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Desert Diary
Culture/Elk Fear


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Much of North America was well provided with large predators before settlers of European ancestry decimated their numbers to the point that many were eradicated from much of their earlier geographic range. Little thought was given to possible effects on the environment other than improving it for sheep and cattle. The effects of Gray Wolves having been reintroduced to Yellowstone, though, suggests that the result may have been more far-reaching than merely allowing livestock to reach marketable age.

Before re-introduction of wolves, Elk populations exploded. Now, with the return of the wolves, riparian growth such as cottonwood is beginning to successfully reproduce after an extended period during which new growth was browsed back and killed by Elk. Although Elk populations have decreased under predation, part of the story appears to be just plain fear of wolves. Elk now seldom venture into areas where a full view of their surrounding is unavailable—which describes many of the valley areas. Kinda makes one wonder how different our desert would be if wolves and grizzlies had not been hunted to local extinction.
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.