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Week of 8.18.06

Dancing with Wolves

Story Update: Dancing with Wolves (5.6.09)

In 2006, NOW traveled to Southwest Montana for our show Dancing with Wolves to see if wolves and people can co-exist in the ranching communities surrounding Yellowstone National Park.

On May 4, 2009, gray wolves were removed from the endangered species list in Idaho and Montana, but they will remain protected in Wyoming. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ruled in early April to delist the wolves due to the "success of gray wolf recovery efforts."

A number of conservation groups, including Defenders of Wildlife, have reacted with outrage at the decision.

"Wolves will once again be in the crosshairs to be needlessly killed starting May 4," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife.

Defenders of Wildlife has set up a website for people to urge President Obama to keep gray wolves on the endangered species list.
Go to the site
Schlickeisen said that as much as two-thirds of the current Northern Rockies wolf population can be killed under the delisting rule. A consortium of conservation groups, including Defenders of Wildlife, have filed a federal court lawsuit challenging the government's decision to remove the gray wolf population from the list of endangered species. The case will not go to court until June 4.

Carolyn Sime, a wolf recovery coordinator for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, supports the federal government's decision to delist. "We've worked hard to put together a program that will work well for wolves and people who share the landscape with wolves. Transition to a state led conservation effort is timely, and we're ready," she told NOW on PBS.

Montana and Idaho will be required to maintain populations of at least 150 wolves under the delisting rule. Both states plan wolf-hunting seasons but they could be postponed due to the legal challenges.

There are over 1600 wolves in the northern Rock Mountains, well above the 300-wolf minimum goal set up by the recovery plan adopted in 1987.

About the Show (Originally aired 8.18.06)

Can wolves and humans live together?

This week NOW travels to Big Sky country, where wolves and ranchers are both considered endangered species. By identifying a common threat -- encroaching development -- the long-time adversaries are finding common ground under the wide Montana sky.

Gray wolves were completely eliminated from the Yellowstone region by the 1940s to help the livestock industry. Returning them to Yellowstone National Park and the wilderness of central Idaho a decade ago is considered the boldest and most controversial wildlife recovery program ever attempted under the Endangered Species Act.

In the mid 1990's, 66 wild gray wolves were captured in Canada and released in Yellowstone Park and Idaho. At last count, the population has grown to 1,000.

Resigned ranchers

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The ranching community strongly opposed the gray wolf reintroduction, and many still see the wolf as a predator that kills their livestock and threatens their own way of life.

"They have not only killed and maimed our sheep operation but they have killed our guard dogs," Joe Helle, a rancher from Montana, said.

But many ranchers in the area are resigned to the fact that wolves are part of the landscape. In fact, ranchers have become unlikely allies with environmentalists, who they once battled over wolf reintroduction.

Montana sky Eager environmentalists

Environmental communities now see the ranchers as stewards of open space needed by wolves that can also keep real estate developers at bay. Environmental groups are working with ranchers by supporting programs that might ease the stress of ranching with wolves.

As the wolf population increases in the northern Rockies, biologists say they bring a natural balance to the Yellowstone landscape.

But now enough wolves roam the region to warrant delisting and transferring wolf management from the federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the to the states of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.

Legal troubles

For delisting to occur, each state must have a wolf management plan that complies with the Endangered Species Act. Montana and Idaho have passed the test with plans designed to maintain a viable population of wolves.

Slideshow - Yellowstone Wolves But Wyoming wants to treat all wolves as predators that can be shot on sight outside of Yellowstone National Park. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently rejected the Wyoming plan and has put the delisting process on hold. Both parties are headed for a long and protracted court battle.

In the meantime, the federal government has given Montana and Idaho temporary wolf management under a ruling called 10J. The new rules allow the states and ranchers to have more control over problem wolves, including shooting them if they attack livestock.

Interview: Tara McKelvey on Wiretapping Ruling

Also this week David Brancaccio talks Tara McKelvey, one of the plaintiffs in the case decided by a federal judge on Thursday ruling that the government's warrantless wiretapping program is unconstitutional. After the decision, McKelve—who is a senior editor at the American Prospect Magazine—told NOW that she was relieved by the decision as she has feared for the safety of her sources under the controversial program.