Posted by Richard Conniff on March 10, 2014
The story of how wolves transformed the Yellowstone National Park landscape, beginning in the 1990s, has become a favorite lesson about the natural world. A video recounting (above) has gone viral lately, with British writer George Monbiot re-telling the story in his best breathy David Attenborough.
The only problem, according to field biologist Arthur Middleton, writing in today’s New York Times, is that it isn’t true.
A few small patches of Yellowstone’s trees do appear to have benefited from elk declines, but wolves are not the only cause of those declines. Human hunting, growing bear numbers and severe drought have also reduced elk populations. It even appears that the loss of cutthroat trout as a food source has driven grizzly bears to kill more elk calves. Amid this clutter of ecology, there is not a clear link from wolves to plants, songbirds and beavers.