Whenever federal wolf recovery coordinator Ed Bangs goes to a public meeting about wolves in the Northern Rockies, he can almost always count on the following encounter:
A grizzled rancher walks up, tilts back his battered Stetson, sticks out a callused, work-worn hand and says, “My granddad killed the last wolf in this county, back in …”
It has been less than 100 years since wolves were extirpated in the Northern Rockies and within one, two or three generations, said Bangs, extended-family memories are fresh and vivid.
“I had an 80-year-old gentleman come up and tell me that as a kid, he and his Dad hunted wolves along the East Front in Montana,” said Bangs. “Today’s wolves are using the same trails they did back then.”
Yet wolves in the western Great Lakes region of Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin were never fully exterminated and now number close to 4,000 – more than the 1,700 wolves that live in the Northern Rockies states of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, with wolves showing up in Washington, Oregon and Utah.
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