LAST year, after more than 100 public hearings, $12 million in studies, and testimony from about 160,000 people, US and Canadian biologists began capturing gray wolves from Hinton, Alberta, and resettling them in Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park and in central Idaho. Against steep odds, the first stage of this historic reintroduction succeeded; recently, Stage 2 began.
Resettlement of the wolves - an endangered species - remains controversial. The American Farm Bureau Federation and the Mountain States Legal Foundation last year sued to stop the wolves' return, saying the predators would attack ranchers' livestock. Opponents argued that the program was an example of big government and big-city environmentalists trying to economically cripple rural America and gain control of the land.
Both arguments have proved false. The wolves have had a nearly perfect record with regard to cattle and sheep. A wolf that killed two sheep last month was captured and moved back to the park, and the rancher was compensated by Defenders of Wildlife, an environmental group that has raised $100,000 for just such a purpose.
The wolf reintroduction plan also has produced economic benefits for communities near Yellowstone. Visitors to the park say they want to see wolves more than any other animal. Last year, more than 6,000 visitors spotted wolves in Yellowstone, and about six times that many spent time looking for them. The result? A welcome surge in tourism for the area.
In recent weeks a new group of Canadian wolves was flown to Yellowstone. This time the roadblock wasn't vocal ranchers but Congress, which wants to cut funding for the program. In the face of budget constraints, wolves understandably are not a priority for lawmakers.
But fortunately, for Defenders of Wildlife and other private organizations, they are. These groups have agreed to help finance the wolves' capture and transport.
This second stage of the wolf reintroduction plan is crucial. If the new arrivals do as well as last year's, federal wolf biologists say their reintroductions to the park will be over. Yellowstone will have within its borders every animal that was there when the park was founded in 1872. Biologists and private organizations have addressed the concerns of critics. They should be commended for not allowing other obstacles to stand in the way of a worthwhile endeavor.