A pack of wolves makes their way to the winding mountain stream for a cool drink of water. They are healthy and strong—their coats wave back and forth in the crisp mountain breeze. As the sun pierces through the trees and illuminates the wolves, a glowing effect is created on the insects dancing in the air. The river glistens—it, too, is healthy. A sight for sore eyes, no doubt. The ecosystem is exactly as it should be—all is right, all is in balance, and all is in order.
It has not always been this way in Yellowstone National Park. At one time, the decay of Yellowstone concerned biologists. Wolves were once extinct from the park, and it wasn’t until wolves were reintroduced into the area that biologists began to observe the ecosystem functioning as it should. One article from Mission:Wolf notes,
Since wild wolves have returned to Yellowstone, the elk and deer are stronger, the aspens and willows are healthier and the grasses taller. For example, when wolves chase elk during the hunt, the elk are forced to run faster and farther. As the elk run, their hooves aerate the soil, allowing more grasses to grow. Since the elk cannot remain stationary for too long, aspens and willows in one area are not heavily grazed, and therefore can fully recover between migrations. … Now, the coyotes have been out-competed and essentially reduced by 80 percent in areas occupied by wolves. … With fewer coyotes hunting small rodents, raptors like the eagle and osprey have more prey and are making a comeback. The endangered grizzly bears successfully steal wolf kills more often than not, thus having more food to feed their cubs. In essence, we have learned that by starting recovery at the top with predators like wolves, the whole system benefits. A wild wolf population actually makes for a stronger, healthier and more balanced ecosystem. From plant, to insect, to people ... we all stand to benefit from wolves.
Biologists have long understood the cascade effect occurring when a species is removed from an ecosystem—by either extirpation or extinction. Recently, biologists have discovered the opposite impact of the cascade effect—that is, when a species once again returns to an ecosystem it becomes whole again. I learned about this when a video went viral on social media, telling the story of wolves returning to the Yellowstone ecosystem in 1995 after having been killed off in the 1930s. The return of the wolves had an astonishing ripple effect on animal life, plant life, and even the health of rivers.