Scientists Lead the Charge to Restore Western Gray Wolf and Beaver Populations


The return of gray wolves and beavers could be the key to offsetting the effects of climate change. But not everyone agrees that this is the ultimate solution.

(CN) — It’s sort of an ecological dream of “re-wild” or restoring ecosystems so that native plant and animal species can co-exist with modern civilization while offsetting the effects of human-caused climate change. . But for a team of scientists, this dream is indeed achievable and could come true. The question is how realistic is reseeding in the near future?

A team of 20 scientists has released an analysis identifying 11 federal reserves in the western United States for the restoration of wolves and beavers, a process that could improve degraded lands and save 92 threatened and endangered species.

In “Rewilding the American West,” the team suggests restoring North American gray wolves and beavers to historic territories that benefit wider ecosystems because their presence balances natural resources for nearby plant and animal species. . For example, the reintroduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park is said to have kept deer populations in check, giving native plants respite from insatiable grazers.

Meanwhile, the benefits of restoring beaver populations are abundant, especially for the protection of endangered species like salmon.

“Beavers are an excellent restoration tool for organizations and agencies to help preserve fish populations and improve habitat for salmonids,” said assistant furbearer biologist Shawn Behling of the Department of Washington State Fish and Wildlife. “Beaver structures in streams provide barriers to reduce water velocity. These structures provide hiding places for young salmon to avoid predation, and the reduction in water velocity allows salmon to expend less energy when moving through the water while allowing gill-clogging sediment to escape. to file.

Even more important than in-stream structures, Behling said, is how beavers enhance land buffers on either side of a stream. “Beaver dams and the resulting ponds recharge groundwater reservoirs, giving riparian vegetation a constant supply of water. After beavers colonize an area, woody vegetation flourishes. And while beavers consume some of this woody material, these trees and shrubs grow and reproduce at a rate that exceeds the needs of beavers.

“Soon the exposed stream water – which may have been too warm for the salmon before – is now shaded by trees,” Behling added. “The banks are stabilized to prevent sediment from being washed away or entering the water column, and the vegetation provides habitat [that] on which young salmon invertebrates depend for their nutrition.

The analysis is ripe for consideration by the Biden administration, which rolled out its Make America Beautiful plan in January 2021 in hopes of retaining 30% of US land by 2030.

“I had this idea of ​​re-wild at that time,” said lead author William Ripple, a professor of ecology at Oregon State University. Ironically, beavers are OSU’s mascot and state animal, but according to Ripple, his idea for analysis is based on his history of conservation work — some of which took place in Yellowstone.

Based on its experience, Ripple believes regenerating federal lands will help aid 92 threatened and endangered species, from owls and big cats to small reptiles, insects and plants. But there is a controversial part of the plan that could stand in the way.

To gain access to federal lands throughout the West, some cattle grazing, mining, logging, and oil and gas drilling would have to disappear. According to the study, reserves with the highest number of vulnerable species are used for all four practices, including livestock grazing. In many areas livestock grazing causes degradation of waterways and wetlands, affects fire regimes and inhibits the regeneration of woody species.

Additionally, the study authors noted that ruminant livestock are a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions and how their effects on the ecosystem can exacerbate dry climatic conditions, “potentially transforming sink landscapes of carbon into carbon sources”.

“In general, reseeding will be most effective when the participation concerns of all stakeholders are taken into account,” wrote the study authors, including pastoralists, hunters and fishers, local communities, private landowners and indigenous communities. But whether everyone in 11 states can participate in the reclamation of these lands is debatable.


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