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Leaders of the Pack
Not everyone was happy when wolves returned to Yellowstone (the deer, for one), but the place is better with them there.

Wyoming wolves had reason to howl in victory last month when a federal court gave them back their protected status under the Endangered Species Act. A judge ruled that the state’s management of the species—which included a shoot-on-sight policy and a trophy-hunting range—was inadequate for sustaining a viable wolf population. (Disclosure: NRDC, OnEarth’s publisher, was a plaintiff in the case.)

Since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the gray wolf from the endangered species list in Wyoming in 2012, hunters have killed more than 200 of the animals in the state. For those who think that's okay, this video is for you.

Narrated by British author and columnist George Monbiot, this SustainableMan production details the transformation of Yellowstone National Park once wolves returned to it after a 70-year absence. Ecosystem science is complicated, and researchers are still piecing together how important predators are to the myriad relationships taking place across a landscape at any given time.

But after the wolf reintroduction in 1995, the packs kept deer and elk populations in check, making the herds more skittish and limiting grazing to certain areas. Grasses, shrubs, and aspens took hold, and within six years, forest-loving beavers and songbirds moved in. Once-denuded hills ceased eroding into the area’s rivers, which were being reengineered by beaver dams that were providing habitat for otters, muskrats, ducks, reptiles, and fish. Along with deer, wolves eat coyotes, whose diets are rich in rodents. Mice and rabbits began rebounding—and with them, more raptors, foxes, badgers, and bears came to snack on the small mammal surplus.

Long story short: Restoration efforts and endangered species protection didn’t just bring more wolves to Yellowstone. It may have brought a little bit more of everything.

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Rocky Kistner has been a reporter and video producer for more than 20 years, working for news organizations including ABC News, the Center for Investigative Reporting, American Public Media, and PBS Frontline. MORE STORIES ➔