Tag Archives: endangered

Try to Peep These Rare Flowers this Spring

As the old childhood rhyme goes, “April showers bring May flowers,” and luckily it’s almost time for those spring flowers to finally start blooming. Nothing makes spring feel sprung quite like a field of gorgeous wildflowers or budding tree branches. Ah, the pollen; ah, the allergies; ah, it’s spring at long last! As you’re sure to be gallivanting around the countryside now that the warm weather is here (we know we can’t be alone in this desire), keep an eye out for some of these rare flowers.

Ghost Orchid

Ghost orchids.

These “spooky” flowers kind of look like they’re dancing around, right? [Image: http://www.technicianonline.com/]

This spidery flower can be found in Cuba as well as in Florida, as it can only be cultivated in climates that support its growth. This is part of what makes the flower so hard to come by. You’ll be sure to recognize a ghost orchid from other flowers as it doesn’t produce any leaves and has a distinct soap-like smell. Ghost orchids only bloom for three weeks between April and August, so keep your eyes peeled if you happen to visit Cuba or Florida in those months!

Corpse Flower

Corpse flower.

Possibly the prettiest corpse you’ll see. [Image: http://www.wpr.org/]

Discovered in 1878 in Sumatra, this amazing flower can be found scattered around the United States, as it has been cultivated in various areas (most notably in the Huntington Botanical Garden in California). This unique flower gets its name from its startling smell, which many have described as the “scent of the dead.” Aside from being the stinkiest flower in the world, it’s also the largest, measuring up to six feet tall in blooming season. Corpse flowers tend to bloom once every 30 to 40 years, so mark your calendars way in the future so you don’t miss out on this marvel!

Jade Vine

Jade vine.

What a garden to walk through! [Image: http://www.excelsagardens.com/]

Native to tropical rainforests in the Philippines, this woody vine is sure to catch your attention if you happen to come across it. The vines that hang from the hooked flowers can grow up to three meters long! Unfortunately this gorgeous plant is an endangered species as its habitat and natural pollinators continue to get destroyed.

Koki’o

Koki'o.

Everything about this flower looks like it belongs in Hawaii. [Image: http://kulamanufarm.com/]

There’s a dramatic story behind this flower, but luckily it ends on a pretty positive note. This Hawaiian flower is incredibly rare and was discovered in 1860 when only three specimens could be found. It was nearly impossible to cultivate in other areas, and in 1950 the last seedling died and it was rendered extinct—that is, until a surviving flower was found in 1970. Which, unfortunately, met its end in a fire in 1978. But alas! As promised, this whirlwind of a tale does have a happy ending! One of the branches on the last remaining tree eaten up in the fire was saved, and it was grafted into 23 trees, all of which exist still today. These implanted seedlings can be seen in various spots of Hawaii—you’ll be sure to recognize them for their astonishing bright red flowers.

Whether you’re intentionally seeking out one of these beauties or you have the rare honor of stumbling across (and hopefully not on) one, you’re sure to be dazzled by their excellence. Make sure you bring our Pocket Ranger® apps with you to make your journeys more enjoyable and full of more of nature’s beauty.

Wildlife Extinction and Endangerment

Since the rise of the Industrial Revolution, human advancements have been catapulted to undeniable heights. Renewable energy, dams, bridges, sky rises, and housing created and now dot the skyline. But with the rise of these developments came continuing damage to multiple wildlife ecosystems, causing wildlife extinction and endangerment. Many areas that were previously home to various wildlife were manipulated, condensed, or in certain circumstances even completely eliminated in order to accommodate the needs of the human population.

By the turn of the 21st century, thousands of animals have gone extinct and even more entered the status of critically endangered as identified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Poaching and requisitions for believed, though often unfounded, medicinal effects or even just for internal decoration and clothing have caused an alarming degradation of these animals’ numbers, with some even going completely extinct. Below are a few of these animals that experienced a problematic decline.

Baiji Dolphin

baiji dolphin

A male baiji dolphin typically was around 7.5 feet long and 8.2 feet for females, with a record length of 8.1 feet. They had a bottle-nosed, slightly upturned beak and a bottle-shaped body.[Image: http://mnn.com/]

The baiji dolphin was native to the Yangtze River in China. It is currently declared extinct, with the last verified sighting reported way back in 2004. There was evidently a supposed sighting of a lone baiji back in 2007, but with no other sightings since and with no other known baiji in the area, it is said to not have any possible way of maintaining its population. Their extinction was due to massive pollution in the Yangtze River and the building of dams and land reclamation that illuminated their niche. The further industrialization of China has made the baiji a popular hunting target as its skin and eyes hold a high monetary value as well. Although hunting was not the most significant factor in the extinction of the baiji and it was instead caused by massive human industrial expansion, a lack of of knowledge and timely conservation ultimately led to the demise and extinction of the species.

Western Black Rhinoceros

western black rhino

A western black rhino weighed as much as 1.5 tons in its prime. It primarily resided in Africa and was a kind, social animal. [Image: http://i.imgur.com/]

The western black rhinoceros was native to Africa and was rich in population up until around the 20th century when hunting for their horns became more common. Their decline was such that their numbers deteriorated to just 10 within a century, and just a year after that sharp decline, only five were left before their complete demise in 2004. The major cause of the western black rhino’s extinction was poaching and hunting for their horns. Some cultures held the belief that their horns contained medicinal attributes, and with a lack of conservation efforts and the demand of the horn and skin from the rhinos in the black market, they were hunted extensively to extinction.

As of now, other rhinos are also facing a critical endangered status, and preservation efforts are currently underway to keep them from following in the tracks of the western black rhino. Unfortunately, preserving them is proving to be difficult due to a lack of sufficient conservation efforts in place. Hopefully with more awareness, these ancient creatures can be saved and left to peacefully roam in the lands where they have thrived for millions of years.

Tiger

tigers

Tigers are probably one of the most elegant creatures in the wild, its white, gold, and black stripes a staple of the animal. Part of the charismatic megafauna, it is commonly the face of conservation advocacies. [Image: http://spiritanimals.wikia.com/]

While tigers are generally prohibited from being hunted and are well protected by conservationists, they are still subject to poaching, their continuously dwindling numbers a testament to this. Like rhinos, tigers are also subject to being sold in the black market as medicine, ornaments, and aphrodisiacs. While conservation efforts are strict, there is still a large case of tiger poaching and selling them within the black market.

Sumatran Elephant

sumatran elephant

Sumatran Elephants are social, gentle mammals. They have an average length of five to nine feet and can grow up to 20 feet and weigh approximately five tons. [Image: http://www.berdiri.org/]

Another critically endangered species is the Sumatran elephant. The decline in their numbers is primarily caused by poaching for their ivory tusks as well as an immense loss of habitat due to agricultural efforts. Found in the Riau province in Sumatra, Indonesia, these elephants once roamed the island widely before poaching led to their sharp and continuous population regression; they lost 50 percent of their population in just 22 years due to poaching. In certain local places in Sumatra, they are now locally extinct where they once were widespread. A combination of these factors continues to threaten their existence even today.

These animals are only a few examples of those that were badly affected by the illegal poaching and industrialization efforts of mankind. It is important to be aware of the proper rules and regulations toward wildlife in order to continue the preservation methods currently in place. Head on over to our Rules & Regulations sections in our Pocket Ranger® mobile apps to help you stay informed of the proper do’s and don’ts. With combined preservation efforts, we can still assist in keeping these beautiful creatures safe and sound.

Endangered Species: An In-Depth Look at Elephants

Elephants mean different things to various cultures, ranging from being seen as simply a gorgeous animal that lives in your country to a revered god-like symbol to a token of good luck. Unfortunately they are also often idolized for their thick, leathery hides and gorgeous ivory tusks, which has led them to be listed as an endangered species.

Differences between Asian and African elephants.

The difference between Asian and African elephants. [Image: http://www.thomsonsafaris.com/]

African elephants are the largest mammals walking the Earth today, growing up to 11-feet tall, between 19 and 24 feet long, and weighing usually around six tons. There are two types of African elephants, the Savanna (bush) elephant and the forest elephant. Savanna elephants are the larger of the two and have tusks that curve outward, while forest elephants are smaller, darker, and have straighter tusks that point downward. Asian elephants, on the other hand, are very different from African elephants. They are noticeably smaller and their ears don’t fan out at the bottom like an African elephant. And while all African elephants, male or female, have tusks, only some male Asian elephants do.

Elephants are social creatures, living in herds made up of mostly females and calves while the males opt for isolation, usually leaving the herd at around 13 years old. The calves live with their mothers for a large portion of their early lives and are cared for by many of the other females in their herd. The females have the longest gestation period of any animal, lasting 22 months from conception. Throughout those 22 months, other females help the laboring mothers up until birth, acting as midwives to ensure that the entire process goes smoothly. Calves weigh about 230 pounds when they’re born, and the females don’t usually have more than four babies.

Adult elephants with a baby.

“Hey, I want to hug, too!” [Image: http://www.buzzfeed.com/]

They’re also incredibly sensitive animals. They have been known to express grief and sometimes cry, like in this heartbreaking video of a baby elephant crying after being rejected by its mother; show compassion, such as having a “greeting ceremony” for elephants they haven’t seen in awhile where they’ll “hug” by intertwining their trunks; and they also mourn the loss of fellow herd members. It’s true what they say—elephants have excellent memories, which is apparent in their varying emotional responses.

Elephants mourning.

When elephants come across the remains of a herd member, they’ll feel the crevices of each bone. [Image: http://scalar.usc.edu/works/]

These large creatures are also very resourceful. Although they’re the only mammal that can’t jump, they’re fantastic swimmers and can move swiftly and quietly, despite their enormity, due to soft pads protecting the bottoms of their feet. Their bodies have natural cooling methods as well, and they can sustain hot temperatures due to the many blood vessels coursing through their ears. On top of all this, elephants also use their tusks for many things, such as digging for water, finding food, defense, and lifting items. Similar to how humans are often left-or right-handed, elephants prefer using one tusk over the other.

Aside from utilizing their physical features in everyday life, both on a conscious and subconscious level, they’re also quite connected to their environment through the use of their senses. Their eyesight isn’t very strong, but their other senses make up for that. They have hearing capabilities that go far beyond a human’s limitations, opening them up to spatial experiences that we can’t quite begin to process. And they don’t just hear from their ears—elephants are able to pick up on sub-sonic sounds through their feet and can be found “listening” by pressing their trunks to the ground and positioning their feet in a certain way. Their trunks are also very fascinating and useful beyond its physical potentiality. Made up of more than 40,000 muscles, trunks can help elephants smell better, especially when waved from side to side, and can also help the creatures sense the size, shape, and temperature of an object.

Elephants hugging trunks.

Now don’t you wish you could get a hug from an elephant? [Image: https://www.pinterest.com/]

Although elephants don’t have any natural predators (aside from lions that sometimes prey on the weak or young), humans have led this amazing creature to become endangered. Asian elephants have been listed as endangered since 1975 and African elephants since 1989. Much of their population decline comes from poaching to support illegal ivory trading. Ivory trading was made illegal in 1989 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), but there is still an unregulated market demanding it. Additionally, loss of habitat is also negatively affecting elephant populations. As humans expand further into their environments and practices like commercial logging continue, elephants end up on the losing side of the battle for more space.

Elephants.

Such a happy little family. [Image: https://iso.500px.com/]

Maintaining the areas that we visit and leaving the wildlife alone are the best ways we can help elephants and many other endangered species continue to thrive. Often we’ll see others partaking in experiences with these amazing creatures, such as viewing them in contained settings or riding on them—this is not the capacity that they were meant for, however, and we should do our best to let them live naturally. Wildlife viewing is an enjoyable part of any outdoor experience, and you can partake in it by using our Pocket Ranger® mobile apps to explore parks that have diverse wildlife populations. And remember: The best approach when interacting with wildlife is to look and not touch.

Fighting for the Greater Sage-Grouse

Greater Sage-Grouse.

Image: http://www.wyofile.com/

On September 22nd, it was decided that the greater sage-grouse will not be protected under the Endangered Species Act. This news comes as a delight to ranchers, big industry leaders, and some conservationists while other environmentalists think this decision isn’t doing all it can for the sage-grouse.

These birds call eleven Western sagebrushes (the Sagebrush Sea, approximately 165 million acres) their home and are not keen to human development. They depend on the sagebrush for food, especially in the winter, and conservation of the sage-grouse would benefit many other species that also rely on the sagebrush for survival. Watching their unique mating ritual is a treat for visitors as well, one that shows the sage-grouse strutting and fanning their tail feathers about theatrically.

Greater sage-grouse doing mating dance.

A greater sage-grouse showing off his feathers and dancing in an attempt to woe some females. [Image: http://naturemappingfoundation.org/]

As development continues out West, the greater sage-grouse suffer and have been steadily declining for decades. In 2010, their populations were low enough that they should have been protected under the Endangered Species Act, however, the federal government claimed to have other priorities that led to it not being added. Some environmental groups believe this was done out of economic pressure from the oil, gas, mining, and agriculture industries.

The greater sage-grouse avoided being added to the list again due to heavily managed land-use plans by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, which ensure that public and private land will be protected and improved with the greater sage-grouse in mind. Again, however, there is a split on opinions with this ruling. Some environmental groups are saying that the ruling isn’t strict enough while big industries affected by these limitations are saying they’re too harsh. In the end, these big companies face less constricting restraints than what they would have had to endure if the bird had been listed as endangered.

Greater sage-grouse mid-flight.

Image: http://www.natgeocreative.com/

In the meantime, both sides are threatening litigation to either reduce the limitations or have the sage-grouse be protected under the Endangered Species Act. The sage-grouse’s eligibility for being listed as an endangered species will be reevaluated in five years, in which time its population will hopefully start to grow regardless of what happens in court.

Wildlife at risk: Prothonotary Warbler

Why is the Prothonotary Warbler considered rare? It seems every time someone utters the magic word, Prothonotary (pro-THON-eh-Ter-ee), everyone goes a little bird crazy. The Prothonotary Warbler is a life bird for many birders; some have seen it only once or twice in their lifetime. Warblers in general are hard to spot, and have been known to cause serious next strains due to their minute size. The Prothonotary Warbler is no different, measuring at 14 cm, it’s especially hard to distinguish among branches and leaves. But more so, these warblers are threatened by habitat destruction, declining food resources, weather variations, and parasitic species. This warbler is listed as endangered in Canada. An estimated 2,000 pairs live in South Carolina’s protected, Francis Beidler Forest.

Prothonotary Warbler in Prospect Park, New York.

This Prothonotary Warbler was taking a stroll around Prospect Park, NY in April. Image Credit: Marc Brawer

See my colors

Among a sea of green leaves, the Prothonotary Warbler’s deep yellow head and underparts stands out. The prothonotary has greenish upperparts, and unmarked bluish-gray wings, white belly and undertail. This helps distinguish it from other yellow warblers. Adults females and immature birds are of a similar shade but with a duller composition. Plumage stays the same throughout the year. If you hear a series of high-pitched tweet-tweet-tweet, sharp and loud, you’ve found it!

Where I call home?

The Prothonotary Warbler is a bird of the southern woodland swamps with a high concentration along the floodplain forests of Lower Wisconsin, Mississippi, and the St. Croix rivers (common to abundant). In the summer they range from southern New Jersey to north-central Florida, west to east-central Texas to southern Michigan. It’s also a visitor of the Appalachian Mountains, sparingly distributed in the northern parts of the states. Their winter range extends from Southern Mexico to Venezuela, and sometimes the warbler plays the role of the island bird in Puerto Rico and Bermuda.

This species breeds in moist bottomland forests either permanently or seasonally flooded with standing water such as sloughs, oxbow ponds and slow-moving backwaters. It tends to find safety above flooder water, which has less risk of nest predations by raccoons— their main nest predator. To defend their territories the tiny male warblers snap their bills and chase away intruders. Males keep watch while the female builds the nest and lays eggs—what a gentleman! To flourish these birds must find breeding habitats in overstay trees with the right kind of cavities for nesting. Typically low cavities such as old Downy Woodpecker holes. Some of the trees they flock to include the swamp white oak, silver maple, green ash and river birch, among others.

 

Why I’m considered rare?

The Prothonotary was included in the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List, due to its vulnerable nature and niche habitat. Prothonotaries are prone to suffer from unpredictable ecological changes. For example loss of wetland habitats affects both breeding and wintering grounds. Logging practices are specially harmful to these warblers, since it removes cavity trees. Also some plants like the Reed canary grass, which can dominate the ground layer, impede new trees from growing, thereby turning the bottomland hardwoods unsuitable for Prothonotaries to survive. They also face parasitism from Brown-headed Cowbird, who are known to abandon offsprings in foreign nests. This behavior ruins the warbler’s chance at hatching success, further increasing nestling mortality. In southern Illinois parasitism rates are as high as 50 percent for Prothonotaries.

Climate change is causing a decline in soil moisture, reducing the growth of bottomland hardwood forests, and in turn decreasing available habitat for the birds.  Frequent summer storms and flood events also have a negative impact; they destroy low nests, as it occurred in the Wisconsin River in recent years. Extreme droughts dry backwater sloughs and ponds essential for the warbler’s survival against predators. The overall population is projected to dwindle as the southern part of its main range suffers.

 

Help a bird out

Now that you know about the wildlife at risk: Prothonotary Warbler, plan out some simple ways you can help out this species. During winter, prothonotaries live in mangrove forests; if you have one near you, be sure they’re kept healthy. One sure way to lure these sweet, yellow warblers is by offering a safe habitat for nesting in your backyard. They typically thrive in nesting huts and nest boxes, and are especially drawn to living near water, such a large garden pools, ponds, and marsh. Their favorite trees include willow oak, sweet gum, black gum, bald cypress, tupelo, elms, and river birch. Offer them fresh fruits like apples, oranges, and bananas to keep them around. As everyone knows with warblers, one minute you see them, and the next they’re gone!

Wolves of North America

The world of wolves is often daunting. Yet they’re not so foreign after all when looking in the eyes of our pet dog. Some confuse coyotes and wolves for the same species, or think gray wolves are the only wolves around. Even more deceptive is their ever decreasing population as a consequence of human expansion. Are wolves really out there? As it turns out wolves are no longer as abundant, making it harder to study and find them. Within the U.S. there are only 9,000 wolves, though still growing in numbers, in comparison to Canada’s 52,000 to 60,000. Thanks to recovery efforts, wolves are making a slow comeback and are no longer on the brink of extinction in the U.S. However, they continue to be listed as endangered.

Wolves are social animals, who hunt in packs, usually of 5 to 11 individuals, consisting of a mated pair and their offspring. Wolves are characterized by their unique howl, body language, scent markings, territorial tactics, and hunting abilities. Wolves belong in the Canid family, along with 35 other species; eight of these live in North America, including the gray wolf, red wolf, red fox, gray fox, kit fox, arctic fox, swift fox and the coyote.

Image: http://intra.burltwpsch.org

Image: www.intra.burltwpsch.org

The gray wolf (canis lupus) has the largest range among wolves.  But there is debate over the exact number of gray wolf subspecies, due to interbreeding with coyotes. Some studies point to four to six subspecies in North America while others studies say 15 – 20. Names can vary by region, so its best to take note of their scientific names. The most common subspecies in the U.S. include Arctic wolf, Great Plains wolf, Mexican wolf, and Eastern wolf. Red wolves are considered another species, also rare in the states. If you’re curious about the wolves of North America and their livelihood, see the species below.

Map of gray wolf subspecies distribution.

Image: www.wiki.soulsrpg.com

Arctic Wolf (Canis lupus arctos)

5c023467092eaa947e759b9d823d38b0

Image: www.beforeitsnews.com

This furry white wolf is not a fan of human contact and has generally avoided persecution. It leads an almost comfortable life, except for the great enemy known as climate change. Extreme weather variations kill off their main food source, muskox and arctic hares, causing Arctic wolves to starve. And industrial expansion such as mines, roads, pipelines, continues to deteriorate the wolf’s habitat. The Arctic wolf can withstand frigid air temperatures of around -30°C (-22° F) and can even walk on frozen ground, which is rare among most mammals. They are smaller than gray wolves with smaller ears, a shorter muzzle and legs. They either live alone or in packs of six wolves and are usually all white with thick, insulating coats.

Great Plains Wolf (Canis lupus nubilus)

Image: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/511158626431438068/

Image: www.pinterest.com

Also called the Buffalo wolf or Dusky wolf, the Great Plains wolf was once known to have the largest range in North America, however, by the 1930s they were all but wiped out. Some survived through the 1960s in northeastern Minnesota, along the Ontario border. In 2009, it was estimated that 2,922 wolves still lived in Minnesota, 580 in Michigan, and 626 in Wisconsin. Usually light-colored, varying in gray, black and reddish hues, the Great Plains wolf can weigh up to 100-150 pounds. It hunts white-tailed deer, moose, beaver, snowshoe hare, and smaller birds and mammals. These wolves keep smaller packs of five or six individuals, but have been known to congregate in larger packs.

Eastern Wolf (Canis lycaon)

Eastern wolf in captivity.

Eastern wolf in captivity. [Image: www.redorbit.com]

Also known as the Eastern Timber wolf, this medium-sized species has a reddish-brown hue and is between the size of a coyote and a gray wolf. It typical hunts white-tailed deer, but occasionally hunts moose or beaver. Its numbers have depleted due to 400 years of hunting by humans, which have reduced available mates and forced Eastern wolves to breed with coyotes. The gene mixing among coyotes and gray wolves has weakened the gene of pure Eastern wolves in the U.S. And since these hybrids are too small in size, they don’t pose enough danger for moose and deer. In Algonquin Provincial Park (Canada) pure Eastern wolves are said to be year-round residents. Though here have been reports of coyote sightings in the area, experts say it’s uncommon, since wolves will kill off any trespasser, and it is difficult for coyotes to survive in completely forested areas.

Mexican Gray Wolf (Canis lupus baileyi)

Image: http://www.defendersblog.org

Captive Mexican gray wolf. [Image: www.defendersblog.org]

Often called “el lobo” (the wolf), this subspecies is one of the smallest, weighing 50 to 85 pounds; about the size of a German shepherd. Its long legs and sleek body allow it to run fast; add to that a superb sense of smell, hearing and vision. They usually hunt elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, and javelina. They are clever at scavenging for dead elk, deer, cattle carcasses and hunter gut piles during hunting season. They prefer mountain forest, grasslands, and scrublands. Packs only consist of an adult alpha pair, a yearling or two, and pups from that breeding season. They exhibit social togetherness, for example, adults are patient with growing pups, feeding them meat brought back from kills. Once existing across central and southwestern U.S., el lobo was almost wiped out by the 1970s. Breeding them in captivity and reintroduction into Arizona in 1998 (Apache National Forest) has allowed their numbers rise. About 300 are in captivity and 83 in the wild. Mexican wolves are also being reintroduced in Mexico.

Red Wolf (Canis rufus)

Image: www.pinterest.com/pin/369787819373585004/

Image: www.pinterest.com

Known as the Texas red wolf or the Common red wolf, this species is unique to North America. Their social and predatory tactics are the same as gray wolves. Red wolves have slender and longer heads, coarser and shorter fur than the gray wolf. They are larger, more robust with longer legs and larger ears than the coyote. The red wolf measures 15 to 16 inches shoulder height, 55 to 65 inches in length (nose to end of tail), weighing from 40 to 90 pounds. Its fur is mostly brown with blended colors ranging from cinnamon red to almost black. Two other red wolf subspecies are considered extinct: the Florida Black wolf (Canis lupus floridanus) and Gregory’s wolf (Canis lupus gregoryi). The Red wolf was nearly wiped out by the mid-1900s due to predator control programs, habitat destruction and extreme hybridization with coyotes. They survived in small numbers along the Gulf Coast of western Louisiana and eastern Texas. Of these survivors 14 were taken to a zoo then released in later years into North Carolina’s Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and later in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

To see where all these furry wolves live, download our Pocket Ranger® Guide for Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife Apps. And if you spot a cool wolf, share it on our social media sites, like our Pocket Ranger® or Trophy Case Instagram accounts.

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

A long time ago, wolves scared us. Countless myths, fairytales, and legends about big bad wolves in deep dark forests stand as proof. But wolves are closer to us than we think: once upon a time, man’s best friend was a wolf. Now that gray wolf populations are growing in several western U.S. states, they’re about to get even closer.

Image: www.thewildlifenews.com

Wolves making their way back from the brink of extinction [Image: www.thewildlifenews.com]

As keystone predators, wolves are essential to maintaining the population dynamics of an ecosystem. An interesting thing happened after wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone: the beaver, having been absent from the park for nearly a century, suddenly returned. Why? Without wolves, fearless and overabundant elk began to congregate in the low valleys where they quickly consumed all the young willow and aspen shoots—a beaver’s main food source. Once the wolf re-established itself and stabilized the elk population, willow and aspen came back to the valley floors and with it came the beaver. The red fox also made a comeback due to a reduction in coyote numbers.

A Yellowstone wolf where wolf watching has become a tourist attraction [www.mensjournal.com]

A Yellowstone wolf where wolf-watching has become a major tourist attraction [Image: www.mensjournal.com]

Stories like the one above point to the irony that, while we make the wolf out to be a ruthless killer, the wolf is essential to maintaining a diverse ecosystem. However, despite their moderate success and proven benefit to ecosystems, wolf populations are still very low with an estimated 7,000 in the lower 48 states. Another hurdle to the wolf’s expansion is their purported role in livestock depredation. According to a 2011 USDA report, wolves were responsible for less than a percent (.2%) of all cattle depredations (in 2011 dogs killed more cattle than wolves). That’s hardly big or bad.

Wolves have wide paws to  help navigate heavy snow [Image: commons.wikimedia.org]

Wolves have wide paws to help navigate heavy snow [Image: commons.wikimedia.org]

According to the map below, there is suitable wolf habitat throughout the west and all along the northern corridors of New England. Will the wolf ever find its way there? It all depends on whether or not we want them there.

Gray wolf habitat [Image: www.biologicaldiversity.org]

Gray wolf habitat [Image: www.biologicaldiversity.org]

The reality is that the presence of wolves drastically benefits our natural resources. In terms of wildlife management, wolves strengthen elk and deer herds by culling the old and sick (thereby slowing the spread of ungulate diseases). If what we want in our state and national parks is to experience the natural world on its own terms, then surely the wolf should be part of that experience. Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf? Not us.