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Sunday, August 30, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Wolf Fight Overlies Wider Conflicts -- Yellowstone Plan Opens Question Of Who Will Control Future Of The West

Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph

CHEYENNE, Wyo. - The written agenda said the issue to be discussed was whether wolves should be reintroduced to Yellowstone Park.

But that issue is only a small part of the greater agenda advanced by adversaries in Cheyenne this month as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took public comment for a hotly debated Yellowstone wolf study.

Wolves and Yellowstone merely provide the flashpoint as environmentalists and the livestock industry collide head-on over the future not just of wolves but of the West.

Troy Mader, founder of the Common Man Institute, is also a member of the so-called "wise use" coalition, a loosely affiliated, generally right-wing group of outfitters, timber companies, livestock producers and off-road-vehicle owners. He used the occasion of the wolf hearings to launch an attack on the Endangered Species Act, which he termed "a badly flawed law."

If wolves are allowed back in the park, Mader said, harsh restrictions on the land in and around Yellowstone will soon follow. Grazing, timbering, mineral exploration, hunting and other activities will be curtailed to save a species that is not in danger of extinction, he said.

Mader argued that few in Wyoming care to save the wolf, making the mandate to do so even more unpalatable. "We're being asked to live with the opinions of New York and other places," he said.

"Why do you want to bring them back so we can stir up the hatred of yesteryear?"

Actually, there were no comments from the Big Apple. But wolf advocates appeared at the Cheyenne Civic Center to show their support for a 100-wolf population in Yellowstone.

"Commodities interests have run the American West for 100 years," said Darrel Knuffke of the Wilderness Society. "Now, ranchers and farmers are afraid. The world is changing and the West is changing."

There's a growing sense that federal policies have been too generous with the nation's natural resources. Melinda Kassen of the Environmental Defense Fund said any study of the economic impact of reintroducing wolves should consider the benefits that ranchers and the timber industry already get from federally subsidized use of forest land.

The potential loss of livestock by ranchers, in particular, should be weighed against the fact that ranchers have cheap access to vast amounts of federal land, Kassen said.

Larry Bourett of the Wyoming Farm Bureau said the Wildlife Service slanted the hearing in the wolf's favor by holding it in Cheyenne, 400 miles away from Yellowstone and just two hours' driving time from Boulder, Colo., a well-known haven for wolf advocates.

Agency officials chose not to address that criticism.

Hearings are also scheduled in Helena, Mont., Seattle, Salt Lake City and Boise. Boise and Seattle were selected because the Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery Plan also identifies central Idaho and the Northern Cascades as possible reintroduction areas.

Since the plan was drafted in the 1980s, wolves have naturally migrated into Washington without human help, and there have been wolf sightings farther south every year along the Continental Divide in Montana. It is possible that wolves eventually could migrate to Yellowstone without assistance, but many biologists have said it's unlikely.

There is no argument about what wolves would do if they return to Yellowstone - they'd thrive on elk that are overpopulating the park.

Eventually, wolves probably would follow elk outside the park and some livestock would be killed. Environmentalists have offered to compensate ranchers for the losses from wolves, but ranchers have balked, citing the red tape connected with such a program.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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