Homes for Wolves and Bears Alike

Now, you may be thinking that grizzly bears are dangerous and shouldn’t be allowed to return to such a densely populated state. Surely the government won’t agree to this. However, it may be surprising to know that gray wolves, another apex predator, are ever present in populated communities in America and Canada. In fact, gray wolves have had very successful reintroductions and reappearances in both Yellowstone National Park and Northern California in the past several decades, making me even more confident that reintroduction of bears would have huge success along with undebatable benefits.


After being exterminated from the greater Yellowstone are in the early 1900’s, gray wolves were reintroduced to the nation’s first national park in 1995. Since then, staggering effects have been observed.Although gray wolves used to extend over two-thirds of the United States, today their population is limited to several states. Biologists began brainstorming ideas about wolf reintroduction and soon after the first set of wolves were brought in from Canada. Efforts were made to allow the wolves to feel at home in the park, including the planting of elk carcasses by scientists.

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Grey wolf howling; courtesy of www.yellowstonepark.com

The wolves stayed and made a home, and are now thriving in Yellowstone National Park as they did before their extirpation. Similar circumstances in Northern California, including more than enough allotted habitat, and scientists and organizations to monitor grizzly bears, create a potentially successful reintroduction for the bears, as Yellowstone created for the wolves.

The ecological benefits are very apparent as well. With the wolves mitigating the elk population, river bank plants and trees have begun to grow back, creating homes for beavers, otters and songbirds, food for bears, and hiding places for small mammals such as rabbits and mice.The biological diversity of the river ecosystem has bloomed, with many species of fish returning to successful living.

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Wolves in Yellowstone National Park chase after an elk in deep snow. Photo by Dan Stahler of NPS

The quality of the water has greatly improved as well. The magnificent animals attract millions of visitors a year, bringing in lots of revenue for the National Park Service to continue maintaining beautiful parks for us to visit. Overall, the benefits that the wolves have created are far greater than anyone could’ve expected. Grizzly bears are crucial to ecological and biological diversity as well. By foraging for berries, distributing plant species, and monitoring large mammal populations such as elk, they help keep the balance of the ecosystem in check.

Although the gray wolf was never officially reintroduced to California, a small population has crossed the Oregon border into Northern California and called it home. Beginning in December 2011 when an Oregon wolf, designated OR7, wandered south into Siskiyou County as the first wild wolf in California in 87 years. OR7 journeyed over 700 miles to California and has traveled back and forth between California and Oregon for several years since. 

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Grey wolf OR7’s journey through California; from CBD

Because of OR7’s journey into California, the Fish and Game Commission voted to add the Gray wolf to the state Endangered Species list, immediately protecting OR7 and any other wolves from harm by unhappy farmers, eager hunters, and the like. The petition for the gray wolf asserted that “suitable habitat still exists in California…Wolves are highly adaptable and have the ability to thrive in myriad geographical and climatic conditions throughout California”. In response to this new acceptance and protection of gray wolves, a small pack, referred to as the Shasta Pack, has moved into Siskiyou County in Northern California. As of August 2015, the pack consists of two adult wolves and five pups. This is the first pack seen in California since the last one was exterminated in 1924. Conservationists are excited about the wolves’ return and believe it was only a matter of time, as wolves did once roam free in the Sierra Nevada Mountains before they were killed off. The optimism surrounding the wolves’ return only brightens the prospect of grizzly bears returning to California as well. With the success of the wolves, it is highly likely and scientifically supported that grizzlies would thrive in their previously inhabited environment as well, as it is plenty of room and well away from populated areas.

With the success of gray wolves returning to several previously inhabited locations, I see very little argument against the return of the grizzly bear. By reintroducing the bear to California’s ecosystem, an amazing chain-reaction of events is likely to occur as it did with the wolves in Yellowstone. Major ecological changes and improvements would be made, on top of the opportunity it would bring for California to foster the perfect home for the big, brown, fuzzy creatures. Why should we deny an animal the right to live where it has its entire life? We wouldn’t like it much if it were the other way around, now would we…?

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Wolf and bear together: a rare sight; photo by Lassi Rautiainen

 

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