One of Oregon’s largest native carnivores, the controversial gray wolf, can have far-reaching impacts on plant life in the habitats it occupies, according to an Oregon State University professor. On Tuesday evening, Worthy Brewing will host a presentation by Bill Ripple, professor at OSU’s College of Forestry in Corvallis, about the impact that wolves play on aspen groves and other plants, and on the role that displaced large carnivores play more broadly in the ecosystems they occupy.

“I really think it’s all tied together in a larger ecological and environmental sense,” Ripple said Friday. Ripple began looking at the impact of wolves more than two decades ago, after visiting Yellowstone National Park in 1997.

He noted that aspen trees had stopped growing back after gray wolves were hunted to extinction in the area. When wolves were reintroduced to the park in the mid-1990s and began expanding through the habitat, aspen began to return and grow larger, according to Ripple.

He later published a paper linking the decline in wolf populations to over-browsing of young aspen stands by elk in the area, arguing that wolves play a vital role in the ecosystem by managing elk numbers within their territory. From there, Ripple expanded the research to other displaced predators in other national parks, including Olympic, Zion and Yosemite national parks.

He continued to study gray wolves in Canada’s Jasper National Park. “We consistently found that, when the predator was removed, the plants didn’t flourish,” Ripple said. Read more from…

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