The Strength of the Pack is the Wolf… The Strength of the Wolf is the Pack!

In a recent article in Supply Chain Navigator, I spend some time discussing the interesting relationship between the introduction of wolves in Yellowstone Park, and the evolution of digital supply chains.

When the wolves were all killed off in 1926 due to over-hunting, the elk population erupted, and the larger herds took a heavy toll on the systems’ trees and plants. When 31 wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone in 1974, ten years later the population had grown to 301. Not only was the elk population reduced by half in the years that followed, but the over browsing of wood species by elk, notably aspen, cottonwood and willow was halted. This “trophic cascade” of wolves impact on increasing the population of trees, also impacted the lives of beavers, which feed off willows. And the wolves also reduced the number of coyotes in the park, which feed on young pronghorn antelope. Studies have shown that fawn survival rates are four times higher in sites with wolves then without them.

The rationale behind this is simple: Predators keep the balance of nature, and mankind needs to think about letting the natural rules of evolution play out. In the world of supply chains, the “natural rule” of evolution also emphasizes open and free trade, emphasizing open forces of competition, that drive naturally occurring outcomes. When wolves or elk are out of balance, bad things start to happen to the natural ecosystem. By the same token, supply chains should also compete fairly.

In our new book “The LIVING Supply Chain“, Tom Linton and I  propose that humankind needs to seriously consider letting the natural rules of evolution play out in the world of supply chain commerce as well. Today’s supply chains require competition to thrive but also require a degree of harmony. This is an important concept to remember, as we face a new world order that is increasingly localized and closing borders.

The “natural rule” of evolution emphasizes open and free trade and open forces of competition, which can spur innovation and continuous improvement. In this new fast-moving, digital economy, unbalanced supply chains can cause a cascade of economic impacts and instability.  Competition is good – but so is transparency.  We need both to keep the ecosystem healthy, and the wolves roaming for prey.

A New York Times story suggests that may change, researchers say, as more hunting is allowed in the states that surround the park.  As the packs grew, many wolves roamed outside the national park, replenishing the wild lands. Wolves now number about 1,700 in the Western states of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon and Washington. Threats to livestock have intensified in recent years, pitting ranchers against conservationists and prompting some states to permit limited wolf hunting again at certain times.  A paper published last year by Dr. Smith and others found that sightings of wolves in Denali and Yellowstone “were significantly reduced” by as much as 45 percent from trapping and hunting.  Let’s keep the wolves healthy, and not hunt them down, for the good of everything in the ecosystem!  And think about this the next time you negotiate with a supplier or distributor, or when you vote for a politician who wants to shut down free trade…