Wolf education is key to social acceptance
"I was told that kids would be eaten at bus
that skiers at Bogus Basin would be slaughtered by wolves
livestock industry would be totally annihilated by the wolf. A huge amount of controversy
was brought up every time you mentioned the word wolf."
Suzanne Laverty, Defenders of Wildlife,
By KEVIN WISER
Express Staff Writer
Wood River Valley residents who packed Ketchum City Hall on Thursday night
got an education about wolves and the wolf recovery plan that officials said is key to
gaining social acceptance for North Americas most efficient and misunderstood
A wolf forumpresented by the Boulder-White Clouds Council, a local
conservation groupwas prompted by the recent killing of five wolves from the White
Cloud pack following livestock depredations on ranches along the East Fork of the Salmon
Council executive director Lynne Stone said she was heartbroken when the
pack was eliminated. The White Cloud pack was the third pack destroyed in Idaho by U.S.
Fish and Wildlife lethal control actions in the past year.
Stone told the meeting the council, which is concerned about the fate of
the Stanley wolf pack, will now focus its efforts on educating the people of Idaho to
However, as sheep and cattle are put out to graze this summer on
allotments within wolf pack territories, wildlife conservationists and livestock producers
alike fear that its only a matter of time before the wolves kill again.
The controversy has also been fueled recently by claims of the Central
Idaho Wolf Coalition, an anti-wolf group, that wolves are devastating big game herds.
Curt Mack, Idaho Gray Wolf Recovery leader for the Nez Perce Tribe, told
forum participants that wolf recovery in central Idaho is part of a larger effort by the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to recover wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains and
remove them from the endangered species list. The two other recovery areas are located in
northwest Montana and Yellowstone National Park.
Mack said the recovery program is based on a simple philosophyto
identify and address social concerns. Mack said the biggest concern is among livestock
producers, who, he said, view livestock depredations by wolves as unacceptable.
Beginning in 1995, a total of 35 wolves were captured from western Canada
and released into the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. Since then, Mack said,
Idahos wolf population has risen to between 140 and 150.
"Where the wolf population will level out we dont know
yet," he said. "Some are concerned that well have thousands of
Mack said Idaho will probably end up with 300 to 600 wolves.
"Its going to be the citizens of Idaho who determine how many
wolves are acceptable in Idaho," he said.
Mack said wolves in the Gem State are recovering faster than anticipated.
"Wolves have gained a foothold in Idaho and are here to stay if we
allow them to," he said. "It all depends on social acceptance."
U.S Fish and Wildlife Service Idaho wolf recovery leader Roy Heberger said
that biologically, wolf recovery in Idaho is not a challenge.
But, he said, "socially its a huge challenge, and social change
Idaho State Wildlife Services director Mark Collinge said that in dealing
with conflicts between wolves and livestock, control actions in Idaho begin with a
nonlethal approach. If depredation continues, Collinge said, lethal control is considered.
Following the lethal control actions carried out against the White Cloud
Pack, the Boulder-White Clouds Council called for a moratorium on the killing of wolves.
However, Collinge said that down the road there may be fewer
relocations and more lethal control because Idaho is running out of room to relocate
problem wolves where conflicts with livestock can be avoided.
Collinge compared the situation in Idaho to wolf management in Minnesota,
where control actions began with relocations. However, he said that now in
Minnesotawhich has a robust wolf population of nearly 3,000lethal control
actions are carried out at a rate of 250 to 300 a year.
Linn Kincannon, of the Idaho Conservation League, said Wildlife
Services primary goal is to kill wolves on public land that are preying on
"Theres livestock grazing on almost every acre of Forest
Service land," Kincannon said. "One suggestion is to close off those allotments
to livestock grazers."
Referring to the social similarities between wolves and humans, and the
family structure of wolf packs in which all members take part in caring for and raising
the young, Kincannon said its unacceptable when controlling wolves goes to the
lengths it has gone with the White Cloud pack.
Kincannon said people can relate to the social structure of wolves, which
makes lethal control "seem crueler somehow.
"Its disturbing what happened to the White Cloud
because when a wolf pack is killed, thats the loss of a wolf family."
Ranchers, however, are not the only problem facing wolf reintroduction in
central Idaho, she said.
"Outfitters fear theyll eat all the big game so they cant
make a living," Kincannon said. "They dont hate the wolf, they just fear
what will happen to them, that theyll lose their source of income."
Heberger said it was in the best interest of wolf recovery to eliminate
problem wolves and their behavioral and learned trait to kill livestock, which can be
passed on to younger wolves.
Mack, a biologist, said little would be gained by all the talk about
problem wolves and problem ranchers and outfitters and trying to figure out who the bad
"Its more productive to work together and find a way for
[ranchers and outfitters] to live with wolves," he said.
However, Mack added, "it takes a lot of time to educate and find some
As for the Central Idaho Wolf Coalitions claim that wolves are
devastating elk herds, Mack said its natural for elk populations to fluctuate.
"When wolves were reintroduced, the elk population was at a peak and
ready to drop down," Mack said. "The wolf is a convenient scapegoat for why elk
numbers are dropping."
However, Mack estimated that Idahos 10 remaining wolf packs take
only 1,200 elk a year, which is only 4 percent of the 24,000 that hunters take annually.
Stone added that according to Ted Cook, former Idaho Gray Wolf recovery
leader for the Nez Perce Tribe, poachers annually kill five times as many elk as the 10
wolf packs will take in a year.
"Wolves arent eating all the elk," Stone said. "If
you dont get an elk, dont blame it on the wolf."
Suzanne Laverty, of the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife, was more
optimistic about the controversy surrounding wolf reintroduction, saying the public has
made great strides in accepting wolves over the past 10 years.
Laverty said that during a recent meeting with 30 or 40 ranchers in
Stanley, the ranchers acknowledged that there are places in Idahos wilderness where
there should be wolves and not cows.
"Thats huge for them to say that among themselves,"
Laverty said that in 1989, when dispersing wolves from Montana and Canada
started showing up in Idaho, she was conducting field work and interviewing people in
Idaho about the prospect of living with wolves.
"I was told that kids would be eaten at bus stops
that skiers at
Bogus Basin would be slaughtered by wolves
that the livestock industry would be
totally annihilated by the wolf," Laverty said. "A huge amount of controversy
was brought up every time you mentioned the word wolf."
Laverty said that in a 1994 Idaho survey, 70 percent of those polled
supported wolf reintroduction. However, she acknowledged that there was a small minority
totally against bringing the wolf back.
Laverty said that on a national level, when it was first proposed to bring
back the wolf, more public comments were received than for any wildlife action taken in
the country to date. She said that of the 140,000 comments received, 100,000 were in favor
of wolf reintroduction.
In an interview following Thursdays wolf forum, Laverty said that
despite the controversy surrounding wolf reintroduction in central Idaho, she sees hope in
finding common ground.
"Weve been through the conflict for decades," Laverty
said. "Now were beginning to see people trying to work together to resolve the
conflict. I think thats pretty exciting."
Some of the participants in Thursdays wolf forum expressed concern
over a revised wolf management plan being drafted by the Idaho State Legislative Wolf
Heberger said the draft doesnt look like a management plan, but more
like a control plan.
He warned that trying to manage the wolf population at a level that would
keep them off the endangered species list, as the draft proposes, could jeopardize
recovery goals and the eventual removal of the wolf from the endangered species list.
Laverty said she was concerned because the state management draft calls
for a hunting season on wolves as soon as the predator is delisted.
Heberger said public comments for the plan will be taken until September,
after which time the Wolf Oversight Committee will review the comments. The plan will then
go to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for further review, Heberger said.