10 Reasons We Need WolvesHow wolves fight climate change, and 9 other reasons to protect canis lupus.
Every few months, my friend Brendan disappears into the wilderness to track wolves. The wolves are tagged with radio collars as part of the Yellowstone Wolf Project, which has been observing the animals in their natural environments in an effort to help protect them since 1995. Brendan's work as a volunteer is to follow the wolf packs (from a safe distance) and record their behavioral, social, and predation habits. Sometimes he'll go a day without spotting a wolf, just sitting in sub-freezing snow fields and staring through a scope. Other times, he and his partners will stumble across the juicy meat of the job—a wolf howling atop a boulder, a pack devouring a weakened elk—and the biting, windy wait will all be worth it.
Wolves entered the national limelight this week when Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) slipped a measure into the budget deal to strip gray wolves of their Endangered Species Act protections in most of the Northern Rockies—the first time a species has been removed from the list for political reasons, rather than scientific ones. The lawmakers argue that the bill alleviates stress on big-game herds and helps out ranchers and farmers, whose livestock fall victim to the predators. The bill would lift protections for wolves in five Western states and allow wolf hunting to resume in Montana and Idaho. Environmentalists worry that removing wolves from the ESA list could open the doors to allow other endangered species to be delisted as well.
Whether wolves have a negative impact on the Northern Rockies remains a contentious issue. Here's how Brendan sees it: "Gray wolves and elk have been coexisting for 10,000 years. The problems really stem from people, who are contributing to habitat degradation and forest fire suppression." Studies show that wolves play vital roles in maintaining healthy ecosystems, and could even help stave off some of the effects of climate change. Scroll through the slideshow to find out how. —Maddie Oatman
Thanks to Defenders of Wildlife and Norman A. Bishop for their help with this slideshow.