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Researchers propose reintroducing wolves to national parks

February 3, 2010

Gray wolf (Canis lupus) (photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Reintroducing wolves into national parks and other areas would help restore damaged ecosystems and could bring ecological, educational, recreational, scientific, and economic benefits, according to a paper published in the February 2010 issue of BioScience.

Author Daniel S. Licht of the National Park Service and four coauthors propose reintroducing small, managed populations of wolves into national parks and other areas in which they naturally occur. The populations would not be self-sustaining, and could consist of a single pack.

GPS technology could be used to track the animals' locations in real-time. Physical and virtual barriers (fences or an electric collar, for example) and reproductive control are other potential management tools.

Licht proposes "a new paradigm in wolf conservation," and notes that recent research has shown the importance of wolves to ecosystems in which they naturally occur. For example, the presence of wolves usually leads to fewer ungulates, which in turn generally means more plant biomass and biodiversity. Wolves can also increase tourism.

The paper's synopsis:

The absence of top-level predators in many natural areas in North America has resulted in overabundant ungulate populations, cascading negative impacts on plant communities, and the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem processes. Meanwhile, distinct population segments of the gray wolf (Canis lupus) have been removed from the list of endangered and threatened species, implying an end to wolf recovery and reintroductions.

We propose another paradigm for wolf conservation, one that emphasizes ecosystem recovery instead of wolf recovery. Improvements in technology, an enhanced understanding of the ecological role of wolves, lessons from other countries, and changing public attitudes provide a new context and opportunity for wolf conservation and ecosystem restoration. Under this new paradigm, small populations of wolves, even single packs, could be restored to relatively small natural areas for purposes of ecosystem restoration and stewardship. We acknowledge the complications and challenges involved in such an effort, but assert that the benefits could be substantial.

Read the full paper, Using Small Populations of Wolves for Ecosystem Restoration and Stewardship. (PDF)


Thanks for the heads up Alicia, I saved the paper to my drive so I could read it later.

There are both Wolves (canis rufus) and Coyotes in parts of the Southern Appalachians, but I have never saw one while camping.

You're welcome.

I heard and then saw a wolf mother and pup near Jasper, B.C., while staying at Wabasso campground in 2002. I've told this story before, so I'll keep it brief.

It was dusk and we were in our tent at our walk-in site on the Athabasca River. I kept hearing a dog yipping and yapping in the distance and thought it was someone's dog on the other end of the campground or maybe a coyote. I followed the trail along the river headed toward the bathroom when a woman I met asked if I'd seen the wolves.

I walked a little farther with her and sure enough, on the opposite bank, making their way up the river were a mom and her pup, who was the noisy one. It was very cool. I watched them with a few other people for a long while, then reluctantly walked back to the tent to get Dave, so he could see.

Luckily, they were still there as soon as we returned, making their way up the opposite shore, till eventually they went up a rough road where paddlers put-in during the day. It was a remarkably long time we got to watch them.

That is still my favorite wildlife experience.

My friend has a wolf/dog. That animal has a real instinct for survival. It eats everything. Meat, vegitables, it even ate a grapefruit. I respect its non picky stomach.

You can play a wolf online here

I don't see the purpose of planting wolves if they cannot survive on their own. It would create another bill taxpayers cannot afford to pay.


I was on a long solo BP trip in the Sierras, and ya know after a few days you hear voices and such in the white noise. So just after sunset on a sort of cold blustery evening, I was in my tent and I heard what sounded like a woman and a kid hiking into the canyon, which was way rough and without trails, and I was sort of amazed that they (pardon my sort of sexist opinion of the "gentler sex") would be hiking in the semi-darkness alone. Then I heard a pack of coyotes in the next canyon, then I heard the "mom and kid" howl back in answer. It was pretty cool.

Jim S

I've only quickly scanned the paper, but it does have the merit of considering management plans that are at least intended to more closely emulate large-scale natural systems. As a general notion I've no problem with the idea, though the political questions are a tough nut, as always. Some other thoughts:

1. Though the wolf as a species is no longer listed as endangered, it's not "out of the woods" yet. (But wait, that's a good thing, right?) Should it become again listed under ESA, management techniques would almost certainly have to be adjusted within ESA regulations, probably toward the idea of sustainability of wolf populations--a difficult problem in areas where "we" want only a small, highly-managed wolf population.

2. Intensive management of the wolf in tightly circumscribed areas makes these areas by practice and with regards to a new, important precedent even more zoo-like than they already are. Not sure that's the way I'd like to see it done, but if the alternatives are all on the less wild end of things, perhaps it'd be the best we can do.

3. Cost. Compared to lots of stuff the government does, the costs would be chump change, but it'd be good to have a fairly clear idea of where costs would be headed with something like this.

4. Ethical issues of management of a top predator largely as an ecosystem-management-tool. We'd be using the wolves as tools at least as much as we'd be considering their own welfare.

5. Use of the technique as possible precedent for similar activities with other species. Can we know the implications well enough? (Note I did NOT say "completely".)

These are just the "top of my head" bits, so they could be more or less likely/realistic/reasonable/complete.

On balance, at present I can say that I at least like the idea as a stimulus to discussion of more reintroduction efforts of top predators and big, costly mangagement/introduction attempts.

Let's not forget the Wooly Mammoth, that would be cool.

As a naturalist, my take is this:

There are a number of prey species, white-tail deer for instance, that will, in the long-term, benefit from the introduction of previously extirpated predators like wolves. Some of these prey species have become overly prolific and have developed contagious conditions like chronic wasting disease and others. Throughout history, wolves have helped to cull populations of sick animals by way of their "Get the sick first" style of hunting. Without a substantial predator population, there is no natural process to thin out the sick individuals of a particular species and the diseased population increases dramatically.

As a former longterm working resource management person, with decades of experience in real wilderness densely populated by "apex predators" such as Grizzlies and Wolves, I have to say that the above post is incorrect in it's assertions concerning Wolve's hunting methods. This is an "old wive's tale" and Wolves DO NOT specifically prey on ANY group within a given prey population, "sick" or robust.

Other limiting factors, such as CWD, have NOTHING to do with predation and there is no clear correlation between population densities of Cervidae and the incidence of such conditions. HABITAT issues, caused by longterm "high" numbers of Whitetail Deer, more especially MULE Deer and Elk CAN exacerbate certain limiting factors, however, a linear, causative process does not exist.

A species CANNOT become ...overly prolific..., that is a misuse of the term AND, there is some evidence to suggest that, for example, "Odocoileus" DO produce MORE offspring under severe predation, rather, as suggested, the reverse.

The incidence of "disease" is also NOT dependent on the presence of or level of predation by an "apex predator", although the population levels could be affected where both disease and large numbers of predators exist.

The ...natural process to thin out the sick individuals... IS the disease, NOT a predator or even several, such as Black Bears, Wolves and Cougars, all VERY common here.

MANY ...prey species... DO NOT ...benefit... from the presence of Wolves, RM Goats is one example and in many situations, Moose and Elk are others.

I do not mean to be offensive, but, as with dealing with Grizzlies, carrying guns and the "bear spray" issue, there is SO MUCH misinformation on the backpacking forums about wildlife ecology and certain "icon " species, that I want to introduce some more factual info., based on "hands-on" experience, over several decades, with the animals concerned.


I just typed a long-winded rebuttal to some of your statements and cited numerous research papers and long-term studies that agree w/ my some of my comments. However, I don't think the majority of the folks who regularly read and post on the forums want to be force-fed argumentative banter and I deleted it. Instead I'll just agree to disagree with you (not on everything you said, of course) and offer this:

Dewey said:

I do not mean to be offensive, but, as with dealing with Grizzlies, carrying guns and the "bear spray" issue, there is SO MUCH misinformation on the backpacking forums about wildlife ecology and certain "icon " species, that I want to introduce some more factual info., based on "hands-on" experience, over several decades, with the animals concerned.

Offensive? No one with good sense should ever be offended by the truth, as long as there is sufficient research and documentation on a particular subject, or the individual has in fact, "Been there, done that," the truth can not be argued. Opinion and yes, even real-world experience without documentation can, however, be contested.

Misinformation? True, when a forum is open to the general public, there can be some misinformation put out there. This is exactly why we like having members, like yourself, who are experts in various fields, who provide good information from the onset of a topic. May I remind everyone, however, that what may be perceived or even proven as fact by one person may still (and will) also be viewed as opinion or even absolute rubbish by someone else regardless of their experience or education on a particular topic. What's the old saying? "Believe nothing you hear and only half of what you read...?" The only real truth anyone can experience is that which they have experienced first hand.

In the future, in order to provide the greatest service to our fellow forum members, I invite you Dewey, and all others who may be expert in a particular field of work, to offer your expertise on a forum topic in a proactive manner, early on. Doing so will not only help a particular thread get started off on the right foot from the start, but will also prevent corrective posts which may be, by some, viewed as offensive.

I DO NOT EVER refer to myself as an and would not use that term; I am a student of nature and, like you, I prefer the term "naturalist" as it encompasses what I do and have done very well.

However, I am very interested to see the ...research... that you mention that ...agrees... with your comments on wolf predation on ...sick... prey. You are, quite simply, wrong in your suppositions and this is NOT mere ...banter...

Have you ever seen a wild wolf in it's wilderness habitat and watched how they hunt and kill and feed? I have watched wolves in northern BC and northern Alberta, far from any human habitation and lived among them for months on end; I have NEVER seen a wolf or bear deliberately select ANY opportunity for a kill as they kill as they can, when they can and WHATEVER they can....including a range of foods that is simply amazing.

Wolves are opportunistic hunters and DO NOT deliberately "select" their prey in ANY respect and, while less robust individuals WILL be more vulnerable to predation, this does not mean that they hunt as you suggested.

Ask yourself one question, here. It is WHY do we find many wolf kills of mature, healthy Moose, Elk and even Bison, as we do? It is due to the wolves taking the first available opportunity to kill some food and, while age, then habitat issues and then physiological factors such as disease certainly DO bear on the over-all predator-prey relationship, there is NO deliberate "choosing" by the predators....with one very well-known exception.

A gentle reminder to all past and future posters on this topic:

You don’t have to agree with everyone, but you must be civil. On the flip side, just because someone disagrees with you, don’t assume it’s personal. (from community rule #5)

Let's be careful not to cross the civility line.

I think that I will not post further on this topic and let those interested in further information concerning "apex" predators, specifically wolves, discuss it as they see fit.

Fortunately, we have an abundance of wildlife here in Canada, including wolves by the thousands and we have the untouched wilderness for them to live in. Guys, like me, who have spent a lifetime studying and conserving this wilderness and it's denizens intend to see to it, that this endures forever.

One studies toward that end.

I think the presence of predators is part of what makes wild places wild. Wolves in the parks would be awesome, they add a dimension to the woods that people like myself (native Californian) only dream about. Sitting by the campfire hearing a wolf howling in the distance would be quite an experience. They would need however to be managed to avoid the controversy like that of Idaho's Bitterroot Wilderness. I'm no expert but I don't think wolves attack people and any potential dangers would seem minimal. I think it's a great idea. (grizzlies ar another story!)

f klock and Dewey,

I have great admiration and respect for the both of you. What we see in one population of animals can be quite different in a different population. I am thinking of the mountain lions here in Central Oregon vs those in the Sierras. There are very few real "FACTS" just as there is little "TRUTH" especially in animal behavior because the darned animal don't read and don't know how they are supposed to behave.

There are many myths about animal behavior and unfortunately not a great deal of research, more like spot checks. Monogamy amongst animals is an old wives tail that old wives like to believe in because it gives cause to the concept of human monogamy being "Natural" whereas genetic studies show that neither animals nor humans are monogamous, and for good genetic reasons.

The other thing is that as we find two experts rarely agree on more than about half and its not about "facts" its about perception and the Fact that the world we live in governed by chaos, "cause and effect" is an old linear concept no longer given credibility.

We're all here for fun... Please both of you keep trying to inform the rest of us of the things you have observed, and realise that disagreeing is neither disrespectful nor does it negate the value of anything you say. Certainly Bill S and I rarely agree on much, but we both havea great respect for the other guy.

Jim S

I have searched and searched these forums, indeed the entire InterNets, for a Predator Management Plan that properly considers the benefits/risks of re-introducing the Stinking Ape (that would be Us, loincloth and all) directly into the Wild Ecosystems (managed, of course) that we Moderns all enjoy. Alas, I have found nothing useful, other than links to Prepper sites.

It is extremely frustrating.

Otherwise I am in favor of Wolves and Grizzlies and Pica. I didn't make 'em but I like 'em. They appear to be well-suited to their Purpose and bring a certain Balance to Things. It is my understanding (again, very limited and incomplete) that the Pica give the Wolves something to eat and that the Grizzly encourages General Awareness, a necessary condition for those of us who venture into the Wild.

Though I have never seen an RM Sheep (is this the beast that I hear singing "Losing My Religion" on the radio???), I have a few pictures of Goats and Bison and Mackarel and assorted Insects as well and I believe that I can understand (though, again of course, my understanding must be limited to what is possible inside a relatively small and under-utilized cranium) why it is important to be very careful when we select species for our Wilderness Zoo.

I do appreciate the difficulties involved in the application of Science to Nature just as I do understand that Management is a Heavy Responsibility and should never be undertaken Lightly. (I read that in the Harvard Business Review so it must be True.)

Yes indeed, I'm look forward to Learning More About It.

And I expect that the End to Ignorance will be a Liberating Event.



I think you should search on "don't mess with Sasquatch", it gives you a better understanding of the relationship between our species and other bipedal north American species. Perhaps we do have a place in the wilderness, perhaps not.


Yes, Bigfoot. Truth is my father-in-law and a couple of his buddies made the "tracks" out at Blue Slide on the Klamath that started all that nonsense. Now of course there is a statue of the silly beast, welcoming folks as they roll into Willow Creek on their way eastward to Weaverville and beyond. Chainsaw sculpture, actually, and not a very good one, either .

He was a heavy equipment mechanic working for Simonson at the time, WWII veteran, Coast Guard Motorman (one of the guys who drove the landing craft at Normady and elsewhere) and, having been fully engaged in living and dying, took a dim view of non-realists and their chronic gullibility. He used to have the plaster casts hanging in his shop but I don't know what ever happened to 'em.

Yeah. Film at Eleven.

As for doing any more homework, Jim, I'm not so inclined. The way I see it we bipeds need to learn better how to just breathe in the air hanging over the planet, appreciate the other life-forms with whom we share it, and stop trying to "manage" what is essentially unmanageable. "Essentially" is the important word in the sentence. Or perhaps the better expression is "radically unmanageable". Radix, root. Core. The way that it really is. That means you let the Grizzlies and the Wolves roam where they will, unfettered, and you stop playing God.

I recollect God's admonition to Adam to "name the animals" and to be a steward of the Garden which I take to mean "don't burn down the house". There was no mention of "management". The Word was with God and the Word was not "management". The Word was "Wind".

Man devised management, silly creature that he is, and has never fully understood the personal nature, and attendant obligations, of that word.

And that fact becomes clearer every time I set foot in the Garden.

Just sayin'...


As a guide and Naturalist in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I wish to speak to the debate that is occuring regarding top predators. Since the 1980's we have seen an influx of Coyote and potentially coyote/wolf hybrids. Prior to that, GSMNP had an overabundance of deer and very few ground nesting birds. Since the Predator species has moved in, we now have fewer deer and an incredible number of wild turkey and other other ground nesting critters. How does this occur? A top predator is needed to thin out a herd and yes, they will go for the weakest since it is more advantageous to do so. This allows the larger species to breed. By having a predator around, it also encourages the deer to be more on guard and more apt to move around. This allows grasses and plants to come back. The birds than have high grasses in which to nest. Plus, these canines being creatures of habit, tend to spread seeds while creating a path to their dens which in turn allows the grasses to spread.

I worked on the Red Wolf Reintroduction program in the early 90's and was devastated when they pulled the plug. The main reason for the program was to help keep the wild boar population down. In small sections it was working wonders, but locals and others paralized by years of the Big Bad Wolf myth took matters into their own hands. As a result, we lost our beautiful wolfs to less populated areas. The wild boar population grew again. Thankfully, the coyote/wolfs have moved in and are once again taking care of the situation.

And on a personal note. Drake, I am in complete agreement. Playing God has certainly caused incredible damage to our planet.

Welcome Vesna! Hope you enjoy Trailspace!

Eco Warrior, welcome.

While living in Chattanooga TN I did some occasional volunteer work at several animal facilities. One in particular, Lookout Mnt, had a pair of Red Wolves that were according to my understanding, scheduled to be released in NC. That was in the early 90's, and I didn't keep up with the progress at that facility.

...Certainly Bill S and I rarely agree on much,...
Jim S

I disagree with that statement {;=>D

I'm a little confused about this research paper. As Eco Warrior talked about, there was a Red Wolf Reintroduction program in the GSMNP in the '90s. It's my understanding that Gray Wolves were introduced in Yellowstone National Park a few years back. Wasn't there a huge fracas this past hunting season because hunters killed a sizeable portion or so along the borders?

Just seems like it's not a proposal if it is/has already been done.

BTW, I'm originally from Maryville and remember the huge populations of deer. I moved to Chattanooga just a few years ago and went back to Cades Cove in the fall. I saw the huge amounts of Wild Turkey, no deer, and wondered what was going on. I don't remember ever seeing a turkey in the '80s and early '90s. And I was in the Cove quite often during that time. Interesting to hear an explanation on why this has occurred.

As an outdoorsperson I like the idea of wolves in the wild. As an occasional hunter, it is completely the opposite. Game animals have enough pressure from predators like yotes, racoons and fox. Not to mention the damage to and competion for resources from hogs. Ask a rancher what he thinks of wolves (and burrowing rodents too). Lets get the hog population under control first.

I don't swallow the small population, I live in Wyoming and many of us feel the wolves put in Yellowstone were forced upon us. The population is now huge, at least 2000, they are not confined too Yellowstone by any stretch of the imagination. They have moved well into Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, and may even be in Colorado. This was not a reentroduction, there were still native wolves around when these wolves were brought in. the Canadian implants have much longer legs than the natives wolves, which give them a huge advantage over the native ungulate population (deer elk), in winter.

I do not understand the romance with them. For those who think they are wonderful little animals, who only eat the weak and sick, try convincing the rancher in Montana where two wolves killed 120 sheep in one night, ripping there stomachs out and leaving them to die. They must have been really hungery.

Check this sight out where they've documented wolf "sport killings." click on the 'slide show' link

Again I don't understand the romance, but if you think they're so wonderful, come out here and get some and take them home, we have between 2000 to 4000 of them.

Fish and Game Commissioner:
Wolves Hurt Elk Numbers! Friday, February 5, 2010
By John Bugler, Idaho State Jorunal POCATELLO — The Idaho Fish and Game commissioner for the Southeast Region said Idaho’s burgeoning wolf population has adversely affected elk numbers and impacted revenue received from out-of-state hunters.
Pocatellan Randy Budge, speaking at the Rotary club Thursday, walked the crowd through the history of wolf reintroduction in the Northern Rockies and related data regarding predation, some of which brought gasps from the audience.
Budge noted the initial goals of reintroduction were 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves in Idaho. Wolf populations have grown at 20-25 percent a year and now number approximately 85 packs, with 1,000 wolves, which he indicated to be a conservative estimate.
“Wolves have been very productive,” Budge said.
The 2009 delisting of wolves in Montana and Idaho under the Endangered Species Act allowed the states to open hunting, but Budge said the current numbers culled by hunters and federal controls are unlikely to keep wolf numbers in check. And Budge said the numbers are creating a problem for other animals the state is obliged to protect, preserve and manage.
“From a wildlife perspective, there’s no question that this growing wolf population has had a devastating impact on our elk populations and our moose populations,” he said. “Our scientists’ and biologists’ studies on all these collared packs indicate that each wolf eats an average of 16 elk per year, so if you do the math and are being conservative, our 1,000 wolves are eating 16,000 elk per year.”
He said 295 sheep, 76 cattle and 14 dogs were also confirmed to have been killed by wolves in 2009.
Budge said the state’s biggest and historically most stable elk herd in the Lolo Pass area has gone from 11,000-13,000 elk to under 2,000 since wolves began to inhabit the area.
“Put wolves into the equation, it tipped the balance,” he said.
This impact resonates beyond Idaho’s borders, according to Budge.
“Our out-of-state hunting numbers were down 25 percent in 2008, 31 percent in 2009,” he said.
Fish and Game polled previous visitors to the state to find out if the economy was the culprit or if it was some other reason.
“The No. 1 reason listed for not coming to Idaho was, ‘You haven’t taken care of your wolves and your wild animal populations are down,’” Budge recounted, “and the No. 2 reason was, ‘Your license fees are unfair.”
The second problem stemmed from a license fee increase by the 2009 Legislature that affected only out-of-state licenses. The plan to increase revenue actually resulted in a decrease in revenue, he said.
Looking to the future, Budge said current litigation regarding wolves may ultimately be disheartening for those hoping to retain state management rights.
“I think there’s a pretty good chance we’re going to see a ruling in the next few months that may find further flaws with the delisting, and we may be turning it back over to the federal government,” he said. “My fear is if the plaintiffs succeed in getting the wolves back on the Endangered Species list, we’re going to see a relatively high level of intolerance from Idaho sportsmen who will then begin to ignore the law and have a ‘hunting season’ anyway, just an illegal one rather than a legal one.”
In closing, Budge said the recovery of wolves “should have been hailed as one of the greatest success stories that ever existed under the Endangered Species Act, but instead we’re mired with controversy and conflict and a lot of stress and strife over who has responsibility and control, the state or the federal government.”

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