Last Call of the Wild: The End of Wolf Recovery?

| November 15, 2000

Last Call of the Wild: The End of Wolf Recovery?

On the brink of extinction just 25 years ago, the wolf has made a dramatic comeback. Thanks to re-introduction programs in effect from Michigan to Idaho, the wolf population in the lower 48 states has rebounded from just one wild pack living on Lake Superior's Isle Royale in 1974 to dozens of self-sustaining packs in forests across the northern states.

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt calls the rebound a victory, and has proposed removing the wolf from the Endangered Species list. 'But the environmentalists that have fought hardest for wolf recovery see another side to this story,' reports Kevin Burke in In These Times. Wildlife advocates like Bob Ferris of Defenders of Wildlife say 'delisting wolves while they are still confined to less than 5 percent of their historical range is a capitulation to the right-wing political forces who have fought the wolf as the living symbol of all things wild, predatory, and federally protected.'

Most of the opposition to wolf recovery comes from ranchers who claim wolves are a threat to livestock. But wolf recovery officials in charge of the two largest programs, in Idaho and Yellowstone Park, point out that 'Wolf predation near Yellowstone has averaged less than the 19 cattle and 68 sheep per year predicted in the reintroduction plan's environmental impact statement,' writes Burke. By comparison, Burke says 'livestock producers in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem average yearly losses to disease and weather of 8,300 cattle and 13,000 sheep.'

Burke suggests that large agribusiness interests are the real force behind this move. 'Like the spotted owl in the Northwest, the battle over wolf recovery has been used by corporate interests to drive a wedge between natural allies--threatened family ranchers striving to preserve the integrity of their land, and environmentalists trying to preserve and restore threatened ecosystems ... Learning to coexist with wolves encourages the kind of dialogue between environmentalists and rural people that could result in better land-use policies.'
--Leif Utne
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