History of Wolf Management in Yellowstone

"Modern wolves and modern humans evolved in the same era. You could probably even say that they co-evolved. So, even though most of you probably have never seen a wild wolf, you know wild wolves in your bones."

-Thomas McNamee, The Return of the Wolf to Yellowstone

In 1872 Yellowstone National Park was created by an act of congress for the preservation of "natural curiosities or wonders". At that time hunters shot many wolves, coyotes, and large ungulates for meat and skins within the park boundaries. By 1914, an extermination campaign had begun to eliminate all animals that would interfere with agriculture or ranching. The wolf topped that list,and by 1926, wolves that had once reached population levels of up to 136 members, were gone from Yellowstone ecosystem.

For nearly 50 years wolves remained absent from the Yellowstone ecosystem and absent from the public mind. Few people missed the wolf and even fewer advocated its return. Unknowingly, President Nixon opened the door for wolf reintroductions in 1972 by banning key predator poisons on public lands. Shortly thereafter, the EPA extended this mandate to private lands. In 1973 the Endangered Species Act was enacted. Soon thereafter the Rocky Mountain Grey wolf was listed as endangered and a recovery team was established. The door that held the wolves back had begun to creek open.

In 1978, the first official recommendation to reintroduce wolves came from a biologist for the National Park Service. John Weaver claimed that wolves were no longer residents to the Yellowstone ecosystem and should be introduced. At about that time, an organization called Defenders of Wildlife began to get more involved with the reintroduction effort. This organization had been quietly advocating the return of wolves to natural habitats since 1968 but had yet to take a real stand. Things were quickly changing. From here on out Defenders would play a major role in the reintroduction effort.

From 1968-1988 legislation was introduced that would pave the way for wolves to be reintroduced to Yellowstone. Most of these bills did not pass, but they did begin to pique public interest. In 1988 republican Jim McClure wrote in Defenders magazine that he "was interested in trying to restore balance to Yellowstone National Park. The wolf in the only missing piece". McClure stated that as long as wolf reintroduction provided protection for rancher interests he would back the plan. In less than a year, Defenders had established a 100,000 compensation fund to reimburse ranchers for losses due to wolf depredation and 5,000 for any person who lets a wolf successfully breed on their property.

In 1991, Defenders sued Fish and Wildlife to force reintroduction. Congress then voted for a wolf environmental impact statement or EIS and dismissed the lawsuit. Things really began to heat up and Defenders of Wildlife was stoking the fire. The first draft of the wolf EIS was released on July 1, 1994 and public hearings began. These hearings drew positive support and official reintroduction efforts began.

Efforts were temporally stalled by the Wyoming Farm Bureau when a lawsuit was filled that claimed wolf reintroduction would cause "irreparable harm" to ranchers. On January 3, 1995 the lawsuit was denied by U.S. District Judge William Downes in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Wild wolves caught in Alberta, Canada began the shipment process to the United States. On January 9, the Farm Bureau won a temporary stay order from an appellate court in Denver. This did not last long, so on January 12 the wolves that began the shipment process from Alberta more than a week prior, arrived in Yellowstone and were placed in an enclosure that would be home for the next few weeks. This group was made of 14 wolves that comprised three family groups. After being absent from Yellowstone for nearly 70 years, wolves had returned.