Tuesday, October 3, 2017

"The idea that wolves were saving Yellowstone’s plants seemed, at first, to make good sense"

From the NYT in 2014:

Still, the story persists. Which brings up the question: Does it actually matter if it’s not true? After all, it has bolstered the case for conserving large carnivores in Yellowstone and elsewhere, which is important not just for ecological reasons, but for ethical ones, too. It has stimulated a flagging American interest in wildlife and ecosystem conservation. Next to these benefits, the story can seem only a fib. Besides, large carnivores clearly do cause trophic cascades in other places.

But by insisting that wolves fixed a broken Yellowstone, we distract attention from the area’s many other important conservation challenges.


When we tell the wolf story, we get the Yellowstone story wrong.

Perhaps the greatest risk of this story is a loss of credibility for the scientists and environmental groups who tell it. We need the confidence of the public if we are to provide trusted advice on policy issues. This is especially true in the rural West, where we have altered landscapes in ways we cannot expect large carnivores to fix, and where many people still resent the reintroduction of wolves near their ranchlands and communities.

This bitterness has led a vocal minority of Westerners to popularize their own myths about the reintroduced wolves: They are a voracious, nonnative strain. The government lies about their true numbers. They devastate elk herds, spread elk diseases, and harass elk relentlessly — often just for fun.

All this is, of course, nonsense. But the answer is not reciprocal myth making