In the nation’s environmental wars, there are shock troops who spike trees as well as rear-echelon folks who quietly protect land by buying it up.
Hank Fischer is neither. The regional director for the Defenders of Wildlife is a strategist who studies maps and opponent profiles. He presses forward when he can. He counts the losses when the battle is not going his way.
Fischer is author of a conversational new book called “Wolf Wars: The Remarkable Inside Story of the Restoration of Wolves to Yellowstone” (Falcon Press, $12.95).
In January, 22 years after the species was listed as endangered in the United States, wolves from Canada were released into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. Fischer gave a victory cheer. Then, like Norman Schwarzkopf right after Desert Storm, he dashed home to Missoula and wrote this fast-paced account.
Fischer spent 15 years trying to get wolves back. Yet he claims no special fondness for them.
“My romance is with Yellowstone Park’s natural system as a whole,” he writes. “I’m captivated by the intricate interplay of wolves; elk; aspen; beetles; ravens; fire; weather; and people, the aspect of the equation all too often overlooked.”
You needn’t be a wolf fan to find “Wolf Wars” enlightening. You don’t have to approve of Fischer’s methods. Certainly, not all environmental activists do. Some find him too willing to compromise. Fischer reveals that he almost lost his job for that reason.
Fischer is undeniably creative. He raised private money to compensate ranchers when their livestock is killed by wolves. He got the idea of paying people to protect wolf dens on their land. He wrangled invitations to talk with ranchers, and took them to Minnesota to see how wolf recovery there has affected livestock. That didn’t win converts, but won him big points for gumption.
“Wolf Wars” contains excellent historical background, a valuable time line and maps. Fischer has earmarked 25 percent of profits from the book to a fund that compensates ranchers for losses of livestock to wolves.
There’s also plenty of political intrigue. Fischer still shakes his head over support for wolf reintroduction that came from the most unlikely of sources: former Sen. James McClure, R-Idaho, a powerful friend of the livestock industry.
One politician who avidly supported wolf restoration was Utah Rep. Wayne Owens. Fischer calls him “articulate, practical, and determined.”
Even Hank Fischer’s detractors would have to say the same of him.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Two Color Photo