Hobbled federal wolf program attracts friends and money

  • Alpha Male No. 10 in Yellowstone National Park

    Barry and Teri O'Neill/NPS
 

With a little help from their friends, another batch of Canadian wolves will be released in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho this winter, despite congressional budget action designed to halt the project in its tracks.

Environmental groups have pledged $40,000 so far, enough money to find and identify about 30 appropriate wolves in British Columbia this January. Canadian agencies are donating staff time, makers of radio collars have offered discounts, and a camera company is donating equipment, according to Ed Bangs, wolf-recovery coordinator in Montana for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Even Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., a leading foe of wolf restoration, sounds resigned. "They've made up their mind to do it," Burns said. Burns had ushered through Congress a $200,000 cut in the federal wolf budget, lopping off a third of the agency's wolf money.

He got the cut, but he didn't halt the project.

The agency "took the pain internally," Bangs said, by cutting staff instead of projects. Now, private and government wolf advocates are raising money to make up the difference.

Defenders of Wildlife, the Idaho Wolf Education and Research Center and the Yellowstone Association have promised the first $40,000, and more money could be forthcoming from other sources.

Bozeman, Mont., artist Dan Smith has donated the proceeds from a limited-edition print of the Yellowstone wolf killed in Montana last spring, raising nearly $20,000. "(Wolf) Number 10 being shot has created an incredible martyr and served as a story line" for talking about wolves in Yellowstone, Smith said (HCN, 11/27/95).

Kurt Hawkins, a Salt Lake City publishing executive, organized a Nov. 18 fundraiser, called "Wolfstock 95," at the Sundance Resort. It raised $23,000, Hawkins said, "and over half of those people were Republicans."

He is now planning a springtime "Wolfstock 96" in Park City, Utah, which he thinks could raise over $100,000. His other plans include major corporate sponsorship, celebrity endorsements, a benefit concert and a possible fundraising link to the upcoming winter Olympics in Salt Lake.

Mike Phillips of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said fully funding the Yellowstone portion of the project would cost about $335,000 a year. Yellowstone's 1996 wolf budget now stands at $104,000.

To make up the difference, Phillips talks about "privatizing" the wolf program. "We think it's right to move away from the almighty tax dollar," he said.

Such talk doesn't sit well with everybody. "I don't want it to set a precedent," said Dan Ferris, spokesman for Defenders of Wildlife in Washington, D.C. "We as Americans should fund the laws we've got on the books."

Both the administration and Congress ask bureaucrats to "be entrepreneurs' and raise money for popular programs, said Yellowstone Park researcher John Varley. Yet success in doing so often results in budget cuts.

Such programs also won't work with less charismatic animals, Varley predicted.

"Try to do it with the Preeble's shrew," he said. "It's part of our biodiversity, but I don't expect a $100,000 check to come rolling in."

Wolves are a special case. Bringing them back to Yellowstone has attracted sympathetic attention all over the world. Plus, the program's first year was a success, with two of the three packs reproducing and no confirmed livestock kills. One more year of such success could put the wolves on the path to full recovery, Bangs said. "We're ahead of schedule," he added.

With Park Service support, Barry O'Neill, a Golden, Colo., photographer, has formed an organization he calls the Call of the Wild Foundation. It kicked off a fund-raiser in Denver two weeks ago.

While there is little he can do about the private wolf efforts, Sen. Burns doesn't like them much. He called projects like Wolfstock "an arrogant and elitist mindset" and said he resented people "imposing their will" on Montana, and thereby ranchers near Yellowstone to bear the costs of wolf reintroduction.

Kurt Hawkins replied that many politically conservative people have donated to Wolfstock. "Wolves are acting as a metaphor for those from the right to get involved in environmental issues," Hawkins said. Politicians like Burns, he added, "are dead wrong in their reading of this."

The writer works in Montana for the Bozeman Chronicle.

Donations to help wolf recovery can be sent to the Yellowstone Wolf Project, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190, or the Call of the Wild Foundation, 2381 Juniper Court, Genesee, CO 80401.