Some are happy about the wolfs return to the mountains of central
Others would like to see the predator go already.
As the controversy surrounding wolf reintroduction in central Idaho heats
up, both sides are drawing battle lines while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tries to
keep the peace.
Ranchers and critics of wolf reintroduction say the wolf must go, by
lethal means if necessary. Fearing that history will repeat itself, pro wolf groups argue
that the wolf is an endangered species protected by law.
Fish and Wildlife tries to balance management and control of troublesome
wolf packs with its goal of ultimately removing the wolf from the federal endangered
After being virtually annihilated by government predator control programs
by the 1930s, the gray wolf has returned to its former range in central Idaho.
Some consider this a blessing, others a curse.
Horace Axtell was only a child when the last of the wolves were driven
from their Idaho homeland some 70 years ago.
Having come full circle, Axtell, the Nez Perce nations elder and
spiritual leader, was there when 15 wolves were released back into the Frank Church River
of No Return Wilderness in 1995 after an absence of many moons. Today, there are over 160
wolves in the Gem State.
Chanting an ancient song of hope and strength, Axtell prayed for the
wolves and at the same time rejoiced in their restoration.
"I blessed the wolves when they returned like welcoming back a friend
whod been gone a long time,"Axtell said.
To the Nez Perce, who have been given responsibility to manage the
wolfs recovery in coordination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the wolf
symbolizes the "Circle of Life," an ancient respect for all living things and
their place in nature. It is the underlying philosophy that has enabled the tribe to live
in harmony with the wolf for thousands of years.
Ecologists, biologists and wildlife conservationists see the wolf as a
missing piece in natures puzzle, a strand in the web of life that helps maintain
balance in the ecosystem and the overall scheme of things.
Cattleman and outfitters in the ranching and tourism communities of
Stanley, Clayton, Challis and Salmon are hardly as enthusiastic about the wolfs
Last month, a sign in a storefront window in Clayton read, "Kill all
the GODDAMN WOLVES and the people who put them here!"
Such warnings are a testament to the deep-seated controversy sparked by
the wolfs return.
Ron Gillett is an outfitter in Stanley who has run float trips down the
Salmon River for 30 years. Gillett grew up on a ranch in Hailey and is a steering
committee member for the newly formed Central Idaho Wolf Coalition.
The coalitions focus, Gillett said, is to unite all groups against
reintroduction in an effort to get rid of the wolves.
"The coalitions sole objective is the immediate removal of the
gray wolf from central Idaho because of the catastrophic slaughter of our big game herds,
serious livestock depredation and loss of wildlife viewingcausing unnecessary and
extreme economic hardship to mom and pop businesses," he said in an
According to Gillett, the coalition is a grassroots organization founded
by citizens of central Idaho where the wolf was reintroduced and, Gillett said, is causing
"Were concerned about the wildlife in Stanley because
were a tourist-driven economy," Gillett said. "People dont realize
the damage the wolf is doing."
Gillett said the gray wolf, the most efficient predator in North America,
is decimating elk calves and fawns at a rate that threatens future populations
"Whats going to happen when the wolves kill all the big game
and theres nothing left but wolves?" Gillett asked. "People like to see
elk in the meadows and fawns running across the fields. They dont want to see elk
Gillett said the wildlife and livestock of central Idaho cannot coexist
with the wolves given the current reintroduction situation.
"Our ecosystem cannot stand the shock that the wolf is causing and we
cant live with the severe restrictions imposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Gillett said that due to the protection of the Endangered Species Act,
wolf populations are doubling every year and lack of control is creating a threat to
livestock and wildlife.
Gillett said theres a place for wolves, but not in central Idaho.
"Were not just wolf haters, we have the facts. The wolf
experiment has not worked in Idaho. We want the wolf out of here before theres
Gillett said wolf reintroduction will be the hottest political issue in
Idaho for the next couple of years, and that he expects the wolf coalition to have 80,000
to 100,000 members within the next couple of months.
Ketchum resident Lynne Stone is the executive director of the
Boulder-White Clouds Council, a conservation group that supports the reintroduction of
wolves in central Idaho.
Stone said shes discouraged by the intolerance that ranchers and
outfitters in central Idaho have for wolves and their unwillingness to compromise
"The spotted owl is an endangered species just as the wolf,"
Stone said in an interview. "The spotted owls stopped the harvesting of timber and
shut down mills, yet we didnt shoot the owl. We havent seen one sacrifice or
compromise that ranchers have made for this endangered species."
Stone said shes concerned about the Fish and Wildlifes
management and control of problem wolves which, she said, has resulted in the demise of
two of Idahos 13 wolf packs.
"The wolf management plan has to protect the wolf first," Stone
said. "If it doesnt every environmental group in America will file
Ed Bangs, Fish and Wildlifes regional wolf recover leader, said that
in the latest control action by his officers, four wolves in the White Cloud Pack were
removed from their territory in the East Fork of the Salmon River and relocated in the
Lolo Pass area to the north earlier this month. The action came after two calves were
killed by wolves.
The East Fork of the Salmon is located on the north side of the Boulder
Mountains, a mere 25 miles, as the crow flies, from the Sawtooth National Recreation Area
headquarters north of Ketchum.
Earlier this year, four wolves from the Twin Peaks Pack were shot and
killed by Fish and Wildlife officers; and lethal control was authorized for the rest of
the pack by Roy Heberger, wildlife biologist and assistant supervisor of the agencys
Boise office, after a fifth calf was killed on a ranch outside of Clayton.
The packs alpha male and female (the pack leaders) were captured and
relocated to the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area. According to a report in the Challis
Messenger, Heberger said that since the Twin Peaks Pack has more than "three
strikes" against it, the protocol under the Endangered Species Acts
"non-essential, experimental" wolf management regulations allows federal
managers to shoot the remaining wolves.
For her part, conservation activist Stone fears that the White Cloud Pack
will suffer the same fate as the Twin Peaks Pack.
"This is the one pack in the wild Boulder-White Clouds that we had
hoped for," Stone said. "Now its being wiped out because two calves were
killed. Were outraged beyond belief."
Fish and Wildlife regional official Bangs said the pregnant alpha female
and her mate, along with the two other members of the White Cloud Pack, were relocated to
Lolo Pass where there is no ranchingan attempt to keep the pack intact and minimize
damage to livestock.
Bangs said if the remaining pack members kill livestock again they too
will be relocated or killed if their is another incident of livestock depredation.
Bangs said management regulations allow Fish and Wildlife to do anything
to reduce the chances for wolf depredation of livestock.
"The bottom line is we dont let wolves kill livestock,"
Bangs said. "The rules are set up to protect the interests of ranchers. If wolves
keep killing livestock, well have no wolves. Its a tough job to get the wolves
recovered and minimize conflicts."
Stone declared the Boulder-White Clouds Council supports the White Cloud
Pack and wants to see it stay where it is.
"We think the people of America do too and want to know whats
going on here," Stone said. "Were going to elevate the issue to the
national level like it has been done with the salmon."
Stone said the wolf is an incredible animal and must be protected.
"The wolf [symbolizes] wild country and wild places," Stone
said. "We can grow cows in Florida. This is one of the wildest wildernesses in the
Lower 48 states. If we cant have wolves here where can we have them? As soon as a
wolf eats a cow or sheep the guns start shooting."
Stone said that until the stranglehold that ranchers have on land in the
west is broken, wolf packs will continue to be broken up and destroyed.
"The Endangered Species Act brought the wolf back to the
Boulder-White Clouds and made a lot of people so happy. We were thrilled to hear the
wolf howl and see the tracks in the snow," Stone said.
"Now I feel like Ive been robbed. My right to see an endangered
species has been taken away from me, taken away from my son."
Picabo rancher Katie Breckenridge owns and ranches the 200 acre Buster
Back Ranch located in the Stanley Basin.
When asked if she thinks the wolf can coexist with ranchers and livestock
Breckenridge said it was possible "as long as I can deal with wolves that attack my
livestock and as long as the rancher respects the wolf and the wolf respects the
As for the controversy over wolf reintroduction and lack of compromise,
Breckenridge said theres strong opinions on both sides of the issue.
"Its no wonder theres no compromise," she said.
"Its the fanatics that are keeping us divided with no way to find common