If experts have any input, gray wolves could be receiving a major habitat improvement.
According to a report published in BioScience, August 9, a group of scientists from the United States proposed that a substantial amount of federal land be set aside as a sanctuary for gray-wolf and other animals like beavers.
“Gray wolves and beavers are currently at low risk of extinction,” stated Christopher Wolf, coauthor of the report, who is a postdoctoral scholar in Oregon State University’s College of Forestry.
The ecosystem’s keystone species are those animals that depend heavily on them for their overall health.
Federal action could create protections that allow graywolf populations to rebound. This could have significant ecological benefits.
William Ripple (respected professor of ecology at Oregon State University’s College of Forestry), said that keeping these grazers under control would help in the regrowth of trees and plants like aspen, which have been negatively affected due to the decline in biodiversity.
Wolf stated that the proposed area would cover approximately 191,500 sq miles (4966,000 km) in 11 Western states. This is roughly 16% of the state’s total land mass.
According to the report, Yellowstone National Park, Northern and Southern Rockies, as well as the Mogollon Plateau are some of the protected areas.
He said that 47% of the US’ Western region is owned by the federal government. This would mean that the West would contain 34% of the federal land. Wolf said that Wolves need a lot of territory in order to survive.
Arizona, California and Oregon are the 11 states.
Since the 1970s, gray wolves have been protected by federal law. Ripple stated that the Endangered Species Act protects endangered species.
He said that wildlife conservationists credit this act with saving species such as the bald eagles from extinction.
Some people have resisted the government’s decision to prioritise predator management programs in order to reduce predation.
Ripple stated that gray wolves were generally protected in the US as of February 2022 under the act, with the exception of wolves in Northern Rocky Mountains.
Wolf stated that the beaver and gray wolf populations are stable at present, but have been greatly diminished by historical mass killings.
Why is it important for gray wolves and beavers to repopulate their populations?
According to Robert Lee Beschta (professor emeritus at Oregon State University’s department of forest ecosystems, society), most gray wolves died in the 1900s when ranchers invaded their habitats.
He said that the wolves were a danger to ranch animals and so they were frequently killed. According to the US Fish & Wildlife Service, gray wolves are federally protected and hunting them is now illegal. According to the US Fish & Wildlife Service, gray wolves in Northern Rocky Mountains are still protected by federal law and can be hunted according to state laws.
The fur trade saw beavers being heavily hunted by trappers in the 1800s. However, the species made a return in the early 1900s, Wolf stated.
He said that despite the recovery, beavers remain absent from many streams they probably once inhabited.
Why is it so important to save the wolf and beaver population?
Ripple stated that gray wolves are considered apex predators. This means they are at top of their food chain.
He said that wolves will no longer prey on ungulates if they are removed completely from an ecosystem.
Beschta stated that this can result in ungulates being overgrazed, which could lead to a decrease in biodiversity and the stop of some plants and trees growing.
According to the report, Beavers play an important role in ecosystems. They also act as engineers and build dams. This has many benefits for the environment.
According to the report, the structures built by beavers enhance fish habitat, water flow during droughts, improve water quality and habitat for many other animals.
Ripple stated that beavers have created wetlands and ponds which can serve as natural firebreaks in the event of wildfire.
Reduced grazing permits
The researchers recommended that the West’s federal land be restricted from grazing. Ranchers can apply for grazing permits from the federal government to permit their herds to graze certain public lands.
Wolf stated that livestock are associated with the loss of many species of native plants and animals due to trampling and grazing.
According to the report, researchers suggested that the federal government buyout ranchers in an effort to encourage them to leave.
Beschta stated that ranchers can use the money in any way they like, such as to retire or purchase private land to sustain their livelihood.
The US Bureau of Land Management is the federal agency responsible for federal lands and issuing permits for grazing. It has not yet commented on this proposal.
Next steps in protection
Ripple stated that the researchers have not yet met with federal officials to discuss their proposal.
Beschta stated that it would be a large financial investment. However, he hopes that the government will accept their recommendations due to the immense ecological benefits.
Wolf stated that there are many agencies and groups of people that would be required to coordinate the execution.
He stated that the American people’s wishes and the wishes of various stakeholders (including local communities, livestock ranchers and hunters) will ultimately determine whether or not they move forward with the recommendations.