By: Natalie Carroll, John B. Dunning, Jr., Arthur Freeman, Constance A. Hallberg, and Janice Morgan, at the May 1997 Purdue Bioethics Workshop
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began to reintroduce gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park in 1996. The following factors were taken into account in the decision to undertake the reintroduction of the gray wolves:
After lengthy discussions the decision was made to release gray wolves into YNP. The releases occurred in 1995 and 1996. The cost of the reintroduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park (YNP) in 1996 was $267,000. Seventeen gray wolves were introduced that year. It should be noted that Congress cut appropriations to the Fish and Wildlife Service expressly to prohibit the reintroduction. Private conservation groups were able to raise $100,000 which allowed the project to proceed.
Economic analysis by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service predicted that increased tourism (both in number of visitors and length of stay) will account for some $23 million in additional income for the area (taking into account a decrease in income from hunting and promised livestock replacement costs). This study showed a 5% increase in residents from out of the area and a 10% increase in tourism by local residents.
Gray wolves that have been reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park were specifically chosen from wild populations living in mountainous areas where elk and deer were the primary prey, and livestock and potentially infectious diseases were rare. Wolves from Alberta and British Columbia, Canada met these conditions. Note: gray wolves are not endangered in Canada - they are locally endangered in the contiguous 48 states where they used to thrive, but are not globally endangered.
Wolves have been observed to colonize new areas and to adapt well if proper habitat is available. Wolves are recolonizing their former range in the Northern Rockies, but are not expected to reach YNP naturally for at least 60 years.
The Yellowstone National Park area (park and surrounds) has an annual income of $ 4.2 billion. Income from farming/ranching accounts for $269 million (6.4% of the total economy). Non-human animal populations and losses are as shown in Table 1 below (Bangs and Fritts, 1996).Table 1.
|livestock (sheep & cattle)|
|number of individuals||
* based on Environmental Impact Statement for a predicted 100 wolves
A conservation group, "Defenders of Wildlife", has agreed to compensate ranchers for documented livestock loss (but not pet loss) due to wolf kills. Defenders of Wildlife has run this compensation program in other areas where endangered wolves coexist with livestock. Few claims have been submitted to date, although some ranchers say they would not submit a claim on the grounds of not "buying in" to the reintroduction.
The wolf recovery program is ahead of schedule, under budget, and occurring with less conflict than was predicted. The planned reintroduction in 1997 was canceled because wolf populations are establishing themselves well and wolf losses have been less than predicted. The program continues to be controversial, expensive, challenging, and complex.
E.E. Bangs & S.H. Fritts, 1996. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 24:402-413.
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