Scientists propose wildening the American West by reintroducing gray wolves and beavers | Science and technology news
As climate change threatens ecosystems, scientists in the US have come up with an “ultra-ambitious” proposal to rewild parts of the American West by reintroducing wolves and beavers.
Her plan follows President Joe Biden signing an executive order to his America the Beautiful policy, which includes a conservation effort to conserve 30% of the US’s water and land by 2030.
The government’s plan is to “address a catastrophic extinction crisis that threatens our planet’s biodiversity and the health of the natural systems that provide our food, water and other resources.”
It’s coming, as NASA satellite imagery has shown the impact on America’s largest water reservoir, Lake Meadthe worst drought in decades.
In a journal article published in BioScience entitled Rewilding of the American West20 scientists propose naturalizing large reserve areas owned by the US federal government to address these concerns.
You have two big calls. First, to stop cattle grazing on some states, and second, to restore two key species: the gray wolf and the North American beaver.
According to the letter, the challenges of preventing grazing on these lands are not too great.
Ranchers can easily be compensated for lost grazing land, and meat from forage on state lands accounts for only about 2% of what’s produced in the US, they say.
They propose building the Western Rewilding Network, which covers almost 500,000 square kilometers – twice the size of the UK – and spans 11 states: Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
But the “unprecedented period of converging crises in the American West, including prolonged drought and water shortages, extreme heat waves, massive fires driven at least in part by climate change, and biodiversity loss” calls for urgent action.
Read more: Beavers could be reintroduced to English landscapes
Why wolves and beavers?
Wolves and beavers have a significant impact on the ecosystems they inhabit.
In the most famous case of gray wolf reintroduction—to Yellowstone National Park in 1996 after they went locally extinct in the 1920s—it had a cascading impact on the park’s entire ecosystem.
The wolves not only reduced the population of moose and deer, but also their movements and grazing, causing an increase in the height of trees and other vegetation, which in turn prevented soil erosion and allowed several other species to return to the park .
“By cutting down trees and shrubs and building dams, beavers enrich fish habitat, increase water and sediment retention, maintain water flow during drought, provide wet firebreaks, improve water quality, initiate the restoration of cut channels, increase carbon sequestration and generally improve habitat for many riparian plant and animal species,” the researchers write.
They believe the rewilding plans could benefit 92 threatened and endangered species.
“Beyond concern for human survival and thriving, a principled commitment to nature and a sense of moral urgency underpin the motivation for our proposal,” the authors write.
“Our plan represents an historic opportunity to revitalize significant parts of the American West that would serve as an inspirational model for other regions and ensure our natural heritage remains intact for generations to come.”