Some thought-provoking analysis of the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park is circulating lately. Most recently, on Tuesday, Oct. 18, the New York Times reported on the work of Douglas W. Smith, who has worked on the reintroduction project in Yellowstone over the last 10 years.
Some of the changes caused by the introduction of an apex predator to Yellowstone seem obvious: both elk and coyote populations have dropped dramatically since wolves have been reintroduced, though there may be other factors like drought that are contributing to those declines. But the secondary and tertiary effects of the wolves’ presence are more interesting.
For instance, elk, scared of predation by wolf packs, have stopped grazing on tree shoots in river and creek beds and hollows where the animals feel prone to attack, instead preferring to stay on higher ground that offers longer views. As a result—for the first time in 70 years—willow, cottonwood and aspen groves are thickening.
Because of this, shade on river banks is deepening, lowering water temperatures and making the habitat better for trout. The willows and aspens that are surviving to maturity are also bringing back beavers, increasing the number of beaver dams from one to 10 since 1996.
None of these effects can be considered in isolation from other global changes that affect the park, but the impacts of just over 100 members of just one species on seemingly unrelated flora and fauna are certainly a reminder that ecology is exceedingly complex and ecosystems are dynamic entities in which small changes can multiply in their significance. It’s something worth humans noticing, since we’re the species with the greatest degree of control over how it behaves toward its environment.
One group that works exclusively on modifying that behavior is the Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transportation (MIST), which, through the Free Cycles shop, works to make bicycle transportation a practical possibility. And, it’s a model they’re trying to spread; MIST recently sponsored Tour de Montana, a 132.4 mile tour to Butte that raised money to send bike tool kits to the Gulf Coast.
Flush with the success of raising better than $2,000 through the efforts of 36 riders, MIST is sponsoring Tour Deux, a 48-mile ride to Hamilton that departs from Missoula at 12:30 PM on Saturday, Oct. 29 and travels south through the Bitterroot Valley, including a bike ferry across the Bitterroot River that will circumvent the dangerous S-curves on Highway 93 south of Missoula. Call 880-6834 to get more information on joining the ride, which will raise funds for three bike tool kits, one for use in the Missoula shop, another to start a youth program in Hamilton and one that will be sent to help Pakistanis rebuild from the recent earthquakes.
As it happens, all this bike touring is a good transition into this reminder of Willie Weir’s talk, “Fear and Hospitality: A Journey Through South Africa,” taking place in the Urey Lecture Hall on the UM campus at 7 PM on Thursday, Oct. 20. He’ll be telling the story of his bike ride across South Africa immediately following the end of apartheid, focusing in particular on how his expectations diverged from the hospitality he encountered.
You should be itching to do some pedaling by now. Get some in by joining Missoulians on Bicycles for a Progressive Feast at noon on Sunday, Oct. 23. They’ll be moving from house to house and eating a different part of the meal at each location so be sure to catch them at the start. Call 543-4889 to find out where that is.
There’s still plenty of good foot travel afoot as well. For instance, you could try heading to the top of Trapper Peak with the New Rocky Mountaineers on Saturday, Oct. 22. The trail up the tallest peak in the Bitterroots is about six miles long and gains about 3,800 feet in elevation to the summit at 10,517 feet. That means there’s likely to be some snow on the ground on the upper slopes and also the possibility of some precipitation so be prepared. Call 549-4769 to get in on the trip.
Wanna see some wildlife? Julie Kahl, of the Rocky Mountaineers, leads a trip up the east side of Rock Creek on Saturday, Oct. 20, where she expects to see some big horns and hear some elk bugling. The trip is about six miles round trip. Call 543-6508 to find out anything else she knows.
While you’re out where the wild animals roam, consider snapping some photos of whatever is moving. The Montana Wildlife Federation and F-11 Photographic Supplies might reward you for a good shot since they’re running their 3rd Annual Wildlife Photo Contest. Call 458-0227 to find out the contest rules and regulations.
While we’re talking about shooting, here’s a quick reminder to keep your heads up and blaze orange on display when you’re in the wildlands. Rifle hunting for big game opens this Sunday.
Keep the outdoor events coming. And I’ll keep printing them.