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For the week of May 17 through May 23, 2000

Stanley wolves face uncertain summer

Conservationists fear Sawtooth pack could be next for lethal control


"If they have another year like they did last year, we’re going to have some unfortunate control actions there."

- Biologist Curt Mack on the fate of the Stanley Pack


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

Stanley Basin resident Bill LeavellBill Leavell, a 12-year resident of the Stanley basin, said he’s fond of listening to, and seeing, wolves in the Stanley Basin. He’s afraid it’s only a matter of time, however, until the wolves get into trouble with livestock on the Rocky Mountain Ranch, which he manages. Express photo by Willy Cook

This spring, five wolves from the White Cloud Pack were killed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services for preying on livestock in the East Fork of the Salmon River. Members of the Twin Peaks Pack were killed this winter for preying on cattle along the main Salmon River near Clayton.

Local conservationists fear the Stanley Pack will be next.

Until last year, the pack was one of the best behaved in Idaho.

But last summer, pack members preyed on three cow calves and 13 sheep, according to Curt Mack, the Nez Perce Tribe’s wolf recovery leader. In response, one wolf was shot by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services and another was relocated to the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness Area.

Conservationists fear that the pack’s close proximity to summer ranching will further antagonize the situation this summer.

Mack, a biologist, confirmed the validity of that concern.

"If they have another year like they did last year, we’re going to have some unfortunate control actions there," he said. "They’ve been such a good pack that we kept giving them fourth and fifth and sixth chances. If we continue to have repeated depredations in the Stanley Basin, we won’t have a choice but to go in and continue with control actions."

The Stanley Pack was founded by two of 20 wolves that were released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Middle Fork of the Salmon River valley in 1996.

They were released as part of federal reintroduction efforts in Yellowstone National Park, Montana and Idaho in 1995 and 1996. Thirty-five wolves, in all, were relocated from Canada to Idaho.

According to Lynne Stone, director of the Ketchum-based Boulder-White Cloud Council, a conservation group, federal decision making on wolf control actions in the Salmon River corridor this winter don’t give wolf supporters much confidence in future management of the Stanley Pack.

"I’m concerned that they stay standing and breathing," she said in an interview last week.

Stone said that of all known wolf packs in Idaho, the Stanley pack is in the most peril because of the close quarters it keeps with ranching.

Mack concurred.

Consequently, the Boulder-White Cloud Council and other Northwest conservation groups joined late in April to ask the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—the federal agency responsible for wolf recovery—that lethal control no longer be used on wolves preying on livestock in Idaho.

"We’re asking for a cease-fire before the Stanley wolf pack is killed off, too," Stone wrote in an April press release. "The agency keeps shooting wolves to appease ranchers. We’ve asked for a moratorium before we lose all the wolves in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and nearby Challis Forest."

However, the rules under which wolves were reintroduced to Idaho won’t allow such a cease-fire, said Roy Heberger, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Idaho wolf recovery leader.

Such action would require altering the federal regulations, he said, which would be a long process.

But unless that occurs, Stone said, she is not encouraged by what she perceives as a hostile wolf environment in Custer County, an environment she claims is at the root of wolf-related problems in Idaho.

"There’s enough hostility in Stanley and other parts of Custer County that I wouldn’t be surprised if something ugly happens," she said.

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wolf trackThis is a wolf track, found in fresh snow in the White Cloud Mountain foothills Friday. It was among many spotting the snow that day. Express photo by Willy Cook

 

 

Members of the Stanley wolf pack have been hanging around the mid-Stanley Basin all winter, feeding on elk that winter in the lowlands near the Salmon River.

At present, they’re roaming the foothills of the White Cloud Mountains, and the alpha female, B23F, is probably denned in the hills with a litter of pups while her mate, B27M, gathers food, Heberger said.

According to Mack, this is the Stanley pack’s story:

The pack became a bona fide wolf pack in 1997 when B23F gave birth to a litter of six.

Most of that year, the Stanley pack inhabited the northern part of the Stanley Basin around Valley Creek.

Following that year, pack members began to disperse to other packs or locations and the pack structure "loosened" a bit, Mack said, meaning that different pack members were located in different parts of the Stanley Basin.

To date, dispersing members have gone north to the mouth of the Salmon River, east to near Challis and south to the Copper Basin.

In 1998, the alpha female whelped about a half dozen more pups, and by mid-summer the pack was confirmed to consist of 13 to 16 members. Mack said the pack was at that time, and continues to be, one of the largest in Idaho.

Last spring, the alpha female had seven more pups.

During the ensuing summer, one pack member was killed by Wildlife Services and another was relocated for preying on livestock.

And that brings the pack’s story to the present. The alpha female is likely raising pups yet again, and the pack is preying on elk that are still limited to valley floors because of high-mountain snowpacks.

Sheep and cattle will arrive in the area for summer grazing in about three weeks, and Mack said the wolves will be monitored closely to ensure that they don’t continue to prey on livestock.

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Don Sessions has operated Sessions Lodge and convenience store in Obsidian, south of Stanley, for 30 years. He’s not happy about the presence of wolves in the Stanley basin, he said at his store Friday.

"If you can tell me one thing we gain from having wolves here, I might change my mind," he said.

Knowing wild gray wolves are alive and well in a wild Idaho isn’t enough, he said.

"I can’t for the life of me see why they wanted them down here to begin with," he said. "I’ve got nothing against the wolves. It’s just the taxpayer money."

Sessions, like others who speak out against wolves in Idaho, says the money the federal government is spending on wolf recovery is inappropriate.

According to Heberger, Congress has spent over $2 million on wolf recovery to date, not including actual reintroduction and relocation costs associated with the 1995 and 1996 releases.

In response to Sessions’ argument against taxpayers’ funding wolf recovery, he said that wolves, like any political issue, are the result of "this 200-year experiment in democracy."

If Sessions has a problem with it, he should write his congressman, Heberger said.

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Bill Leavell, a 12-year resident of the Stanley Basin, has seen and heard wolves near his rustic cabin beside the Salmon River all winter. In an interview at his home Friday, he said he straddles the fence between opposing opinions on wolf reintroduction in Idaho.

"I certainly understand both sides of the issue," he said. "People (ranchers) work really hard for their livelihoods, but I love to see and listen to them."

The 45-year-old Leavell is manager of the Rocky Mountain Ranch, a guest ranch about nine miles south of Stanley.

The ranch leases portions of its land to downstream ranchers for livestock grazing in the summer. That will begin in mid-June, he said, pointing out that his comments on wolves are his opinions, not those of the ranch’s owners, who wish to remain anonymous.

Leavell hasn’t had problems with wolves on the land he manages, but he doesn’t wear blinders to the possibility.

"You have this huge prey base (cattle) that just pops in the valley from time to time, and the wolves are opportunists, it appears," he said. "I imagine it’s just a matter of time."

Beyond a concern as the ranch’s manager and overseer for summer livestock, Leavell said he enjoys the presence of wolves.

"I haven’t had a sense of fear with them, but a sense of curiosity," he said.

And amidst all the uproar and fanfare surrounding wolf recovery, Leavell concluded:

"I don’t know where this thing’s going to head. I just know the wolves are here and we have to deal with that."

 

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