Yellowstone’s Wolves: 25 Years After Successful Reintroduction They Are a Star Attraction

The first wolf arrives in Yellowstone in 1995 carried by Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt.         Photo:  Jim Peaco, NPS

In January 1995, the National Park Service undertook a project to re-introduce wolves into Yellowstone National Park — wolves had been driven out early in the 20th century — and from the 14 animals who were relocated from Canada into the Park, there are now 14 packs (more than 100) make the Park their home.  But the most surprising thing, according to the Park and local residents, is that the re-introduction has increased tourism and brought a huge economic boost to the area, in addition to the ecological benefits, according to NBC News’ affiliate in Montana.

Why This Matters:  It was hugely controversial at the time, but looking back now, the successful reintroduction of these animals shows, once again, the power of the natural world to regenerate if given the chance. According to the Billings Gazette, the Park’s lead wildlife biologist at the time of re-introduction believes it “the most important wildlife restoration project ever conceived and executed in the United States” and an “historic conservation success.”  It should be a model for other places.  Indeed, Colorado voters will have an initiative on the ballot that if approved would require its state wildlife division to reintroduce wolves by 2023.  If we are to get to 30% of the planet set aside for nature by 2030, we will need to both protect pristine areas and restore others to proper ecological function.  The wolf reintroduction is a rare success story we can build on.  The Trump administration has been moving to de-list the gray wolf from the list of endangered species just as it is starting to make a comeback — too soon according to many scientists.

The Positive Impact of Re-Introduction on Yellowstone

The wolf reintroduction has been better than expected.  As predicted, the population of elk declined substantially in the Park, but that has helped to restore some balance and increased vegetation.  Scientists studying the wolves in the park say the reintroduction has had an overall positive impact on other species, as well as the natural environment because the wolves’ kills also feed other animals.

The biggest opponents were ranchers, but they have “learned to coexist with wolves through preventative programs coupled with livestock reimbursement programs for documented wolf kills.”  But some wolves have been shot by ranchers once they leave the Park.

And the tourism increase was something of a surprise — wildlife enthusiasts wanting to see wolves have added an estimated $5 million annually into the economy of towns near the park and tourism numbers have climbed to new heights in Yellowstone.

The one surviving pack from the 1995 reintroduction is called Mollie’s pack.  It was, according to The Washington Post, originally known as the Crystal Creek pack, but was renamed for Mollie Beattie, a former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a strong advocate for the wolves, who died barely a year after they were brought back to Yellowstone.

To Go Deeper: We highly recommend you read Deby Dixon’s love letter to wolf watching from The Washington Post  or watch this CBS news report on it here.

60 MInutes on Reintroduction of Wolves to Yellowstone National Park

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