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Wolves on way back to Yellowstone.

After a half-century absence, wolves will again roam Yellowstone National Park if a federal proposal becomes reality.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released plans in July to begin reintroducing the gray wolf to Yellowstone and central Idaho in October 1994.

Wolves were exterminated from the area in the 1920s and '30s, as part of federal anti-predator campaigns. The animals are now listed as endangered in every state but Alaska and Minnesota. "Reintroducing the wolf would be a monumental step," said Terri Martin, NPCA Rocky Mountain regional director. "It means bringing back one of the West's major species and making its native places more ecologically whole."

Under the plan, 15 wolves would be transplanted from Canada to the park each fall for three to five years. Another 15 would go to Idaho. By the year 2002, officials expect ten breeding pairs of wolves - and overall populations of 100 animals - to inhabit each region. The same number is projected for northwestern Montana, where wolves from Canada are resettling on their own. When the three populations reach this size, wolves will be considered solidly re-established in the West and can be taken off the endangered species list.

Federal agencies and groups such as NPCA have been working for years toward the eventual reintroduction of wolves. Opponents are afraid wolves will kill livestock and will mean additional land-use restrictions. But under the Fish and Wildlife Service's proposal, wolves that repeatedly prey on livestock could be moved to another area or killed, and no new land-use restrictions would be imposed.

Although wolves may kill a small number of livestock, they are expected primarily to eat elk, along with deer and moose. According to park scientist John Varley, in summer there will be more than 50,000 of these animals available to wolves within Yellowstone. "It's wolf heaven," he said.

For wolves in Alaska, the news is not as good. This summer the state approved a plan for limited reduction of wolves.

The move is a partial retreat from the plan Alaska announced last November, to reduce the number of wolves by having state employees shoot them from airplanes. Alaska Gov. Walter Hickel (I) suspended the plan after angry public reaction, including a tourism boycott by NPCA and other groups.

In a second action, the state permitted expanded use of aircraft in public hunting and trapping of wolves and extended the season until April. "This plan is a disappointing backslide from past agreements regarding wolf management," said Chip Dennerlein, NPCA Alaska regional director. "It abandons the principles of fair chase and encourages unethical hunting."

Under the new proposal, hunters would be permitted to use airplanes to spot and track wolves, as long as they land the plane and move at least 300 feet from it before they begin firing. While shooting wolves or harassing them from aircraft remains illegal, there are not enough wildlife officials to guarantee these restrictions will be observed.

The wolf reduction program excludes an area on the eastern border of Denali National Park and Preserve to protect park wolves that roam beyond the border. But no such buffer zone applies to the new hunting regulations. Dennerlein wrote to Hickel in July asking that Denali wolves be better protected.

While hunting with airplanes is still barred in national parks and preserves, it will be permitted on national wildlife refuges and other federal lands in Alaska under the new regulations.
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Title Annotation:Yellowstone National Park
Publication:National Parks
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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