April 24, 1995
Visitors to Idaho’s Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area and Yellowstone National Park may hear the sound of an old denizen of the West – the gray wolf.(wav format, 50K)
In mid-January, 15 imported Canadian gray wolves were released in Idaho, and two months later, wolves held in holding pens in Yellowstone were set free. The controversial wolf-reintroduction program is an historic milestone as wolves were wiped out of the Rocky Mountains earlier this century to protect sheep and cattle. Most environmentalists hailed the program as a step toward restoring a long-lost natural balance. Renee Askins of the Wolf Fund in Jackson, Wyo. summed it up in a Denver Post article: “The wolf is the embodiment of wildness, and Yellowstone is the symbol of wild places. It’s like returning the heartbeat to the heart.”
Most ranchers would beg to differ. As if to confirm their fears of predatory wolves attacking livestock, a mere nine days after its release in Idaho, a wolf found its way into a cattle herd. The wolf was found shot dead next to the carcass of a calf. Just who shot the wolf remains a mystery.
Also unsolved at this writing is the matter of three lawsuits, filed by both environmental and ranching interests, challenging the federal program. Eventually, the feds hope to establish two healthy wolf populations in both Idaho and Wyoming, but suits from both sides of the issue are questioning the means by which the government is proceeding.
As one large 117-pound wolf left his holding pen in Yellowstone, if became clear that the Yellowstone of “Mr. Ranger, Sir” was changed forever. Wolves, after all, are wily, flesh-eating carnivores. Hikers and backpackers trekking into the deep woods of Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area and Yellowstone will be wise to observe the same clean-camp and contact-avoidance guidelines recommended in bear country. Just what picnic baskets a gray wolf will stumble into this summer remains to be seen.