Wolf Awareness Week Highlights Efforts To Restore & Protect Wolves In Six U.S. Regions

(10/25/1996) - Defenders of Wildlife says public curiosity and appreciation for wolves - misunderstood predators almost wiped out by government extermination programs over the past century - is at an all-time high. Best known for its leadership in the historic reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone during 1995-96, Defenders is calling for the third week in October to be declared National Wolf Awareness Week. For several years activists in the Great Lakes Region have observed a week of wolf education in October.

Defenders' President Rodger Schlickeisen says that, "Although only two states - Alaska and Minnesota - still have large populations of wolves, the overwhelming success of wolf restoration in the Yellowstone ecosystem over the past two years has captured the imagination of America and sparked a fire to make restitution to these magnificent predators long persecuted by our own species. Wolf awareness week is becoming a national event."

Although hundreds of thousands of wolves once flourished throughout most of North America, less than nine thousand remain in the United States, mostly in Alaska (about six thousand) and Minnesota (about two thousand). In the lower 48 states wolves are listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

This fall wolf-related activities have included:

NEW YORK AND NEW ENGLAND: Defenders of Wildlife and Mission: Wolf have been touring New York state and New England with wolf "ambassadors" to educate school and community groups. The wolves - Sila and Merlin - have attracted overflow crowds. A large wolf conference scheduled in Albany on November 14-16 will highlight Defenders of Wildlife's call for a feasibility study about reintroducing eastern timber wolves into the Adirondacks. Reintroducing wolves would help restore ecological balance, according to a recent article in the New York Times by Schlickeisen.

ALASKA: An Alaskan citizens' committee, the Wolf Management Reform Coalition, has organized a campaign in support of an initiative on the November 1996 ballot that would remove a loophole in current state regulations that allows anyone with a trapping license to fly in and shoot wolves as long as the hunters walk 100 yards from their planes. Alaska is home to approximately six thousand gray wolves - more wolves than all other states put together - but the state allows widespread wolf killing. In 1993-94 alone, at least fifteen hundred wolves were killed.

THE WEST: Many visitors made autumn pilgrimages to Yellowstone National Park prompted by a desire to see some of the gray wolves reintroduced there during 1995-96. Wolf restoration in Yellowstone and central Idaho has boosted tourism and has been so successful that the Fish and Wildlife Service announced that no more wolves need to be reintroduced in 1997. Schlickeisen says, "The 1995 and 1996 wolf reintroductions in Yellowstone and central Idaho have been unqualified successes that have succeeded most expectations." Most have established territories in the general vicinity of release sites on federal lands. In Yellowstone, two packs produced nine pups in 1995 and this year at least 11 pups have been born to four packs. The population in Yellowstone alone has almost doubled to more than fifty wolves. The reintroduced wolves have not posed major problems for livestock owners as feared, and Defenders of Wildlife's Wolf Compensation Fund has been available to reimburse ranchers for losses in the few cases of predation on livestock.

SOUTHWEST: This fall Defenders and 26 other diverse local and national groups sent the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) a 60-day notice of intent to sue to expedite a recovery plan for the Mexican wolf under the ESA. The groups emphasize that they represent hundreds of thousands of citizens supportive of the return of the Mexican wolf, which is among the world's rarest and most critically endangered land mammals. (Mexican wolves and eastern timber wolves are subspecies of the gray wolf, Canis lupus.) No Mexican wolves are known to exist in the wild. Currently there are 149 Mexican wolves held in captive breeding facilities throughout the United States and Mexico. Although Mexican wolf reintroduction has received widespread support from both urban and rural areas in the Southwest, implementation of the decade-old recovery plan has been delayed numerous times because of localized opposition. These delays are now posing a threat that prolonged captivity may impact the animals' ability to adapt and survive in the wild. Potential release sites include White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, and the Blue Range Area along the Arizona-New Mexico border.

SOUTHEAST: Defenders also has been active in supporting the recovery of the red wolf through captive breeding and reintroduction of the animals into the Southeast. (The red wolf, Canis rufus, is smaller than the gray wolf.) In the 1800s, red wolves could be found throughout the southeastern United States; in 1980, the red wolf was declared extinct in the wild, the victim of trapping, shooting, and habitat destruction. In 1987, captive-bred red wolves were reintroduced into North Carolina and the program was hailed as a success as the wild population grew to approximately sixty wolves. In the 104th Congress, Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina attempted to eliminate the red wolf program through an appropriations amendment, but his efforts were turned back by Defenders of Wildlife and other conservationists in a pro-environmental vote that defied the anti-environmental trend of that Congress to date.

MIDWEST: Today there are approximately 2,000 wolves in Minnesota and 185 in Northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Although wolves in other contiguous states are listed as "endangered" under the ESA, those in Minnesota are classified as "threatened." Experience in Minnesota has helped unravel common misperceptions about wolves. For example, despite fears that wolf reintroductions in the West would lead to significant predation on cattle and sheep, in Minnesota only a fraction of one percent of livestock in the area are killed annually by wolves.

NATIONAL OUTLOOK: Schlickeisen concludes, "America is entering a new era of enlightenment about predators. Today's schoolchildren realize that Little Red Riding Hood lied about wolves and that wolves play an important role in the web of life. Moreover, the wolf has become a popular symbol of wildness, attracting perhaps more attention in the past few years than any other native species of American wildlife. The efforts of citizens across the country to help wolves would benefit from expanding National Wolf Awareness Week."

The status of wolves and of efforts to restore them will be explored by scientists, activists, and public officials at the national "Wolves of America" conference in Albany, New York, on November 14-16. For more information, contact Defenders of Wildlife at 202-682-9400.



Joan Moody, 202-682-9400 x220 (Media)
Nina Fascione, 202-682-9400 x227 (Conservation)