John Turner, the new director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is volunteering for a task most seasoned bureaucrats would run from: acting as a negotiator to resolve controversy about reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone.
One of the people most heartened about that development, which Turner announced to western reporters recently, is Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, the champion of the wolf's cause in Congress.At first glance Owens' excitement might seem strange - because Turner is a rancher from Jackson Hole, Wyo. His rancher neighbors have howled the loudest about the return of the wolf, and the possibility that their cattle may become wolf snacks.
But Owens said after a meeting with Turner recently, "Turner is wonderful. His academic background is in wildlife biology, and he has great credentials. I'm delighted he is willing to take this on, and I think he can be helpful."
In other words, those involved in the controversy feel Turner can understand both sides. In fact, Turner told western reporters on Tuesday, "I am in a unique position to help resolve this."
He said because he is a rancher, he understands the concerns of his neighbors. As a former Wyoming legislator, he understands the politics of the situation and has especially close ties to Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., the leading critic of Owens' plan to reintroduce the wolves.
But because of Turner's work as a wildlife biologist - he almost received a doctorate - he also understands the arguments of wildlife groups that Yellowstone needs its major natural predator back to control the population of animals such as elk and moose.
That raises Owens' hopes, and he said Turner may be the man to bring the groups together. But as any bureaucrat could see in a second, Turner - who has led his agency for just two months - also runs the risk of getting all the groups mad at him.
Still, Turner said he wants his agency to perform "good, solid biological studies, and bring the discussion off the emotion demonstrated at both ends of the spectrum."
One study his agency will not be doing this year, however, is an environmental impact statement on the reintroduction of wolves. Sen. James A. McClure, R-Idaho, added an amendment to the Interior Appropriations Bill prohibiting expenditures for that during fiscal 1990.
"It was a maneuver we should have seen coming, but didn't," Owens said. "However, we will continue to push our bill (calling for an environmental impact statement). I think it will pass the House sometime after the new year, and will put enormous pressure on them."
He adds, "No one can make an argument in broad daylight against reintroduction of the wolf. It is going to happen."