Biologist working toward reviving wolf recovery effort
"If the end result of problem wolves keeps becoming the
elimination of packs its going to be really difficult to recover wolves."
Curt Mack, wolf recovery leader.
By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer
Nez Perce tribe wolf
recovery leader Curt Mack, right, explains the purpose of the tribes wolf monitoring
flights as Stanley pilot Bob Danner guides a Cessna 140 into the Sawtooth Valley air
Thursday. Express photo by Willy Cook
STANLEYIdahos federal wolf recovery program needs to embrace
creative and cooperative visions to become successful, believes Curt Mack, the Nez Perce
tribes wolf recovery leader.
"We cant blindly go forward the way it is," he said
Thursday following an afternoon of overflying Idahos backcountry while attempting to
track radio-collared wolves.
Mack, 44, a biologist, works for the Nez Perce tribe, but his position is
funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He is Idahos on-the-ground point man
on wolf reintroduction and recovery.
Among the suggestions he offered were using negative reinforcement tactics
like electronic scare devices, shock collars or tainted meat to induce nausea in areas
where wolves and ranchers keep close quarters.
Also, ranchers could be compensated up front for anticipated livestock
losses or alternate grazing areas could be found, he suggested.
"We just havent really put those practices to use," he
said over dinner in a Stanley restaurant. "There are so many ways of skinning the
cat. Its hard to know up front what will work."
Mack said some solutions could involve redrafting the environmental impact
statement (EIS) that governs wolf recovery. Redrafting would take about a year, he said.
"If people can realize that recovery is in everyones best
interest, thatll help," he said.
Mack said the wolf program is floundering right now, because everyone
affected is frustrated with the rules that govern endangered gray wolf management.
He said environmentalists are "throwing bricks" while ranchers
are tired of protecting their livestock from one of the worlds most efficient
The Fish and Wildlife Service and Nez Perce tribe are trying, with limited
resources, to mediate between the other two groups while working toward recovery, he said.
"No ones happy," he said. "The wolves are dead and we
spent a lot of money," he said of recent lethal control actions taken along the
Salmon River corridor. "All three parties (ranchers, environmentalists and the
government) need to be involved for the program to be successful."
Mack didnt have specific numbers on what was spent in this
winters control actions. He added that a recent request for additional funds was
denied by Congress.
"If the end result of problem wolves keeps becoming the elimination
of packs," he continued, "its going to be really difficult to recover
Mack said the overlapping territories of wolves and ranchers will always
lead to livestock depredations, which reinforces the need for creative and cooperative
When wolves are deemed recovered and are removed from the Endangered
Species Act (ESA), which will require 10 breeding pairs of wolves each in Yellowstone,
northwest Montana and Idaho for three consecutive years, state management will ensue.
Over the past two years, an Idaho wolf oversight legislative committee has
drafted several state management plans, each of which was rejected by the Fish and
A December 1999 draft is still awaiting the services review, but
Mack believes it "still has a ways to go" before it will be accepted.
"That plan is going to dictate how wolves are going to be managed in
the state," he said. "Its really going to be important that the plan
manages wolves responsibly."
The current draft, the 11th of its kind, suggests that Idaho wolves be
managed at "a minimum of 10 breeding pairs," the same number required for ESA
It also suggests that the Idaho Department of Fish and Game will implement
hunting seasons with kill limits that will perpetuate population levels at the
"The Nez Perce tribe does have some concerns about the population
level the plan proposes at this point," Mack said. "Managing at a minimum
reduces the management possibilitiestheres no buffer for management when you
maintain the wolves at a minimum level."
Mack said that if wolves fell below the ESA recovery standards after being
managed by the state, ESA listing would probably be reinstated.
Creative solutions like those he advocated for the federal recovery
program would be well-suited to the states management plan, Mack said.