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11/04/2013

Bringing Wolves Back: Snatching Victory From the Jaws of Defeat

gray wolf

One of my most important outdoor experiences was spending a week backpacking on Isle Royale National Park, in Lake Superior, as a teenager. Early one morning, as I sat by the shore of a pond on the island, I spotted a gray wolf on the other side of the pond. I swear it looked me in the eye, as we shared in the beauty of the beginning of the day. That wildlife encounter stuck with me and, years later, I knocked on doors to gain support for reintroducing wolves to suitable areas in Colorado. 

In the mid 1990s, I was the head of a statewide Wyoming conservation organization when wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park. In Yellowstone, wolves quickly reestablished a natural order to the park, culling out weak deer and elk and out-competing coyotes. Areas that were once overgrazed by elk and deer have recovered, and birds, beaver, and other wildlife are bouncing back. The return of the wolf has pumped new tourism dollars into local communities around Yellowstone, as people come from all over the world to see and hear wolves in the wild.

Unfortunately, the hatred for wolves from a small, yet politically powerful, group of Western state leaders in Wyoming prompted efforts to establish a state-funded wolf bounty and eventually categorized wolves as essentially "vermin." Such state "predator" status means that wolves are regarded as pests outside of Yellowstone. No longer protected as an endangered species outside of park boundaries, hundreds have been trapped and shot, ensuring that they will not recover as a viable species in most of the West.

Last June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed no longer protecting gray wolves as an endangered species in the vast majority of the country, threatening any chance of wolves returning to much of their former range. Putting the fate of wolves back into the hands of the Western state politicians will not keep them on the road to recovery but send them down a path to destruction.

This is also a critical time for Mexican wolves, the smallest, rarest, southernmost-occurring wolf. Although the Mexican wolf would keep its "endangered" status, the Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed changes that could severely limit recovery efforts for this wolf, one of the most endangered animals in North America. Today, only about 75 Mexican wolves live in the wild. Education efforts and increased law enforcement throughout the Mexican wolf recovery area are needed.

If you live out west, you can tell the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in person that wolves must be protected. The agency has rescheduled public hearings to take place on November 19 in Denver; November 20 in Albuquerque, NM; November 22 in Sacramento, CA; and December 3 in Pinetop, AZ. Each public hearing will include a short briefing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and provide the public a chance to give comments as well.

Wolf photo by Larry AllanAnd if you can't be there in person, join us in calling for more wolf protections with this online action.  Add your voice to the more than 700,000 other Americans who've urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to uphold the spirit of the Endangered Species Act and continue to help wolf populations recover in the wild.

A few years ago, in Yellowstone, my wife, 8-year old son, and 13-year-old daughter watched a pack of wolves close in on a herd of elk in Yellowstone. We shared a spotting scope with a woman from Wisconsin, a family from Spain, and a long-time Wyoming resident. Seeing that pack of wolves stalking a herd of elk, and watching the elk clump together to defend themselves against the pack, showed that the law of nature has been restored to Yellowstone. 

We must allow the recovery of wolves to continue under the Endangered Species Act. The job is far from finished. Bringing back wolves restores the  predator-prey interactions that preceded humans and have shaped the wild special places that we all love today.

-- Dan Chu, Our Wild America campaign director. Bottom photo by Larry Allan.


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