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A Brief History of Wolf Reintroduction in the United States

A Brief History of Wolf Reintroduction in the United States - by Maria Ferguson

In light of the recent proposal to remove the Gray Wolf from Federal protection, it is very important to remember just what has been done for Wolf recovery since the Endangered Species Act of 1973 became our strongest tool for conservation.  We do not want to see thirty years of Wolf restoration work and our tax dollars destroyed by inadequate State Management Plans.

I would like you to reflect on just what has been done to restore the Wolf.  There has been millions of dollars spent in addition to the hard work of dedicated animal activists, throughout the years, to bring us to the point we are at today.  It is essential that the individual States develop Wolf Management plans that will insure the species survival.

In 1963 the Leopold Report, which was the guiding document for State and National Parks in the U.S., established a guideline for restoring our National Parks to the ecological sight that the first European visitors happened upon.  The restoration of the Wolf reflected this general principle. 

In 1967 the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) listed the Red Wolf as endangered and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW) put together an extremely limited plan.  The results were poor and by 1970, Red Wolf population was approximated as only a few hundred.  The species was listed in 1973 as Federally Endangered.  In 1980, the Red Wolf was thought to be extinct in the wild.  In 1982 the Red Wolf Recovery Plan was approved.  The Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington under the direction of Will Waddell has been involved in the recovery effort since 1969. Fourteen genetically pure Red Wolves were captured in the wild for captive breeding at an off site location in Graham, Washington.  Many other Zoos' and sanctuaries have joined the breeding program since it's inception. The first experimental populations were released in 1976 but it wasn't until 1987 that the first real release of truly wild Red Wolves took place at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina.  In the spring of 2004 the USFW announced a record year for Red Wolf pups born in the wild.  There were 11 dens and 55 pups recorded in Alligator River alone.  The captive breeding along with the wild populations have proven to be both integral to the success of the Red Wolf Recovery Program.

The Gray Wolves of the northern Rocky Mountains were nearly eradicated by predator extermination programs in the late 1800's and early 1900's.  In 1995, the Gray Wolf was restored to Yellowstone National Park where fourteen Wolves, captured in Alberta, Canada, were released.  Another fourteen Wolves were released in central Idaho.  In 1996 thirty-eight additional Wolves from northern British Columbia were released to those same locations despite the protests and lawsuits of Montana ranchers to stop further reintroduction. The reintroduction has been deemed successful by the USFW and evidenced by the fact that Wolves are repopulating surrounding states and being found as far away as Oregon. This area will be the most affected by delisting in the future as there is much controversy to the benefits of the great predator's worth in an area of big game hunting and livestock grazing.

The Mexican Wolf has been poisoned and bounties placed on them since the mid 1800's in Mexico, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.  In 1914, our government sealed their fate by imposing a predator control program in the southwest.  In 1976 the Mexican Wolf was declared an endangered species.  Two years later the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson celebrated the birth of the first captive born Mexican Wolf, as part of a recovery program.  The recovery plan has not been as successful for the Mexican Wolf compared to the Gray and Red Wolf Recovery Programs.  The goals that were set in the recovery plans outlines have never been met. This is attributed to anti-Wolf sentiments, legal battles and illegal killings of the Mexican Wolf.

The Eastern Timber Wolf had almost vanished by the 1940's.  Wolves were given legal protection in Wisconsin in 1957 and in Michigan in 1965.  In 1967 the Eastern Timber Wolf, Canis Lupus Lycaon, was listed as endangered in the U.S.  Minnesota was closed to wolf hunting in 1970. A recovery plan was developed in 1978.  The plan was one of action and multifaceted.  It included educational programs, the monitoring of Wolf populations, habitat and prey, the maintenance of proper habitat, enactment of laws protecting the Wolf, minimizing depredation losses and the evaluation of the need for the predator.  Wolves have been successfully and naturally restored to Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.  With the pending delisting in the eastern U.S., conservation groups are upset that the Wolf has not yet been restored to other areas such as Maine, New York, etc. and there will most likely be pending lawsuits to delay the delisting in the east.

It is important that you express your opinions on the State's Wolf Management Plans to preserve not only the Wolf but the work that has been done to restore the species.  Here are the Wolf Management Public Hearing Dates and TimesWritten comment contents and addresses.

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