Return of the Hunted
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Outside magazine, April 1995
Return of the Hunted
After 70 years, phantom has become fact. But the story has just begun.
It was over in less than an hour. Twenty years of debate would culminate in a prosaic helicopter ride into the mountains. Late on the afternoon of January 20, a government chopper landed in the fastness of central Idaho’s Salmon River. State wildlife veterinarian Dave Hunter then unloaded three tranquilized gray
For the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it was neither the end nor even the beginning of the end of this intricate morality play. But with 12 other Canadian wolves also set free in Idaho and 14 more delivered to Yellowstone National Park, Canis lupus had made its much-heralded return to the American West.
There were, however, dispiriting setbacks. In Canada earlier in the month, a wolf had been killed when a tranquilizing dart fired by a biologist slipped between the animal’s ribs and punctured a lung. Then, only ten days after these photographs were taken, a yearling female, wearing the unlucky radio collar number B-13, was killed by an unknown gunman after she mauled a newborn
Attorneys for ranchers opposed to the release had desperately worked to scuttle the plan. From congressional chambers in Washington to courtrooms across the West, there was the kind of weird civic spasm that one sees on the brink of state executions. The hysteria that has always ac-companied the subject of wolves reached new plateaus of lunacy. The Wyoming legislature moved
Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, who was on hand the day the wolves arrived in Yellowstone, is no stranger to this kind of thinking. His own ranching forebears in Arizona had participated in the systematic campaign that exterminated the gray wolf 70 years ago. In those days, wolves were doused with gasoline and set afire. They were poisoned, starved, pulled apart by horses.
Given the restiveness across the West, it is perhaps too sanguine to believe that the vignette can stay complete forever. But for now, a phantom has become a fact. And there is a welcome new sound in the American Rockies: howling.