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Wolf wars: Can man and predator coexist in the West?

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Some 4,200 wolves inhabit a trio of upper Great Lakes states (Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin) and another 1,700 wolves live in the West (Idaho, Montana, Wyo­ming, and, more recently, Wash­ington, Oregon, and Utah). When announcing the wolf's removal from federal protection, Mr. Sal­azar trumpeted it as a "tremendous success story for the Endangered Spe­cies Act," even though many en­vironmentalists viewed it as an experiment unfinished.

Officially, the delisting means that management is now handed over to the states, excluding Wyoming, which has yet to draft a plan acceptable to the federal government guaranteeing that wolves will persist. Politicians there have, in effect, classified wolves as vermin, allowing them to be shot by anyone at any time across 80 percent of the state, which critics believe could lead to their annihilation again.

One reason the wolf recovery took as long as it did in the West was the difficulty of the task: It required transplanting wolves from Canada into areas of the US where they hadn't existed in dec­ades.

But the process was also fraught with politics. From the start, ranchers and other antiwolf interests tried to thwart the reintroduction program and have wolves rounded up and removed, while conservationists fought tenaciously to keep them alive. Both sides filed innumerable lawsuits. Hyperbolic claims of impending disaster for cattle and game animals ricocheted through newspaper columns and congressional hearing rooms. Federal authorities had to pursue criminal prosecutions to keep wolf poachers at bay.

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