Idaho, once home to thousands of wolves, eradicated its wolf population by the mid-1930s. Wolf numbers had been in dramatic decline for well over a century as settlers brought livestock, guns, bounties, and poison in order to establish their control over the land. Bison and indigenous people who depended on them were also decimated as part of the European immigrants' pursuit of domination of the native landscape.
In 1973, Americans chose a new path for wolves – as federally protected endangered species - an action that eventually would restore the persecuted species back to Yellowstone and the Rockies. It was so successful that the 66 wolves released in the mid-1990s grew to almost 2,000 across the region and expanded their interconnected range through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, Washington and California. Today, the first wolves from that population are even starting to return to Colorado though still not in numbers that would secure their recovery.
To avoid conflicts with livestock, most states have found ways to help livestock owners adapt to having wolves back on the landscape. Oregon requires reasonable nonlethal deterrents be applied to protect livestock before compensation is offered for losses due to wolves. Montana has taken the lead on developing new nonlethal methods and helping ranchers implement them to avoid conflict with wolves. Only Idaho and Wyoming have chosen to continue an antagonistic approach to wolves seemingly vying to be the worst place for wolf survival in the nation.
Today, Idaho is seeking public comments on a plan that would approve an 11-month to year-round season allowing trappers to kill even nursing mothers and their pups in den sites. Hunters and trappers would be allowed to killed 30 or more wolves in a year even on national public lands that belong to all of us. And Idaho is now funding bounties on wolves – up to $1,000 per wolf no matter the age.
If you care about justice for wildlife, about protecting wolves from persecution or just believe that Idaho should be held accountable to the plan they promised to uphold when they were granted authority from the federal government to manage wolves, it’s time to make your voice heard.
It takes 2 – 3 minutes to speak for the wolves. Most importantly, please submit your comments here:
Vote no to expanding wolf seasons. Use the comment sections to tell Idaho officials to stop the War on Wolves and live up to their promise to manage wolves like black bears and mountain lions.
What Can I Do Next?
Have you already submitted your comments but have time to go one step further? Please write to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game officials and Governor Brad Little. Be polite because only civil words will help. They have the fate of the wolves in their hands.
Use this suggested paragraph (which helps if you personalize it) or create your own. You're welcome to use any of the background materials below.
To the Attention of __________
Re: Idaho's Wolf Management
My name is _______________ and I care about wolves because _______________
I'm writing today because I believe that Idaho is failing to uphold its state legislative Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. Specifically, the plan states that in most instances, wolves can be managed similarly to how (note 4, p. 31) other large native mammalian predators (black bears and mountain lions) are traditionally managed.” (page 1, section 3) The plan goes further to address public concerns about the plan’s minimum population level objective of 15 breeding pairs or 150 wolves overall by referencing this commitment again but imply that wolves would be managed more protectively than mountain lions (2,000 – 3,000 statewide) and black bears (20,000 – 25,000 statewide) by adding this section:“4. Managing wolves similarly to how bears and lions are managed. One reviewer saw inconsistencies in the wolf plan regarding the idea of managing wolves similarly to how Idaho manages bears and lions. Wolves will be managed similarly to bears and lions, but not exactly as bears and lions are managed. The differences are the strong national interest in wolf management (evident in the federal wolf program) and the fact that wolves, unlike bears and lions, will be a recovered threatened species.” (page 31, section 4).
Regarding control measures, the plan states that at 15 packs and over, “Depredation control is treated like all other large mammalian predators. However, wolves are not being managed today in a similar manner to lions and bears despite their much lower numbers. And the new proposals both by Idaho Fish and Game and the State Legislature Senate Bill 1274 would violate the state wolf management plan by failing to uphold the basic management tenets established by the plan.
While I would prefer more protection for wolves, I ask at minimum that you uphold Idaho's commitment to manage its wolf population in a similar manner to the more abundant mountain lion and black bear populations in the state. Do not allow year round or unregulated take. Prohibit the killing of wolf pups or nursing mothers. Prohibit conibear or other trapping or snaring devices on public lands as they are cruel, indiscriminate, and threaten the public's recreational use (and that of our dogs and families) of our national public lands in deference to a small minority's special interests.
You can send one email to them all or separately. If you live in Idaho, tell your regional commissioner that you live in his district. That's important.
Idaho Governor Brad Little: email@example.com
IDFG Director, Ed Schriever: firstname.lastname@example.org
IDFG Regional Commissioners:
Salmon Commissioner, Jerry Meyers: Salmon.Commissioner@idfg.idaho.gov
Panhandle Commissioner, Brad Corkill: email@example.com
Southwest Idaho Commissioner, Tim Murphy: firstname.lastname@example.org
Magic Valley Commissioner, Greg Cameron: MagicValley.Commissioner@idfg.idaho.gov
Southeast Commissioner, Lane Clezie: email@example.com
Upper Snake Commissioner, Derick Attebury: firstname.lastname@example.org
IDFG Wildlife Chief, Toby Boudreau: email@example.com
The 2002 Idaho Wolf Conservation and Management Plan
Under the 2002 Idaho State Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, the State of Idaho committed to manage wolves as it does mountain lions and black bears in order to obtain authority from the federal government to take over the management of wolves in the state. Specifically, the plan approved by the Idaho Legislative Wolf Oversight Committee, as amended by the 56th Idaho Legislature, states:
“Population Objectives – Wolf population estimates are, at best, approximations, and establishment of specific population sizes to be maintained is not realistic. In most instances, wolves can be managed similarly to how (note 4, p. 31) other large native mammalian predators (black bears and mountain lions) are traditionally managed.” (page 1, section 3)
The plan goes further to address public concerns about the plan’s minimum population level objective of 15 breeding pairs or 150 wolves overall by referencing this commitment again but imply that wolves would be managed more protectively than mountain lions (2,000 – 3,000 statewide) and black bears (20,000 – 25,000 statewide) by adding this section: “4. Managing wolves similarly to how bears and lions are managed. One reviewer saw inconsistencies in the wolf plan regarding the idea of managing wolves similarly to how Idaho manages bears and lions. Wolves will be managed similarly to bears and lions, but not exactly as bears and lions are managed. The differences are the strong national interest in wolf management (evident in the federal wolf program) and the fact that wolves, unlike bears and lions, will be a recovered threatened species.” (page 31, section 4).
Regarding control measures, the plan states that at 15 packs and over, “Depredation control is treated like all other large mammalian predators. However, wolves are not being managed today in a similar manner to lions and bears despite their much lower numbers and despite wolves taking 50 percent less elk or deer per wolf than mountain lions take individually.
Both the new Idaho Senate Bill 1274 and the IDFG proposed hunting and trapping seasons would create even more disparity from the Idaho Wolf Conservation and Management Plan’s commitment to manage wolves in a similar manner to mountain lions and black bears. Killing wolves is also expensive, unnecessary, and can exacerbate conflicts rather than resolve them, especially over the long term. Since wolf delisting in 2011, management and control budgets have steadily risen yet without a corresponding increase in wolf population numbers. IDFG estimates the wolf population at 1,000 wolves today – comparable to wolf population numbers estimated in 2010. However, livestock losses attributed to wolves have significantly increased since 2010. Last July, Idaho Wildlife Service’s State Director Todd Grimm reported the highest record number of livestock losses since wolves were reintroduced in 1995 stating losses are “up 25% from a year earlier”.
However, during this same time, ranchers using nonlethal preventative measures are documenting far fewer losses not only to wolves but to mountain lions, bears, and coyotes as well. For example, the Wood River Wolf Project in Blaine County has completed 12 years in testing nonlethal measures used to protect highly vulnerable large sheep operations ranging in rugged mountain terrain over the summer grazing season annually. In 2019, the Project helped protect 18,240 sheep from June through mid-October losing only 8 sheep to wolves over the course of the entire grazing season. That’s a loss of only 0.04% in mortality due to wolves, well below the sheep mortality losses in similar operations that depend of routine removal of wolves to minimize losses.
The Project’s primary nonlethal methods include multiple livestock guardian dogs, Foxlights, frequent human presence, and sound devices used to repel predators. Regarding cattle operations, other techniques including carcass management to minimize attractants, rotational grazing and herding techniques, managed calving operations, hazing, and other methods used adaptively are successfully minimizing losses to wolves and other predators. Ranchers have discovered that maintaining stable wolf packs that rarely prey on livestock helps increase the effectiveness of these preventative nonlethal techniques. When wolf packs are broken apart by lethal control measures, the entire pack will often split up or lose its territory to other wolf packs. This destabilization creates unpredictable behaviors making it harder to remedy using nonlethal measures.
The plan further states that “IDFG is charged by statute with the management of Idaho’s wildlife (Idaho Code §36-103(a): “All wildlife, including all wild animals, wild birds, and fish, within the state of Idaho, is hereby declared to be the property of the state of Idaho. It shall be preserved, protected, perpetuated, and managed. It shall be only captured or taken at such times or places, under such conditions, or by such means, or in such manner, as will preserve, protect and perpetuate such wildlife, and provide for the citizens of this state and, as by law permitted to others, continued supplies of such wildlife for hunting, fishing and trapping.”). This plan will enable the transition of the management of the gray wolf back to the IDFG as either a big game animal, furbearer, or special classification of predator that provides for controlled take after delisting. This classification will enable IDFG to provide protection for wolves as well as consider the impacts of wolves on other big game species, those sectors of the economy dependent upon sport hunting, livestock, domestic animals, and humans.”
Both Senate Bill 1274 and the proposed Idaho Fish and Game proposed expanded hunting and trapping seasons would result in uncontrolled take in violation of the state wolf management plan and it violates Idaho Code §36-103(a): but allowing capture or take of wolves under such conditions that fail to preserve, protect and perpetuate them for the citizens of the state who want to see healthy wolf populations as we do black bears, mountain lions, elk, deer and other valued species.
Bringing Science and Practical Solutions Together for Better Results
The Idaho Wolf Conservation and Management Plan states “The goal of this conservation and management plan is to ensure the long-term survival of wolves in Idaho while minimizing wolf-human conflicts that result when wolves and people live in the same vicinity. Conservation of wolves requires management. Management for wolves means ensuring adequate numbers for long-term persistence of the species as well as ensuring that landowners, land managers, other citizens, and their property are protected.” However, Senate Bill 1274 and the increased trapping, snaring and hunting season proposals under consideration by the IDFG Commission are only focused on lethal control measures. This focus results in spiraling increased costs for wolf management and higher conflicts leading to more demands to control wolf numbers while reasonable alternatives remain underutilized or ignored entirely. It’s time for Idaho to give more these less expensive, more effective strategies a chance to work on behalf of ranchers who need guidance, support and training to better protect their livestock.
Elk and Wolves
The state elk population has increased since wolves were restored in 1995 from 112,333 to 116,800 today. Even in areas where elk herds are declining, these declines are largely due to habitat loss, which is not mitigated by killing predators. And elk are often displaced by large cattle herds, which means that removing wolves on cattle grazing range does not benefit elk in those areas. Mountain lions kill and eat twice as many elk as wolves do. We have room in Idaho for elk, mountain lions, and wolves, which play an essential role in healthy ecosystems and healthy elk and deer herds.
Thank you for helping speak for the wolves of Idaho.
People often ask what prompted my journey working for wolves. I've had a lifelong love for nature that led to countless hours alone in the woods watching birds, catching tadpoles and horned toads, and dancing in rainstorms. Dogs, horses, and hamsters filled my need to connect with animals at home. It was an unexpected encounter, however, in the middle of the night on a dark Texas highway somewhere near Austin that set my path. I was a senior in high school, a passenger in the front seat of the car heading to San Antonio where I was living between the years growing up in Idaho and Colorado. The headlights glowed on the road ahead while Jim Morrison wailed Roadhouse Blues on the stereo. Suddenly an animal emerged in the light from the head beams. A very large dog was standing in the center of the lanes staring back toward the car. The driver slammed on the brakes so hard that it threw the car into a sideways slide toward the canine. If you have never been in an accident in a moving vehicle before it is hard to explain but time takes on a different dimension. It's like suddenly entering a slow motion video. From the front passenger seat, I locked eyes with the creature and realized almost instantly that it wasn't a dog or even the common coyote. Large golden eyes, the reddish brown coat, long legs, massive feet and its thick low hung tail belong to the West's most persecuted species: a wolf. And the red wolf was thought long extinct in Texas. Another long moment passed before the wolf slipped out of our path and we slid to a safe stop on the side of the road where time resumed its normal motion.
That moment would stir me for years. It led me to search for more information about wolves and there wasn't much at that time. The book that would finally inspire my path was published that year - 1979. Of Wolves and Men by Barry Lopez is still the wolf "bible" in my opinion. And the first time I read the chapter containing the essay "Thinking Like a Mountain" by Aldo Leopold, my future was determined.
Thinking Like a Mountain
"A deep chesty bawl echoes from rimrock to rimrock, rolls down the mountain, and fades into the far blackness of the night. It is an outburst of wild defiant sorrow, and of contempt for all the adversities of the world. Every living thing (and perhaps many a dead one as well) pays heed to that call. To the deer it is a reminder of the way of all flesh, to the pine a forecast of midnight scuffles and of blood upon the snow, to the coyote a promise of gleanings to come, to the cowman a threat of red ink at the bank, to the hunter a challenge of fang against bullet. Yet behind these obvious and immediate hopes and fears there lies a deeper meaning, known only to the mountain itself. Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf.
Those unable to decipher the hidden meaning know nevertheless that it is there, for it is felt in all wolf country, and distinguishes that country from all other land. It tingles in the spine of all who hear wolves by night, or who scan their tracks by day. Even without sight or sound of wolf, it is implicit in a hundred small events: the midnight whinny of a pack horse, the rattle of rolling rocks, the bound of a fleeing deer, the way shadows lie under the spruces. Only the ineducable tyro can fail to sense the presence or absence of wolves, or the fact that mountains have a secret opinion about them.
My own conviction on this score dates from the day I saw a wolf die. We were eating lunch on a high rimrock, at the foot of which a turbulent river elbowed its way. We saw what we thought was a doe fording the torrent, her breast awash in white water. When she climbed the bank toward us and shook out her tail, we realized our error: it was a wolf. A half-dozen others, evidently grown pups, sprang from the willows and all joined in a welcoming melee of wagging tails and playful maulings. What was literally a pile of wolves writhed and tumbled in the center of an open flat at the foot of our rimrock.
In those days we had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf. In a second we were pumping lead into the pack, but with more excitement than accuracy: how to aim a steep downhill shot is always confusing. When our rifles were empty, the old wolf was down, and a pup was dragging a leg into impassable slide-rocks.We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes - something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters' paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.
Since then I have lived to see state after state extirpate its wolves. I have watched the face of many a newly wolfless mountain, and seen the south-facing slopes wrinkle with a maze of new deer trails. I have seen every edible bush and seedling browsed, first to anaemic desuetude, and then to death. I have seen every edible tree defoliated to the height of a saddlehorn. Such a mountain looks as if someone had given God a new pruning shears, and forbidden Him all other exercise. In the end the starved bones of the hoped-for deer herd, dead of its own too-much, bleach with the bones of the dead sage, or molder under the high-lined junipers.
I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades. So also with cows. The cowman who cleans his range of wolves does not realize that he is taking over the wolf's job of trimming the herd to fit the range. He has not learned to think like a mountain. Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers washing the future into the sea.
We all strive for safety, prosperity, comfort, long life, and dullness. The deer strives with his supple legs, the cowman with trap and poison, the statesman with pen, the most of us with machines, votes, and dollars, but it all comes to the same thing: peace in our time. A measure of success in this is all well enough, and perhaps is a requisite to objective thinking, but too much safety seems to yield only danger in the long run. Perhaps this is behind Thoreau's dictum: In wildness is the salvation of the world. Perhaps this is the hidden meaning in the howl of the wolf, long known among mountains, but seldom perceived among men."
Thinking Like a Mountain : Aldo Leopold and the Evolution of an Ecological Attitude toward Deer, Wolves, and Forests. Columbia :University of Missouri Press, 1974.
My friend, if this essay doesn't bring a tear to your eye or a recognition of the deeper truth in your heart, I will never be able to explain to you why I love wolves - the other question that especially those in the ranching business tend to ask. And that chance encounter was the first of many times that wolves would show up in my life, often unexpected, but always as a way to lead me forward.
Suzanne Asha Stone
January 8, 2020
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