Return of the Wolf: the reappearance of wolves in North America

By Marion Fernandez
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 In traditional fairy tales, we hear many stories about wolves preying on the innocent, from little girls wandering in the woods to pigs trying to keep their houses upright. These stories all share one thing in common: the wolf is the bad guy. But in reality, wolves have been hunted to near extinction across both North America and Europe, not only because of the fears that these stories played on but because the wolves would feast upon livestock, causing ranchers and farmers distress. In turn, the predator wolf became a human enemy and was nearly eradicated.

Since the realization that wolves are needed to maintain the health of food chains across the two continents, steps have been taken by various governments in order to prevent further destruction of wolf populations and encourage the populations of remaining wolves to grow. These efforts do seem to be having effects in many areas.

The history of Wolf in North American 

Wolves

Historically, the gray wolf existed all across North America, from the most northern areas of Canada, down to the southern areas of the United States. In the southern areas, it was the red wolf who thrived, which is much smaller than the more dominant gray wolf. Naturally, wolves hunt in packs and can take down large animals, including moose, elk, and deer, though they will hunt smaller animals they come across or when other game is scarce.

Wolves used to help keep big game animal populations in check but had a huge decline in population due to the large amount of hunting, which included shooting, poisoning, and trapping. As a result, the wolf population declined to the point where they were considered endangered.

The Wolves are Back

In the 1990s, conservation efforts began to help keep the wolf populations thriving and ensure the survival of the gray wolf. The efforts proved most effective in Minnesota, where they have managed to thrive the most. The concern with the recurrence of the wolf population is whether they would harm humans or other animals. Normally, wolves will not hunt humans directly, but children could be perceived as a potential meal and be threatened. Regardless, the concern has arisen.

A more costly concern regarding the growth of the wolf population is that cattle have become targets for their hunting. As wolves hunt in packs for larger game, cattle become an easy target that would feed an entire pack. Wolves could devastate a herd of cows, costing the owners a lot of money, while taking meat that could have been found elsewhere. The instances where livestock have been damaged have been few, indicating that the wolves have been able to find appropriate food elsewhere.

The Food Chain

Wolves

The biggest pro to having the wolf population bounce back is that they can help manage the populations of big game animals. In most states, you cannot hunt freely for big game animals, but wolves, of course, follow no such regulations. As a result, they could control oversized deer or elk populations, keeping them at a sustainable rate. If the big game animals’ populations get out of control, vegetation would be devastated, therefore affecting other animals and plant life.

Since the wolves were a natural part of the food chain throughout North America, bringing them back should enhance the natural ecosystem and restore a better balance regarding predators, prey, and vegetation. If pieces are missing from the food chain, other areas are compromised, putting themselves also at a risk of endangerment. At this time, the gray wolf has been removed from the endangered species list, marking a huge improvement in the recovery of the wolf population. A great example of how much wolves impact our environment would be to look at the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park and the changes that followed thereafter.

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