HELENA – Ed Bangs, who for 23 years led the effort to reintroduce and recover healthy wolf populations in the northern Rocky Mountains, is retiring from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in June.
As the federal agency’s wolf recovery coordinator, Bangs was the face of the polarizing wolf reintroduction, conducting thousands of international, national, state and local interviews and holding hundreds of highly charged meetings, all to explain the effort as part of a massive public outreach effort. At various times, depending on the stage of the reintroduction, he was heralded as a hero while simultaneously being denounced as a wolf lover or hater, depending on people’s perspective.
Yet somehow he managed to charm many on both sides of the wolf wars, with a mix of humor tinged with a reputation for fairness.
“He would get in front of a group trying to ridicule and criticize him, and Ed would beat them to the punch,” recalled Carter Niemeyer, a former Wildlife Services supervisor who worked closely with Bangs for decades. “One time, we were in Grangeville, Idaho, in front of a hostile crowd, with one guy leading the charge. He said ‘Tell me what the hell good the blankedly-blank wolves ever did.’ Ed chimed up and said, ‘They gave me this cushy job,’ and the whole audience cracked up. The man got up and left because he was so angry.”
Suzanne Stone with the environmental group Defenders of Wildlife also worked with Bangs on the wolf reintroduction, and said he had a huge impact on the effort, writing the environmental impact statement and fighting for federal funding.
Bangs said he felt a personal responsibility to reduce conflict and damage caused by wolves, but believes that their reintroduction to the landscape was the correct route to take. He jokes that wolves are actually kind of boring but that people are fascinating. “I’ve met some really interesting people,” he said. “You have to face people and hear their concerns firsthand to help resolve the conflicts.”
With the removal of wolves from the list of endangered species in Montana and Wyoming this week by an act of Congress, Bangs said he feels he’s successfully completed his job.