Three Red Wolves Released Into the Wild
Associated Press, 3 April 1996
Charleston, S.C. -- Three endangered red wolves born in captivity on nearby Bull Island have been released in the wilds of the Smoky Mountains, while a fourth will be released this week in eastern North Carolina.
Red Wolf Project biologists decided to let the wolves born at the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge live in the wild rather than breed them in captivity. The biologists expect another litter of wolves at Cape Romain.
Red wolves are the first species declared extinct then reintroduced to the wild.
Red, his mate and their three female pups born last spring still live on Bull Island, which is part of the wildlife refuge. Refuge Manager George Garris said the female is carrying young that she could bear next month.
Two males and a female have been moved from the island to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. The fourth, a male, will be released this week at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge near Manteo.
The three in the Smokies were introduced to wolves that had lived in the wild, said Christopher Lucash, a red wolf biologist.
He said a 3-year-old male and his sister, freed about a month ago, have scampered off with new mates. Each pair settled where the wild wolf had lived before it was put in a pen with the Bull Island wolf.
A 2-year-old male, who has recovered from a broken leg, ran off with his new mate Saturday.
The fourth wolf has been leading a bachelor's life in a pen at Alligator River. Biologist Michael Morse plans to set him free this week in an area dominated by gum swamps.
"We have a couple of lone females out there. We'll release him near them and hope he hooks up with one," Morse said.
Radio transmitter collars enable Lucash to track the wolves on Bull Island, and he plans to visit dens and count noses after the pups are born.
Alligator River has about 12 wolves in captivity and 70 others in the wild, including 10 pairs that Morse hopes will have pups this spring.
Wolves' Release Cleared
Patrick O'Driscoll, The Denver Post, 30 March 1996
A Wyoming federal judge opened the legal door yesterday for the release next month of 17 captive gray wolves into the Yellowstone National Park backcountry.
In Casper, U.S. District Judge William Downes dissolved a temporary restraining order and denied a preliminary injunction against the second wolf release in as many years in the world's first national park.
The decision was seen as a hint that Downes also may uphold, in a separate case, the controversial federal plan for reintroducing the rare predators into the wilds of Yellowstone and central Idaho. Court observers doubted the judge would let more wolves go free if he were going to overturn the whole program.
"The government views this as a very good sign," said Sandi Zellmer, a Justice Department attorney who represented the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the case.
Downes is expected to rule soon in that broader case, which consolidates three suits filed by the American Farm Bureau, environmental groups and a Wyoming couple.
In yesterday's case, the Montana Stockgrowers Association, Beartooth Stock Association and Fishtail, Mont., rancher Vernon Keller had argued that Fish and Wildlife should write a new environmental impact statement on its program of transplanting Canadian wolves to restore the species in its former Rocky Mountains range.
Ranchers whose livestock graze just outside Yellowstone fear wolves will prey on their animals. A lawyer for one livestock group has said sheep and cattle near the park are "McDonald's for wolves."
Seventeen wolves, divided into four packs, have been held since late January in outdoor "acclimation pens" at Yellowstone. Government biologists have said they want to release them gradually, beginning next week and through mid-April, so they can settle down in time to bear offspring.
"There is evidence that some of these wolves are actually impregnated," said Zellmer. "The idea is that they need to get out to find dens (so that) when they have the pups, they're established."
About 20 other wolves were released earlier this year in Idaho.
Last month, 14 wolves were set free in Yellowstone and 15 in Idaho. At least two have been killed illegally, and one Yellowstone male was shot last month by authorities after he left the park to kill sheep in Montana.
If the new packs do as well as the first in reproducing and staying in the Yellowstone region, biologists say more transplants may not be needed.
Federal Wolf-Release Program Now the Bane of Some Ranchers' Lives
Gwen Florio, Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, 11 March 1996
Fishtail, Mont. -- It is no accident that the slavering wolf on the cover of a Montana Stockgrowers Association pamphlet is dressed in a three-piece suit and shiny city shoes -- much like a stereotypical Washington bureaucrat.
As far as the ranchers here are concerned, there's really not much difference between the two.
The way they see it, bureaucrats and wolves are equally capable of gnawing at a way of life forged on their grandparents' homesteads in the foothills of the Beartooth Mountains.
But if they had to pick a single target for their wrath, it would be Washington. After all, they say, if it hadn't been for the bureaucrats, "the wolf problem" wouldn't even exist.
Until last March, it didn't.
That's when 14 gray wolves were released through a federal program into Yellowstone National Park, whose border lies just 35 miles southwest of here -- a distance that wide-ranging wolf packs routinely travel in a day.
Within a month of their release, the wolves were making forays outside the park's borders. In December, a pack of wolves tore apart Banner Skokke's hunting dog, Smoker, near his home about eight miles outside Fishtail.
A month later, sheep began disappearing from a ranch near Emigrant, a town 24 miles outside Yellowstone's northern gate into Montana. Federal agents killed a wolf they caught in that case.
Ranchers seethed at those incidents. But the worst, in their view, came last month, when a man from nearby Red Lodge was sentenced to six months in prison and fined $10,000 for killing a wolf. Chad McKittrick told authorities he thought the wolf was a wild dog but later bragged about killing a wolf, and showed off its head and pelt.
The sentence, one of the toughest ever imposed in Montana for killing an endangered animal, went beyond stirring ranchers' anger.
It stirred their fears.
"I don't want to go to prison for protecting my property," said Noel Keogh, whose family's 50-year presence on a ranch outside Fishtail makes them relative newcomers. If a wolf starts hanging around his ranch, he says, he wants to be able to shoot it.
Keogh sees the sentence as the federal government flexing its muscles, bullying everyone to make sure its program succeeds.
That's just what is needed, say members of Defenders of Wildlife, a private group that helps fund Yellowstone's wolf project.
"I think the judge was sending a message that killing an endangered species is a serious offense," said Hank Fischer, the group's Northern Rockies representative.
Fischer and others who support the project know that ranchers, who have vowed never to accept the wolves, will not be quick to change their minds.
Keogh's neighbor, rancher Rick Young, said he couldn't condone the wolf's killing -- especially since the wolf wasn't attacking anyone's livestock when it was shot last April.
"But under their breath," Young said, "I think ranchers probably said, 'Fine. That's one less wolf.'"
Marsha Karle, spokeswoman for Yellowstone National Park, said that not all of the people who object to the wolf program had been so reticent.
"I have personally received threatening phone calls," she said. "People say, 'We hate this. We hate you.' It's awful. For the first time, I realized that I was being held responsible, personally, for just doing my job."
Karle keeps her copy of what to do in case of terrorist threats -- issued after the Oklahoma City bombing -- in her top desk drawer. And while federal employees at some parks have been advised to travel in pairs, Karle said recent staff cuts didn't give Yellowstone workers that option.
Ranchers aside, she said, the majority of the response to the wolf project has been positive. More than 4,000 visitors to Yellowstone have reported seeing wolves since the three packs were released last spring.
Considering that the park gets three million visitors annually, that's not many. But naturalist Rick McIntyre found overwhelming support for the wolves among 40,000 visitors he surveyed.
Ranchers look at statistics like that and say the key words are not ones like "overwhelming support." What's more important, they say, is that the support comes from "tourists" and "outsiders."
"People want to make Montana a playground," said Averill Keller, who with her husband, Vern, raises cattle and sheep on a 6,000-acre spread about nine miles east of Fishtail. "But some of us have to make a living here. More and more, our private property rights are being taken away from us."
Until now, ranchers had assumed that those rights allowed them to kill predators, which are a significant threat to livestock in Montana.
Montana's ranchers, especially those near wilderness areas such as Yellowstone, contend with coyotes, bears and mountain lions.
Vern Keller, 70, said that one year, when two mountain lions developed a taste for his sheep and cattle, he lost 10 percent of his stock.
Ranchers say at least they're allowed to kill those other animals. A photo hanging in the Kellers' den illustrates the fate of a mountain lion that wouldn't leave sheep alone.
But if a wolf were to come prowling around the Kellers ranch, it would be a different story.
Because the wolf is classified as an endangered species, the Kellers couldn't shoot it until it actually attacked their stock -- something a wolf is not likely to do with an audience. If the Kellers found carcasses of their stock, federal Animal Damage Control agents would have to inspect the remains to make sure a wolf, and not another animal, was the killer before any action was taken.
If, that is, there were any remains. In the Emigrant case, the rancher lost four sheep, but because just two carcasses were found, the Defenders of Wildlife -- which maintains a $100,000 fund to reimburse ranchers for livestock killed by wolves -- paid in full only for that pair. For goodwill, Fischer said, the group paid half-price for the two missing sheep.
That rancher got paid. Pat McLean, who with Banner Skokke runs a dental clinic in nearby Absarokee, is still fuming over a federal official's telling them they wouldn't be paid by anyone for their dog "because they don't reimburse for sentimental loss."
Wolf project workers try to monitor the wolves by airplane, calling ranchers when a wolf is spotted near their land. But Karle said that was an imperfect system.
Budget woes have curtailed the flights. And even if a spotter sees a wolf on a ranch on a Monday, by Tuesday -- when the messages would go out -- that wolf could be 40 miles away, Karle said. Still, the wolf project is considering a hot line offering reports of the wolves' movements.
If it's set up, it could get considerably busier after April, when the park is scheduled to release the next batch of wolves. This time, there are 17.
Vern Keller is among a number of people who have sued to stop that release.
Ed Bangs, the wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office in Helena, said that it might be in the ranchers' best interest to drop their objections.
The quicker the wolf population increases, the sooner the animals will lose endangered species protections. So far, he said, the program has lost so few wolves (four) that it's well ahead of schedule. This year's release could be the last, he said.
....Alvin Ellis, 59, a state representative who raises cattle on 31,000 acres northwest of Red Lodge, said he thought ranchers would be overrun by wolves before the animals were taken off the list. "It's a little like saying that you can't control cockroaches or rats until there are so many in any given city. It's absurd!"
Meanwhile, he said, the recent jail sentence has made ranchers who gather each morning in the Red Lodge Cafe think twice about their policy toward varmints: "We see, we shoot."
Now, Ellis said, "we'll be forced to stand by while our business is torn apart, piece by piece. What other businessperson would stand by and watch that sort of thing?"
One of his companions, retired banker and rancher Ralph Heare, 75, of Red Lodge, nodded gravely.
"Why," he asked, "don't they just put the wolves in the reflecting pool in Washington?"
The Predator-Prey Balance is Shifting on a Lake Superior Island
Dean Rebuffoni, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 5 March 1996
The world's most studied pack of timber wolves, on Isle Royale in Lake Superior, has made a strong comeback after several years of low numbers, researchers said Tuesday.
Twenty-two wolves were observed on Michigan's big island this winter, the highest number seen there in more than a decade, said biologists from the National Park Service and Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Mich.
By comparison, Isle Royale's wolf population was an all-time low of 11 in 1993; it peaked at 50 wolves in 1980.
Meanwhile, the island's population of moose, the wolves' chief prey, has fallen sharply, and not just because of the higher wolf population. There are just under 1,200 moose this winter, about half of the 1995 estimate, said Rolf Peterson, a biologist who has studied Isle Royale's wolves and moose for 26 years.
He said that in early February researchers found two bull moose that had died of starvation on little Grace Island, which is part of the Isle Royale archipelago. Both were badly infected by ticks, which can carry disease.
Also, deep snow has aggravated a serious shortage of vegetation for moose to eat this winter.
....[M]oose deaths in January and February were almost twice those recorded in those months throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. Wolves have killed a moose, and often a calf, almost each day this year; the remaining moose mortality was largely because of starvation and such accidents as falling off cliffs while looking for plants to browse.
Peterson said, "Given the high incidence of ticks [and] deep snow and the greater numbers of wolves, there will be a substantial reduction in moose this year, mostly from starvation in winter and spring."
The 45-mile-long island is a national park, and wolves were first seen there in the winter of 1948-49. They apparently crossed on a rare ice bridge from Minnesota's North Shore or from Ontario, both of which are closer to Isle Royale than Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
Peterson and other biologists have said the wolf population declined during the 1980s because of canine parvovirus, a lethal disease that apparently was accidentally introduced to the island on hikers' shoes or by dogs arriving on privately owned boats.
The decline in wolf numbers was accompanied by an increased moose population, and by 1994 there were about 1,800 moose on the island, the most in three decades.
National Park Service officials said they hope that the latest decline in moose numbers will improve the overall health of the island's herd. Fewer moose should mean more plant food for the remaining animals.
Yellowstone Wolves Wear Out Welcome Mat
James Brooke, The New York Times, 18 February 1996
Loping through the snowy wilderness of the Continental Divide near here, a lone gray wolf is an advance scout for the latest battle in the West's "wolf wars."
One year ago, as wolves were returned to Yellowstone National Park for the first time since they were exterminated in the 1920s, biologists argued that they would largely stay within the 3,400-square-mile park, feasting on elk and bison.
But within their first year, each of the three packs roamed out of the pack. Angering ranchers, they occasionally nibbled on the hors d'oeuvres of civilization -- a hunting dog here, two sheep there.
Although 17 new wolves arrived at Yellowstone in late January, ranchers show no signs of surrendering. By March, a federal judge in Wyoming is to rule on a suit by the American Farm Federation that asks that all the wolves in Yellowstone be shipped back to Canada.
"Sheep and cattle are McDonald's for wolves," argued Richard L. Krause, the lead lawyer for the group. "They don't stay in the park. The biologists have trouble locating them. It boils down to people thinking it would be nice if there were wolves in Yellowstone."
Indeed, wolves continue to be the most controversial species in the Rockies. While ranchers denounce them as predators hurting their livelihood, other Westerners see them as a source of tourists' dollars and a vital link in restoring the park's ecological balance.
Cooke City, Mont., just south of Red Lodge at the northeast entrance of Yellowstone, enjoyed an unexpected boom in wolf tourism last summer. Shops did a thriving business in stuffed toy wolves, books on wolves and T-shirts stamped with wolves.
"Visitors to Yellowstone now rate wolves as the No. 1 animal they want to see," reports Defenders of Wildlife, a Washington-based group.
This is no hype by a group with a wolf in its logo.
Rick McIntyre, a Yellowstone ranger, estimates that he led about 40,000 visitors last summer on "wolf walks." Armed with binoculars, visitors started lining roads as early as 4 a.m. to glimpse wolves in their main forage area, the Lamar Valley.
During May and June, the prime time for wolf viewing, the number of people entering the park through Cooke City jumped by 21 percent, compared to the same period in 1994. By contrast, Yellowstone's overall attendance increased only 2.6 percent in 1995.
Last summer, Western Republican politicians derided the wolf reintroduction program and managed to cut its budget by $200,000, or a third.
In a Democratic counterattack in August, President Clinton and his family visited a new-born litter of wolf pups in Yellowstone.
Environmental groups raised about $100,000 from thousands of wolf fans nationwide. That covered half of the cost of capturing and shipping the 38 new wolves to Yellowstone and a federal wilderness area in Idaho this winter.
In Utah, wolf supporters raised money through a festival, "Wolfstock '95."
In the field, enemies of wolf reintroduction did not always limit themselves to legal briefs.
In April, Chad McKittrick, a 42-year-old hunter, shot and killed a 122-pound wolf near Red Lodge. On the Fourth of July, he rode a horse in a parade through this town near Yellowstone, sporting a black T-shirt that read "Northern Rockies Wolf Reduction Project."
McKittrick was convicted of killing a wolf under the Endangered Species Act, and awaits sentencing. Violation of the act carries a jail term and a fine of up to $100,000.
Red Wolves Adapting Nicely to Their Island Wild
The Virginian Pilot, 6 February 1996
CHARLESTON, S.C. -- The red wolves from Bull's Island continue their startling return from endangered species to thriving woodland residents.
The adult wolves released on the island produced a third litter of pups; three females whelped in the wild last spring.
The staff of Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge recently got their first look at the pups.
There's more good news. A single male wolf, born in the wild a year ago, has healed completely from his broken leg and hunts with ease. And four pups from the first two litters have new homes and probably will be running free soon.
The female and one male were introduced to mates last month and will be released in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. The two older males temporarily live in acclimation pens at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge near Manteo.
Biologists say they hope the Bull's Island brothers will cross paths with the ladies.
Things didn't seem so bright about 20 years ago when 19 genetically pure red wolves were placed and bred in captivity to keep the species alive, Cape Romain refuge manager George Garris said.
When numbers grew, a pair of zoo-born reds were released on Bull's Island in 1987. The experiment worked as the wolves became the first species declared extinct in the wild and reintroduced.
At first the precious animals were penned when a female became pregnant, so she would have her pups in safety and a veterinarian could check them immediately.
Now, for the second year in a row, the male called Red and his mate remained free to bear and raise their pups.
This summer Garris saw signs of young, small footprints that looked like those of puppies playing. He got a sight of it himself in December, spending Christmas on the Island catching the wolves so they could be checked.
Veterinarian Dr. John Murray examined all the wolves on Jan. 3 and found them healthy.
At Alligator River, the two newly arrived brothers are looking great, said Art Beyer, Red Wolf Project biological technician. Each has his own acclimation pen.
"We hope to release them on the refuge any day now," Beyer said. The refuge, which first released red wolves in the fall of 1987, now has about a dozen reds in captivity and up to 60 in the wild. The wolves have borne pups in the wild for four generations, he said.
Love of Lamb Chops Proves Deadly for Wolf No. 3
Gary Gerhardt, Rocky Mountain News, 6 February 1996
Wolves to the north of us.
Wolves to the south of us.
Soon we'll be surrounded by wolves.
Actually, the wolves to the south are still in limbo. More about that in a minute.
We just received word that No. 3, the young lone wolf that developed a liking for sheep northwest of Yellowstone, was killed Monday by federal authorities.
A few weeks ago it killed two sheep in a field by Emigrant near Highway 89 between Gardiner and Livingston, Mont.
The wolf was captured and put in a holding pen in the park until officials needed to make room for a new batch of wolves that arrived last week from Canada. No. 3 was then released in the Pelican Valley near the north shore of Yellowstone Lake, where there's a cornucopia of elk and bison.
But in only a week, the wolf made its way back north. This past weekend it left the park and headed toward the sheep herd.
Fearing trouble, Park authorities gave the kill order and No. 3 is history.
Now back to the story of El Lobo, the Mexican wolf to the south. We haven't written much about it before, mainly because its release is even more in doubt.
New Mexico, Arizona and Texas oppose its return, which coupled with a conservative U.S. Congress, makes going ahead with the proposed $7.2 million reintroduction program more than iffy.
The plan is to return 100 endangered Mexican wolves to White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico and Gila National Forest in New Mexico and Arizona.
The Mexican wolf is smaller than its northern cousins, but that hasn't stopped it from stirring up as much dust.
Like all wolves, the Mexican wolf almost was blasted out of existence by the livestock industry in the early part of this century. It was listed as an endangered species April 28, 1976.
It is a recognized subspecies of the northern gray wolf and historically has roamed in southeast Arizona, southern New Mexico, West Texas and central Mexico to the state of Queretaro.
All of the breeding animals today are in zoos and private animal ranches, and still there's only about 50 known to exist.
The New Mexico Game and Fish Department recently refused to support the reintroduction because it "sees no potential Mexican wolf release site that provides both the biological and societal elements necessary."
Emphasis should be on "societal," which is another word for "livestock."
Maybe we won't be surrounded by wolves after all.
Wolves' Comeback Sparks Dispute Over Endangered Status
Valerie Richardson, The Washington Times, 5 February 1996
The unexpected success of the gray wolf recovery program in the Rocky Mountain region has touched off a debate over their endangered species status.
In Montana, wildlife biologists report the wolves are proliferating so rapidly that those near Glacier Park now are fighting and killing each other over territory. Experts said the state soon will meet the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's goal of 10 established wolf packs, putting it several years ahead of the concurrent effort in Idaho and Wyoming.
At that point, Gov. Marc Racicot wants to spin off from the federal program and remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list in Montana without waiting for Idaho and Wyoming to catch up.
But under federal guidelines, Montana cannot delist the wolf until Idaho and Wyoming also have 10 packs for three consecutive years. In Idaho, which has 34 wolves but no wolf packs, that could take anywhere from three to 10 years.
"Montana is caught in the awkward situation of being dependent on wolf reintroductions to build wolf numbers as prerequisite to delisting, yet no matter how many hundreds of wolves inhabit Montana, unless recovery goals are met in Wyoming and Idaho, we cannot delist wolves here," said the Republican governor in a Jan. 12 letter to the field director in Helena.
That suggestion has met with resistance from wolf advocates, who said the animals should receive regional, not state-by-state protection. As a protected species, the wolf cannot be shot, trapped or even harassed by anyone other than federal agents.
"The problem is wolves don't understand state boundaries," said Lang Smith, spokesman for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. Under the governor's proposal, "the wolf is going from Idaho to Montana, where it can be killed, even though it can't be killed in Idaho. It's ridiculous to start drawing lines."
Joe Fontaine, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service's Montana wolf-recovery program, said no official decision has been reached, but that it would be "practically impossible" to decouple Montana from the three-state recovery project.
....The best the agency could do is allow Montana to downgrade the species from "endangered" to "threatened," he said. Under that listing, the wolf would still be protected from extermination and harassment.
State officials said they want to avoid a repeat of what happened in Minnesota, where the wolf population has soared to more than 2,000 and packs have been sighted within howling distance of the Twin Cities. Even so, that state cannot delist the wolf until its numbers are higher in Michigan and Wisconsin.
Montana already has seven or eight established wolf packs, which are migrating south from Canada. None of the federally transplanted Canadian wolves has been released in Montana, although some have crossed into the state from Yellowstone National Park.
Sharon Rose, spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said Wyoming now has 38 of the radio-collared Canadian wolves living in or around Yellowstone. Another 34 have been released in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area in central Idaho.
Numerous reports of wolves killing livestock have been made since the first batch of wolves was flown in a year ago, but only two have been confirmed. Some Montanans living in the state's more remote regions said they no longer allow their children to play out of sight, even though biologists say wolves will not attack humans.
"We've had wolf tracks in areas where small children go sledding outside [Yellowstone] park," said Jake Cummins, executive vice president of the Montana Farm Bureau. "Parents aren't letting their kids go by themselves to the school bus anymore."
People also are keeping a close eye on their pets. "If you go to Minnesota, you'll find that [dogs] are the meal of choice," Mr. Cummins said.
Dogged Farmers Outwit Wolves
Jessica Berry, The [London] Guardian, 3 February 1996
Computerised cattle, wired-up wolves and huge dogs are part of a revolutionary new farm on the Golan Heights. The dogs are friends with the cattle, and the wolves have been forced to limit their diet to tasty morsels of gazelle, wild boar or rabbit.
Omer Vainer and Shefi Mor are cattle farmers on the Golan, the disputed land at the crux of the Israel-Syria peace negotiations. What is happening on their farm is unique in the region and possibly in the world. This is wolf country, and Mr. Vainer has inserted electronic transmitters under the skin of all the wolves he has been able to approach. Each transmitter emits a different pitch, enabling Mr. Vainer to locate the animals' hideouts by driving around his farm with his aerial and electronic receiving device.
Mr. Mor is in charge of the farming side, made slightly easier as each cow also carries a transmitter.
The wolves' prediliction for cattle flesh has led Mr. Vainer to develop a unique system whereby dogs -- cows' former natural enemies -- are now their bodyguards. "This is very close to the sheepdog system in the United States, rather than Europe where there is always a shepherd," he said. Mr. Vainer has spent time in America meeting rangers and government officials and studying their methods, "but my farm in Israel is the first in the world to work with cows and dogs."
The system appears ingeniously simple. From about six weeks old to the age of five months, the puppies are put in a closed cage in the field with calves around, so they learn to live together "like a family."
When the puppies are older they are put in a large enclosure with the calves, with a small exit, big enough to allow the dogs out to roam. "But at night they always come back in," Mr. Vainer said.
After a week he lets the calves out with the herd "and the dogs follow as they're now part of the family."
The dogs, a Pyrenean breed, are the only animals on the farm which do not carry transmitters, Mr. Vrainer said. "The dogs must be white, otherwise we would never find them."
Hungry Wolves Invade Estonia
Jon Henley, The [London] Guardian, 1 February 1996
Expect the worst from the east, the Estonians say; if it's not Tsar Peter's cavalry it will be the Red Army. This winter, it is Russian wolves.
Two unusually cold months have frozen Lake Peipsi, which forms much of Estonia's eastern border with Russia. This has allowed hungry grey wolves to cross into the Baltic state's deep forests, swelling the native population. Hunters estimate up to 800 wolves may be at large in Estonia, a country the size of the Netherlands, which might naturally support a wolf population a tenth of this size.
"They are a problem this year," said Jaak Tambets, the environment ministry's senior conservation officer. "They take wild boar, elk and roe deer, and sometimes cattle and pets. We don't know exactly how many there are, but it's a lot."
There have been no recorded attacks on humans, though a wolf was recently sighted six miles from the capital, Tallinn.
The Estonian government has allocated funds to equip wolf hunters with walkie-talkies. Extra hunting licences have been granted.
Wolf hunters enter snow-covered forest clearings carrying guns and reels of twine knotted with scraps of red bunting. Winding the twine through the trees, they drive the wolves into the trap where they stop short, apparently scared by the fluttering cloth.
Last winter some 200 were shot this way; the figure could be higher this year, Mr. Tambets said.
Mass deportations and collectivisation during 50 years of Soviet occupation turned parts of Estonia into a wolf's paradise, by restoring the animal's natural habitat. A series of mild winters -- bad for hunting -- helped to boost numbers.
In Estonian folklore, the wolf was both admired and feared. One of the few creatures strong enough to overpower the devil, it was too terrifying to be called by its real name and was known as the Grey Cotton Man, or Scratch Eye.