By CHARITY NEBBE & SHIRLEY WANG
Wolves are a keystone species, but they haven’t lived in Iowa for years. Their successful reintroduction into the upper midwest and the Yellowstone National Park shows us the incredible impact wolves have on the ecosystem they live in.
For example, wildlife biologist Jim Pease says the wolves make sure there aren’t too many elk and other grazing animals around. He points out some of the changes that resulted in Yellowstone National Park when the wolves returned.
“The grasses recovered, the willows recovered, other species that depended on them, like beavers, for example, were able to survive,” Pease says. “They were able to build dams creating wetlands that impacted other species, so song bird populations have gone up. All populations have been impacted very positively.”
“Basically Iowa’s wolves were gone by the 1880’s,” Pease says. “Very very quickly, wolves, bears cougars all disappeared from the Iowa landscape. They were viewed as competitors and for all sorts of reasons disappeared. People killed them basically.”
Coyotes were “opportunistic,” Pease says, and after wolves left, they moved right in. Coyotes rarely bother humans, but in some urban settings some coyotes show a lack of fear of humans and that can lead to problems.
“Most of this can be traced to the fact that humans have acted badly in terms of encouraging that acclimatization to humans,” Pease adds. “They leave dog food or cat food out. Or in a few rare cases they have intentionally left food out for coyotes. That’s a bad practice.”
Some fear that the coyotes will take pets and livestock as prey. While doing research in Alberta, Canada, however, Pease found that about 90 percent of predation on livestock was due to coyote-dog hybrids called “coydogs” and not coyotes.