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If we look at our country from its very beginning, we can see a determined effort to eliminate what we consider to be undesirable species. The rationale is that if a species is a threat to humans it must be eliminated.

We also include any species that are threats to domesticated animals, such as wolves, bears, and mountain lions. We don't thin out an over-abundance; we hunt them down to the last one. Actually, we usually create functional extinction, which means the part of the ecosystem that particular animal, bird, insect or mammal occupies has such a minimal effect on the natural environment that the species might as well be extinct.

As an example, we know there are mountain lions in the state, but the 100 or so that are here are too few to be influential in our ecosystem. The same goes for bears. Gray and red wolves have been totally eliminated.

To understand how much difference a good functioning ecosystem can make, we need to look at an environment that has been restored by adding back species that were eliminated. As you might guess, there aren't many examples, but the return of gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park is one.

In 1995, 41 wild wolves were released in Yellowstone. Today there are 11 wolf packs and at least 97 wolves. The wildlife management folks were elated at the successful restocking and were shocked at the results. The beaver population also took a jump. There was only one beaver dam when the wolves were restocked, and today there are nine dams. It seems elk overgrazing on willow branches kept the beaver from thriving, and as the wolves drove the elk into heavily wooded areas of the park where they could better defend themselves, the willows grew back to feed the beaver.

The wolves created a ripple effect because the park's elk population had grown to outstrip the available forage. The addition of wolves restored the forage, and benefits to the overall ecosystem occurred unexpectedly. As the wolves made kill after kill, they brought the elk population under control and provided carrion for ravens, foxes, bears, and other animals. The expansion of the beavers created standing small lakes where trout and other aquatic creatures multiplied and added to the food chain for bears and other animals.

Can we replicate this ecological success story in Arkansas? I believe we can. If we made a concentrated effort to restore the gray wolf to Arkansas what would we accomplish?

Restoring bears, wolves, and mountain lions could help solve the problem of feral hogs, chronic wasting disease in deer, and the decline of the quail population. The introduction of these predatory animals would reduce the over-population of a number of problem species. The most obvious would be the out-of-control increase in feral hogs. However, as any hunter who has been in the woods lately will tell you, feral hogs aren't the only problem we have in wildlife management. The woods are alive with raccoons, opossums, armadillos, and other ground scavengers.

I recently had a long conversation with a man who has made a study of North American mountain lions. His overview was that predators such as mountain lions, wolves, and bears took available prey, and raccoon, rabbits, possums, and even dogs were considered prey by these animals.

The re-introduction of these species can't just be a few elk on the Buffalo with a hunting season that is one step from hunting in a zoo. It must start with protecting the few mountain lions and bears that are in the state. Until the state Game and Fish Commission puts a moratorium on the killing of mountain lions and stops having a bear season, a balanced ecosystem can't happen. That's the first step, and it must be followed by the re-introduction of gray wolves.

The re-introduction of wolves and mountain lions would dramatically improve the the spread of chronic deer wasting disease by eliminating the sickly deer. If the feral hogs were reduced along with raccoons, possums, and armadillos, our quail would return.

Another benefit of having wolves in Yellowstone was a reduction in its large coyote population.

With such a win-win situation, it's hard to see why our Game and Fish Commission is against restoring an ecosystem that would benefit the state's overall environment. It's the right thing to do.

The idea that wolves are a dangerous addition can be put aside, since Yellowstone National Park has as many visitors each year as the population of Arkansas, and none of these visitors have ever been attacked by wolves.

I'm going to do what I can to help restore Arkansas' ecosystem, and the re-introduction of gray wolves is going to be a prime target. The gray wolves were restored to Yellowstone after the public demanded it by a huge outpouring of supporting comments. If we want wolves back in Arkansas, we must stand up and be counted. If you would like to help, contact the Game and Fish Commission, and ask me for a bumper sticker.

Email Richard Mason at [email protected]

Editorial on 12/30/2018

Print Headline: Bring back the gray wolf

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