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Bringing back the pack.

IF YOU GO BACK FAR ENOUGH in natural history--perhaps a dozen millennia or so--all bloodlines of Canis familiaris merge into one. Poodles and pekinese, Great Danes and dachshunds, basset hounds and Irish setters can all be traced to their wild cousin the wolf.

Scientists say at one point not long ago, wolves roamed freely from North America to East Asia, from the polar north to the subtropical south, and from island archipelagos such as Great Britain to land bridges such as the Bering Strait, which connected Russia and Alaska.

Communities of wild canids inhabited every region colonized by Homo sapiens until a purge began across three dozen countries. On this continent, one of the most effective wolf-killing crusades occurred in the lower 48 states, where hundreds of thousands of wolves were poisoned, trapped, or shot. In Montana alone between 1883 and 1942, more than 100,000 wolves and their pups were killed to protect livestock and big-game animals. These ruthless campaigns extended into national parks, eliminating the last 136 wolves from Yellowstone and scores more from Glacier National Park. The slaughter reduced the wolves' numbers so much that their long-term survival has been jeopardized. Today, the only viable populations in North America live in Alaska, Minnesota, and Canada.

"The whole irony is inescapable," says John Weaver, a carnivore expert who is writing a dissertation on wolves. "We domesticated small species of wolves to become our work animals and companions, yet we seem to have this irrational fear of wolves even when their descendants are lying at our feet."

After decades of persecution, the animals are coming back. And just as having a new president in the White House gives signs of hope, howls of wolves in the wild signal a time of renewal for America's public lands.

Wolves have returned to several national parks across the United States either on their own or with the assistance of the same federal government that once sanctioned their slaughter. In fact, the government is exploring plans to restore wolves to Yellowstone National Park, a proposal that has received global attention and provided a battleground for conservationists who support the plan and private interests that oppose it. While opponents claim wolves are uncontrollable killers that will destroy livestock and cost ranchers their livelihoods, supporters believe wolves must be returned to Yellowstone and other parks to fully restore these areas to health. "Humans were responsible for eliminating wolves from Yellowstone and other places by massacring them earlier in this century," says Terri Martin, NPCA's Rocky Mountain regional director. "We have a moral and scientific imperative to return them to their place in the natural scheme of things."

John Weaver says national parks are important for a whole range of carnivores, in part because the animals need the large spaces to breed and reproduce without fear of perscution. "Unless we can guarantee them some network of refugia and core protection, I don't believe wild predators will make it over the long term. With the wolf, parks afford us a second chance."

Studies done in Canada have direct implications for Yellowstone and other national parks in the world's temperate zones, says Weaver. Research suggests that wolves yield dividends for mid-size predators such as wolverine, lynx, fox, and fisher that benefit from having more elk, deer, and moose carcasses available. In Yellowstone, field researchers say that since the wolf disappeared in the 1930s, populations of predators other than coyotes have been in decline, while elk numbers have surged. Of all major mammal species that inhabited Yellowstone since the end of the Pleistocene era, only the gray wolf is missing, and this species represents the last piece in a complicated wildlife jigsaw puzzle.

"By restoring predators into a few places where we killed them off, we can begin to atone for all the wrongs we inflicted upon them throughout recorded history," says Weaver. "Another reason I get so thrilled about the prospect relates more to the integrity of our parks themselves. By bringing a native species back, we're making parks whole again."

In some areas wolves are entering the parks without the help of the federal government. Gray wolves (Canis lupus) are recolonizing Glacier National Park in Montana, and the animals are moving south from Canada into forests near North Cascades National Park in Washington. Some conservationists envision that the offspring of these immigrants could eventually be transplanted to other locations in the Rocky Mountains, Pacific Northwest, and Great Plains. But federal biologists say this information offers merely a glimpse of the total wolf portrait.

Gray wolves have maintained a presence at Isle Royale National Park in Michigan for more than 50 years, and some of Minnesota's 1,700 wolves (the largest wild population in the lower 48 states) have re-established territories in the lake-filled forests of Voyageurs National Park along the Minnesota-Canada border.

Elsewhere, other species of wolves have been reintroduced with some success. The red wolf (Canis rufus)--a smaller cousin of the gray wolf all but eliminated from its native southeastern United States--has been given a second chance through a landmark restoration program at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina. And in the Southwest, captive Mexican wolves (Canis lupus baileyi)--a desert subspecies of the gray wolf--might someday be transplanted into Big Bend National Park in Texas as well as placed in wildlands across Arizona, New Mexico, and southern California.

Although opponents are quite vocal, support for these plans is extensive. Last summer, as a means of testing that support, Defenders of Wildlife sponsored a voting booth for Yellowstone's visitors. Of some 35,000 votes cast, 97 percent backed wolf restoration.

"I don't think there is any question about the widespread public support for reintroducing wolves into national parks," says George Berklacy, the National Park Service's chief spokesman. Berklacy has worked for the agency for 33 years, serving under eight different presidents, some of whom were openly opposed to wolf reintroduction. "With Bruce Babbitt in the Interior Department, we have every reason to be encouraged that wolf recovery programs will succeed and proceed."

With a conservation-minded Interior Secretary, the Park Service will have the administrative support it needs to carry out a 20-year-old mandate to bring wolves back from biological oblivion and return them to wilderness parks. In 1973, when Congress first adopted the Endangered Species Act, the gray wolf was listed as endangered in all of its former haunts except Minnesota, where it was listed as threatened, and Alaska, where the wolf population is considered healthy.

The law stipulates that a recovery plan must be drafted for each species listed as endangered or threatened, but a plan for wolves did not emerge until 1987, 14 years after the law was enacted. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service targeted three areas for wolf recovery in its Revised Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery Plan: the Yellowstone ecosystem; wilderness areas of central Idaho; and the Northern Continental Divide ecosystem that includes Glacier National Park.

Even though the plan was first released more than five years ago, the USFWS has had trouble moving forward, in part, because of steadfast opposition from a variety of livestock, hunting, and Wise Use groups.

"We're not going to let wolves get back into Yellowstone and that's a fact," shouted Sam Harvey, a member of the Wise Use Movement from Bozeman, Montana, who last summer helped to organize a protest against wolves in Yellowstone, which drew about 40 people. Another protester, Jack Atcheson of the Skyline Sportsmen's Club in Butte, Montana, said, "We don't care if there are wolves put in Yellowstone, but we want them managed as soon as they leave the park." The sportsmen's club maintains that the best way of "managing" the predators is to shoot them on sight. "Wolves are calculated killers who are going to make a hell of an impact on wildlife, and that's not what we need."

Changing public attitudes to accept wolves has been painstakingly slow, given centuries of festering enmity. "These people cannot be changed," wrote L. David Mech in his definitive work, The Wolf. Mech, a veteran biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Minnesota, is a preeminent wolf expert. "If the wolf is to survive, the wolf haters must be outnumbered. They must be outshouted, outfinanced, and outvoted. Their narrow and biased attitude must be outweighed by an attitude based on an understanding of natural processes."

The same year that Congress placed wolves on the federal list of endangered species, a reputable group of scientists and environmentalists associated with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) met in Stockholm, Sweden, and drafted The Wolf Manifesto. "Wolves, like other wildlife, have a right to exist in a wild state," according to the document's simple statement of principles. "This right is in no way related to their known value to mankind. Instead, it derives from the right of all living creatures to co-exist with man as part of the natural ecosystems."

Two of the earliest defenders of wolves and other predators were Olaus Murie, an American elk biologist, and his half brother, Adolph Murie, a carnivore expert. Their joint criticism of the U.S. Biological Survey's (now the Fish and Wildlife Service) predator control program eventually stopped the taxpayer-subsidized killing within the boundaries of national parks.

In 1957, some 30 years before the debate over wolves flared again in Yellowstone and Congress, Olaus Murie put a question before society. "I wonder if we human beings can be fair in our appraisal of anything?" he asked. "To...those who have become aware of what takes place in the out-of-doors, who have the scientific facts and the sensitivity to what nature has to offer us, the wolf symbolizes all those original natural values so important for us, but which, through careless planning, are slipping away from us."

The Muries knew that removing predators from the food chain would upset the natural function of ecosystems, a premise borne out in Yellowstone. "We have 2 million acres with elk running out of our ears," says Durwood Allen, a pioneer of wolf research in the United States. His work has focused on Isle Royale National Park. "[Yellowstone] is a real set-up for wolves."

The question of whether wolves will be returned to Yellowstone may be answered this year as USFWS completes an Environmental Impact Statement. The first animals could be in the park by 1994 if the EIS recommends moving ahead with releasing three breeding pairs of wolves. The ultimate goal for a self-sustaining population is to have ten packs of ten animals each. Yellowstone is viewed by many as a crucial test that will determine the fate of reintroduction proposals for other Western areas, including Rocky Mountain National Park and the San Juan Wilderness Area in Colorado.

By contrast, a wolf reintroduction program at Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been wholeheartedly supported by the public.

"One can learn a great deal by contrasting the level of controversy surrounding gray wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone with the red wolf program that already has been implemented in the Southeast and is considered a model," says Hank Fischer, a conservationist with Defenders of Wildlife who served on a federal wolf advisory panel in the Rockies. "The people in the Great Smoky Mountains took on the task with a can-do attitude and didn't let politics interfere."

Not more than a dozen years ago, the red wolf was believed to be extinct in the wild. The only hope for the species' survival hinged on 14 captive animals. Initially, the red wolf's genetic purity was suspect because of its historic association with coyotes and the possibility of cross-breeding, but this concern is overshadowed by the success of the animal's return.

Jennifer Dagan, a wildlife biologist with USFWS in North Carolina, says today about 225 red wolves survive in the wild and at breeding centers throughout the country. In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the heart of traditional red wolf range, two family groups of 12 are breeding and building dens in the park. Another 100 wolves live in Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge near Manteo, North Carolina, where wolf restoration began in 1987.

"This is very much a pioneering project. The number of complaints has been very low, while the public support has been, for the most part, positive," says Dagan, who adds that her agency is working with private landowners to allow wolves to cross onto property outside parks and refuges. In a reward and compensation program, farmers are reimbursed for livestock lost to wolves, and landowners who allow the predators to den on their property receive bonuses. About $7,500 of the money used in this program was donated by NPCA members.

"By almost every measure, the reintroduction experiment was successful and generated benefits that extended beyond the immediate preservation of red wolves to positively affect local citizens and communities, larger conservation efforts, and other imperiled species," wrote biologist Michael K. Phillips, in a recently published five-year report summarizing red wolf reintroduction efforts at the wildlife refuge.

The USFWS is engaged in an active captive breeding plan for the Mexican wolf that once roamed the Southwest as well. Bounty hunting to protect livestock and decimation of native prey extirpated the lobo from the United States nearly half a century ago.

"Science must prevail over all the old wive's tales," says Mike Hayden, the former assistant secretary of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks who supports wolf restoration projects. Hayden, a former Kansas governor who holds a degree in wildlife biology, said studies dating back to the 1950s indicate that wolves would not pose a major danger to livestock and big-game populations, as long as they have an adequate wild prey base. And that, he says, depends on protecting habitat.

Advocates point to several benefits that transcend the physical value of wolves. A recent study showed that as an annual attraction, wolves in Yellowstone are worth an estimated $19 million, an amount far greater than the value of any livestock losses.

The value of the wolf to some is immeasurable. "If you have ever heard a wolf howl, that's something you remember the rest of your life," says Ed Bangs, a biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service.

For David Mech, who has spent summers crawling on his hands and knees, almost coming nose to snout with arctic wolves in the highest latitudes of Canada, the wolf's return means re-establishing a bond that reaches back to the last Ice Age.

On a recent tour of Yellowstone, Mech stood on a bluff overlooking the park's northern range. Putting his ear to the wind, Mech detected only a vacant breeze. But someday, he said, maybe within the span of one human generation, the sounds of a primordial predator will echo. All around the United States, in national parks and wildlands where wolves used to roam, humans are trying to make amends. Perhaps on a dark evening at the end of this century, the wolves' calls to the wild will not go unheard.

Wolf Slaughter Proposed in Alaska

ALTHOUGH federal wolf recovery programs in the United States appear to be making strides, Alaska took a step backward when it announced plans to shoot from the air as many as 300 gray wolves each year for the next five.

The proposal was put forth in late 1992 by Gov. Walter J. Hickel (I) and hunters who want to kill wolves to inflate numbers of trophy-class moose and caribou. ray wolves are not federally protected in Alaska. "This kind of wildlife 'management' harks back to the barbaric days of strychnine and leg-hold traps," said NPCA Trustee Lowell Thomas, Jr.

The wolf-culling plan was halted until the Board of Game meets to reconsider this summer, but the board dissolved previous ten-mile buffer zones provided to protect wolves of Denali National Park and Preserve.

Action was suspended when Alaska was faced with a boycott that would have cut into the state's $1 billion a year tourism industry. A poll conducted by Alaska tourism officials showed the public was opposed by a margin of 4 to 1 to wolf control using aircraft. Aerial killing of wolves had been outlawed in Alaska since 1984 because of a public outcry that labeled the practice cruel.

"While the immediate threat has diminished, this battle is not over," said David J. Simon, NPCA's natural resources program manager.

NPCA members should write to the board opposing any plan to cull the wolf population in Alaska. Members also should write to ask that the board reinstate the ten-mile buffer zones to protect the wolves. Send letters to Chairman Dick Burley, Board of Game, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, P.O. Box 25526, Juno, AK 99802.
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Title Annotation:wolf populations in the national parks; includes related article
Author:Wilkinson, Todd
Publication:National Parks
Date:May 1, 1993
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