On the heels of Thanksgiving and with more holidays just around the corner, now is a great time to remember what we are truly thankful for, like being thankful we live in a state wild enough for grizzly bears and wolves.
You see, grizzly bears and wolves are keystone species and, just like the keystone of an arch is crucial to the stability of an arch, they too play a critical role in maintaining the structure of an ecological community. While the keystone is under the least pressure of any of the stones in an arch, the arch still collapses without it, just as an ecosystem will experience a dramatic shift if a keystone species is removed. Grizzly bears and wolves are also considered to be indicator species meaning that they serve as a barometer of an ecosystem’s health. And due to their large home ranges, protection of sufficient habitat for grizzly bears and wolves will benefit a countless number of other species making them also what are called umbrella species. In short, these guys are really good for the health of Washington’s ecosystems, and what’s good for bears and wolves, like clean water, fresh air and healthy forests, is also good for people!
Both grizzly bears and wolves once roamed the western states from Canada to the Baja peninsula, but were hunted for food and sport so extensively that by the 1930’s just a handful of grizzlies and no known breeding packs of wolves remained in Washington. But these two keystone species have begun calling Washington home again. The recent confirmed sighting of a grizzly bear in the North Cascades and the 5 confirmed packs of wolves that have now moved here from British Columbia, Idaho and Oregon, suggests that Washington is reclaiming some of its wild disposition. And, for that, I am thankful.