Air Date: Week of March 26, 1999
New Yorkers have long been on the cutting edge of all sorts of social innovations. While their fair city is not known for vast open spaces, its residents often respond to the call of the wild. That's why some New Yorkers say the city is just the place to try to introduce a troubled species to an urban setting. As April begins, Amy Eddings takes a look at a potential new immigrant in Central Park.
CURWOOD: Reintroducing wolves into parts of the United States has been a controversial but largely successful venture. Wolf populations in Yellowstone National Park are thriving. The animal is holding its own in Arizona. And North Carolina's red wolf program is held up as a model of how to restore species to their original habitat. These success stories are prompting calls to bring the wolf back into places like New York State's Adirondack Mountains. And as Amy Eddings of member station WNYC reports, even New York City is getting into the act, with a plan to release wolves in the Big Apple's biggest open space, Central Park.
EDDINGS: Yes, you heard that right. Wolves in Central Park. The plan seems totally wacky until you spend time with wolf biologist John McCloskey. This native New Yorker's enthusiasm is infectious, and his passion for wolves is so great he adopted 5 pups who were orphaned last November in Montana. He takes me to where he's been keeping them in a large, wooded enclosure in Westchester County.
(Footfalls amidst bird song)
McCLOSKEY: Come on! (Whistles) Come on! Hey, Scooter!
EDDINGS: Is that the alpha male?
McCLOSKEY: (whispers) Yeah, yeah, that's right. Scooter, he's a big fella, if he comes around -- Scooter! Scoot! Hey, look at him now, see?
EDDINGS: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
McCLOSKEY: His big blue eyes.
McCLOSKEY: (laughs) Now, does that look like a terrifying beast to you?
EDDINGS: McCloskey says wolves will never attack humans. He feeds them mice, squirrels, groundhogs, rabbits, and rats, exactly the kind of diet they'd eat if released in Central Park. For 2 years McCloskey helped Federal officials successfully reintroduce wolves in Yellowstone. Parks officials here have already restored native species like snapping turtles and white pine to the park. McCloskey says wolves are a natural extension.
McCLOSKEY: They're a more romantic figure. They're a more exciting figure. They're -- they're hungry, and they're social, and they are creative and adaptable in their behaviors. Wolves are New Yorkers.
EDDINGS: Central Park contributor David Feingold has invested nearly $80,000 in the project, primarily toward publicity and marketing tie-ins, like a glossy brochure for park visitors called "On the Trail of the Wolf." Feingold opens the brochure to a map of the park dotted with different colored wolf paw prints.
FEINGOLD: Some of these are viewing areas. Some of them are concession areas. And many of you may remember that there's a structure by the Harlem Meer [word?], and we're proposing that that be turned into a restaurant for dining and viewing experiences.
EDDINGS: Feingold says wolves will draw visitors to the park and double concessions' profits through the sale of wolf T-shirts, caps, books, and stuffed animals. And he's convinced that in a year or 2 the wolves will pay for themselves. That's if the plan overcomes the fierce opposition of community groups neighboring the park. The plan was leaked 2 weeks ago to residents like Ruth Messina. She's president of Coalition for Kids, an Upper West Side park and playground advocacy group.
MESSINA: The fact is, has this ever been done before? Have you introduced wolves into an urban area? No, this has not been done before. I personally don't want to put my 2-year-old son Trevor into the jaws of a wolf. I don't want to take that risk.
EDDINGS: And some environmental advocates say the plan is not good for the wolves. They'll say they'll run into traffic, eat rat poison, or be hunted down by pranksters. Parks Commissioner Henry Stern hasn't commented yet on the project, but says a healthy ecosystem is good for the park.
STERN: When I was appointed commissioner of Mayor Giuliani, I said I wanted to be a man for all species. And that includes animals and plants. And the more different animals and plants we can introduce to New York City parks, the broader and more diverse our ecosystem will be. That's good.
EDDINGS: McCloskey, meanwhile, keeps his spirits up through frequent visits to the Westchester wolf enclosure.
(Wolf pups howl)
EDDINGS: As we talk outside his office a half a mile away, the thrilling sound of the howling pack arches over the trees.
EDDINGS: That's great.
McCLOSKEY: Can you imagine that answering back when you have a [word inaudible] concert in Central Park? (Eddings laughs)
EDDINGS: If not Central Park, then other parks. John McCloskey is currently studying places like Albany and Boston for his urban wildlife restoration project.
EDDINGS: For Living on Earth, I'm Amy Eddings in Westchester County.
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