Biologist Seeks Wolves' Return to Rockies
ALBUQUERQUE − A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist says returning wolves to the Rocky Mountains is "a chance to undo a great wrong" done when wolves were exterminated from about 98 percent of their range by the mid-1900s.
Steve Fritts said he believes the region from northern New Mexico stretching into Colorado and Wyoming could support wolves. Recent scientific studies by the federal government and independent groups suggest it could support as many as 1,100 wolves. About 60 percent of the 108,000-square-mile area is public land.
No proposals to reintroduce wolves to the region are currently under consideration, and it would be months before a formal recovery plan could be made. Gray wolves are an endangered species in the region.
Still, the idea of reintroducing the predators was a hot topic for conservationists, biologists and wildlife managers gathered this week in Albuquerque to celebrate a decade of gray wolf recovery efforts in the northern Rocky Mountains. The event, "Expanding Partnerships in Carnivore Conservation," was sponsored by Defenders of Wildlife.
Recent studies suggest wolves could return to the southern Rockies.
"I think there would be room for a population 20, 40, 60 years from now," Michael Phillips, who co-wrote a report analyzing the potential for reintroducing gray wolves in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, said in an interview from Bozeman, Mont.
Phillips, executive director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund, said the report is centered around Ted Turner's Vermejo Park Ranch on the eastern slopes of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
The study, using computer modeling, was done to see if putting wolves back into the wild in key locations could help regional recovery efforts by returning the animals more quickly and with greater viability than by them expanding their ranges naturally.
A panel of experts involved in restoring wolves to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Montana said the effort has been successful. Some 66 wolves were released in 1995 in Yellowstone and central Idaho, and the numbers have grown to more than 700.
"It is quite an accomplishment," said Doug Smith, lead biologist for the Yellowstone effort.
Smith said wolves are a "much maligned carnivore" which have gotten a "bad rap throughout history."
Wolves are back in the northern Rockies and Yellowstone because people wanted them, he said.
Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife, said reintroducing wolves has meant economic benefits through increased tourism to Yellowstone and more balance between prey and predator, spurring a greater diversity of both animal and plant life.
Source: Associated Press