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In the Nature column: Yellowstone’s struggling wolf population | Columns

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More than 25 years have passed since the reintroduction of gray wolves (Canis lupus) to Yellowstone National Park. In a quarter of a century, the return of the wolves has profoundly changed the ecosystem and the geography of the region. The park’s wolves quickly reduced the explosive numbers of deer, elk and other big game. This reduction in populations of large herbivores allows trees and shrubs to become larger and more resistant to grazing. As vegetation began to grow and mature along the waterways, the course of streams and rivers changed, creating excellent areas for fish, beavers and birds throughout the park . Additionally, the carrion left behind by killed wolves provides food for other animals such as foxes, coyotes, bears, and birds of prey.

In 1926, the last wolf was killed in Yellowstone. For almost 70 years, no wolves were present within the boundaries of the park. Championed by scientists and wildlife enthusiasts, the wolf reintroduction program is a prime example of a successful conservation effort. The Trump administration has removed federal protection for gray wolves in the lower 48 states. With new regulations in the bordering states of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, the gray wolf population in Yellowstone and the continental United States is in decline.

The hunting and trapping of gray wolves in areas around the national park is raising alarm among conservationists. Calls for the federal government to re-list the gray wolf as an endangered species are increasing day by day. Social media is ablaze with calls for the resignation of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Indigenous cabinet secretary in US history.

Recent changes to hunting regulations have resulted in the deaths of at least 20 wolves – 15 in Montana and five in Idaho and Wyoming. It is now legal to hunt and trap any wolf that crosses park boundaries to enter public or private land. Neck-tightening snares, which strangle wolves to death, are now allowed to be used. Wolf baiting, considered an unfair hunting practice in most states, is permitted. Night hunting using high powered searchlights (called brights) in addition to the use of night vision goggles is also legal. New ATV and snowmobile regulations allow hunters to cover large swathes of territory to hunt packs of wolves in the vast wilderness areas surrounding the park.

The main proponents of the new wolf hunting legislation are Montana State Representative Paul Fielder and Montana State Senator Bob Brown. Since 1990, wolf populations have increased from nearly zero to around 2,000 in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Today, there are 94 wolves within the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park.

Until state and federal governments decide to cooperate in conservation efforts, or gray wolves magically learn the arbitrary boundaries of America’s first national park, the future of the wolf and the region’s biodiversity hangs in the balance. danger.

Eliot Roseau, originally from Anderson, owns Park Place Arts, a custom frame shop and art gallery in Anderson. He is one of the founding directors of Heart of the River Coalition. “On Nature” is published on Saturdays.