More evidence of ecological restoration via the wolf, this time in Canada’s Banff National Park. Researchers there found that when wolves disappeared from areas with heavy human presence, elk populations spiked and the ecosystem changed:

Willow trees, river-loving birds called willow warblers and American redstarts, and beaver dams once were common in Bow Valley and surrounding areas. But in the areas where wolves remained scarce and elk populations mushroomed, these plants and animals were less common.

Researchers in Yellowstone National Park, have found much the same thing. The return of the wolf in the mid-1990s meant a return to more natural conditions.

And in an ironic twist on the mythology of the wolf as a dangerous maneater, it turns out that elk in the park are actually more dangerous to humans than wolves. According to the lead scientist, in Banff National Park alone:

"Seven people are sent to hospitals every year on average by getting into a fight with an elk. They are 250 kg (550 pounds) on average so you don’t want to get into a fight with one."

Human injuries or death from wild wolves are exceedingly uncommon. In fact, in the entire 20th century not a single person in North America was killed by a wolf.

UPDATE 8/5/05:A great article in today’s Globe and Mail on the wolves of Banff National Park and their ripple effect.