A call for the wild in Yellowstone Park Wolf recovery: Restoration project in preserve needs protection from Farm Bureau challenge.

July 29, 1998

THE WOLF, after making remarkable recoveries in the Great Lakes region and the Rocky Mountains and on the verge of leaving the federal endangered species list, is threatened in Yellowstone National Park by old foes -- ranchers and farmers.

While park visitors and rangers have cheered the restoration of wolves to Yellowstone, the American Farm Bureau Federation says the 1995 experiment violates the Endangered Species Act.

It has gained support from a federal judge who has ordered removal of the "nonessential" gray wolves. That decision is under appeal. The argument is that the transplanted wolves are not an endangered species.

But the real reason that ranchers don't want the Yellowstone wolves, now numbering about 100 from an original 31, is because they kill sheep and cattle. There's a wolf-killed livestock compensation fund, with 100 claims in three years, but farmers say it's hard to prove the loss.

The new wolves have filled an important ecological niche. They've expanded the park's biological diversity and trimmed the overpopulation of elk, who overgraze natural vegetation. They also have reduced the number of coyotes, allowing for recovery of small mammals and raptors that were overmatched by the coyote.

Wolves biologically maintain their numbers, unlike elk, so overpopulation is unlikely.

Proposals by the Interior Department may end the court dispute. Gray wolves in the Rocky Mountains would be down-listed from endangered to threatened, giving them equivalent protection with the Yellowstone packs. Wolves in the Great Lakes region would no longer be federally protected. That would not satisfy farmers, but it would make Western wolf management more consistent.

Man exterminated the wolf in Yellowstone 80 years ago. Restoring the wolf to its natural habitat is a success that must be protected, in court and in the national park.

Pub Date: 7/29/98

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