Where the Wolves and the Antelope Play

Mar 3, 2008 3:22pm

Removing federal protection for gray wolves in the Rockies would be bad for the wolves…which would be good for coyotes…which would be bad for pronghorn antelope. That’s the thrust of a paper, about to be published in the journal Ecology, by Kim Murray Berger and colleagues.  She’s in the Department of Wildland Resources at Utah State University, and also works for the Wildlife Conservation Society.  She and her husband Joel, along with Eric Gese of Utah State, have been following the populations of large animals in what’s called the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the region that surrounds Yellowstone National Park.
  “This study shows just how complex relationships between predators and their prey can be,” said Berger.  “It’s an important reminder that we often don’t understand ecosystems nearly as well as we think we do, and that our efforts to manipulate them can have unexpected consequences.” The researchers spent three years putting radio collars on more than 100 pronghorn fawns in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming — and conservation groups are interested in getting their work under the public eye now, with the Interior Department’s decision last month to "delist" the gray wolf and remove the federal protection it’s had under the Endangered Species Act.  (We had a previous post, which you can find HERE.) The Interior Department says the wolves have thrived and that’s why federal protection can end.  But many conservationists say the wolf population could crash again if they’re only protected by the — presumably weaker — plans offered by states in the area.  Both Wyoming and Idaho say they want to thin the wolves’ numbers, largely because ranchers complain the wolves threaten them and their livestock. According to the WCS, "healthy wolf packs keep coyote numbers in check, while rarely feeding on pronghorn fawns themselves.  As a result, fawns have higher survival rates when wolves are present in an ecosystem." This is very sensitive stuff in the Rockies, where many local people accuse Washington of meddling in their lives, and environmentalists accuse the Bush Administration of allowing open season on nature. 
(Image of a pronghorn courtesy WCS.)

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