We’re accustomed to hearing unremitting bad news about wildlife and species extinctions. But there is some good news too: consider just two cases in the Pacific Northwest.
Hunted to extinction in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, sea otter re-introductions have been wildly successful. Today, nearly 750 sea otters live in Washington, while BC’s remote coastlines are home to an estimated 2,500. Even in California, where there’s been much hand-wringing over a southern population, otter numbers have bounced back to their highest level in decades—more than double what they were 20 years ago. The return of sea otters is especially welcome because they may help restore the North Pacific’s huge kelp forests that shelter numerous species.
Gray wolves were hunted nearly to extinction in the lower 48 states. But today, only 10 years after officials reintroduced wolves into the northern Rocky Mountains, wolf populations are booming. At last count, the Rockies were home to at least 865 wolves. The Upper Midwest now claims 3,800 wolves and smaller populations are re-established in the Southwest and North Carolina. In Yellowstone, the return of the wolf is credited with re-balancing the ecosystem by starting a “trophic cascade” that resulted in more native trout and songbirds.
Some argue that our restoration efforts focus too obsessively on “charismatic megafauna” -- big loveable creatures that tug at people’s heartstrings -- but consider the implications of restoring these species: replenished salmon runs, toxic clean-ups, marine protected areas, roadless area conservation, more complete ecosystems, and a thrilling return of wildness to our natural places.