Opinion: The wolf’s journey ends in Utah

The Lumberjack, Northern Arizona University's student newspaper (Original) Opinion Article Posted March 8, 2015 by Tzvi Schnee

Gray wolves used to roam the country until their population was reduced with the settling of the West. Predator control programs in the United States diminished gray wolf populations to almost nothing between 1930 and 1960. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 listed all wolf subspecies as endangered by 1978 in "the lower 48 states, except Minnesota."

Through the efforts of the Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery Plan, gray wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park and Idaho when a total of 66 wolves were relocated from Canada between 1995 and 1996. Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates their population is now up to about 1,500 animals across Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. However, Mexican gray wolves are still struggling in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area.

In the fall of 2014, a wolf was spotted near Grand Canyon. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, "it was the first time in at least 70 years that a wolf had been reported on the North Rim of the national park." This wolf so endeared the public that a contest was held to name the wolf, resulting with the designation Echo.

According to the Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project, this "female northern Rockies gray wolf" had "traveled hundreds of miles to northern Arizona." This was exciting news to wolf admirers. There was hope for advocates of wolf restoration in the Grand Canyon area.

Tragically, it was confirmed that a wolf shot by a hunter in Beaver, Utah, Dec. 28 was the very same Echo that had been previously seen in the canyon. This was sad news to all who felt inspired by Echo, the wolf who had captivated the hearts of many wildlife enthusiasts.

The Journal of Young Investigators (JYI) reports there is contention in regard to the reintroduction of wolves, inasmuch as they are often portrayed as "cruel" and "vicious," "with no valuable role in the ecosystem"; however, "wolves do play a role in the ecosystem."

Out of fear, elk are no longer "standing around grazing like domestic livestock." According to JYI, this has had a cascading effect: "Now that the elk are not eating the trees to the ground, beavers have become more common in Yellowstone. The beavers create more ponds, which provide habitat for stream-side trees, which creates more habitats for nesting birds, and so on."

In addition to contributing to ecosystems, wolves represent the call of the wild — their howling is reminiscent of nature with all its beauty. It may be argued that on an anthropomorphic level they are representative of the sinister side of wildlife, preying on cattle, elk and deer. However, they are creatures created by God with an ingrained nature to behave the way they do. Unfortunately, this includes attacking domestic livestock, thereby diminishing the herds of ranchers. Yet, it is arguable that because people have encroached on the wolves' habitat, domesticated animals are now fair game within their range.

Even so, wolf raids on livestock are a concern for ranchers. Consequently, there have been efforts to prevent this from happening without destroying the wolves. It is a delicate balance of interests among ranchers and environmentalists. So, efforts prevail to further the progress of the packs, by preserving the ranks of these carnivores.

Would Yellowstone retain its grandeur without the howl of the wolves? It would certainly detract from the experience of tourists in the national park. One could resort to listening to a recording of the Paul Winter Consort song "Wolf Eyes" in order to hear the nostalgic howling of wolves. However, hearing the wolves howl at nighttime in the wilderness is much more soul-stirring.

It is challenging to imagine there was once a time when the eradication of wolves left the nighttime wilderness silent across the U.S. The efforts of wolf restoration are a noble cause, inasmuch as all of God's creatures deserve a place on Earth.