When we exterminated wolves from Yellowstone in the early 1900s, we de-watered the land.
That’s right; no wolves eventually meant fewer streams, creeks, marshes and springs across western landscapes like Yellowstone where wolves had once thrived.
The chain of effects went roughly like this: No wolves meant that many more elk crowded onto inviting river and stream banks. A growing population of fat elk, in no danger of being turned into prey, gnawed down willow and aspen seedlings before they could mature. As the willows declined, so did beavers, which used the trees for food and building material. When beavers build dams and make ponds, they create wetland habitats for countless bugs, amphibians, fish, birds and plants, as well as slowing the flow of water and distributing it over broad areas. The consequences of their decline rippled across the land.
Meanwhile, as the land dried up, Yellowstone’s overgrazed riverbanks eroded. Spawning beds for fish silted over. Amphibians lost precious shade.
We’ve never seen Yellowstone.