Rewilding the Wolf in Texas: A Beautiful Notion

“When you put the wolf back into the wild, something amazing happens…”

Less than 60 years ago, the Mexican Gray wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) freely roamed the plains and mountains of West Texas. Today, virtually zero wolves exist in the wilds of Texas. This essential predator may be the missing link in the wild habitats of Texas. In an effort to re-establish the Mexican Gray Wolf, I’ve joined Sierra Club Executive Committee member, Rick LoBello on the “Return the Wolf to Texas Coalition“.  With your help we can restore the Mexican Gray Wolf to its rightful place in the Texas wilderness. For more than 40 years, there has been a war against wolves in Texas. It’s time to put that war to rest for good, because the truth is, Texas may actually need the wolf more than ever before.

Importance of the Wolf: Apex predators encourage thriving ecosystems by creating a trophic cascade effect. While wolves predate on other wildlife, they ultimately give life to other species. Wolves help reduce overgrazing by reducing deer and elk populations encouraging the regeneration of diverse plant life. First grasses regenerate, then shrubs and eventually trees begin to recover.  The regenerated of flora invites a multitude of other species such as birds, reptiles, fish and amphibians to return to the land. Even beaver populations have been restored in certain ecosystems because of the trees that have been allowed to regenerate due to the wolf’s impact. Wolves will also reduce the number of coyote and by doing so encourage animals such as rabbits, field mice and weasel populations to return thus attracting more birds of prey such as endangered eagles and falcons. Wolves also affect the survival of other apex predators like bears by leaving behind carrion that bears can eat.  Also because plants have been able to flourish, more sources of plant food become available such as berries and nuts which many animals eat. The re-introduction of wolves has even been known to change the course of rivers, literally. These extraordinary ecological changes have been documented in Yellowstone after the wolf was reintroduced in the park in 1995.

The natural grasslands and plains of Texas currently suffer from overgrazing by domestic livestock and excessive deer and feral hog populations. The overgrazing of native grasslands has led to abundance of invasive plant life perpetuating drought conditions, erosion and unhealthy watersheds. Wolves could be a key component to restoring Texas wild-lands to pre-grazing conditions which would naturally improve habitats and increase wildlife diversity.

The wolf’s place in nature is un-mistakingly, an important one that we must encourage and support. We gain so much when we help restore predators in the wild. We gain birds in our skies, healthy wetlands, lakes and rivers. We gain a transformed, healthy and thriving ecosystem. In my book, that is worth a whole lot.

Watch this remarkably inspiring video:

“How Wolves Change Rivers”

 

History of Wolf in Texas: The natural heritage of Texas is a rich one and the wolf is undeniably a part of that history. In pre-settler history, Native Americans of Texas, such as the Tonkawas revered the wolf. Their coexistence with the wolf was one of respect and they believed that the killing of a wolf would result in great misfortunate. What’s more important than the cultural history of the wolf, is the effect the wolf had on the natural landscape of Texas.

A report made by Vernon Bailey stated that in 1901, “the lobo is still common over most of the plains and mountain country of West Texas”. During this time, hunters were given bounties to exterminate the wolf. In 1937 the National Park Service reported several Mexican Wolves that had  naturally dispersed into the Big Bend National Park area from the Sierra del Carmen mountain range in Mexico. A preliminary report of an ecological survey was made in 1944, stressing the importance of the restoration and replenishment of Big Bend Wildlife that naturally dispersed from Mexico and in the same year Big Bend was established a National Park by act of Congress.

In 1976, Big Bend National Park was designated a “Man and the Biosphere Reserve” by the peace-driven UNESCO and the Mexican Gray Wolf gained protection by the Endangered Species Act. Field observations of wolf sightings up to this point and beyond remained sparse due to previous extermination efforts. The wolf was in trouble.

“Until wolves are once again heard howling in the Chisos, Big Bend will not truly be a Biosphere Reserve. –

George Wuerthner

Things began looking up for the wolf in 1982 when the United States Fish and Wildlife service approves a wolf recovery plan. A massive education effort dealing with endangered species was called in by NPS Director Williams Penn Mott, Jr and the Wolf Task Force was established. In 1989 George Wuerthner, from American Geographic Publishing stated “until wolves are once again heard howling in the Chisos, Big Bend will not truly be a Biosphere Reserve.” Wolves were finally gaining the attention they deserved. However in 1990, Cattle Raisers endorsing the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department proclaimed that “there is no suitable sites for wolf restoration in Texas”, and all wolf restoration efforts were stifled. Today, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife, Mexican Wolves remain extinct in Texas and “not likely ever to return” (Schmidly, 2004).

In 1998, Mexican Wolves were reintroduced into the “Blue Range Wolf Recovery Range” wilderness area in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico. Only around 100 Mexican wolves exist in the wild today, making Mexican wolves the the most endangered wolf in the world. Though the reintroduction in New Mexico was successful, Mexican wolves still face hardships due to the heavily restricted recovery zones in the state and in neighboring states. That means, Mexican wolves that wander naturally into Texas territory will be removed and returned to a designated wolf recovery zone, despite the wolf’s status. Texas designates any population of wolves reintroduced into the state as “experimental and nonessential”. Therefore, in order to restore wolf populations in Texas, full support of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is needed; and parts of Texas need to be included as natural recovery zones in the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program (MWRPA).

To help restore an endangered species, we must remember that the species is part of a greater whole. In the case of the wolf, greater home ranges need to be preserved and protected. For a stronger, healthier and more balanced ecosystem, the vital wolf must be saved. After-all, we [humans] benefit from healthy ecosystems as well, so let’s stand by our protector of the Earth and one of our most precious of natural allies; the wolf.

To put the wolf’s howl back in Texas and learn more about how you can help the Mexican Wolf, join us on Twitter or visit our webpage.

Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf…. ” ~ Aldo Leopold

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