The path to a healthier climate will come from a “rewilding” of federal land for gray wolves and beavers in the American West, according to one team of researchers.
A report published last week in the journal BioScience said a dedicated sanctuary for the animals that also reduces the available lands for grazing and logging can lead to a climate-friendly revival out west.
“Although gray wolves and beavers currently have low risk of extinction, we are very concerned that these keystone species have been lost from many ecosystems across the American West,” report co-author Christopher Wolf, who is a postdoctoral scholar in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University in Corvallis, told CNN.
The report lays out how gray wolves and beavers serve critical roles in establishing healthy ecosystems.
Gray wolves would help curb the overpopulation of elk and deer that are consequently eating more vegetation since they aren’t threatened by predators. And beavers would help maintain water flows during droughts and generally improve the habitat for animals that live in rivers and visit them for sustenance.
Mr. Wolf told CNN that the proposed area would total approximately 191,500 square miles across 11 western states, which is about 16% of the total land mass of those states.
Some of the proposed sites for “rewilding” include the Mogollon Plateau, the Northern and Southern Rocky Mountains and areas near Yellowstone National Park. It would take up roughly a third of the federally owned land in the west.
A part of making that happen, according to the report, would also include reducing the grazing allotments on federal lands by 29% in 11 western states, or slightly over 175,000 square miles.
Researchers said that livestock grazing can cause stream and wetland degradation, affect how vulnerable an area is to wildfires, inhibit the regeneration of woody species and is a source of greenhouse gas emissions such as methane.
Reducing the amount of federal land available for grazing and logging “within strategic areas of federal lands can play an important role in mitigating climate change by protecting existing carbon stocks,” the researchers wrote.
The report said that only 2% of the nation’s meat comes from the land that it proposes to remove from livestock grazing.
Researchers said that “If implemented alongside fine-scale conservation planning, it would restore critical ecological processes with minimal human interference, protect many endangered and at-risk species, increase resilience to climate change, and sustain an array of ecosystem services.”