Working Paper 94-65 February 1994

By Andria Jacobs

This paper was written in conjunction with the Fall 1993 Natural Resources and Environmental Policy Seminar of the University of Colorado Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate Program in Environmental Policy. All ideas presented are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Consortium or the University. For more information, contact the Conflict Resolution Consortium, Campus Box 327, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309-0327. Phone: (303) 492-1635, e-mail: crc@cubldr.colorado.edu.

© 1994. Andria Jacobs. Do not reprint without permission.


As we approach the 21st century, it is becoming increasingly clear that native biodiversity and ecosystems are vanishing at rapid rates. The current rate of extinctions is hundreds of times greater than those of previous extinctions in the geologic record (see Soulé, 1986, Ehrlich and Wilson, 1991, Noss, 1990). This unprecedented loss of plant and animal species has been termed the "biodiversity crisis" (Grumbine, 1992). In their relatively short tenure on the planet, humans have managed to seriously threaten the integrity and health of ecosystems and species all over the globe through unchecked resource extraction and pollution. In North America, the survival of nearly 1000 species is considered to be either endangered or threatened over all or most of their historic ranges.

The northern gray wolf (Canis lupus, also known as the timber or tundra wolf) is one of many species native to North America that is in danger of extinction due to anthropogenic (human-caused) changes. Unlike many endangered species on this continent, the survival of the gray wolf has not been threatened so much by destruction of its critical habitat as by the policy of systematic elimination carried out by the federal government and the Western states in the first third of the 20th century. Since wolves compete with humans for top predator position on the food chain, humans have long viewed wolves as deadly enemies. With the settlement of the West, conflicts between wolves and humans were destined to arise. Agricultural activities like cattle and sheep ranching suffered occasional livestock predation by wolves. The threat to livestock and livelihood posed by wolves was seen as untenable and the federal government obliged the ranchers by sending in hunters to "control" the situation. Since public attitudes toward wolves resembled those reserved for vermin like rats and mice, extermination of the American gray wolf population was nearly entirely successful. With the exception of some remote pockets of the country, wolves vanished from the continent.

Today, however, the return of the wolf to its native range is viewed by many as a desirable outcome and the public policy debate has shifted to respond to a growing awareness of the wolf's importance, in terms of preserving both biodiversity and our national wildland heritage. Yet because of the historical power possessed by agricultural interests, wolf recovery and restoration is perhaps one of the most highly charged and contentious conflicts facing the West. Agricultural interests oppose wolf reintroduction and they are a powerful lobby in Washington. Western Congressional delegations have traditionally supported the cattle and sheep growers by opposing federal wolf recovery efforts.

Wolf reintroduction is not just about wolves. The issue symbolizes a deeper debate over the future direction of public lands policy and life as it is known by rural Westerners. The traditional way of managing the lands is being challenged by new scientific discovery and changing public values about the appropriate role for humans as co-inhabitants of the planet. The current trend in public lands policy and management favors a more holistic, ecological perspective. Ecosystem management, the new administrative paradigm now being touted as the future of public lands management (see Agee and Johnson, 1988, Salwasser, 1992, Keiter, 1988, 1989, 1990), considers the impacts of development activities using ecosystems as the unit of analysis. Although the concept of ecosystem management is still in its infancy, the shift in the debate nevertheless represents a significant departure from the traditional viewpoint of the land management agencies. In some ways, wolf reintroduction is just one example of the emergent changes in the nation's values and ecological awareness. This threatens traditional ways of life with obsolescence and it is this fear of loss that makes the conflict so potent and so bitter for some Westerners.

The wolf recovery and reintroduction debate primarily concerns the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE),(1) central Idaho and northwestern Montana.(2) On the surface, it seems strange that the mere suggestion of reintroducing wolves could cause such a stir. Yet, a lot more is at stake than just wolves and understanding the policy process in context of wolf reintroduction helps to examine the larger natural resource policy dilemmas facing the United States. This paper will describe the history and current status of the conflict and will analyze the ongoing wolf policy process to better understand how environmental policy is made in a highly contentious arena based upon differing values and worldviews of the participants. Finally, the conclusion is made that unless deeper societal changes are imminent, wolf reintroduction will not become successful public policy.

The Policy Conflict Over Wolves in the United States

For millions of years, the gray wolf roamed North America along with the bison, lynx and elk. It is only in the last half a century that wolves have been eradicated from most of their historic range. Though healthy wolf populations still inhabit Canada and Alaska, the lower 48 contiguous states have been devoid of thriving wolf packs since the 1930s, as a result of massive wolf exterminations.

The wolf's predatory nature makes it hated and feared by humans. Since the Middle Ages, the wolf has been reviled in Western history as a symbol of wickedness, greed and fraud. The wolf has been associated with the devil and all manner of evil doings (Lopez, 1978: 203-211). Myths, legends and fairy tales like "Little Red Riding Hood" and "Peter and the Wolf" portray the animal as deceitful and wicked. Deep seated, age-old fears have enabled humans to commit horrible acts against wolves. Barry Lopez, author of Of Wolves and Men, recounts such gruesome methods of wolf slaughter that one wonders about the humanity of some Western settlers and their federal henchmen.

Aside from mythic fear of wolves, humans have a more concrete reason to desire their riddance. Wolf researcher Ed Bangs, who is in charge of the gray wolf Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) currently in preparation, sums up the wolf-human conflict:

As humans greatly expanded their niche through agriculture, conflicts with what were once "brothers in the hunt" led to extreme competition for the forage base. Agriculturists killed wild ungulates both for food and to reduce competition with their domesticated animals. Large predators responded to the disappearance of wild ungulates by killing livestock. The stage was set for conflict between rapidly expanding human populations and wild animals. The battle between man and nature reached its highest intensity with the persecution of large predators (Bangs, 1991: 7).

As early as 1877, wolf hunters used strychnine-poisoned ungulate carcasses to kill wolves in Yellowstone National Park (Weaver, 1978: 7). Federal efforts to eradicate the wolf escalated to such a degree that an estimated 80,000 wolves were killed in Montana alone between 1884 and 1918 (Dawidoff, 1992: 40). By trapping, poisoning and shooting, Animal Damage Control, the federal anti-wolf hit squad, was able to wipe out virtually every wolf native to the United States in a few short decades.

However, wolves have proven themselves to be resilient critters and their numbers are now on the rise. Wolf packs have reestablished themselves in northeastern Minnesota, the one place from which they had not been completely eliminated, and on Isle Royale in Lake Superior.(3) A nascent wolf population comprised of individuals from Canada has migrated south to an area in northwestern Montana adjacent to Glacier National Park and appears to be in healthy condition (Bangs, 1991). Wolf sightings have also been increasing in frequency in the Cascade Mountains of Washington and in central Idaho.

As wolf numbers increase, so has interest in reintroducing the wolf into its historic range. The rise of environmental activism in the late sixties and seventies spurred efforts to recover wolf populations in the lower 48. Congress passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973 and five years later, the gray wolf was listed as endangered. The ESA requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to complete recovery plans for all listed species. After years of delay, the Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery Plan (Recovery Plan) was completed in 1987. The Recovery Plan considered wolf recovery efforts for three zones in the West: northwestern Montana, central Idaho and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. It suggested a high probability of natural wolf recovery in northwestern Montana and a moderate probability of this for Idaho. The remoteness of Yellowstone National Park (YNP) from established wolf packs made it unlikely that natural recovery would occur there, thus reintroduction of wolves from Canada into the park was proposed.

The National Park Service (NPS) director during this time, William Penn Mott, strongly supported wolf reintroduction to YNP. He felt that the wolf's presence in the park was essential to the character of Yellowstone. The region is noted for its nearly perfect representation of native diversity; the wolf is the only species indigenous to the GYE that is missing. John Varley, a wolf researcher in Yellowstone, remarks, "This would be the only place in the lower 48 states that would have all of the flora and fauna it had when Christopher Columbus stepped ashore. Why can't a society as rich as ours set aside one place like that?" (quoted in Rauber, 1991: 34). Reintroduction of the wolf would enhance the natural values of the park, the preservation of which are part of the Park Services' statutory mandate.(4) Mott also sensed a shift in public opinion that favored wolf recovery in Yellowstone. "People are talking about wolf reintroduction, and it seems to me that there already has been some shift in what once were the most rigid public attitudes" (UPI, June 1, 1987). Public opinion polls and surveys taken in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho generally support Mott's contention . A master's student from the University of Wyoming conducted a survey which showed that a majority in all three states favors wolf reintroduction (Bath 1987a, 1987b, 1987c, 1992).(5) Another poll, this one taken of Yellowstone visitors, showed that most park visitors felt that the presence of wolves would enhance their park experience (UPI, September 6, 1987).

Predictably, the topic of wolf reintroduction sparks a lot of sound and fury from ranchers and farmers in the Yellowstone area. They claim that depredation of livestock by wolves will surely ruin businesses across the region. Compensation for livestock killed by reintroduced wolves remains a major concern of agriculture interests. Perhaps more than depredation, ranchers fear the power of the Endangered Species Act and the potential land-use restrictions and regulations that might occur as a result of restoring an endangered species to YNP. Cattle and sheep growers(6) want to know how wolves that stray outside of designated recovery zones will be managed. If the wolf retains its full "endangered" status, then ranchers would be powerless to kill stray wolves that depredate livestock. Since it is quite likely that wolves, given their willful disregard for human boundaries, will migrate beyond designated areas, ranchers are insisting on assurances that wolf management rules and regulations will accommodate this eventuality. The ESA also brings restrictions for development activities like timber harvest, mining and motorized recreation. Clearly then, ranchers and other conservatives would like to see the wolf removed from the endangered species list to allow for more management flexibility.

The Wyoming Congressional delegation (Senator Malcolm Wallop, Senator Alan Simpson and Representative Dick Cheney) and a coalition of agriculture groups strongly opposed the NPS' embrace of wolf restoration to Yellowstone. Senators Wallop and Simpson claimed that reintroducing the wolf would adversely affect the management of YNP by hurting grizzly recovery and ravishing the ungulate populations of the park. Rep. Cheney vehemently urged Mott to drop pursuit of the issue, but Mott remained firm in his support for wolves. He continued to push for the initiation of an EIS, the next logical step after completion of the Recovery Plan. In order to suppress the debate on wolf reintroduction, the Wyoming delegation repeatedly blocked funding for an EIS despite evidence that public opinion supported the Park Service reintroduction idea. Mott contended that the issue of wolf reintroduction would eventually be decided by public opinion and that an EIS represented a useful mechanism for bringing the issue to public light and for gauging public attitudes. Rep. Cheney cited as the reason for opposition his distrust of the FWS' ability to manage the wolf both inside and outside the park as well as his dislike of the agency due to previous "bad experiences" (UPI, August 20, 1987). National environmental groups like Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Federation, which advocate wolf restoration, seized the opportunity to tell Wyoming voters that their Congressmen were out of touch with their constituencies. A hard-line stance against wolves was portrayed by environmentalists as a sign of special interest domination of Congress and a failure of political leaders to seek common ground between participants in the conflict.

For their part, in 1987 the FWS was not as enthusiastic as NPS about wolf reintroduction. Though FWS had completed its recovery plan, the agency stopped far short of beginning implementation. The reason, FWS claimed, was that recovery plans are only conceptual documents, not implementation plans. FWS director Frank Dunkle was displeased with Mott's outspokenness and claimed to need more research on wolves in Montana before making any recommendations on the Yellowstone plan. Dunkle asserted that his agency's stance on wolves was based on the need for more data and not because of Congressional opposition to the plan. However, Congress is not the only concern of the FWS. The traditional FWS constituency is comprised primarily of game hunters and outfitters, thus the Service's reluctance to explore wolf reintroduction is likely tied to the hunting communities' contention that wolves will kill game species coveted by sportsmen.

The pressure on Mott and the Park Service from the Reagan administration and certain Congressional leaders finally had the desired effect. In August of 1987, Mott abandoned pursuit of the EIS. However, by 1988, Congress began to give indication that it heard the public's wishes on wolves and a Senate-House Interior Appropriations Committee conference report noted the desirability of wolves in Yellowstone. The Committee directed NPS and FWS to author a joint report on the restoration of wolves to the park. The report was to address the major issues of wolf reintroduction, including options for wolf management both inside and outside park boundaries, the potential prey base for wolves inside the park, the effect of restored wolf populations on large ungulates (e.g., elk, bison, bighorn sheep), and the effect of wolves on other large carnivores like grizzlies.

Around this time, Rep. Wayne Owens (D-UT), frustrated by Wyoming's intransigence over initiating an EIS, introduced a bill into the House that would jump-start the EIS process through legislative mandate. The Owens bill never stood much chance of success in Congress since it was immediately directed to the House subcommittee on parks and public lands, a body that included Rep. Cheney, Rep. Ron Marlenee (R-MT) and Rep. Larry Craig (R-ID), all prominent nemeses of wolf reintroduction. In opposition to the Owens bill, Senator James McClure (R-ID) introduced a competing bill. McClure's bill represented an interesting compromise. It called for the reintroduction of three breeding pairs of wolves in central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park, yet demanded that the wolf be removed from the endangered species list, thus revoking its federal protection. As noted, the real fear is not necessarily wolves themselves, but the iron fist of the ESA. The reintroduced wolves would be designated as "experimental, non-essential" populations under the ESA §10 (j), which means that wolves straying from recovery areas can be destroyed. All wolves other than those reintroduced would be managed by the states. Tying the fate of wolf recovery to relaxation of ESA provisions was shrewd political maneuvering on the Wyoming delegation's part. Allowing problem wolves to be controlled outside park boundaries amounts to a lessening of the ESA's regulatory power, which clearly alleviates some of the ranchers' fear of inflexibility in wolf management.

In May of 1990, FWS and NPS provided their joint report to Congress. The study, entitled Wolves for Yellowstone?, found that reintroducing wolves into Yellowstone would not significantly reduce the biomass of the park, nor would wolves significantly depredate livestock (see Varley and Brewster, 1992). The researchers estimated that elk numbers would only decline by 10-20% of their average summer population (nearly 30,000 elk). The projections were similar for bison, moose and deer. They claimed that wolf reintroduction would not impact the recovery progress of grizzlies either. Some depredation of livestock was predicted, but on a small enough scale to allow individual compensation for growers. Predation data from Minnesota, northwestern Montana and Canada showed the average losses in Minnesota and Alberta to be between 0.12 to 0.87 cattle/1000 available, while Montana averaged a loss of 0.04 cattle/1000 available. The numbers for depredated sheep were shown to be 5-10 times higher than for cattle, though the overall number remains relatively low (Mack and Singer, 1992). Using these figures, FWS and NPS researchers made similarly low estimates for the Yellowstone area.

In December of 1990, the issue was handed over to the Wolf Management Committee (WMC). The ten-member committee was comprised of individuals from FWS, NPS, Forest Service, the fish and game departments of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, two environmentalists and two representatives of agriculture and economic interests. The WMC was charged with further research into the issues already mentioned in an effort to resolve the conflicting wolf bills. After lengthy debate, the WMC came to a similar conclusion as had Senator McClure. By an 8-2 vote, the committee recommended that wolves be reintroduced as "experimental, non-essential" populations in designated areas of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Wolf management outside these areas would be assumed by the state fish and game departments. The two environmentalists on the committee had cast the dissenting votes. The compromise was viewed bitterly by wolf advocates. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department still lists the wolf as a predator, while the Idaho state legislature has prohibited any money from being spent on wolf recovery (Cohn, 1990a: 632). The wolf has few friends in state government institutions, which did not bode well for its recovery in the event that this proposal became public policy.

The recommendations of the WMC were not well received by the House and the issue remained unresolved. Eventually the McClure bill passed, though not in its original form. The upshot was the initiation of the EIS process conducted by the FWS. In July 1993, FWS released its Draft EIS (DEIS), consisting of five alternatives, including the alternative preferred by FWS. The alternatives range from natural recovery to a no-wolf option to an option resembling the McClure proposal and the WMC recommendation. The latter (alternative #1) is the FWS' preferred option. Fifteen wolves would be introduced annually into Yellowstone National Park and a few not-yet-determined areas in central Idaho as experimental populations. Wolves outside these areas would lose ESA protection and management of these animals would be administered by the states.

The relaxation of the ESA is such a major concession to the ranching community that their opposition to the plan has softened considerably. In fact, natural recovery of wolves is now less desirable than reintroducing them because naturally recovering animals would fully retain their protection under the ESA. Environmental groups are understandably split on the results of the DEIS. The Idaho Conservation League, the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, fears the states' intervention in wolf recovery for the reasons stated above and oppose the experimental designation on the grounds that it subverts the ESA. Others like Renée Askins of The Wolf Fund, a very active Wyoming wolf advocate, Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Federation, support the designation because it represents a significant step towards wolf recovery. Askins believes the support of the livestock community is very important to successful wolf reintroduction. "Here we have an opportunity for the conservation community to show that people are part of the conservation equation and that the concerns of the people around the region can be addressed" (quoted in Barker, 1993). Conservationists feel that without local cooperation, wolf recovery won't be successful, no matter how many wolves are reintroduced.

At the time of this writing, the FWS has ended the public comment period for the DEIS and the final EIS (FEIS) is in progress. The expected date of publication of the FEIS is sometime in 1994. Meanwhile, searches for established wolf packs are ongoing in central Idaho and Yellowstone. If naturally occurring wolf packs (not lone wolves) are found, the rules of the game are altered slightly. The "experimental, non-essential" provision of the ESA requires that the introduction of an experimental population must be done outside of the current range of the species. If wolf packs are already living in Idaho and Yellowstone, as many people claim, reintroduced wolves cannot be designated as experimental and the wolves would maintain ESA protection.(7) In any case, once the FEIS is completed, FWS will make its recommendation the Secretary of the Interior, who will then make the final decision.

Analysis of the Policy Process

Public lands policy in the United States is a particularly contentious arena. As the lands continue to diminish in both quantity and quality, the debate over the appropriate use of the nation's natural resources has become especially intense. The environmental movement that began in the 1960s has matured considerably and poses a significant challenge to nearly every public lands policy and management decision made, due in large part to the strong environmental laws passed more than two decades ago. The conflict over wolf reintroduction stems from deeply differing values among the participants. It is the same value conflict that characterizes the larger policy arena of public lands and natural resources. The philosophical split between the conservationists and the preservationists has continued from the time of Gifford Pinchot and John Muir to the present; it is an integral part of the national political culture. The issue of wolf reintroduction is not very different from a whole host of other natural resource issues; environmentalists feel that special interests have dominated policy for so long, imperiling the national resource base and destroying the country's wildland heritage for future generations while the livestock growers feel they have a right to raise cattle and sheep for a living, to use the land for human betterment and profit, without fear of losing their livelihoods. The clash between greatly differing world views here is tremendous, yet both sides have valid claims and concerns.

If viewed objectively, however, one must come to the conclusion that public lands policy making has traditionally closely resembled the iron triangle theory of policy formation. Though subsequent research in political science and policy analysis has shown that the iron triangle concept is deficient in some ways and has been expanded upon, I believe it remains a useful way to understand the history of the public lands policy process. The direction public lands policy has taken for two hundred years results from the cooperation between agricultural interests in the West, sympathetic Western Congresspeople who often sit on key committees and subcommittees, and land management agency bureaucrats.(8) The process, until recently, has been solidly closed against environmentalists or other members of the public who disagreed with policy decisions.

As documented in the wolf reintroduction policy conflict, public lands policy and management still remains largely controlled by special industry groups, who are able to influence Congress and the agencies. Although the livestock community is increasingly challenged by both national and local environmentalists and although Congress has begun to respond to the growing opposition to the status quo, the entrenched power of the iron triangle can still prove to be a significant obstacle to reforming or changing policy directions. For example, although Wyoming's deadlock on the EIS process was eventually broken, the outcome of the DEIS hardly represents a major break from agricultural interests. FWS recommended a fairly unprogressive wolf alternative, one that satisfied the growers so much that it is hard to see where the compromise was made.(9)

From an environmentalist perspective, there is little reason to trust the land management agencies since they have a notoriously bad environmental track record. Yet distrust of the bureaucracy is not limited to the environmental side alone. Hostility also exists between the livestock interests and alternately the FWS, NPS, the Forest Service and the state wildlife agencies, a situation somewhat remarkable given the historically solid opposition of the these institutions to wolf reintroduction. The Idaho wool growers dislike the Idaho Fish and Game Department for failing to allow livestock operators to kill marauding animals fast enough, while other natural resource industries are generally wary of the motives of the FWS or the Forest Service regarding wolf reintroduction. This is a clear example of how perspectives vary greatly among conflict participants. Wolf advocates would swear that the agricultural community still commands wolf policy outcomes despite the inclusion of environmentalists in the policy process. Wolf opponents feel they can't trust the state and federal agencies because of the latter's involvement, however reluctant, in wolf reintroduction planning. Essentially, there is an utter lack of trust between all primary participants in the wolf policy debate. Building the trust between ranchers and environmentalists is a tricky process, but a number of wolf advocates are attempting this through regional wolf education campaigns. The purpose of The Wolf Fund run by Renée Askins in Wyoming and the Wolf Recovery Foundation's proposed Wolf Center of the Northern Rockies in Idaho is to educate the livestock community and others about wolves in the hope that more education will lessen deeply instilled hostility and fear toward the animal. Though many ranchers remain unconvinced, others have joined the wolf advocacy camp, proving it is possible to convince wolf skeptics that the wolf is not evil incarnate. Building trust between both camps and government institutions remains another problem unto itself.

The EIS process supposedly provides a mechanism for public participation in the formation of environmental policy by allowing for public comments and hearings. Often, however, the affected publics are simply informed of decisions or assumptions already made. For example, the WMC held public hearings during its deliberations, yet little preparation was made for actually incorporating the public's comments into the decision process. Information was given to stakeholders, but not received (Thompson, 1993: 167). For public participation to be truly participatory, stakeholders must be involved directly in choosing and defining the issues for debate from the beginning of the process and throughout, not simply after the fact. Otherwise, it is likely that the results of any government analysis will not be understood or accepted by stakeholders on either side of the conflict.

Despite the illusory nature of citizen participation in the EIS process, the ranchers appeared mildly pleased with the preferred alternative in the DEIS while the environmentalists split on their support of it. While awaiting the FEIS, at least one environmental group, the Biodiversity Legal Foundation in Boulder, CO, has advised that it will legally contest the "experimental, non-essential" designation for the central Idaho sector of the plan, based upon evidence that proves the existence of reproducing wolf packs there.(10) If this is established as factual, the section 10 (j) designation will be illegal. Environmentalists are not the only parties who are concerned with what the DEIS portends for the wolves' future. Conservation biologists argue that the plan has very little scientific grounding. Conservation biology, a relatively young discipline, incorporates theory from organismic and population biology, evolutionary biology, landscape ecology and island biogeography into a framework for the conservation of biodiversity, from the species to the landscape to the biospheric level. Nothing in the vast and ever-growing conservation biology literature suggests that fifteen wolves confined to a relatively small land area will become viable enough to warrant the wolf's removal from the endangered species list.(11) Either the FWS is not up to speed on the latest scientific information or the agency has chosen to entirely ignore it. In the case of wolf reintroduction, the problem is not so much that the scientific and technical information is too complex to be of any use, but that science which supports the environmentalists' positions is simply not incorporated into the policy process. This presents another possible legal challenge because the ESA mandates the use of the "best scientific and commercial data available."(12) The Fish and Wildlife Services' total disregard for the cutting edge of conservation science warrants further attention in this policy process.

Failing to incorporate conservation science and meaningful public participation into the wolf policy process and bending the legal definitions of the ESA heightens the conflict because it opens the door for litigation or other adversarial actions. Carpenter and Kennedy (1988) describe a "spiral of unmanaged conflict" that usually goes through eight steps as it escalates from a problem to a crisis. These steps are: a problem emerges, sides form, positions harden, communication stops, resources are committed, conflict goes outside the community, perceptions become distorted and a sense of crisis emerges (pp. 11-17). One academic described the wolf reintroduction as being close to the top of this spiral (Thompson, 1993: 175). As alluded to previously, wolf reintroduction is really an indicator of where public lands policy is heading in the West in general. Yellowstone tends to serve as a testing ground for public lands policy, thus this issue continues to be watched extremely closely by all parties. As a result, all issues surrounding wolf reintroduction also have become highly politicized. This adds to a sense of crisis, further escalating the conflict. Hostile political environments tend to result in "compromise solutions that are not in anyone's best interest (Thompson, 1993: 177).

However, I am not sure that the compromise resulting from the DEIS was not in anyone's best interest. From my perspective, the ranching community gained a tremendous concession and while they are still dubious about the presence of wolves, they admit that their needs have been largely answered by the preferred alternative in the DEIS. The lessons of conservation biology, however, would indicate that the needs of wolves have hardly been addressed, which frustrates many environmentalists. The DEIS represents a political compromise -- the ranchers get to destroy wolves that so much as harass a cow or sheep and the environmentalists get wolves reintroduced into the West -- yet from a biological standpoint, very little progress actually has been made toward recovering the wolf from the brink of extinction. Theoretically, the democratic policy process has been successful; all parties were heard, the federal government played the role of facilitator, a middle ground was sought and a compromise forged. The result should be successful public policy. However, I would argue that the policy conflict will continue because the formation of good policy requires not only good process (disregarding for the moment the procedural deficiencies in wolf policy-making thus far) but good substance.

If what conservation biologists are saying is correct, then the wolf will not recover under the current prescription. Thus, environmentalists and wolf advocates will continue to pursue this goal through whatever means necessary and wolf opponents will dig in their heels. The conflict will be prolonged and the policy process will remain adversarial and bitter. One analyst suggests that a conflict management plan be implemented to facilitate the policy process (Thompson, 1993). He contends that with the help of conflict resolution experts, the possibility for a win-win situation between livestock operators and wolf advocates exists. For example, he suggests if a local economic recovery and diversification program were implemented in conjunction with an ecosystem management (wolf management) plan as part of the management solution for the GYE, gains for both sides occur. While I think professional conflict management for the wolf reintroduction policy process could aid in the search for common interests and the development of certain win-win alternatives, it seems that this approach just scratches the surface of what underlies the conflict. This does not mean that conflict management is in any way irrelevant to improving the policy process, but that wolf reintroduction can really be best understood in context of the larger human problem of how to live on the land and conduct a relationship with the earth and her bounty that is sustainable.

The conflict over wolf reintroduction represents the death throes of a traditional way of life in the West. The reason livestock depredation is such an issue is because so many ranches operate in the financial margins that a loss of two cows or five sheep represents a major loss to the business. Many ranching operations hover abysmally close to failure. Yet few people ask the question Why is the livestock industry in such dire shape? Could it be that it is becoming less and less economic to raise livestock? Changes that have less to do with wolves and more to do with larger societal transformations are underway and many individuals and communities stand to lose a way of life known to them for generations. Pain and hardship lie ahead for these people and their plight should be addressed. An economic disaster similar to the one caused in urban African-American communities as a result of the manufacturing sector's decline should not be replicated in rural Western America. Yet society is in a constant state of flux and we must be alert enough to recognize the signs of change and wise enough to adapt to them.

If we ever become committed, as a nation, to preserving and restoring biodiversity and ecosystems for a sustainable future, the debate over wolves will become nearly insignificant in light of the other, radical changes that accompany a national agenda for sustainability.(13) The level of a society's natural resource consumption indicates much about the lifestyles and values of that society. Industrialized nations, America leading the way, consume far more resources, energy and food than the remaining three-quarters of the global population (The Group of Green Economists, 1992: 16). Unless we begin to conserve much more, the economy will falter as the non-renewable resource base is depleted. The changes in consumptive practices necessary to arrest the trends in ecosystem disintegration and species extinction will reverberate throughout the entire social structure. Assumptions made by Americans about the way the world functions will have to evolve into a new, ecological framework very different from the dominant paradigm of our first five hundred years on this continent. Conflicts like wolf reintroduction are encompassed in these larger dilemmas, though it is rare to hear policy analysts or other policy observers discuss the subject within this context. Though policy makers in power now may not have to deal with them, future generations of American citizens and leaders will certainly have to. It seems that by failing to consider the connections that the wolf reintroduction conflict has to the fundamental questions and dilemmas facing a decaying industrial power, we are falling into the very trap of mechanistic thinking that biodiversity and other ecology advocates warn us to avoid.


The wolf policy debate is as contentious as most other public lands policy issues. The conflict has reached such proportions as to warrant the incorporation of a conflict management plan into the policy process, serious reform of the procedural mechanisms for public input and participation and much more rigorous attention to the science of conservation biology. Yet these improvements to the policy process will probably remain of temporary utility until mainstream American society is ready to challenge its underlying philosophical and epistemological assumptions. Wolf reintroduction does not promise to be successful until greater consensus occurs in the United States about the proper policy choices to make for ecological sustainability. For the wolf's sake and for ours, I hope that day arrives sooner than later.


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(1) Strictly speaking, Yellowstone National Park and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are different entities. YNP lies mostly in Wyoming, with its westernmost portion in Montana, while the GYE lies in both these states as well as in Idaho. The GYE is comprised of YNP, seven national forests, two wildlife refuges and some privately owned land. In context of wolf recovery, the distinction between the two is not always clear. I will try to clarify where possible.

(2) The issue is also becoming more relevant to Colorado and New Mexico.

(3) The entire island of Isle Royale is a National Park and the wolves there live under the protection of the National Park Service.

(4) 1916 National Park Service Organic Act.

(5) A series of studies conducted by this researcher concluded that counties nearest YNP opposed wolf reintroduction while those farther away from the affected area supported it. He also suggested that those with more education about the wolf fear it less and tend to favor its recovery and reintroduction. Finally, one survey indicated that even if all the concerns of the livestock community were answered, a large percentage of ranchers would still oppose wolf reintroduction.

(6) This includes groups like the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, Wyoming Wool Growers Association and the Wyoming Farm Bureau. Agriculture in Idaho and Montana is organized similarly.

(7) From a biological perspective, knowledge on existing wolf packs is vital information for the reintroduction plans. Wolves are extremely territorial and if a new wolf pair is introduced into existing wolf territory, the newcomers are likely to be killed.

(8) For one recent example, the initial grazing reform proposal of the Clinton administration died in Congress almost immediately. Western Senators of Clinton's own party made sure that a grazing fee hike on the public lands failed to pass. Progressive environmental reform in the West is a very hard thing to accomplish because of the iron triangle like power structure.

(9) It is often noted that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which is the law requiring completion of an EIS for any federal land development activity, is only a procedural statute rather than a substantive one. Although it is an extremely important and strong environmental law, there is nothing in its language that compels an agency to pick the environmentally sound alternative once a range of alternatives has been decided upon.

(10) Based upon personal conversation with Jasper Carlton, director of the Biodiversity Legal Foundation, January 12, 1994.

(11) The literature on conservation biology is very pertinent to wolf reintroduction, though it is not the purpose of this paper to really review it. I would like to mention, however, that population viability theory suggests that wide-ranging, low-density (per acre) carnivores require vast areas and possibly hundreds of individuals to become viable.

(12) 16 U.S.C. § 1536 (c).

(13) I am not suggesting that such an agenda exists in the mainstream American consciousness yet, however, there is a discernible movement on the part of progressive scientists, philosophers and citizens toward actualizing a biodiversity agenda. Even Congress is debating national biodiversity protection legislation, but this proposal has already run into opposition from certain Western delegations.