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For the week of May 24 through May 30, 2000

Wolf dilemma

Biologist working toward reviving wolf recovery effort

"If the end result of problem wolves keeps becoming the elimination of packs it’s going to be really difficult to recover wolves."

Curt Mack, wolf recovery leader.

Express Staff Writer

Curt Mack & Bob DannerNez Perce tribe wolf recovery leader Curt Mack, right, explains the purpose of the tribe’s wolf monitoring flights as Stanley pilot Bob Danner guides a Cessna 140 into the Sawtooth Valley air Thursday. Express photo by Willy Cook

STANLEY—Idaho’s federal wolf recovery program needs to embrace creative and cooperative visions to become successful, believes Curt Mack, the Nez Perce tribe’s wolf recovery leader.

"We can’t blindly go forward the way it is," he said Thursday following an afternoon of overflying Idaho’s 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 Idaho’s 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 haven’t really put those practices to use," he said over dinner in a Stanley restaurant. "There are so many ways of skinning the cat. It’s 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 everyone’s best interest, that’ll 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 world’s most efficient predators.

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 one’s 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 didn’t have specific numbers on what was spent in this winter’s 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, "it’s going to be really difficult to recover wolves."

Mack said the overlapping territories of wolves and ranchers will always lead to livestock depredations, which reinforces the need for creative and cooperative solutions.

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 Wildlife Service.

A December 1999 draft is still awaiting the service’s 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. "It’s 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 delisting.

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 aforementioned minimum.

"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 possibilities—there’s 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 state’s management plan, Mack said.


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