Point, Counterpoint : Wolf reintroduction in Rocky Mountain National Park

Buckle up folks, a standoff ! Rob Edward of WildEarth Guardians opines on Rocky Mountain National Park’s (RMNP) overabundance of elk, hoping to jump start a conversation about wolf restoration in the wider ecosystem including Colorado – as opposed to guns.  Vaughn Baker, superintendent of RMNP says it won’t work.  Both featured in Sunday’s Denver Post:

Wolf reintroduction: Guns aren’t the answer to culling elk – Rob Edward, Carnivore Recovery Program Director for WildEarth Guardians

Early this year, officials at Rocky Mountain National Park devised a plan to shoot as many as 100 cow elk within the boundaries of the park. They are taking this dramatic step because the park’s elk have grown too numerous and, more importantly, too sedentary. As a result, elk are browsing aspen and willow to the brink of extinction, leaving biologically important streamside areas trashed and impoverished.

Park biologists spent years studying the decline of the park’s wetland plants, and concluded that the elimination of wolves during the early 1900s had allowed the elk population to become so sedentary they could simply browse the plants to the ground. Notably, scientists discovered that the restoration of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in 1995 dramatically improved the health of young aspen and willow trees, pointing the way to an eloquent solution for Rocky’s lazy elk woes.

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Wolf reintroduction: It won’t work here like in YellowstoneVaughn Baker, superintendent of Rocky Mountain National Park.

In an ideal world, Rocky Mountain National Park would contain an intact ecosystem with all its pieces present. However, the park is not a complete ecosystem, and native predators — including wolves and grizzly bears — have long been missing. As a result, the vegetation and other species in the park suffer because of an abundance of elk.

But reintroducing wolves into Rocky Mountain National Park is not the immediate answer.

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11 Responses to “Point, Counterpoint : Wolf reintroduction in Rocky Mountain National Park”

  1. doug Says:

    As a Colorado resident, I was quite disappointed by WildEarth Guardians piece. I think they really missed a huge opportunity to advocate directly about the benefits, beauty,a nd need for wolves, in economic and aesthetic terms. The decision to focus solely on the gun issue was a mistake I think. Quite annoyed that the RMNP super totally passed the buck on introduction. yes, it’s true tons of other entities need to be involved, but they could lead the way. Having said that, he’s right that RMNP is not even close to the best place in CO. for wolves, lots of issues to contend with.

  2. Kestrel Says:

    I didn’t get the sense that they did actually focus “solely on the gun issue”. Rather, it seems that they took a politically sophisticated approach to a complicated topic, and spoke to the need for wolves, the need for the Park Service to be courageous, and the need for our leaders to protect the sanctity of our National Parks. The piece doesn’t appear to be either anti-gun or anti-hunting, just pro-common sense.

  3. Robert Hoskins Says:

    I have to agree with Doug, partially. I think Rob Edward significantly weakened the argument for wolves in Rocky Mountain National Park by turning his piece into a diatribe against guns. Half the piece was anti-gun–that’s how I read it. It certainly wasn’t politically sophisticated–Rob doesn’t like hunters or guns so he had to throw that in. But it didn’t help his argument.

    The sophisticated argument for wolf reintroduction to “manage” elk in RMNP rather than instituting hunter culls is that wolves, unlike hunters, are 24-7-365 and therefore can effect the behaviorial changes in elk that we have seen to be so beneficial in Yellowstone. Hunters won’t be able to do that; they’d just reduce elk numbers over a short period of time without doing anything for the habitat.

    In other words, the sophisticated argument is that wolves are good for watersheds; hunters won’t accomplish anything in the long term.

    In a way, it’s more or less a moot point. As long as Wyoming persists in defending its idiotic dual status law for wolves, thus keeping wolves on the endangered and threatened species list, it’s more likely that we’ll see a breeding pair emigrate from the Greater Yellowstone and cross I-80 to make it to the Colorado Rockies and RMNP. Then RMNP will, whether it wants to or not, have to deal with wolves.

    RH

  4. doug Says:

    Kestrel, Focusing, whether solely, or in part, on the gun issue, is a distraction, and a huge political loser. I work elected government, and this is the one area I feel quite confident asserting my knowledge on. Not sure how you find this approach “sophisticated.” I think it was poorly done and a missed chance, especially since the counterpoint just passed the buck in essence. I think anyone on this blog could advocate for wolves reintroduction to RMNP better than they did. Robert is absolutely right, focus on the ecological positives. AND, the economic benefits. RMNP is a hugely popular park that is actually close to a millions of people. (I grew up 30 minutes from it) I guarantee RMNP would see a huge boost in visitors, thus bumping up the local tourist economy. They should be stressing this aspect.

  5. Ken Cole Says:

    In this instance I think that re-introduction would be the wrong choice, not because I don’t think Colorado needs wolves but because it would likely happen under a 10j rule like it happened up north. If they get there on their own then they receive ESA protection and I think it is likely to happen that way. It would be a mistake repeated to allow for a 10j rule so that it could happen faster and there is no way it would happen otherwise.

  6. Robert Hoskins Says:

    I have expressed the same thought about problems with a 10j reintroduction to Wild Earth Guardians before, but perhaps they are impatient–as we were with Yellowstone. But it’s true that the 10j aspect of the Yellowstone project has caused more than its share of problems, primarily, giving Wildlife Services and the livestock industry a taste of wolf control even when wolves are technically “protected.”

    So as a practical matter for RMNP, a “natural” reintroduction with full ESA protection would be better for wolves than an artificial one under the 10j provision. We’d get the ecological and economic benefits of wolves in Colorado without the spectre of aerial gunning that we’ve seen all too often here in the GYE or in central Idaho.

    Ken, do we have an idea when the lawsuit on the 10j revisions will come before the court?

    RH

  7. Brian Ertz Says:

    2/2/09 a brief in support of the motion for summary judgement was filed. you can read it if you like (pdf).

    there was talk of a press release (mostly by the smaller groups) to bring attention to Idaho’s plan to slaughter under the new rule – but the litigation was initially filed a year ago and the bigger groups didn’t want to bring attention to it — potential ‘backlash’ or some-such rubbish…

    in any event – from what i understand the 10(j) litigation has been taken off the ‘back-burner’ and is gaining some well-deserved attention now.

  8. Robert Hoskins Says:

    Brian

    Until the courts reject (we hope) the 10j revisions, the key to opposing the Lolo wolf control project is to demonstrate how basic habitat changes over the decades have adversely affected the elk herd and how killing wolves will only force elk “released” in the short term up against a wall of insufficient habitat. As it is right now, wolf predation is doing those elk a favor.

    Would WWP have any interest in supporting prescribed fire and/or targeted logging to improve elk habitat in the Lolo? I know some people on this blog are opposed to logging to open up big game habitat, and I can appreciate that opposition for other reasons, but something needs to be done to create habitat for elk to weaken arguments for wolf control. Creating habitat will scientifically undercut the argument for wolf control and lend support to our argument that demand for wolf control is all politics.

    When commenting on the IDFG’s proposal to the FWS for a 10j exemption to kill wolves to recover Lolo elk, it’s fair to demand that the FWS require the IDFG to demonstrate why habitat manipulation won’t help achieve the objective for Lolo elk and why wolf control will. Further, it’s fair to demand that the FWS force IDFG to prove scientifically that wolves are responsible for low elk numbers. Having studied the most scientifically intensive wolf control program in North America, the Yukon Champagne-Aishikik Wolf Control Program in the mid-90s, there’s no doubt in my mind that IDFG hasn’t done the necessary scientific work to “prove” wolves are regulating Lolo elk. Such a claim is arbitrary and capricious.

    RH

  9. JimT Says:

    RH,

    How much area are you talking about when you talk about burns? It gets harder to justify when you look at the recent paper..I think I sent the cite to the list..about the importance of intact forests as carbon sinks. Ultimately, carbon loading will be a bigger issue than elk populations in a management zone regardless of the game of stats on predation influence.

    I am not sure we validate questionable claims about wolf impacts on elk by artificially creating habitat. Let honest, peer reviewed science reports come forth, and then have the debate…if there is one to be had..about wolves and elk.

  10. JimT Says:

    As of today, I have not heard of any decisions on the 10j lawsuit…

  11. Rags Says:

    One thing is for certain: Rob Edward has been an articulate spokesperson for wolves in the Southern Rocky Mountains for well over a decade now. And this piece is no exception. The fact that he chose to address two issues (wolves and guns in national parks) does not diminish the effectiveness of the piece.

    One of the things that wildlife advocates constantly face is the need to present old stories from new angles. The fact that the Bush Administration pushed through a midnight regulation change that suddenly allows guns in National Parks is absolutely a legitimate thing for a wildlife advocate to address. His piece was not anti-gun, although the subject is clearly taboo with a certain sub-set of people. Rather, he rightly pointed out the idiocy of letting people carry loaded firearms into our parks. I guarantee you there will be both wolves and bears killed in Yellowstone as a result of this regulatory change.

    In the end, WildEarth Guardians and Rob are doing solid, good work on behalf of wolves. They’ve never taken an anti-hunting or anti-gun position. They are pro-wolf and pro-common sense. Good on them!!!


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