Crying for the wolf

Restoration plans: Fostering creature's return to the wild runs into human, habitat problems.

February 18, 1999

LAWSUITS and biology are thwarting efforts to restore the long endangered, long vilified wolf to the wild. And the resulting problems raise questions about the viability of captive-breeding, wild-release programs.

A nine-year effort to reintroduce the red wolf in Great Smoky Mountains National Park ended recently when the animals could not catch enough prey. In North Carolina, red wolves have recovered on federal lands, but landowners are in court arguing for the right to shoot the animals on sight.

In Yellowstone National Park, the successful reintroduction of gray wolves has been halted by a federal judge in a case brought by farmers and ranchers.

Hunted, trapped and poisoned to the brink of extinction by humans, small numbers of surviving wild wolves were saved for captive-breeding and eventual restoration, beginning in the 1960s.

Wild restoration of wolves has been protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. But the special classification of wolves by that law is under attack in court.

While breeding programs, at zoos and wildlife centers, have often worked, efforts to repopulate the wild have been disappointing. The Yellowstone plan worked because wild-roaming gray wolves were imported from Canada. In other release programs, wolves have found easier pickings on livestock herds than in the wilds. Numbers have been killed by a domestic dog virus.

Finding the right habitat for restoring native wolves is more difficult than biologists imagined. But efforts to return this majestic symbol of the wild remain worthwhile.

Pub Date: 2/18/99

Crying for the wolf

Restoration plans: Fostering creature's return to the wild runs into human, habitat problems.

LAWSUITS and biology are thwarting efforts to restore the long endangered, long vilified wolf to the wild. And the resulting problems raise questions about the viability of captive-breeding, wild-release programs.

A nine-year effort to reintroduce the red wolf in Great Smoky Mountains National Park ended recently when the animals could not catch enough prey. In North Carolina, red wolves have recovered on federal lands, but landowners are in court arguing for the right to shoot the animals on sight.

In Yellowstone National Park, the successful reintroduction of gray wolves has been halted by a federal judge in a case brought by farmers and ranchers.

Hunted, trapped and poisoned to the brink of extinction by humans, small numbers of surviving wild wolves were saved for captive-breeding and eventual restoration, beginning in the 1960s.

Wild restoration of wolves has been protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. But the special classification of wolves by that law is under attack in court.

While breeding programs, at zoos and wildlife centers, have often worked, efforts to repopulate the wild have been disappointing. The Yellowstone plan worked because wild-roaming gray wolves were imported from Canada. In other release programs, wolves have found easier pickings on livestock herds than in the wilds. Numbers have been killed by a domestic dog virus.

Finding the right habitat for restoring native wolves is more difficult than biologists imagined. But efforts to return this majestic symbol of the wild remain worthwhile.

Pub Date: 2/18/99

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