Well, here we go again! One more study that seems to show that previous theories on wolf and elk behavior just isn’t turning out the way some thought it would. But there is danger lurking behind the results of a recent study that seems to indicate that what some believed about wolves altering the behavior of elk would result in the regeneration of quaking aspen that elk so readily feed on, isn’t panning out.

The theory, and one that is ballyhooed among the environmentalists and have convinced the media and others to be the truth, is that wolves are important to a well-balanced ecosystem. It is believed that there were too many elk in Yellowstone Park and that if wolves were introduced it would turn the landscape into Shangri-la.

The theory goes like this. Elk eat aspen shoots. Too many elk eat too many aspen shoots. Too many aspen shoots eaten, results in not enough regeneration of new aspen — not enough by somebody’s standards — and this results in a poor, unhealthy and unbalanced ecosystem. But not only was this theory based on notions that there were too many elk, the key anchor of this hypothesis was that the mere presence of wolves would so alter the behavior of elk that they just wouldn’t dare come into “high risk” areas to eat aspen. As a result, aspen would regenerate.

Wolves, evidently, aren’t the miracle cure!

According to an article filed by the U.S. Geological Survey, the new report, which will be published in the next issue of Ecology, shows that this theory isn’t working very well.

“This study not only confirms that elk are responsible for the decline of aspen in Yellowstone beginning in the 1890s, but also that none of the aspen groves studied after wolf restoration appear to be regenerating, even in areas risky to elk,”

Before everyone who is interested in reducing the number of wolves, or getting rid of them altogether, gets too excited about this, consider the danger hidden in the claims of this new study.

“A landscape-level aspen recovery is likely only to occur if wolves, in combination with other predators and climate factors, further reduce the elk population,”

Did we now just leap from the frying pan and into the fire? Environmentalists have made millions of dollars by convincing Americans that wolves are a necessary element in any “healthy” ecosystem. They accomplished this by inventing theories about how wolves will alter behavior. The results of this new study should play right into their hands because their ultimate goal is to end hunting. If they can now convince the masses that reducing elk numbers low enough to save our aspen, they will effectively have accomplished their goal.

This new study claims that as elk numbers expanded through natural and restorative efforts, the aspen regeneration shrank. Elk are to blame for loss of aspen and this study showed that the only way they could effectively regenerate new aspen was to fence the elk out.

So where’s the “balance” here? If elk roamed these parts in historical times, were there any aspen growing then? Is the only means of restoring aspen through the reduction of elk? Has it been considered that from the times when elk once inhabited this area, conditions may have changed which have effected the ability of the aspen to regenerate naturally?

Dr. Charles Kay, who has studied and written quite extensively on aspen and aspen regeneration, indicates that this may be the case. (“Are Aspen Doomed?” Journal of Forestry, 95(8), August 1997) He suggests that the aspen present today in the West may not be the same species that is native or has “evolved” in something a bit different and as a result struggles at regeneration.

Science will continue to work on finding the answers here. Hopefully, those answers will teach us more about how to more successfully be good stewards of our resources. Unfortunately, in the meantime, environmentalists will pounce on every and any opportunity to protect their wolves and promote their agendas and this is just another convenient round of ammunition they will use to lock and load.

Mark my words!

Tom Remington