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Groose: Celebrating 20 years of Wyoming wolves

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Robin W. Groose

Robin Waldo Groose

Happy New Year! And happy twenty years of Wyoming wolves!

In January 1995, wolf recovery efforts commenced with delivery of 14 wolves from Canada to Yellowstone. Patricia, the children and I got the news on sabbatical in summertime Adelaide, South Australia. We delighted in the photographs of wolves arriving in wintertime Wyoming that appeared in The Australian newspaper. Truly, Wyoming wolf restoration was news worthy of international coverage.

Our Australian hosts had so many questions for us. We told them how we and so many other Wyoming citizens had worked so hard to initiate wolf restoration. We explained that reintroduction would return the wolf to its place atop the Wyoming wilderness food chain and reestablish ecological balance in the world's first national park. And we explained that with wolf restoration, the state of Wyoming would once again be home to every one of its native mammals.

The latter point especially impressed our friends Down Under. Since European settlement, the tragic loss in the state of South Australia is extinction of 25 mammals.

“Really?” my friend Jake asked, “Wyoming will have all of its native mammals?”

“Yes,” I replied. “And we’ll be the only American state that can make that claim. Wyoming is a very special place, and now we’ll be even more special.”

It would be many years after our return to Wyoming before we would actually see a wild wolf. But, in the meantime, it was good to know that the packs were back.

The wolf remains controversial in Wyoming. But benefits of restoration far outweigh all costs.

Wyoming agriculture had legitimate concerns about wolf reintroduction, but no more. Predictions that wolf predation on cattle and sheep would “devastate” livestock production have proven manifestly false. Today, in Wyoming, only a fraction of cattle and sheep losses are due to predators. And wolves account for only a fraction of that. Mostly, wolves clean up the weak, the dying, and the dead.

Contrast modest agricultural economic losses with substantial economic gains in tourism.

For our 33rd wedding anniversary, Pat and I enjoyed a four-day Wyoming “wildlife safari” in the national parks. Of course, we’d been to the parks before. But it’s amazing how much more there is to see with an expert local guide. And we were amazed at just how many folks from all over the nation and world were there with their cameras, binoculars, and spotting scopes seeking wolves ... and pumping dollars into our Wyoming economy.

Oh. And, yes. We saw our first wild Wyoming wolf. A thrill of a lifetime.

Prior to wolf restoration, naysayers predicted “devastation” of wildlife. It hasn’t happened. In the first place, wolves are wildlife. Second, wolves have provided some useful reduction of elk overpopulation resulting in a healthier Yellowstone ecosystem.

Thus, wolves have had positive, not negative, economic and ecological consequences for Wyoming. And who can put a value on all of the aesthetic, ethical, and even spiritual benefits of wolf recovery? Who can put a price on wolfsong?

Still, people argue about wolves. The loudest noises come from the extremes of a broad spectrum of opinion.

Sad to say, some environmentalists hate ranching more than they love wolves. They are blind to ranchers’ stewardship of Wyoming’s open spaces.

At the other extreme are the wolf-haters. They see no merit in restoration of a keystone species to its Wyoming home.

People disagree about whether the Idaho and Montana management model (regulated hunting throughout state) or the Wyoming model (with “shoot on sight” permitted over most of state) is better. I lean toward the former.

Now I’ve offended some friends in agriculture.

People differ about whether existing management plans overly restrict wolf dispersion and genetic exchange. But it appears that “genetic load” is negligible, and that inbreeding depression is nonexistent. Wolves are thriving.

Now I’ve offended some environmentalist friends.

People argue about who is most competent to manage wolves, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I’ve known good and skilled professionals at both state and federal levels. Either is fine with me.

Perhaps I’ve offended everyone by now.

But for now, join me and the wolves in rejoicing Wyoming as a special place:


Robin Groose teaches genetics and breeds plants at the University of Wyoming.


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