area safe from hunters until 2012 when they were removed from the endangered species list.

Any wolf that left the safe confines of the park itself became a potential target for hunters.

“‘O-Six sadly did leave the park during that first legal hunting season,” Blakeslee says.

“Who could have foreseen that one of the first wolves to be shot during Wyoming’s first legal hunting seasons in generations would be the park’s most beloved animal?”

What is the value of one wolf’s life?- Nate Blakeslee

After she was shot, the rest of the wolf pack came out of the woods and circled their fallen leader.

And then they began to howl.

“What is the value of one wolf’s life?” Blakeslee asks.

“If every wolf leads this wonderful adventure story as O-Six did, if every wolf’s life is like that, and every wolf killed by a hunter ends such an amazing story, does it force us to reevaluate how we think about those policy goals and does it force us to go back again and take a look at what our values are in that process?”

Listen to the full conversation near the top of this page.

_____

This segment was produced by The Current’s Howard Goldenthal.

https://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/how-o-six-became-yellowstone-s-most-beloved-wolf-1.4421434