Wolves arrived in central Idaho and Yellowstone last week after evading enemies in courtrooms and legislatures around the region. The frenzy of last-minute legal maneuvering preceding their return has fragmented opinion on both sides of the issue and bewildered onlookers.
Five months ago, to block
the wolves' return, the American Farm Bureau and the Mountain
States Legal Foundation announced they would seek an injunction in
federal court. Federal officials agreed to delay the scheduled
November release until a hearing could be held in late
When the hearing was held Dec. 21 in
U.S. District Court in Cheyenne, Wyo., ranchers who remembered the
days when wolves still roamed the area told Judge William Downes
they feared the predators would decimate their herds.
Environmentalists countered that nearly 1,700 wolves live among
Minnesota's dairy farms with minimal losses, and they noted that
the group Defenders of Wildlife had established a $100,000 fund to
pay ranchers for any livestock that is lost to the
On Jan. 3 Judge Downes decided that
"expressions of fear and trepidation, however genuine, can not be
accepted as proof of immediate and irreparable harm." He denied the
injunction. His decision was upheld by the 10th Circuit Court of
Appeals after it issued a brief stay to consider the appeal.
However, attorneys say their lawsuit pressing for removal of the
wolves will continue.
"The issue is not wolves,"
Karen Henry, president of the Wyoming Farm Bureau, told the
Associated Press. "The issue is control of the land. This is part
of a bigger agenda from the Interior Department to control the
Wolf restoration is also being challenged
in state legislatures. Wyoming lawmakers are considering a bill
that would place a $500 bounty on every wolf found outside of a
national park and provide legal defense for any wolf killer charged
with violating the Endangered Species Act. Legislatures in Idaho
and Montana are also considering bills opposing the restoration
Environmentalists heralded the wolves'
return to the West as a turning point for America's relationship
with wilderness. But while groups supported restoration in
Yellowstone, the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund filed suit in
federal court on behalf of the Sierra Club, Audubon Society and
three other groups seeking to change the terms of the wolves'
restoration to central Idaho.
Because wolves are
already recolonizing the state on their own, they are protected as
an "endangered" species, the groups said. Under the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service plan, all wolves in the area have been downgraded
to an "experimental nonessential" species. That allows ranchers to
harass or kill wolves that prey upon livestock and does little to
protect wolf habitat.
"In its rush to bring
experimental nonessential wolves into Idaho, the (U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service) has failed completely to protect Idaho's existing
endangered wolves," said Brian Peck, National Audubon Society
wildlife specialist. "The final wolf reintroduction proposal for
Idaho is more protective of extractive industries than wolves."
Long-time backers of the Yellowstone
reintroduction plan include the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and
the Wolf Fund, a group that has been promoting the reintroduction
of wolves to Yellowstone for nine years.
Askins, the founder of the group, supports experimental
nonessential status for Yellowstone wolves because she believes a
flexible management plan will promote good will. "Laws don't
protect wolves," she says. "People protect wolves."
* Anders Halverson, HCN