Friday, October 20, 2006

Evacuation from wolf habitat was warranted

Frank Priestley is the president of the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

According to news reports out of Ketchum this week, howling wolves heeded the emergency helicopter evacuation of two U.S. Forest Service employees from the Sawtooth Wilderness in late September.

The Idaho Fish and Game Department, the wolf advocates and some news media were quick to criticize the Forest Service's action. An F&G official even suggested that the Forest Service employees may have "read too many of Grimm's fairy tales."

It's easy to sit behind a desk and talk tough, or just write off these government employees as wet-behind-the-ears city slickers. But after hearing firsthand accounts of wolves stalking hunters, wolves snatching pet dachshunds out of backyards and the gruesome story of Grangeville resident Scott Richards, whose lion hound reportedly saved him from a wolf attack, we decided to take a closer look at this incident. And what we found out is not what the wolf advocates want anyone to know.

First of all, the two Forest Service employees were not out in the backcountry for the first time. According to Dave Tippets, public information officer for the USFS Rocky Mountain Research Center, the two workers, who were doing natural resource inventory surveys, were not inexperienced. They are both seasonal employees, one being in her third year and the other, a man, was in his second year doing this type of work. Both employees were said to be Idaho residents. Their job is to backpack into remote areas, find field markers and take inventory of various natural resources.

In the course of doing this work, they live with what they can carry in a backpack for 10 days at a time. Clearly, it's not an occupation for the timid.

"It's not correct to make them look like greenhorns," Tippets said. "Both are outdoors people and both have lived and worked in remote backcountry for quite a while."

When the pair encountered the wolves it was early in the morning and the wolves were in pursuit of a bull elk. The closest a wolf came to the pair was an estimated 200 feet and the wolves never made any threatening moves toward them, Tippets said. However, as they were walking through thick buck brush they could hear wolves growling, snarling and howling. They crossed a creek twice and found a vantage point on top of a rock outcrop. They were wet to the waist and the presumed wolf kill was between the outcrop and their camp. They were armed with a hatchet and a can of pepper spray.

"They got scared and they had a high level of discomfort with the situation," Tippets said. "The area where they believe the elk was killed was between them and their camp. They clearly felt vulnerable and nobody second-guessed that. Safety comes first."

For the Idaho Fish and Game Department, and the wolf advocate groups to attempt to gloss this situation over is dishonest. For the news reporters and editors who printed or broadcasted the opinions of the so-called experts, you should apologize for telling a one-sided story. For all those clinging to the notion that wolves don't hurt people, keep hoping for the best. For the rest, if you are going into the backcountry, our advice is to take a gun.

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