Gray wolves, red wolves, orange-painted wolves
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 1999:
JACKSON, Wyo.; TUCSON,
Ariz.; KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – – Another
confirmation of the success of the 1995
restoration of wolves to Yellowstone
National Park and northern Idaho came in
December 1998 when young packs of two
and three were spotted at multiple points in
Grand Teton National Park, just to the
south––the first time wolves apparently
born in Yellowstone fanned out into the
Tetons to find new territory.
The initial 41 wolves brought
from Alberta have multiplied up to more
than 120, enough that some might need to
extend their range beyond territory known
to their immediate forebears.
During the winter of 1997-1998,
the Soda Butte pack made a reconnaisance
of northern Grand Teton, near the village
of Moran, but stayed only briefly.
“I think it’s fair to say they’ve
had us surrounded, but have not actually
been in the park,” staff naturalist Bill
As these wolves seemed to be
staying, Grand Teton officials on
December 26 announced that they would
embargo new information about the packs’
activity for 24 hours before releasing it to
“This is an extra-sensitive period
when wolves den and have pups,” park
biologist Bob Schiller explained. “If they
can successfully pull off a litter, that
would be their primary commitment to
establishing a territory.”
Word of wolves in the Tetons
had already brought an unusually heavy
visitor count to the Snake River outlook
area, Schiller said.
Beyond the risk of observers
interfering with the wolves’ essential activity,
there was another problematic aspect
to the wolves’ arrival: unlike Yellostone,
which allows no cattle grazing, Grand
Teton has livestock on the premises for
half of each year.
Whenever the wolves discover
the cattle, and kill or scavenge some, the
conflicts with ranchers already erupting
often in Idaho and Montana will almost
certainly heat up in Wyoming, too.
However, from Grand Teton the
wolves are more likely to move on south
toward Jackson, a tourist town, than to go
east or west into areas which economically
depend on livestock. Around Jackson,
wolves will get a generally good reception.
But at least two wolves also
moved into the Bighorn and Badger Basins
during December, heading toward Cody
––or so five residents reported.
That’s serious cattle county, and
The wolf reintroduction team
didn’t believe the reports, at first, perhaps
because they didn’t want to.
“I wouldn’t expect wolves to
spend any time out there,” U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service special agent Tim Eicher
told Michelle Milstein of the B i l l i n g s
Gazette. “There’s no prey base. It’s sagebrush,
cactus, and a little grass.”
USFWS wolf recovery project
leader Ed Bangs was also skeptical.
But about 10 days into
December, one Bighorn Basin wolf
tripped a spring-loaded, cyanide-firing M-
44 “coyote-getter” set by a USDA Wildlife
Services trapper, who found his frozen
remains some time later.
There was now irrefutable hard
evidence that wolves were present––and
that meant more trouble. The wolf recovery
plan doesn’t allow use of M-44s in
occupied wolf habitat. Originally that
included the Bighorn Basin.
“However,” wrote Milstein, “in
1996 the Bureau of Land Management quietly
turned over all planning and decisions
regarding predator control on BLM land to
USDA Wildlife Services,” formerly called
Animal Damage Control.
ADC existed for essentially one
purpose: to kill coyotes, the all-purpose
scapegoat of western ranchers. Wildlife
Services sounds more diversified, and
indeed is looking to extend its mission in
other parts of the U.S., from killing feral
cats at National Wildlife Refuges on San
Francisco Bay to killing seagulls at refuges
on Cape Cod. But in Wyoming, the job is
Back came the M-44s.
Now, if wolves do establish
themselves near Cody, the M-44s may
have to be removed. Ranchers and the
wise-use politicians who serve them will
vocally interpret that as an order to feed
their stock to both wolves and coyotes,
never mind that habitat competition from
wolves might cut the coyote population by
circa 60%, as it has in the Lamar Valley at
the northeastern end of Yellowstone.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service already has enough trouble with
rancher resistance to wolves down in
Arizona, where the hostility makes the
resistance encountered north of
Yellowstone seem mild. North of
Yellowstone, rancher opposition held up
the whole reintroduction project for nearly
20 years. Then, when it finally did go
ahead, some yahoos shot reintroduced
wolves, and politicans postured––but once
present, the wolves have generally been
tolerated. Defenders of Wildlife compensates
ranchers for lost stock. Wildlife
Services trappers contracted by USFWS
take calculated revenge on packs who are
repetitively blamed for killing stock. And
gradually most citizens of the region seem
to be recognizing that the economic value
of wolves, as a tourist draw, far offsets
the paltry losses of cattle and sheep, hundreds
of times more of whom are lost to
Around the Apache National
Forest, where Mexican grey wolf restoration
began with the release of 11 captivebred
specimens in March 1998, the
rhetoric sounded similar. The restoration
program was held up just about as long as
at Yellowstone. The efforts to appease
ranchers were the same.
Only the results were different.
It all seemed to work, at first. There were
few reported cases of alleged predation on
livestock. But there is no hunting or recreational
shooting of any kind in Yellowstone.
The Apache National Forest is by
contrast wide-open to hunters, and out of
season, is used by plinkers [gun enthusiasts
who shoot at tin cans or bottles].
On April 28, armed camper
Richard Humphrey, 58, shot one of the
reintroduced wolves, under somewhat suspect
circumstances: he claimed the wolf
was rushing toward his wife and two
daughters, but USFWS forensic analyst
Richard K. Stroud reported that the alignment
of the bullet wounds made the story
unlikely, and USFWS staffers Mike
Lucckino and Juan Romero were also
skeptical from what they saw at the scene
when they retrieved the remains.
In June, USFWS announced that
Humphrey would not be prosecuted.
Discussion of the case continued in local
media, however, until late July. The
Apache hunting season opened in August.
There suddenly seemed to be a wolf season
as well as a deer and elk season: four
more wolves were shot, two disappeared
and were presumed dead, and USFWS
recaptured the last four to protect them.
Ranchers deny having done anything
to incite hunters to target wolves,
despite widespread rumors of someone
offering an illegal bounty. The prevailing
theory is that the dead wolves were mistaken
for coyotes. Perhaps. But why didn’t it
happen near Yellowstone, too, where
coyotes are also persecuted, yet only two
possible cases of wolves being shot by
mistake have occurred in four years?
Rewards of up to $45,000 for
information leading to the arrest and conviction
of the culprit or culprits have been
posted. And, just before Christmas, the
Mexican gray wolf restoration team tried
again. Two pair were released on
December 31, their hindquarters spay
painted orange to help avert accidents.
Objected Southwest Center for
Biological Diversity founder Kieran
Suckling, “They’ve painted a bull’s eye
on wolves who were already under threat
of being killed.”
Time will tell.
Frustrated USFWS personnel
have meanwhile been forced to apologize
to Apache forest elk hunters for having
mailed a questionaire to all for whom they
had addresses, which began, “A Mexican
gray wolf was found dead from a gunshot
wound…during the time you were hunting.
How you do you explain this?”
The last three questions were
even more leading: “Did you shoot the
wolf?”, “Should we believe the answers to
your questions?”, and “Did you feel afraid
while completing this form?”
The outcome of the attempted
Mexican grey wolf reintroduction is still in
doubt, Yellowstone is a success, and
there was also one noteworthy failure
acknowledged in 1998, when after eight
years of trying, USFWS on October 8
removed the last four red wolves from
Great Smokies National Park. Beginning
in 1992, 37 captive-bred red wolves were
released there, but only 11 were longterm
survivors. Twenty-six either roamed out
of the park and were recaptured, or were
hit by cars, or were simply poached.
Captive red wolf breeding began
in the 1960s, with just eight. There are
now 300, scattered among 36 zoos and
other captive facilities. About 100 roam
the Alligator River National Wildlife
Refuge in northeastern North Carolina.
The genetic line has probably
been saved. But if red wolves couldn’t
find habitat enough in the 500,000 acres of
Great Smokies National Park, where in
the east or southeast might they ever