YELLOWSTONE NAT’L PARK  | ERIC GALATAS, (Public News Service)   –    It’s been 25 years since wolves were brought back into Yellowstone National Park, and park officials say the animal’s future is on track to continue to be a healthy, contributing member of the Yellowstone family.

Park representative Linda Veress says wolves have a significant role to play in the park’s ecosystem.

Elk population numbers were very high at the time of reintroduction, and their overgrazing resulted in loss of willow and aspen. Wolves helped bring elk numbers back to normal levels.

“With the decrease in elk populations, the willow and aspen had a chance to rebound and recover, which also resulted in bird populations increasing,” Veress explains.

After decades of habitat loss and extermination by humans, wolves vanished from their historic territory.

Wolves were placed on the Endangered Species List in 1973, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated Greater Yellowstone as a key recovery area.

From 1995 to 1997, 41 wild wolves from Canada and Montana were released into the park.

The program has been controversial, with hunters concerned about loss of game and ranchers concerned about the safety of livestock.

According to the group Defenders of Wildlife, elk populations across Wyoming have gone up in the past 25 years, and just one tenth of 1% of livestock numbers have been lost since the reintroduction.

Wolf numbers have climbed as well.

Veress says as of December 2018 there were some 80 wolves in nine packs in the park, which she says is a stable population.

“The number one cause of mortality in wolves in the park are by other wolves, just in competition for food and for territory,” she points out.

Park officials have several events planned to commemorate the 25th anniversary, notably a weekly series of live broadcasts on Facebook starting in March.

Experts will cover topics including the ecological role of wolves in the ecosystem, the global impact of reintroduction and the future relationship between wolves and people.