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Biology 103
2001 Third Web Report
On Serendip

Wolves, Wild, Again

Rachel Moloshok

For my last web paper, I thought I'd return to one of my childhood obsessions - wolves. Ever since seeing a cartoon rendition of the story "Mowgli's Brothers" from The Jungle Book (the real thing, not the horrible Disney "interpretations" of it) I fell in love with the idea of wolf-hood. Wolves were once an essential part of our "American culture" and although we drove them away and killed them off in our own country long ago, their importance in the American mind has not decreased. I remembered hearing about their "reintroduction" to America several years ago, but I was younger then and didn't remember or understand much of what actually happened. And with the start of middle school, I was much too preoccupied with homework and cliques and all the other things that made middle school a living hell to worry much about the fate of my canine heroes. However, in thinking about what I was interested in doing for my last web report of the semester, I began to wonder what had happened with the wolf reintroduction. So I resolved to find out. Here are the basics:

In 1995 and 1996, wild timber wolves from Canada were released into Yellowstone Park and Central Idaho. Later, Mexican gray wolves were released into Arizona. The timber wolves came from Alberta and British Columbia (1), some of the last places where wild wolves still live. In January 1995, fourteen wolves from separate packs were trapped, taken to Yellowstone, and put into "acclimation pens".(3). The "acclimation pen" system worked this way: a dominant male and dominant female were placed together with younger subordinate wolves, allowing them time to figure out their new pack structure.(3). This is extremely important because wolves' pack structure is the key to their entire way of life. Given the time to get to know each other and establish a system of dominance amongst each other, the wolves are more likely to form a cohesive "family," and do well in their new environment. In March, the family groups were released together into the park. They were: the "Crystal Creek" pack, the "Rose Creek" pack, and the "Soda Butte" pack.(3). This is known as the "soft release" method. In Idaho, the "hard release" method was used, with young adult wolves being released immediately, without acclimation pens or any such matters. According to Wolf Recovery Coordinator Ed Bangs: "Most wildlife reintroductions are hard releases. But in Yellowstone we thought we had an opportunity to keep wolves in the Park on the northern range, where there are tens of thousands of elk, as well as keep the family breeding groups together".(1). Generally, the "soft release" approach is more successful; with "hard release," wolves have a higher potential to get into trouble trying to get back to their homes.(3). The wolf's instinct to return to its territory is very stong, but "studies have shown that if you move a wolf more than 60 miles from its home territory, it will try to get back home, but it really can't figure it out". (1). Later on two more acclimation pens were built and more wolves released into Yellowstone. In the winter of 1996-1997 the Yellowstone reintroduction program ended. "The reintroduced wolves have continued to mate and produce new litters…2 year olds dispersing and establishing new packs in newly formed territories where wolves have not been seen in many years".(3).

The reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone and Idaho is a success story. "They're doing great," Bangs reports, "The wolves bred right away in Yellowstone, we had two litters born. There were no livestock depredations in '95. It went better than we ever expected it to….We had predicted that we would have to reintroduce wolves for four years. But after two years, the wolves have adapted so well that we don't have to do any more reintroductions. We're done". (1). David Mech (a scientist who has studied wolves for many years), visiting Yellowstone in 1999, said he saw more wolves there in a week than during thirty-five years of research.(3).

However, things have not gone so smoothly in Arizona. Within about three months of their release into the Apache National Forest, five wolves have been shot dead, and others have disappeared.(2). The wolves have many enemies - many people are unhappy about the reintroduction of wolves, especially ranchers, who obviously worry about their sheep and cattle. One New Mexico rancher complains, "'The government came in and put the wolves on us and then didn't give us any way out. It's a lonely place to be…when you don't feel like your government's very damned concerned about you.' He even suggests that the plan is a part of a conspiracy to chase him and other ranchers away". (2). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service takes responsibility for any damage inflicted by the wolves. If a wolf attacks livestock, it is moved to a different location, and if it attacks livestock again, it is killed. Compensation is also provided to the ranchers for any losses. Bangs optimistically explains, "I think everybody has accepted the fact that wolves are here to stay. The reintroductions are over and done with….There's been almost no problems with livestock, and when there have been livestock problems, we efficiently take care of the problem including killing the wolves, and they receive their money from the Defenders of Wildlife…So it's pretty hard to complain, really". (1). It is illegal to kill a wolf on public land, unless under attack. Any wolf killings are investigated by the federal government and harsh penalties are often exacted - offenders can face up to six months jail time and as much as $25,000 in fines. The wolves are protected by the Endangered Species Act. Many local people in Arizona and New Mexico complain that the government cares more about wolves than about them: "We've got unsolved homicides here. And the reward for turning in a person for killing another person is $1,000. If you turn in a person for killing a wolf, you get $50,000. And that only goes to show where the rural people stand. We're worthless".(2). Jess Carey, a New Mexico gun store owner, even "suggests that there could be a ‘civil revolt'": "What's going to happen if one of their…wolves kill one of our children? Is that going to bring an armed revolt" Is that going to bring retaliation on a few of the local supporters? Is it going to bring retaliation on the wolf employees?...The whole country's got to wake up and make a decision. Do they want wolves or do they want us?".(2).

Americans have traditionally hated wolves, driving them to extinction in our country years ago. Bangs explains, "we deliberately got rid of them, as a society….in deference to other social objectives, primarily agriculture and settlement….The federal government actually sent out trappers who spent years hunting down the last wolf and killing it. The last wolves were actually killed by the U.S. Biological Survey, which is the agency that transformed itself into the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that is now responsible for wolf restoration!".(1). With renewed interest in the environment in the ‘50s and ‘60s, however, people began to see wolves as a "keystone" species - an essential element of the North American ecosystem. Without wolves, the ecosystems of North American forests were unbalanced, for instance, there would often be massive die-outs of sick and old elk during the winters - elk that would normally have been taken out by wolves throughout the year. (1). Wolf predation is actually essential to keeping elk and deer populations strong and healthy and under control. Although there is still much protest from local people in Arizona and New Mexico, many ecologists and environmentalists express the optimistic belief that, in the long run, humans and wolves will be able to live well with one another.

WWW Sources

1)"Bringing Wolves Home: Ed Bangs" Nova, PBS

2)"Wild Wolves" CBS News

3)"Yellowstone's Wolf Reintroduction"




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