Wolves may have different effect on ecology of western Colorado than in Yellowstone | AspenTimes.com

Wolves may have different effect on ecology of western Colorado than in Yellowstone

I’m surprised to learn western Colorado ecosystems are in such a deteriorated stage and out of ecological balance. It also was enlightening to learn wolves are critical to restoring healthy ecosystems. The science that documents the ecologically restorative effect of wolves is specific to Yellowstone National Park: an ecosystem in which elk populations were far above the habitat capacity. In the early 1960s the park service determined the carrying capacity for elk in Yellowstone Park was 5,000. At that time the elk population was 10,000. In the mid 1960s park service employees killed just less than 5,000 elk to bring the elk numbers in line with what the habitat could support. Over time, without periodic reductions, the elk population grew to 18-20,000. At those levels ecological damage did occur in the park. And yes, introducing the wolves reduced the elk numbers to levels that allowed abused ecosystems to recover. In 2013 the park elk population was nearly 3,800. In addition, moose numbers in the park are significantly below pre-wolf levels. Due to depressed elk and moose populations, wolf numbers in the park have declined, allowing elk populations to increase. In January, 2018, the elk population was estimated at just over 7,000.

I doubt that much of western Colorado, from an ecosystem point of view, (i.e. elk populations four to five times beyond habitat capacity) is much like Yellowstone Park. The ramifications of introducing wolves in western Colorado will be much different than Yellowstone Park.

Mike Schlegel

Grangeville, ID


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