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

Last Call of the Wild: The End of Wolf

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.’
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