Wolf Recovery In Yellowstone and Idaho
In 1995-96 in accordance with the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service captured sixty-six wolves in Canada and released them in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. To make the legally required reintroduction more politically acceptable, the FWS used a provision of the law to designate the reintroduced wolves an experimental non essential population. That meant they would have less than the full protection of an endangered species; that is, citizens would be allowed to kill experimental non essential wolves caught in the act of killing their livestock.
Even before the capture and release of the wolves, the FWS was taken to court both by environmental groups who wanted more protection for the wolves, and a coalition of the ranching industry that wanted to stop the reintroduction of wolves altogether. Since their reintroduction, the wolves have flourished, establishing territories and producing pups in sufficient numbers to be close to meeting delisting criteria. However, in late 1997 the judge hearing the case decided that the wolves had been reintroduced illegally and had to be removed. The judge stayed the execution of his ruling pending appeal.
In an effort to understand this apparently bizarre ruling, we spoke with Daniel Pletcher, professor of wildlife biology at the University of Montana, and subsequently with Robert Keiter, professor at the University of Utah School of Law. We first spoke with Professor Pletcher about wolf natural history and the story of their reintroduction into Yellowstone and Idaho.