Federal authorities want to increase wolf habitat in 11 states and Yellowstone Park is under consideration

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(CNN) – Gray wolves could benefit from a major habitat improvement, if these experts have their say.

A group of researchers from across the United States has written a proposal that would include setting aside a significant amount of federal land as a sanctuary for gray wolves and other animals such as beavers, and it’s known as the name of the Western Rewilding Network, according to a report published Aug. 9 in the journal BioScience.

“Although gray wolves and beavers are currently at low risk of extinction, we are very concerned that these keystone species have been lost in many ecosystems in the American West,” said the co-author of the reports Christopher Wolf, a postdoctoral researcher at Oregon State’s College of Forestry. University of Corvallis.

Federal officials say keystone species are animals that an ecosystem heavily depends on for its overall health.

If federal action creates protections that allow gray wolf populations to rebound, they could provide significant ecological benefits, including controlling the number of ungulates, which are hoofed animals like elk and deer.

Keeping these grazers under control in turn would help the regrowth of plants and trees like aspen that have been negatively affected by declining biodiversity, said report co-author William Ripple, a distinguished ecology professor. at the College of Forestry at Oregon State University.

The proposed area would total about 191,500 square miles (496,000 square kilometers) across 11 western states, or about 16% of those states’ total land mass, Wolf said.

Some of the proposed protected areas include Yellowstone National Park, the Northern and Southern Rockies and the Mogollon Plateau, according to the report.

The federal government owns about 47% of the western region of the United States, so the region would occupy about 34% of western federal lands, he said. Wolves need a large territory to live, so a large amount of land is key to their survival, Wolf added.

The 11 states are Arizona, California, Oregon, New Mexico, Washington, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah.

Federal law has protected gray wolves from time to time since the 1970s with the creation of the Endangered Species Act, which protects species at risk of extinction, Ripple said.

Wildlife conservationists have credited the act with saving species like the bald eagle from extinction, he added.

The government has been pushed back by some people who want to prioritize predator management programs to reduce predation.

As of February 2022, gray wolves are generally protected in the continental United States by law, with the exception of northern Rocky Mountain wolves, Ripple said.

Populations of gray wolves and beavers are currently stable, but are still greatly reduced by historical killings, Wolf said.

Why do gray wolves and beavers have to repopulate?

Most gray wolves became extinct in the early 1900s because ranchers moved into wolf habitats with their livestock, said co-author Robert Lee Beschta, professor emeritus in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society at Oregon State University.

Wolves posed a threat to ranch animals, so predators were often killed, he said. Because gray wolves are federally protected, hunting them is now illegal, according to the US Fish & Wildlife Service. The decision does not extend to Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves, which can be hunted under individual state laws, the organization said.

Trappers hunted beavers extensively for the fur trade in the 1800s, reducing the North American population by about 90% to 98%, but the species made a comeback in the early 1900s, Wolf said.

“Despite this recovery, beavers are still absent from many streams they likely once inhabited,” he said.

Why is it important to revive wolf and beaver populations?

Gray wolves are apex predators, meaning they’re at the top of their food chain, Ripple said.

When they are virtually removed from the ecosystem, ungulate populations increase dramatically since wolves are not around to prey on them, he said.

This can lead to overgrazing of ungulates, which prevents certain plants and trees from growing and reduces biodiversity, Beschta said.

Beavers play a crucial role in ecosystems and act as engineers building dams, which provides many environmental benefits, according to the report.

Structures created by beavers enrich fish habitat, facilitate water flow during droughts, improve water quality, improve habitat for many plants and animals and more, according to the report.

“Ponds and wetlands built by beavers can serve as natural firebreaks in the event of a wildfire,” Ripple said.

Reduction of grazing permits

As part of the proposal, the researchers also recommended limiting grazing permits on these western federal lands. The federal government grants grazing permits to ranchers to allow their herds to graze on certain public lands.

Livestock have been linked to the reduction of many native plant and animal species due to trampling or grazing, Wolf said.

The researchers suggested that the federal government offer buyouts to ranchers to entice them to leave, according to the report.

Ranchers could use the money however they wish, such as retiring or buying private land to continue earning a living, Beschta said.

CNN has contacted the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the agency in charge of federal lands and grazing permit issuance, and it has yet to comment on CNN’s filing on the proposal.

Next steps for protection

The researchers have yet to discuss their proposal with the federal government, Ripple said.

It would also be a significant financial investment, Beschta said, but he hopes the government will be willing to accept their recommendations because of the vast ecological benefits.

There are also many agencies and groups of people who would need to coordinate the execution of the proposal, Wolf said.

“The decision to move forward with these recommendations ultimately depends on the wishes of the American people and various stakeholders, including local communities, ranchers, hunters, and various other groups,” he said. -he declares.

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