Point of View: Connecting ecology in Alaska and Yellowstone

As inhabitants of planet Earth, we hit the jackpot in terms of life; our planet is the only habitable planet in our solar system, and the Earth’s moon and tilted axis provide us with essential parts of Earth life such as seasons, the tides, and light in the nighttime.

However, for millennia we have taken our lovely planet for granted, and the harrowing effects can surely be seen today. Over the past centuries, the Earth has seen the uncountable effects of human negligence; thousands of unique animals have been mowed down carelessly for our own interests, radiation from our own weapons of destruction have irreversibly polluted, and the planet is poisoned every year by global warming.

Nevertheless, oases in the ever-changing world still exist, one being the wonder that is Yellowstone National Park. Since the park’s inception in 1872, Yellowstone has stood as a reminder to the planet’s natural beauty, nearly untouched by humans, and has solved ecological problems that many other places could learn from, including my home state of Alaska.

During my class’s trip to Yellowstone we learned about many of the ecological miracles that took place in Yellowstone. One of the lessons that stuck with me the most was what we learned about the elk populations and habits before and after the reintroduction of wolves.

During one of our hikes, we stopped to play a game which simulated elk populations in Yellowstone, and halfway through the game, wolves were added to the game that could predate on the elk. Afterwards, data from the game was collected and we found that before wolf introduction, elk populations experienced huge booms and declines every year, until when wolves were reintroduced, when the population quickly became stable.

That lesson showed the importance of species balance, and the dangerous effects which can come from total eradication of a species.

With the lesson learned from the eradication of Yellowstone’s wolves, it is important to make sure that mishaps such as that do not happen anywhere else in America.

One of Alaska’s biggest problems in recent history has been the invasive northern pike. Northern pike have been illegally stocked in Southcentral Alaska, including the Kenai Peninsula, and have been reducing fishing quality in that region by preying on native fish such as salmon.

Salmon are some of Alaska’s most important fish, as they not only provide a food source for animals such as bears, kingfishers, and seagulls, but also provide livelihood and income for many Alaskans through fishing. If Alaska’s salmon population were to decline significantly, it would wreak havoc on both the environment and economy.

Thankfully, invasive northern pike have been seeing a decline in Southcentral Alaska due to various government removal projects and the work of local fishermen.

In conclusion, the Earth’s natural environment is a complex yet delicate system which can be disrupted at any moment.

However, national parks such as Yellowstone have helped show the rest of the world how important maintaining a stable ecosystem is, and how it can be replicated across the world.

Although there have been many mistakes throughout the park’s history, the mistakes have also served as lessons on sustaining ecosystems, and can even be learned from all the way up here in Alaska. Yellowstone and Alaska both serve as reminders that ecological restoration can happen anywhere.

Alex Eberle is an eighth grade student at Chapman School and wrote this essay after a school expedition to Yellowstone National Park.