Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Non-Fiction: Triumphant

When the Wolves Returned: Restoring Nature's Balance in Yellowstone, by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, photographs by Dan Hartman and Cassie Hartman--This beautiful photo-essay depicts Yellowstone National Park, past and present, as its caretakers struggle to keep the park healthy and appealing to tourists. In the early days, the few tourists had free rein of the park. Before the mass-production of automobiles, Yellowstone was difficult to get to, so the effect of people hunting bears and feeding the wildlife was slight. People enjoyed interacting with the elk and deer, so park officials hired hunters to get rid of the wolves which also liked to, ahem, interact with the elk and deer.

The author does a marvelous job explaining the effects the elimination of the wolves caused. The elk and deer populations grew larger and larger, but bad winters caused many to starve to death. The pronghorn population fell as more coyotes moved in and killed pronghorn fawns. Foxes and other small predators lost ground to the coyotes. Trees and shrubs were endangered by the growing elk and deer populations. Losing trees caused the beavers to fail. Since the beavers were no longer building dams to create small ponds, animals who relied on the ponds for their homes were displaced and began struggling to survive.

After sudying this startling chain of events, scientists decided to bring the wolves back to Yellowstone. In 1995 and 1996, wolves were brought in from Canada. They were released in seven groups, which have now increased to about twelve. Nature's balance seems to be restoring itself as the elks have stabilized, the coyotes have been reduced to a manageable level, and the trees and shrubs are growing again. Hooray for the wolves!

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