Eight years after a wolf walked out of a pen and howled in Yellowstone National Park, it is clear the predators are here to stay.
The restoration of wolves to Idaho and
Yellowstone in 1995 has been wildly successful, even though many
Westerners remain bitter about an intrusive federal government.
Now, a decision announced earlier this month by the Bush
administration may prevent the return of wolves to wild places in
This isn’t playing fair, and Westerners
should oppose it.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
announced March 18 that gray wolves would be "downlisted" under the
Endangered Species Act from endangered to threatened. This means
federal biologists no longer believe wolves are on the brink of
extinction in the United States, and the new listing allows more
flexibility in killing "problem" wolves. In Idaho and Wyoming,
officials already have that flexibility because the wolves were
reintroduced as experimental populations with special rules.
What this decision really means is that Easterners are
off the hook. The Bush plan would combine in one group healthy
populations that have returned naturally to Midwestern states such
as Minnesota and Wisconsin, with nonexistent populations in the
East. This means the chance wolves will be reintroduced to Maine
and New York is practically nil.
Wolves will still be
considered endangered in the Southwest. But in places like Nevada,
Utah, Washington, Oregon, Montana and California, wolves will have
less federal protection. This may please many Westerners. It will
certainly make it easier for ranchers and others who have to deal
with the wolf’s taste for cattle and house pets.
Why should Westerners care about wolves in the Adirondacks, the
Maine woods or the Catskills? Because wolves occupy only about 2
percent of their historic range, and in the wild and heavily
forested places of the East there is ample habitat and food to
maintain healthy populations. Easterners should also have to face
the same debates and tradeoffs as Westerners. Once upstate New
Yorkers decide it’s necessary to kill off a wolf pack to
accommodate suburban homeowners and their dogs, they may begin to
understand the challenges we’ve been facing out here.
For the record, I’m thrilled that wolves are back
in the West. I have had the opportunity to hear a pack howl in
Yellowstone, and I’ve watched them run through the hills of
the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. These experiences
have enriched my life and enhanced my trips into the backcountry.
But I recognize that many of my friends disagree. Some
would even wipe wolves out again if given the chance, though this
will never happen: The Endangered Species Act removes that option
even after the states take control.
for the most part are making room for wolves, albeit at different
levels of cooperation, and this adaptation could also happen in the
East, though wolves will have a harder time refilling the smaller
pockets of habitat. Yet the East desperately needs more predators,
since Whitetail deer numbers are exploding at the same time that
hunting wanes. Wolves can be the answer to a growing overpopulation
problem that otherwise will be solved with disease.
believe, as many Western conservative members of Congress say they
believe, that the federal government should put as much time and
effort into restoring wolves to New York as it has to bringing them
home to Idaho. Only when wolves howl again in the Adirondacks will
this nation prove its commitment to protecting its natural legacy.