Rewilding Institute director makes case for carnivores
At his lecture in Western State College’s Kebler Ballroom on Thursday, March 20, environmentalist Dave Foreman had a crowd of 200 howling for large carnivores to be returned to vast swaths of North America.
Foreman, the director, senior conservation fellow and board president of the Rewilding Institute, appeared at Western State as a featured speaker for the college’s 12th Spring Environmental Symposium.
The co-founder of the environmental group Earth First! and a past board member of the Sierra Club, Foreman argued that without a realistic notion of where a species sits on the food chain, that species is likely to become languid and lazy—and the result will be a compromised ecosystem.
“When you remove the large carnivores from ecosystems, generally those ecosystems start to fall apart,” he said.
According to Foreman, the elk of Yellowstone National Park provided a perfect example.
Because of a National Park Service policy that eliminated both mountain lions and wolves from the park by 1930, Foreman said the elk overpopulated, and subsequently overgrazed, the rich bottom lands and riparian areas of the Yellowstone valley.
“Because there were no predators, the elk grew lazy and sassy,” he said. “They weren’t really elk any more; they were big, fat meadow potatoes.”
But once wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995—in what Foreman calls the greatest ecological experiment in the last 20 years—the elk were pushed back into the timber. They quit overgrazing the valleys and allowed the park to regenerate. “The willows are coming back along the streams, song birds are returning, beavers have returned and aspens are shooting up again,” he said.
Moreover, Forman said carcasses left by the wolves provide forage for all kinds of animals. “Did you know that warblers prey on elk kills?” he asked.
Foreman said the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone should be emulated throughout large areas of North America in order to restore the environmental degradation that has occurred in the last two centuries. “When you put the large carnivores back, the ecosystem begins to heal itself,” he said.
Foreman is committed to a notion of “rewilding” North America by linking large, relatively untrammeled wildlife tracts like Colorado’s San Juan Mountains and the Central New Mexican Rockies with a series of corridors in which the wildlife can move freely.