Conference Brings Wolves Back to the Olympics

(04/18/1997) - Olympic National Park, Washington--Just before Earth Day, an overflow crowd at the rustic Olympic Park Institute on the shores of Lake Crescent today witnessed a sight unseen in at least seven decades: two gray wolves against the majestic backdrop of the Olympic Mountains.

Although these wolves were only visitors to Olympic National Park, they served as ambassadors to a conference exploring the potential for reintroduction of a permanent wolf population. Rep. Norm Dicks (D- WA) and Defenders of Wildlife co-hosted the conference, which involved scientists, local citizens and businesses, and public officials. The conference was funded in large part by a grant to Defenders of Wildlife from The Boeing Company.

For many, it began "Earth Week," the celebration surrounding the traditional Earth Day of April 22. Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen said that, "I can't think of a more symbolic or beautiful place on Earth to begin celebrating Earth Day. Olympic National Park represents a perfect starting point for restoring wolves to this area. In fact, it's a natural choice because wolves once thrived in what is now the park."

Today's visitor wolves came from the Mission: Wolf refuge in Colorado and will continue their Washington tour this week. Although place names like Gray Wolf River in the park attest to the historical presence of the predators in the park, guns, traps and carcasses laced with strychnine had effectively wiped out all wolves from the Olympic Mountain region by 1930, as they did for many areas of North America.

Biologists from Yellowstone National Park, however, described the success of the 1995-96 reintroduction of wolves into the Yellowstone region and Idaho wilderness. The conference also included speakers on the behavior of wolves who confirmed that there is no known case of a wolf attacking and seriously injuring a person in North America and that livestock depredation is rare. In fact, Defenders of Wildlife maintains a fund to compensate landowners for loss of their animals.

An economist confirmed that wolf reintroduction could promote tourism. Schlickeisen noted, "When we say wolf reintroduction could be a 'howling success' for the Olympic Peninsula, we mean it would boost both the natural environment and the local economy."

Defenders of Wildlife, which led citizen efforts to restore wolves to Yellowstone, released an initial feasibility study that showed that land and prey in Olympic National Park alone would support four to eight packs of wolves. However, an environmental impact statement and public hearings would be required preceding any decision to reintroduce wolves, some of which would likely cross park boundaries into adjacent forested areas.

Said Schlickeisen: "We're not calling for bringing in the wolves now, but we are calling for bringing in the biologists. A formal environmental impact study should by undertaken as soon as possible. We believe it will confirm that reintroducing wolves will benefit the park, the ecosystem, and the local economy and population."



Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270