All Yellowstone Wolves Freed Into the Wild

(04/12/1996) - Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming: When park officials opened the gates of a wolf pen in a remote part of Yellowstone National Park late yesterday, it marked the end of a chapter in the historic reintroduction of wolves back into the region. The four wolves released yesterday were the last of seventeen brought from Canada this year to be reintroduced into Yellowstone region. When they leave their pens, all the wolves will be free. Joining wolves present from the 1995 reintroduction, they will bring the wolf population in the Yellowstone area to thirty-five.

Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen, whose organization has long promoted and helped finance wolf reintroduction and who personally assisted in yesterday's release, said at the park today,"Bringing the wolf home to Yellowstone has proven a great success, exceeding the expectations of scientists, park officials, and conservationists. We congratulate the Department of the Interior and all citizens who have worked so long for this day. This is a victory for wildlife and a victory for Americans, who have supported wolf reintroduction in overwhelming numbers."

The four wolves released yesterday were those brought to the Crystal Creek pen in January. Park officials transported an alpha male and female and two young yearlings by truck and snowmobile to the "Nez Perce" pen in the west central part of the park, considered a good area for supporting a wolf pack. The gates of the pen were left open for the wolves to leave at will. (As of today, it appeared that they had not yet left the Nez Perce area.) Schlickeisen said, "It has been an exhilarating experience to see wolves returned to Yellowstone. It's more than history in the making -- to see a wolf in the wild is to see real wilderness for the first time."

The wolves released yesterday include an adult male and an adult female with two of her yearlings. It is hoped that the wolves will stay together and that the male and female will produce pups this spring. In 1995, the release of the wolves was followed by the birth of two litters of pups in the spring.

Schlickeisen noted that, "For Defenders of Wildlife, today culminated two decades of advocacy supporting wolf reintroduction. For Americans in general, this is one of the most popular wildlife programs ever." A rise in visitation to Yellowstone in 1995 has been attributed to wolf reintroduction. Thousands of visitors saw wolves throughout the spring and fall, and thousands more waited patiently with binoculars.

Of the fourteen Yellowstone wolves introduced last year, five were killed Ä three shot illegally, one killed because of livestock depredation, and one hit by a truck. However, nine pups were born, bringing the remaining net total from 1995 reintroduction to eighteen. The addition of seventeen wolves in 1996 raises the total to thirty-eight.

Scientists consider reintroduction a great success because of the high reproduction rate and lower death rate than expected. The wolves have stayed in or near national parks and wilderness areas most of the time. Moreover, despite the fears of some ranchers, the wolves reintroduced in 1995 came very close to having a perfect first year in not killing any livestock. On January 12, 1996, a young male wolf did kill several sheep. However, Defenders of Wildlife compensated the rancher at full value from its Wolf Compensation Fund. For a number of years, Defenders has compensated livestock owners elsewhere in the Rockies for all confirmed losses to wolves, but has found that wolves kill livestock very infrequently, preferring wild game.

Defenders also maintains a Wolf Reward Fund for information leading to the conviction of wolf killers; this fund was instrumental in the capture of a convicted wolf killer in 1995. Defenders' Northern Rockies Representative Hank Fischer, author of the 1995 book Wolf Wars, has worked on wolf reintroduction and other conservation issues for several decades from his office in Missoula, Montana. In addition, Defenders' staff have championed the reintroduction program in Congress and in the courts. When Congress cut back on funding for wolf restoration this year, Defenders partially offset the funding loss to so that reintroduction could continue. The group is a nonprofit organization with a growing membership of more than 130,000.



Joan Moody, 202-682-9400 x220 (Media)