PHOTO: Owen Riese. Courtesy Photo/Brian Riese.
Endangered wolves have a new ally in the form of Ashburn’s Trailside Middle School.
The school has symbolically adopted a Mexican Gray Wolf from the Wolf Conservation Center (WCC) in South Salem, New York, as part of an ongoing effort to repopulate the species, which was once extinct in the wild.
The idea came from 6-year-old Ashburn resident Owen Riese, who researched wolves over the summer with his father, Brian, and decided he wanted to do something to save one of his favorite animals. The two reached out to Trailside since the school’s mascot is a Timberwolf, Owen’s father Brian Riese said.
The elder Riese said he and Owen are interested in seeing if they can recruit more schools to join Trailside Middle in saving endangered species with their “Save My Mascot” idea, particularly schools with wolf mascots.
WCC Youth Education Coordinator Regan Downey spoke to Trailside students Oct. 5 on the importance of conservation work, and shared photos and videos of the wolf the school is sponsoring.
“We want more people to understand wolves and understand how important they are,” Downey said.
WCC has four ambassador wolves that members of the public can visit and watch on livestream, as well as Mexican Gray Wolves and Red Wolves, two critically endangered wolf species, which center staff breed and release into the wild to rebuild the population.
While some states prohibit the hunting of these endangered wolf species, hunters and ranchers do not face penalties if the wolves are killed while attacking livestock or if they mistake the wolves for coyotes. Forty-four states classify wolves as predators, allowing them to be shot on sight, Downey said.
“People shoot wolves, not for food, but because most of the time, they hate them. They think wolves are scary, they think wolves might eat their pets or eat their livestock, and we want to teach people that’s not necessarily the case,” Downey said. “Wolves are probably more afraid of you than you are of them … you guys are more likely to be killed by cows or deer than by wolves.”
Downey also said the U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee advanced five bills earlier this week that would undermine the Endangered Species Act (ESA). One bill, H.R. 424, seeks to strip ESA protections for wolves in four states. The bill would allow wolves to be shot and trapped for trophy purposes. The bill would also prohibit judicial review–thus preventing any future legal challenge.
The bills are set to go to a vote in the full House of Representatives and Downey encouraged students to contact their representative. When asked if he would write to Rep. Barbara Comstock, Owen Riese enthusiastically said yes.
Trailside students also learned how wolves are critical in preserving the environment. They help control the population of grazing animals, like elk and deer, which allows vegetation to flourish—this in turn feeds other animals, keeps animals moving to avoid being eaten—a step that keeps soil from eroding, which protects streams and rivers.
The last wolves in Yellowstone National Park were killed in the 1920s, Downey said. Because there were no predators, the elk got lazy and stopped moving as frequently. They overgrazed land which altered the entire ecosystem. Once wolves were reintroduced by scientists, the entire ecosystem changed for the better.
“It hadn’t been even 20 years before the environment shifted and changed,” Downey said. “This is what we want people to be aware of.”
In addition to the adoption of F1226, also known as Bella, Trailside teachers will come up with projects in other classes relating to extinction, ecosystems, legislation and persuasive writing, Principal Bridget Beichler said.
“Once you start getting something planted, it’s amazing what kids can do,” Beichler said