More Wolves Doesn’t Mean Fewer Elk

07 Aug

We think we understand the environment and the complex relationships between species in an ecosystem, but we don’t. We know so little and understand even less about the world around us. And for this reason I believe humans should to try change and control nature as little as possible.

An example of this misunderstanding can be seen in the relationship between wolves and elk in Idaho and Montana. One would probably assume that as the number of predators increase the number of prey will decrease.

Do not get me wrong, this makes sense. Each wolf requires a certain amount of land and food to sustain itself and therefore if there are more wolves then more elk are need to support this population. Then once the number of wolves surpasses what the elk population can support, the wolves will die of starvation. This is a basic principle in ecology.

This model is not holding true in Idaho and Montana. On September 1st Montana and Idaho will be commence their wolf hunting season, now that the Obama administration has removed wolves from the Endangered Species Act. Defenders of Wildlife and other conserationist feel that the quota is too high. Up to 2/3 of the wolf population may be hunted. Hunters support the quota because they believe that the increase in wolves has lead to a noticable decrease in the number of elk. However in the last 25 years elk populations have increased by 5% to 66% in Idaho, Montana, Utah, Washington and Wyoming, according to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Also almost three million acres of land have been conserved by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

To be clear, I am in favor of regulated hunting. I have not researched what an acceptable quota for hunt wolves should be. But I do think this is an excellent example of an instance when the wildlife numbers do not move as we predict.

Much of this information came from a TreeHugger post.

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Posted by on August 7, 2009 in wildlife


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