Researchers propose reintroducing wolves to national parks
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)