A national environmental leader and a Utah politician agreed Saturday that wolves should be reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park and that Wyoming's congressional delegation has no right to decide the future of the park, a place owned by all Americans.
Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo.; Sen. Malcom Wallop, R-Wyo.; and Wyoming's sole member of the U.S. House, Republican Richard Cheney, all oppose the return of wolves to the world's first national park.Their position reflects the attitude of the overwhelming number of cattlemen and sheepmen in the West.
Rep. Wayne Ownes, D-Utah, and M. Rupert Cutler, recently named president of the Defenders of Wildlife, talked about wolves at the annual meeting of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition Saturday in a lodge overlooking Yellowstone Lake.
The coalition, formed in 1983, consists of about 50 national, regional and local organizations united under a watchdog umbrella. It monitors management not only of the 2.5-million-acre national park, but also of the surrounding Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands within the ecosystem, roughly estimated at 10 million acres.
Nearly all of America's wolf population was wiped out earlier this centruy by ranchers, farmers and bounty hunters. There have been a few sightings of lone wolves in idaho, Montana and other Western states. A pack of wolves migrated across the Canadian border into Glacier National Park two years ago and established two or three dens, but left again this year to go back into British Columbia.
Efforts to revive the wolf population in Minnesota have resulted in about 1,200 wolves there. Efforts to restart the red wolf population in Virginia and Mexican wolf colonies in the Southwest also are under way.
Noting that the proposed reintroduction of the gray wolf into Yellowstone National Park is endorsed by the National Park Service, Owens said, "I am always offended when we politicians substitute our own value judgments for those of professional land managers.
"There is a theory among the Wyoming and Montana congressional delegations that they own Yellowstone," said Owens.
He said he discovered during a two-day trip to Yellowstone Park last fall that "the wolf recovery program had been completely sidetracked by political interference."
Owens, who described his Salt Lake congressional district as a place "where people have a genuine appreciation for environmental values," returned to Washington and introduced a one-line bill.
His legislative proposal, if passed, would order the Interior Department to implement the Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery Plan drawn up by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The plan would authorize reestablishment of wolves back into the entire northern Rocky Mountain region, including Yellowstone.
"It was clear to me when I introduced the bill that I could not pass it," said Owens, "but I hoped to expose the wolf to daylight. There is no predation problem with wolves. It is psychological - the hatred of wolves."
Cutler, whose 80,000-member organization has made reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone a top priority, said "all Americans have a right to influence the course of events in Yellowstone National Park.
"The park was created (in 1872) before there was a state of Wyoming," said Cutler. Wyoming gained statehood in 1889.
Cutler said restoring the wolves to Yellowstone has "enormous symbolic importance as well as ecological importance . . .(it) will be viewed as one of the major conservation accomplishments of the 1990s.
Friday, during an interview with the Associated Press, Park Service director William Penn Mott said he believes the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park is inevitable.
"When that happens, people may never see a wolf," said Mott, "but they will hear them howl. That is the call, the music, of the West. That quality is as important as a natural presence or a structure (within a park)."
Cutler and Owens urged the 300 people attending the coalition meeting to rally national support to force Congress to hold hearings on the wolf reintroduction plan.
Cutler said the next step in the reintroduction effort would be compilation of an environmental impact statement on the proposal. He said a requested $200,000 federal appropriation was in danger of failing to get through the budget review process.
"That's not a lot of money," said Owens, "and we ought to get it with your help."