05/17/2012 04:53 pm ET Updated Jul 17, 2012

National Park Unit Should Remain a Sanctuary for Newly Recovered Species

By the end of the 1920s, the gray wolf had been eradicated from the greater Yellowstone ecosystem of northwestern Wyoming and southwestern Montana. This species had called this beautiful, mountainous region home for thousands of years, but was pushed out by human development and largely unfounded fears. And the environment suffered for it. Without a top predator, the elk and other grazing species here became lazy, damaging the health of habitats and other species by staying too long in one location and compromising their own genetic make-up.

After years of hard work and compromise dating back to the 1960s, actions were finally taken to restore the greater Yellowstone ecosystem's top predator. In 1995 the National Park Service (NPS) released gray wolves back into the wild inside Yellowstone National Park and since then the species has thrived, becoming a favorite for tourists visiting our nation's first national park. But this successful recovery may soon be in jeopardy if appropriate protections are not taken in anticipation of the gray wolf coming off the endangered species list in Wyoming, which is expected to happen just weeks from today.

Wyoming already plans, as soon as the wolves drop off the Endangered Species List, to declare them a predator in 83 percent of the state, which means they can be shot on sight without a license, and in other areas of the state a certain amount of licenses will be available for hunting wolves. And while one can reasonably question the wisdom of hunting a species immediately after it is no longer on the Endangered Species List, the most egregious action being taken by the state is that the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway, an NPS unit, is being included in their trophy management plan, which covers the areas that allow for licensed hunting. NPS units are created to preserve our nation's natural and cultural heritage and this includes providing a safe-haven for wildlife that have seen their ranges degraded by development and poor outside management. There is no better example of this need as the gray wolf.

It was bad management in the past that led to the original eradication of these beautiful animals. By denying them the protections they deserve in the parkway, which is a vital connecting place for wolves traveling between Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, we could very well be going down that same slippery slope towards driving the population here to a minimum number of wolves, which is only one step away from an accidental eradication.

The reintroduction and recovery of the gray wolf to the northern Rockies is one of the greatest conservation success stories in America. In addition to returning a native species to its home, multiple studies have shown that they have had a tremendous impact on restoring the greater Yellowstone ecosystem to the conditions that existed before human intervention disrupted it. They do this by preventing herds from overgrazing the land, reducing overpopulated elk herds, and helping to restore wetlands and riparian areas by keeping ungulates on the move. Additionally, they attract more visitors to our towns and businesses who want to see this graceful animal in its native habitat. These visitors bring money and keep our economies growing; even in these hard times.

The Department of the Interior and NPS have the ability to protect the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway from its proposed future as a hunting ground for gray wolves. By making this important park unit off limits to wolf hunting, they will be protecting this area's fragile ecosystem and the economic health of the communities around it that depend on visitors eager to see these animals in their native habitat.

National parks are special places; they should serve as safe refuges for native species and especially for those that have just now recovered enough to be taken off the Endangered Species List. When visitors come to Yellowstone, Grand Teton and the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway they expect to see elk, antelope, bison, deer, and wolves. Wolves are valued as a park species, worthy of the same protections afforded to other predators within national parks. Wyoming may have the right to manage wolves at the most minimal levels, but national parks are the last best refuges for all species and wolf hunting should not take place there.