Conservation Biology in Yellowstone National Park

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Yellowstone National Park is located primarily in Wyoming but also extends into Montana and Idaho (Figure 1). Established in 1872, it is thought to be the first National Park in the world (Russell et al. 2004). The park spans an area of 3,468 squares miles and includes lakes, canyons, rivers and mountain ranges. Yellowstone Park has a large number of megafauna in its region, including the gray wolf. Even when Yellowstone was created, the gray wolf population was already in decline. By the early 1990’s, most of the population had been killed and scientists confirmed that sustainable Gray wolf populations had been extirpated (Creel and Rotella, 2010).
When the park first opened there were no laws to protect wildlife and any visitor of the park was free to kill any game or predator that they came across. The gray wolf was highly targeted for killing due to the fact that it was seen as an undesirable predator. This view of the wolf likely stemmed from fear of livestock impacts, fears of decrease in game animals, and even possibly folklore that depicts the wolf as something to be feared (Galipeau, 2013). The U.S. Biological Survey began a program in 1907 called Animal Damage Control due to pressures from the western livestock industries (Creel and Rotella, 2010). This program focused on predator control and alone killed 1,800 wolves in 39 U.S. National forests in just one year (Creel and Rotella, 2010).
Once the gray wolf population had declined in the National Park, many ecological impacts were observed. Without a sustainable wolf population in the park, the elk population began to take over and increase in size. Due to this increase in elk, many of the deciduous woody species began to become overgrazed. With the e...

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...ions in those locations. With less regulation of introductions and more regulation of human termination of wolves, it may be possible to restore the gray wolf to its previous sustainable numbers in the United States.
In conclusion, the reintroduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park is an excellent example for future conservation efforts in the United States. The successful case shows that there is a need to restore gray wolf populations, in order to ensure optimal ecosystem functions. By observing the effects of the absence of a top predator from Yellowstone Park and the changes that have occurred after reintroduction, more people may be able to conclude that wolf populations are necessary for ecosystem balance and conservation. With this conclusion may come an increase in the future populations of gray wolves along with improved policy and awareness.
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