PREDATORS – Monday was the 20th anniversary of the reintroduction of gray wolves to Idaho. It marked 20 years since the wolves trapped in Canada were released in Yellowstone National Park. The events have been celebrated and denounced across the country.
On Jan. 12, 1995, eight wolves from Alberta were relocated to Yellowstone National Park by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service personnel. They were the first gray wolves in Yellowstone since they’d been extirpated in 1926. Wolves were released in central Idaho two days later. Another six wolves arrived in Yellowstone on Jan. 20, 1995.
The goal was to restore a native species and balance to a landscape where wolves had been absent for more than 70 years.
The reintroductions exceeded biologists’ expectations for wolves prospering and recovering their ground in the Northern Rockies.
Some groups call the reintroduction a huge success while some livestock and big-game hunting groups loathe the results.
Twenty years later, wolves have been taken off the endangered species list and are hunted and trapped as a game species in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
At the end of 2013, about 1,700 gray wolves roamed the Northern Rocky Mountains, according to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
The wolves are expanding their ranges into Washington, Oregon, and some wolves have been documented branching out – at least for visits, so far – into Utah, Arizona and California.
At an anniversary event held Sunday in Gardner, Montana, original reintroduction team member, Doug Smith, wolf project leader in Yellowstone National Park, said wolves have contributed significantly to the ecological and economic health of the Park.
“The goal of the Park Service is to restore natural conditions and we could not have done that in Yellowstone without wolf restoration,” he said. “Another goal of the Park Service is to provide for visitor’s enjoyment and today, Yellowstone is the best place in the world to view wild wolves.”
However, spotting a wolf inside the park might take a little more luck than it did a few years ago.
In March 2013, officials estimated that just 71 adult wolves reside within Yellowstone’s boundaries, a 14-year low and less than half of 2007’s total. Natural causes, such as mange, a parasitic skin disease, have contributed to the decline.
Also contributing to fewer wolves is the dwindling elk population. Once considered far too large for range conditions, Yellowstone elk numbers have declined about 75 percent since wolf reintroduction.
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