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Jacob Fackrell Dr. Ryan Long WLF 448 11 April 2018 Research Paper Draft 2 According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (2016), the gray wolf (Canis lupus) historically occupied nearly all of the North American continent. By the 1960’s, it had been extirpated entirely from the United States, except for in Alaska and north Minnesota. This extirpation was systematic and largely complete, and it stemmed from a deep-seated human fear and hatred
  Jacob Fackrell Dr. Ryan Long WLF 448 11 April 2018 Research Paper Draft 2 According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (2016), the gray wolf ( Canis lupus ) historically occupied nearly all of the North American continent. By the 1960’s, it had been extirpated entirely from the United States, except for in Alaska and north Minnesota. This extirpation was systematic and largely complete, and it stemmed from a deep-seated human fear and hatred of wolves. More practically, it was caused by competition; wolves and other  predators interfere with human agriculture and settlement, so it makes sense for humans to attempt to remove their competitors as they pushed further into the frontier. The extirpation of wolves was a result of efforts coordinated by the federal government and ranchers, with the intention of removing the perceived threat to livestock. Bounties of $20 to $50 per wolf killed were offered as recently as 1965. Wolves were killed in any way possible with no restrictions; one of the most devastating of the methods used was the poisoning of carrion, which wolves and many other animals consumed. In 1973, the gray wolf was listed under the Endangered Species Act, which marked a shift in the federal government’s official attitude towards wolves. Instead of actively persecuting wolves, the government began to actively protect them (FWS 2016). This change was accompanied by a shift in public attitude toward wolves. While many people still feel that their livelihoods are threatened by the presence of wolves, the opposing side that supports wolves has grown since the 70’s. The growing support for wolves resulted in reintroduction and conservation efforts throughout the United States.    During the 1990’s, the gray wolf population in the United States grew through both reintroduction and natural dispersal. The primary and most successful reintroduction effort took  place in 1995 and 1996, when wolves captured in Canada were released in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. Wolves also spread naturally from Canada into Montana in the Glacier  National Park area (Bangs et al. 2005). Other wolf reintroduction efforts in the United States have not experienced as much success. Red wolf ( Canis rufus ) and Mexican gray wolf ( Canis lupus baileyi ) reintroduction programs have seen limited success that cannot yet compare to the  Northern Rockies reintroduction of gray wolves, though with time they may prove more successful (FWS 2016, 2018). The Northern Rockies population, primarily focused in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, grew from a natural remnant of 10 wolves in 1987 to about 660 in 2003 (Bangs et al. 2005) and about 1,700 in 2016 (FWS 2016). With the reintroductions in Yellowstone and central Idaho in 1995 and 1996, these were considered experimental populations, which allowed for greater flexibility in management decisions and methods. Less than two decades later, the Idaho  population was considered successful enough to delist and hand control over to Idaho Fish and Game. More recently, the entire Northern Rocky Mountains population has been delisted and transferred to state control. The Fish and Wildlife Service points to this reintroduction as a great success, saying that the population is self-sustaining and expanding further into other western states (FWS 2017). Though reintroduction has been largely successful, it is still plagued by controversy. The reasons that wolves were srcinally extirpated are still relevant, and many people feel that wolves have no place in a world dominated by humans. Others feel that humans have no right to impede the expansion of wolves. Surveys from 2000 showed that about 60% of people  supported the restoration of wolf populations. Older and more rural people had lower opinions of wolves, while more educated and wealthy people had higher opinions. Somewhat surprisingly, hunters had a higher opinion of wolves than the general population (Williams, Ericsson and Heberlein 2002). The researchers behind these surveys predicted that the general  population’s increased exposure to wolves following their recovery in the  United States would result in more negative opinions of wolves. This was based on observations from Sweden, where expansion of wolf populations and territories resulted in lower opinions of wolves (Williams, Ericsson and Heberlein 2002). Another study (Meadows et al. 2005) regarding peoples’ attitudes towards wolf reintroduction in the southern Rocky Mountains found polarized results. This study found that a majority of people supported the idea of wolf reintroduction. This support ranged across most demographic groups, except for ranchers, the majority of whom were opposed to reintroduction (Meadow et al. 2005). The most interesting part of this study was that when people were given  persuasive arguments either for or against wolf reintroduction, the majority did not change their  position. Instead of changing positions, more information on the subject caused people to develop stronger opinions, more extreme versions of the position they already held (Meadow et al. 2005). This demonstrates how volatile and controversial the topic of wolf reintroduction and conservation can be. While peoples’ opinions on wolves certainly matter for reintroduction efforts, scien tific evidence is independent of public opinion. Oftentimes, hard data and public opinion are completely disconnected, but hard data should be more important for management decisions. While it is true that management cannot occur in a vacuum, the public has a tendency to ignore or be unaware of scientific evidence. Even if the public refuses to listen to hard data, managers  cannot. Though wolves have already been reintroduced to the Northern Rockies and are currently thriving, management must continue and more decisions must always be made. Hopefully, these decisions will be based on sound science rather than opinions. The primary scientific argument in favor of wolves is that they are integral to the ecological health of the ecosystems in which they were historically present. As a large predator, they fill an important role that has widespread effects on all other levels of the ecosystem (Beschta and Ripple 2009). These effects have been observed and studied extensively in Yellowstone National Park. By reintroducing wolves after their 70-year absence from the park, a trophic cascade was initiated. Some of the first evidence of a trophic cascade was found in 2003, about 8 years after wolves were initially reintroduced (Ripple and Beschta 2003). Evidence that woody riparian plants were growing more successfully in high predation risk areas for elk than in low risk areas indicated that the recovering wolf population may have been reducing the  browsing intensity on these plant communities (Ripple and Beschta 2003). These findings  prompted further study, which provided further evidence of a trophic cascade occurring in Yellowstone. A more extensive study by Ripple and Beschta (2012) found clear relationships between the wolf population and many other populations of both plants and animals in Yellowstone. The  basic mechanism works like this: more wolves in the park means elk experience more predation, which decreases browsing intensity, especially in areas with high predation risk. The decrease in  browsing intensity allows for higher recruitment in plant populations (specifically aspen, cottonwood, and willow), so over time there are more of these plants and they are able to grow larger. This increase in certain plant species’ biomass and density is beneficial to other species that are associated with these plants, resulting in increases in populations like beavers or fish.
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