Since wolves were reintroduced to the American West in 1995-96, research has shown that their presence has helped revitalize and restore ecosystems. They improve habitats, increase populations of birds and fish, and influence the population size, behavior, and migration patterns of their prey. The presence of wolves has a beneficial ripple effect throughout surrounding plant and animal communities, often altering the landscape for the better. Wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone stabilized riverbeds and led to the return of numerous species. It also helped reduce an overabundant elk population and resulted in increased availability of woody plants and vegetation for beavers, bison, and other animals. For this reason, wolves are known as a keystone species whose presence is crucial to maintaining the health, structure, and balance of an ecosystem.
Video credit: Sustainable Human 501(c)(3). (2014, February 13). How Wolves Change Rivers. YouTube.
Yellowstone wolves generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue in and around the park. The increasingly popular ecosystem trend brings visitors to Yellowstone from all over the world, as the park is renowned for being one of the best places in the world to see wild wolves. According to the National Park Service, 4.9 million visitors to Yellowstone National Park in 2021 spent over $630 in communities near the park. That spending supported 8,736 jobs in the local area and had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $834 million. A park visitor survey showed the No. 1 tourist attraction is wildlife, in particular.
Deer, elk, moose and wolf populations have coexisted in the same ecosystem for thousands of years. As apex predators, research shows wolves limit their own populations as they adjust to the availability of suitable habitat and prey, a phenomenon scientists call “self-regulation.” Both Yellowstone National Park and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula are home to wolf populations that have remained protected and stable over the last decade. During that time, the Yellowstone wolf population has hovered around 100 animals; likewise, Michigan's wolf population has remained at 600-700 animals. Both wolf populations stabilized naturally without human interference. As essential apex predators and a critical keystone species in healthy wild ecosystems, wolves do their job extremely well. There is no scientific basis for authorizing state-sanctioned hunting/trapping to manage wolf populations.
With beautiful illustrations, explains how wolves restored the Yellowstone ecosystem. 2020 (ages 9-12)
The story of wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone and how the ecosystem was magically restored. An excellent resource for classrooms studying ecology. 2021 (ages 7-12)
Distinguished biologist and professor, Vucetich has studied wolves for 25 years on Isle Royale National Park. He shares wisdom on the environment along with notes from his time in the field to comment on our responsibility to the natural world. 2021