Editor's note: After being trapped, caged, tested for disease and analyzed by genotype by having blood and tissue taken, inoculated, ear-tagged, radio-collared and tranquilized, they were loaded up for a plane ride south. This was a trip more than a decade in the making - restoring wolves to the West.
Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, on hand
at Yellowstone National Park, called it "an incredible victory that
has been a terribly long time coming."
attention focused on the park, where eight wolves remain in a pen.
They will not be released into the wild until they have become
acclimatized some six weeks from now. But in Idaho, four wolves
were set free for real, and they are now on the move. Idaho Falls
Post Register reporter Rocky Barker saw the animals emerge into
their new home last
FRANK CHURCH-RIVER OF NO
RETURN WILDERNESS, Idaho - Soon after Moon Star Shadow, a 90-pound,
silver-tipped, black male wolf stepped out of his cage here Jan.
14, he stopped to urinate - a wolf's way of telling the world, its
new territory was Idaho.
He and three other
Canadian wolves were the first of at least 150 wolves expected to
be reintroduced to the wilds of Idaho and Yellowstone National Park
in the next five years. Their release ended a 74-hour ordeal for
the endangered predators. It also gave the Clinton administration a
major environmental accomplishment.
Langhorst, director of the Ketchum-based Wolf Education and
Research Center, said he hoped the reality of wolves back in Idaho
would end opposition to the predators as people "start to learn
they can live with wolves here."
The two male
and two female wolves were loaded on a plane in Hinton, Alberta,
Wednesday, Jan. 11, and flown to Great Falls, Mont., along with
eight wolves destined for Yellowstone. While the plane was
airborne, a federal appeals court in Denver issued an emergency
order halting the reintroduction at the request of the American
Farm Bureau (see accompanying story).
was lifted the next day, allowing Yellowstone's wolves to be placed
in a large enclosure, but the court's decision was not in time to
move the Idaho wolves to the staging area in Salmon. By Friday,
when they arrived in Salmon, the wolves had been sitting in metal
transport cages for more than 48 hours. Then, overcast weather in
the mountains prevented their journey by helicopter to the Frank
Church-River of No Return Wilderness.
didn't lift Saturday morning, and officials decided to truck the
wolves to the end of the icy Salmon River Road. That left the
wolves with a final four-hour-long, bumpy drive, accompanied by a
caravan of reporters, wolf advocates and
"This wasn't our first choice," said
Laird Robinson, a Forest Service spokesman for the interagency
team. "This long in cages is unprecedented. It's too long. It was a
case of diminishing returns."
ordeal, the wolves appeared none the worse for wear. Moon Star
Shadow, a 2- to 3-year-old, loped gracefully to the banks of the
ice-floe-laden Salmon River and headed west into the wilderness
shortly after he was set free. As he moved off, Boise wolf advocate
Suzanne Laverty celebrated with a long, haunting howl while
Langhorst poured wine for a toast.
names were given by students of schools around the state who
painted radio collars for the animals. They will keep tabs on their
movements through the "Track a Wolf Program," run by Langhorst's
Seventy-six-pound Chat Chaaht,
which means older brother in the Nez Perce language, went second,
following the path of the first. Akiata, a gray-black, 75-pound
three-year-old, female, was third in line and the only one to show
David Hunter, an Idaho state wildlife
veterinarian, prodded and pushed the wolf, attempting to pry her
from the den-like cage that had become a safe haven. Finally he
snared the wolf and lifted her out of the cage. Once free she
followed the other two downriver.
82-pound, 5-year-old dark-gray female, quickly left her cage and
ran first upriver, then eventually followed the others into "the
"They've got 50 miles they could go
before they run into anybody," Robinson said. "It's real good
habitat for wolves. It's rugged and full of elk, mule deer and
In Yellowstone, biologists are
trying to establish families or packs intact. Idaho's four wolves
are unrelated by design. Ed Bangs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
biologist who heads the reintroduction team, said the idea in Idaho
was to replicate the natural process of pack-forming for wild
wolves. Only the two dominant, or alpha, wolves in the pack mate.
Just before breeding begins in February, younger pack members
disperse to seek a mate and form a pack of their
When the animals first start out on their
own in Idaho, he said, they'll try to find their home. "When they
realize they can't find it, that dispersal instinct will kick in."
Not everyone was pleased about Idaho's newest
residents. Just before the wolves arrived, newly-inaugurated Gov.
Phil Batt, R, and the Idaho congressional delegation demanded a
halt to federal reintroduction.
Debate over who
will control the wolves now on the ground remains unresolved. Idaho
has been working on its own wolf management plan in cooperation
with the Fish and Wildlife Service for about a year. The state plan
gives ranchers more leeway for killing problem wolves but not as
much as ranchers want.
If lawmakers approve the
plan, Idaho's Fish and Game Deptartment will take over management
of the wolves; if they don't, the Fish and Wildlife Service has
already prepared to contract with the Nez Perce Tribe to manage
Barker is the author of Saving All the Parts, a book on endangered
species published by Island