Wolves Provide a Buffer Against Climate Change

As Senators Mark Udall and John McCain held a formal hearing in Estes Park today concerning global climate change and its impact on national parks, conservationists called on the senators to acknowledge the roll that gray wolves necessarily play in buffering against the effects of climate change.


“Climate change has widespread impacts, including to the plants and animals of the American West,” said Rob Edward of WildEarth Guardians.  “One thing that Senators Udall and McCain could do right now to help combat the impact of climate change on Rocky Mountain National Park is to call for the restoration of wolves to the region,” said Edward.


Edward indicated that wolves reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park dramatically improved the health and abundance of wetland vegetation—by keeping elk on the move.  In less than a decade after the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service restored wolves to Yellowstone, aspen and willow had rebounded in many streamside areas.


“It’s time for places like Rocky Mountain National Park to be given some relief from scores of sedentary elk,” said Edward, referring to the fact that wolves keep elk and deer vigilant, thus relieving young trees and plants from excessive browsing.  “It’s time for the government to learn the lessons of Yellowstone.”


Studies of the ecological effects of wolves in Yellowstone and elsewhere have shown that many species—including beaver, songbirds and young fish—likely benefit from the manner in which wolves protect the plant communities.  In a climate-altered world, such protection is doubly important.


“We urge Senators Udall and McCain to take immediate action to restore wolves to Rocky Mountain National Park, as part of their climate change initiative,” said Edward.  “The National Park Service has already acknowledged the need for wolves to be restored here, all they need is the political will.”

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Ryan Alford