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Yellowstone Streams Recovering Thanks to Wolves

A reminder of the important role wolves, and other large predators, play in maintaining healthy ecosystems.

As Mother Nature’s wildlife managers, wolves regulate prey populations to enable many other species of plants and animals to flourish. Initiating these trickle-down effects can improve ecosystem function and resilience, as evidenced by the return of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in the 1990s.

“In the 1990s, elk were still keeping the willows short, usually less than 2 feet tall, and that led to stream widening—oversized cross sections of channel and a drastically reduced frequency of overbank flows. But by 2017, willow heights greater than 6 feet were prevalent and canopy cover over the stream, which had essentially been absent in 1995, had increased to 43 percent and 93 percent along the west fork and east fork, respectively.”

Increases in willow height, greater canopy cover, and stream-bank stabilizing courtesy of well-vegetated banks all point toward a recovering riparian/aquatic ecosystem.

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