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Reintroduction of Wolves to Yellowstone National Park: Good or Bad?

Wolves have always been a scapegoat to human beings since as far as we can remember, remember the story of the boy who cried wolf? As such they have always been hunted by us and seen to be a menace. However, in recent years this view has begun changing. As such wolf reintroduction schemes have begun in many places, one such place is Yellowstone National park in Wyoming.

The wolves in Yellowstone National Park were no different. In 1926 the last of the wolves there were killed by the army and the removal of the top predator in the area had obviously effected the ecosystem. However, in 1995 an initiative by the American government finally came into play: wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park.

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As such, there were changes to the ecosystem; differing societal views; and economic factors in hand. However, there are two major changes here: firstly, the effects after the reintroduction of the wolves; and, secondly, the effects of the extinction of the wolves in the area. Therefore, I wish to explore the changes that occurred and reach a conclusion on whether the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park was worth doing or not.

Effects on the Ecosystem in Yellowstone: The wolves were the major and most giant predator in Yellowstone. After their extinction, elk levels began to rise as there was no significant threat to them, coyotes attempted to take the position of the wolves, but they were not nearly as effective; this was due to their smaller size. [3] The increase in elk had therefore lead to a decrease in new vegetation. With little to nothing to fear, Elk began to stay around open planes and riversides as they did not need to seek cover in thick vegetation. This inhibited the growth of new trees. [4]

However, the reintroduction of wolves has been predicted and is now proven to be a regulator to elk levels; however, they also allow elk to sustain [1]. For example, “15 North American wolf experts predicted that 100 wolves in Yellowstone would reduce the elk by less than 20%” – National Park Service, Yellowstone Elk [1]. This is also a very reputable source as it is a government corporation with no reason to lie. In addition, the link to experts suggests that serious research has gone into this. Further, into the article, it is found that similar predictions have been found by computer modelling.

This is a handy tool in biology as it allows us to predict future events, and it has proven to be accurate, especially in this circumstance. For example, has written an article based on population surveys talking about the decrease of elk levels after reaching a peak in 1992, three years before the reintroduction; however, they have also said that this is not entirely due to the wolves and speak of this decline as a bad thing [7].

In addition, the reintroduction of wolves has become a form of natural selection as the wolves prey upon the weaker, more feeble in a herd. I.e. they would attack the weakest group, allowing the stronger animals to reproduce, resulting in a more substantial population as a whole as the stronger animals pass on their more robust genes. [2] Without the wolves present, this form of natural selection will not be present. Yellowstone biologist Doug Smith says, “We’ve got a leaner, meaner elk herd.” [7]

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The absence of the wolves has resulted in their giant prey feasting on the newly growing vegetation and trees. The reintroduction of wolves will result in benefits for the landscape as it will give the young, newly growing trees a chance to grow to full height. This is especially important for the tree aspen. Ecologists William Ripple and Robert Beschta of Oregon State University have researched into this via an in-situ experimental study and found the possible reason was that the favoured prey of the grey wolves (the elk) liked eating aspen seedlings. And so, a new population was unable to grow.

They found this out by looking at the tree rings of annual growth, allowing them to age the trees. They found that new aspen trees had stopped being productive during the first half of the 20th century. After some more research, they had reached the above conclusion. [8]. Also, another affected plant was willows, and the reintroduction of wolves had been a betterment to the willows, which resulted in more food for beavers. Also, they use the willows to build their dams and lodges, which may be the reason for the increase of the beaver population in Yellowstone. [8] This is gone extensively in the documentary In The Valley of The Wolves, Reintroduction of the Wolves by PBS.

The benefits of using an in-situ experiment in biological terms are very clear and straightforward. There may be factors affecting a species in a specific area that is not affecting the same species in another area; therefore, doing an in-situ experiment makes your conclusions more accurate. In addition, in this circumstance, it is necessary to do an in-situ experiment. An ex-situ experiment will be wholly inappropriate and will make the conclusions almost definitely inaccurate.

Overall, it is clear that wolves benefit the ecosystem at Yellowstone National Park as they are only better and increase the biodiversity in the area and do not lead to extinction in the area. Also, this was the natural ecosystem in Yellowstone, and it was by the interference of humans that this natural balance was shifted. So the reintroduction is, in essence, humans undoing their original mistake.

Effects on Society/Economic Factors. The ranch owners in Wyoming, the home of Yellowstone, were firmly against the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone. They felt they were vicious creatures that only killed their cattle and were seen as a significant threat to their business. This is statistically inaccurate. Due to this strong opposition, which is now going on in another world area, werewolf reintroduction is being tried; like in New Mexico, the wolf reintroduction programme looks long to happen. [8]

In 1987 Defenders of Wildlife introduced the “wolf compensation fund” that eased ranch owners and lifted some of the burden caused by wolves to be eased. They used donations to pay ranch owners the amount of money their cattle would sell for based on the average cost of the animal in that year. A final reintroduction plan came together in 1994, after two decades of dispute (the original wolf reintroduction team was put together by the government in 1974). In Montana 2003, wolves killed 500 sheep whilst coyotes killed 11,800. [8] This suggests that the greatest threat for cattle is NOT wolves and they were in actual fact just been made a scapegoat once more.

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Effects on Yellowstone Park. The reintroduction of wolves, as priory mentioned, has benefitted the ecosystem at Yellowstone. The effects on vegetation mean that new trees are growing, resulting in better landscaping. And the increase in populations in certain animals means there is a greater amount of biodiversity. Yellowstone business has boomed. The wolves are an attraction for the park and as they are a betterment to the ecosystem there and their return had resulted in the return of other organisms this has increased business for Yellowstone. “In Yellowstone National Park, recreational visitation has grown by more than 25% in the last 14 years” [6]

14 years ago was roughly around the time the wolves were reintroduced, this suggests that the reintroduction of the wolves has increased business for Yellowstone. This may however be indirect as the article from the above quote, had talked about how bison are a huge attraction in Yellowstone as well as its natural wonders, like geysers. This increase in business for Yellowstone is of huge benefit also to the people of Wyoming as it means an increase in business for local businesses.

In addition, it means that the running of Yellowstone is more likely to continue, not that it was ever likely to close. Also, money is made by the government through tourism as Yellowstone is bringing in tourists from different countries. Therefore, the wolves are an indirect benefit to the society and area of Wyoming and are of little detriment in comparison to other predators to ranch owners.

Hunting Seasons. Hunting is, without doubt, the greatest threat to wolves, past and present. Due to the consistent killing of wolves, the wolves became extinct in Yellowstone in the first place. The below table was tallied by Adolph Murie, a wildlife biologist, in his report Fauna Series No. 4—Fauna of the National Parks of the United States-Ecology of the Coyote in the Yellowstone National Park. From the Superintendent’s Annual Report for:

  • Year
  • Number killed
  • 1915
  • Several
  • 1916
  • 14
  • 1917
  • 4
  • 1918
  • 36
  • 1919
  • 6
  • 1920
  • 28
  • 1921
  • 12
  • 1922
  • 24
  • 1923
  • 8
  • 1924–1935

Therefore, the above table poses a question that must be addressed: was it worth bringing the wolves back? The wolves had without a doubt added significant value to Yellowstone in any way; however, if they are to be hunted to the realm of extinction again, then this voids the entire point of the reintroduction, and the fact of the matter is, though hunting is prohibited within the park, wolves are still being hunted in Wyoming. For example, an alpha she-wolf was found to be shot dead. In addition, eight wolves that were fitted with GPS collars were all found dead. [5]

On a side note, GPS collars are a handy tool in monitoring the behaviour of a species as it allows scientists to track where they go and therefore learn about the behaviour. In addition to this, it allows scientists to keep tabs on a specific animal to see how certain factors in the wild may affect it; this is particularly useful for animals that had been held in captivity throughout their lives.

  • Annual Status of Wolves in Yellowstone (As of December) [9]
  • Year
  • Total Number of Packs
  • Total Number of Wolves
  • Number of Pups Surviving
  • 19953
  • 21
  • 9
  • 1996
  • 9
  • 51
  • 14
  • 1997
  • 9
  • 86
  • 49
  • 1998
  • 11
  • 112
  • 36
  • 1999
  • 11
  • 118
  • 38
  • 2000
  • 8
  • 119
  • 55-60
  • 2001
  • 10
  • 132
  • 43
  • 2002
  • 14
  • 148
  • 58
  • 2003
  • 13–14
  • 174
  • 59
  • 2004
  • 16
  • 171
  • 59
  • 2005
  • 13
  • 118
  • 22
  • 2006
  • 13
  • 136
  • 60
  • 2007
  • 11
  • 171
  • 64
  • 2008
  • 12
  • 124
  • 22
  • 2009
  • 14
  • 96
  • 23
  • 2010
  • 11
  • 97
  • 38
  • 2011
  • 10
  • 98
  • 34
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Due to hunting, primarily, it is clear that there is now a negative correlation between the number of packs and a total number of wolves in Yellowstone. However, as the number of pups that can survive is ever fluctuating, this suggests that the wolves can still survive. In addition, the fact that wolves can not be shot inside the park means that the packs within the park will still flourish, so the land within the park would have the strongest of packs as these lands would be the lands that the wolves would want most.

This means that the wolf species within the National Park itself will, in a worst-case scenario, still be able to survive and not only will they survive, but they will be the strongest of the wolves in the area while the wolves outside the park will die out. However, this still allows the benefits to the ecosystem within Yellowstone to benefit. Therefore, this suggests that the wolves were, without doubt, a viable investment by the government and the reintroduction was of benefit.

Conclusion. To conclude, the wolves of Yellowstone were without a doubt worth it, and their reintroduction had resulted in a host of benefits. Benefits like the more robust broader ecosystem at Yellowstone, the increase in visitors to Yellowstone, to name a few. Without a doubt, the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park is a perfect thing and was most certainly worth it.


  • [1] Author: National Park Service Name: Yellowstone Elk Source: No date given
  • (2) Authors: Mech L.D., D.W. Smith, K. M. Murphy, and D. R. MacNulty. Name Winter severity and wolf predation on a formerly wolf-free elk herd Source: Journal of Wildlife Management, 65:998-1003. Date: 2001
  • (3) Authors: Berger, K.M. and E.M. Gese. Title: Does interference competition with wolves limit the distribution and abundance of coyotes? Source: Journal of Animal Ecology 76:1075-1085. Date: 2007
  • (4) Authors: Ripple, W.J. and R.L. Betcha. Title: Linking wolves to willows via risk-sensitive foraging by ungulates in the northern Yellowstone ecosystem Source: Forest ecology and management 230(1-3):96-106. Date: 2006.
  • [5] Authors: Matt Williams Title: Yellowstone’s famous alpha female wolf shot dead by hunters outside park Source: The Guardian Date: Sunday December 9 2012 Link to Web Version:


  • [6] Author: National Park Service Name: Impacts on Recreation Source: No date given
  • [7] Author: Name: ELK POPULATION DECREASING Source: Date: MARCH 28, 2012
  • [8] Author: Barton Melissa (Journal of Young Investigators) Name: Restoration or Destruction: The Controversy over Wolf Reintroduction Source: Date: September 2005
  • [9] Author National Park Service Name: Yellowstone Wolf Project Annual Reports Title: Date: Varying Years (1996 – 2011) at December

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Reintroduction of Wolves to Yellowstone National Park: Good or Bad?. (2021, Sep 24). Retrieved June 24, 2022, from