Some veteran wolf biologists call the designated federal restoration a big mistake.
need to reintroduce wolves," says Diane Boyd, who for the past 15
years has studied wolves as they have migrated down from Canada and
naturally recolonized the Glacier National Park ecosystem in
northern Montana. "The wolves are doing it themselves. There's wild
wolves all around Yellowstone."
Boyd has had the
experience of watching and studying wolves as they naturally
recolonized much of northwestern Montana. In 1979, Boyd and other
researchers captured a lone female in a remote drainage just west
of Glacier Park; now eight packs live in northern Montana, and the
wolves are moving south to fill up vacant ecological
"Wolves disperse," she says, "and they
breed like rabbits." (Wolves produce one litter a year, with from
three to 14 pups, depending on the quality of the habitat.. There
is only one breeding pair in each pack - the "alpha wolves."
Wolf sightings have been verified near Deer
Lodge, Mont., 100 miles or so north of Yellowstone, and a wolf was
shot there. Molecular DNA tests show it was related to wolves from
northern Montana. A wolf was shot at Fox Creek in Wyoming, south of
Yellowstone; another animal Boyd is certain is a wolf was filmed in
Sharing Boyd's view is Robert Ream,
a wildlife biologist who directed the study of wolves on the North
Fork of the Flathead River on the park boundary. Park Service
officials have said they haven't found wolves, but Ream says they
haven't been looking hard. "People pushing for reintroduction have
so much invested, it's hard for them to back off."
A wild wolf population is far preferable, Ream
and Boyd say, to one created by humans.
wolves are brought in by the federal government, Boyd says, "there
are no more natural wolves in Yellowstone." All canids, even ones
that have come on their own, will be intensively managed. "It
becomes a political rather than a biological population. Once the
government puts the wolves in, they have to manage them. Forever."
In natural colonization, Boyd says, "There is a
really strong selective process at work. Wolves that go to
Yellowstone choose to go there. They ran the gantlet to get there.
They don't eat livestock; they avoid people. They stay out of
sight. Those behaviors are really good to pass on."
Ream says it's difficult to predict how long it
might take for wolves, left on their own, to establish a breeding
population - a reproducing male and female. "It could be happening
now. It could happen in a year. But I would expect it to happen
somewhere within the next two to 10 years."
Based on her experience on the North Fork, Boyd
also believes that a natural population makes a lot of sense from a
social perspective. "The wolves up north trickled in," she says.
"The locals aren't wolf lovers, but they got used to it. Big
Brother did not shove the wolves down their throat. That makes a
huge difference. You need the support of the locals."
Jim Robbins writes in