A federal appeals court issued an emergency order late Wednesday blocking reintroduction of gray wolves to America’s oldest national park, adding a few more days to the six decades it’s been since the animal roamed the Northern Rockies states.
But National Park Service officials here said they are confident that “once the court has had the opportunity to review the pleadings that the wolf activity will go forward as planned.”
Eight wolves captured in Canada were being flown to Montana and then trucked to Yellowstone National Park on Wednesday in a project 21 years in the planning.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver intervened late Wednesday, saying it needs time to study pleas from the Farm Bureau Federation and the Department of Justice.
The two groups represent ranchers who have sued the government to stop the wolf releases. A federal judge last month refused to issue an emergency order halting the release.
The lawsuit could result in the wolves being rounded up and returned to Canada.
Yellowstone officials said in a oneparagraph statement that the 10th Circuit Court’s Temporary Administrative Stay was in effect through 5 p.m. Friday.
Another shipment of five wolves was heading to central Idaho, where a delegation of Indians was on hand for their release into the wild.
Biologists had planned to release the wolves at both spots on Thursday. In Idaho, the wolves were to be released directly into the rugged mountains of the Frank ChurchRiver of No Return Wilderness; the Yellowstone wolves were to be held in two one-acre pens for at least six weeks so they can get used to their new surroundings.
The animals are the first of 30 wolves headed south this winter, 15 to each area. Biologists planned to release 30 a year for the next five years, hoping to build breeding populations of about 100 wolves each in Yellowstone and Idaho by 2002.
Wolves once roamed widely in the Northern Rockies states but were wiped out by a federal eradication program in the 1920s and ‘30s. The wolves were accused of preying on cattle and sheep.
The slow process of snaring the Canadian wolves or shooting them with tranquilizer darts from a helicopter quickened Tuesday, when biologists captured six wolves in the frozen forest of western Alberta.
“The return of wolves to their historic habitat in Yellowstone is a homecoming for all Americans,” said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife.
“More important, it will be an emotional event for people everywhere who simply want to know that the howl of the wolf has returned to Yellowstone and that the ‘wild’ has returned to the West.”