A Drop of News -  August 1, 2008

"When one tugs at a single thing in nature, one finds it attached to the rest of the world." - John Muir

Northern Rockies Gray Wolf, Yellowstone N.P., May 2008, Alison M. Jones

Wolves Returned
to Endangered Species List

A federal judge reinstated Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection for wolves in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming in response to a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice and 11 other conservation groups. This ruling halts their slaughter, which began when they were de-listed in February 2008. Over 100 wolves have been killed since their removal from the ESA list 5 months ago. The judge stated the wolf had not met federal recovery plan goals before being declared "recovered," and that the state of Wyoming had not committed to maintaining enough wolves to sustain a viable population. As a result, the Wyoming, Montana and Idaho wolf trophy hunting seasons planned for this fall have been cancelled.

This preliminary injunction only holds until a final ruling later this year. A separate decision has been established by the Bush administration that would allow the killing of wolves even when under ESA protection. In opposition are those who believe that predation is necessary to maintaining healthy ecosystems and scientists who are documenting the critical role of wolves in rebuilding greater biodiversity. Management actions to reduce the wolf-livestock conflict include compensation, guidance on carcass disposal, fencing, scare devices and other non-lethal or lethal methods.


The Wolves' Role in Hydrology

Predators play a crucial role in maintaining healthy ecosystems. In May and June, a No Water No Life (NWNL) expedition team was in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem headwaters area of the Mississippi River Basin. The team's research included the implications of the presence or absence of key species in ecosystem conservation and restoration. NWNL's focus was to explore "trophic cascades" (top-down effects) and ultimately riparian functions influenced by wolf (Canis lupus) populations.

The mid 1990's reintroduction of the Northern Rockies gray wolf sent resident elk (Cervus elaphus) back into the cover of deep forests off the rivers for protection. This caused a reduction of decades of heavy "elk browse" on riverine willows (Salix, spp.) and aspen (Populus tremuloides). Documented re-growth has supported beaver (Castor canadensis) populations. The resulting increases along the Yellowstone River of beaver dams, as well as density and cover of deciduous, woody vegetation, are providing more stable stream banks and greater water retention. This contributes to regulation of downstream flows by prolonging the distribution of melting snow pack and storm water. The "trophic cascade" caused by wolves thus appears to help prevent destructive flooding downstream in both the Mississippi and Columbia watersheds.


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