Defenders Helps Fly Wolves to Yellowstone

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Historic Reintroduction Continues Despite Budget Cuts

(01/22/1996) - A U.S. Forest Service airplane with nineteen wolves on board is leaving British Columbia tonight bound for Yellowstone National Park and wilderness areas of central Idaho, financed in large part by Defenders of Wildlife and other private wildlife conservation organizations rather than the government.

Despite funding freezes and near-record cold in the Canadian Rockies, the second stage of the historic reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone, begun a year ago, is underway. The wolves are scheduled to arrive in Yellowstone either late tonight or Tuesday and in Idaho on Tuesday. The endeavor was temporarily stalled by a $200,000 funding reduction and the government shutdowns until Defenders of Wildlife and two other private organizations came forward to help finance the capture and transport of the latest set of wolves.

Rodger Schlickeisen, President of Defenders, said today, "Although our country had made a national commitment to restore threatened and endangered species, some Members of Congress want to renege on that promise by cutting the funding for wolf restoration and other programs. Defenders, however, is pleased to continue our investment in the ecological and economic future of the Northern Rockies. Wolf restoration has been an overwhelming success, despite the dire predictions of opponents."

Defenders, the first organization to offer funding, has contributed more than $15,000 to date and in the past few days has offered additional funds to cover other pressing needs including veterinarian services in Montana.

Schlickeisen said that the second wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone and central Idaho is "absolutely critical to the continued success of wolf recovery in the West. Our country has invested too much time and energy to let this landmark endangered species restoration become a victim of partisan politics."

The nineteen wolves represent the first transfer of wolves with more expected to be captured and transported in the coming days. Eleven of the nineteen wolves will be taken to Yellowstone. These Yellowstone-bound wolves consist of three groups to be placed in different sites in the park: 1) an adult pair and three pups; 2) a group including a female and her two pups and an unrelated adult male; and 3) an adult male and adult female. The wolves include several members of a pack with experience killing bison, which will help restore a natural control mechanism on bison that has been missing since wolves were eradicated from Yellowstone.

The wolves are being captured and cared for by an international team of volunteers and wildlife professionals representing numerous state, provincial, and federal agencies as well as two private organizations, Defenders of Wildlife and the Wolf Education and Resource Center. Capture efforts were hampered by the extremely inclement conditions with temperatures often falling well-below minus forty degrees and by lack of adequate funding.

Bob Ferris, species conservation director for Defenders, was among the volunteers processing animals in British Columbia. He commented today, "It is very difficult to conceive of cutting funding for this popular program or for these dedicated federal employees who are working 12-15 hour days under the most trying of conditions."

Ferris continued, "As a wildlife biologist I am very proud of what we accomplished here in British Columbia, but as an American taxpayer I am embarrassed that the capture teams were often forced to turn to us for help buying medical supplies and the most basic of comforts."

The flight today is part of the second phase of Yellowstone reintroductions. Defenders' Northern Rockies Representative Hank Fischer said today that, "The 1995 wolf reintroductions to Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho have been an unqualified success, exceeding the expectations of most scientists associated with the project. The wolves have stayed in or near national parks and wilderness areas most of the time, have already reproduced, have a better-than-expected survival rate, have a near- perfect record for not killing livestock, and have brought significant economic benefits to the region."

Fischer notes that although some biologists had predicted mortality as high as 50 percent during the wolves' first year, only three of the 29 reintroduced animals are known to have died. The first death came shortly after reintroduction when one of the Idaho wolves was illegally killed near Salmon, Idaho, as it fed on a calf that had died from natural causes shortly after birth. The second mortality was the highly publicized shooting of an adult male wolf near Red Lodge, Montana. However, the dead male had left behind eight pups. A local jury found his shooter guilty of three Endangered Species Act violations. Finally, a Yellowstone wolf, one of the pups of the year, was struck and killed by a delivery truck in the park.

Despite well publicized fears of ranchers, the wolves had an almost-perfect first year related to livestock. Although a young male killed two sheep on January 12, the wolf was captured and moved back to the park within two days and the livestock producer was compensated by Defenders of Wildlife.

More significantly, wolf reintroduction has produced significant economic benefits for communities near Yellowstone, according to National Park Service reports. Although many people predicted wolves would not be very visible, they were seen by visitors on 43 consecutive days this past spring. More than 6,000 Yellowstone Park visitors saw the wolves in 1995, and at least six times that number spent considerable time in Lamar Valley looking for them. Visitors now rate wolves as the number one animal they want to see, replacing grizzly bears. This activity resulted in increased tourism in the towns like Red Lodge and Cooke City that are near the reintroduction area. Park visitation through the Cooke City entry to the park was up 18 percent this year.

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Contact(s):

Joan Moody, 202-682-9400 x220 (Media)
Hank Fischer, (406) 549-0761 (Northern Rockies)

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