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Article Title: Canis lupus Comes to Montpelier as Wolf Recovery Plans Intensify in the NortheastEdition: September 2000
Category: Outdoors/Natural History
Author: Nat Frothingham
About seven years ago the Colorado organization Mission Wolf brought its live wolf show to People's Academy in Morrisville and more than 800 people turned out on a single evening.
Peggy Struhsacker, Wolf Recovery Project Associate for the National Wildlife Federations (NWF) regional office in Montpelier, was in the crowd on that night. "We were dumbfounded," by the number of people, she said.
Mission Wolf is coming back to Vermont and will appear in Montpelier as part of the "Week of the Predator" festival sponsored by the Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS) North Branch Nature Center. To cap off the festival, Mission Wolf will present two live wolf shows on Sunday morning and afternoon, October 8 at the North Branch Center.
Apparently, public fascination with wolves is there in spades and a visit from Mission Wolf is coming at a time of growing public awareness of current proposals to restore the wolf to parts of the Northeast.
The National Wildlife Federation says that wolves are a missing link in the ecological chain, and that if they were present in Northeast, ecosystems here would thrive.
"To state it simply, where wolves thrive, the rest of the ecosystem also thrives," the National Wildlife Federation says in a broadsheet on wolves. "Where large predators exist, ecosystems are healthier, more resilient, and complete."
Over the past couple of years at least three key developments have placed the wolf front and center in the minds of a growing number of conservationists, wildlife biologists, farmers, hunters, private landowners and politicians in those parts of the Northeast where a wolf recovery program might go forward. At this time, Vermont is not being considered for primary reintroduction, but experts say with a successful reintroduction program in nearby states, wolves could spill into Vermont.
According to a recent National Wildlife Federation publication, in June 1998 U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt announced that "the Northeast offered promising potential for gray wolf recovery." A year later, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced its intention to design a regional recovery plan for the wolf in the Northeast. And as recently as July of this year the Fish & Wildlife Service proposed reclassifying the wolf from "endangered" to "threatened," a move that could make reintroduction more palatable for private landowners.
Despite these very strong signals from Fish &Wildlife about a long-range intention to bring back the wolf to the Northeast, Struhsacker insists that a Fish & Wildlife wolf recovery plan is a far cry from actual reintroduction of the wolf anywhere in the Northeast. She says that the actual release of wolves wont take place before theres a big public discussion and much more scientific research and planning.
"It took 25 years for Yellowstone," Struhsacker says about what many environmentalists now regard as a successful wolf reintroduction effort that began in 1995 and 1996 in Wyomings Yellowstone National Park.
In an Autumn 1999 issue of Northern Woodlands magazine, Vermont writer John Dillon reflects on many of the issues raised by the prospect of a wolf recovery program the Northeast.
Dillon reports that when the idea of wolf recovery was first discussed in such places as Minnesota and Wisconsin (both states where a recovery program appears to be going well) the first public reaction was hostile.
That discussion has already begun in parts of the Northeast. Just last year the New Hampshire legislature passed a bill that bars the reintroduction of the wolf in that state. Dillon reports that Maine governor Angus King won't support a federal plan to release wolves in that state "unless the public shows overwhelming support." Again, according to Dillon, wolf reintroduction is currently being opposed by town and county governments in northern New York state.
Struhsacker says that opposition to wolf recovery is often fed by fear. "I won't be able to go out and get my deer," she said voicing a hunters concern. That's one fear. "I won't be able to manage my land as I want to," she said anticipating the objection of a farmer or other private landowner.
Then there is the deep cultural fear of wolves. There is the wolf that ate Little Red Riding Hood, the wolves that guard the gates of hell, and the generalized fear that wolves will steal children out of campsites.
Struhsacker appears to have hit on many of the hot button reactions to the idea of a wolf recovery program in the Northeast.
In the Dillon article Edie Cronk, president of the Maine Sportmen's Alliance, is quoted as saying: "(The wolf) is another predator. I don't think we need another predator. Once you introduce wolves, they can change the laws to protect species other than wolves. They could make it so you can't hunt this or you can't hunt that because you might catch a wolf."
Dillon quotes Vermont Farm Bureau Federation lobbyist Art Menut as saying the wolf's protected status under the federal Endangered Species Act could lead to controls on the use of private land. Said Menut, "If an endangered species takes up residence on your land then you might as well pack your bags and move. It's still taxed at the highest and best use, but you can't do a thing with it."
Despite these early signs of opposition, a broad "Coalition to Restore the Eastern Wolf" (CREW) has attracted support from groups across the Northeast and beyond, groups with names like the Defenders of Wildlife, the Mount Kearsage Indian Museum, RESTORE: The North Woods, the New Hampshire Wolf Alliance, the North American Wolf Foundation, and here in Vermont, VINS.
This coalition is committed to a program of public education with the long-range goal of wolf recovery in the Northeast. Advocates for the return of the wolf to the Northeast see the issue in two parts: first, biological and second, political.
Struhsacker says that parts of northern Maine look like the most likely location for eventual wolf reintroduction. In that region, there is sufficient wildlife of deer, moose and beaver-- all part of the prey base that wolves feed on.
Because 85 percent of the land in the Northeast -- unlike the West -- is in private ownership, wolf advocates say that widespread public support would be necessary for any wolf recovery project.
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