HOWL Colorado

Top Predator on the Plains: Wolf, Bear or Human?

Looking back in time, who was the top predator of the American prairie ecosystem? Wolves, grizzly bears… humans?

As I continue my research of historic wildlife populations in northeastern Montana (read my first post here), it is important to consider how changes in human populations were affecting the ecology of this area. There was a tendency among European and American explorers to romanticize the landscapes they encountered as pristine paradises flourishing with wild animals and vegetation. In fact, this land had been inhabited by hundreds of thousands of humans that had shaped the ecosystem in variable ways.

Aboriginal peoples in the Northern Plains hunted a variety of game animals, but buffalo was certainly the fundamental source of food, clothing, tools and shelter. Archaeological evidence indicates that humans hunted buffalo in Montana as early as 11000 B.C., but it was during the middle prehistoric (4000 to 500 B.C.) that cultures made wide use of buffalo jumps – cliffs over which humans could drive a whole herd of buffalo for slaughter. Archaeologists estimate that humans killed up to 200,000 bison a year in Montana using this method, whereas wolves only killed 25,000…

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