For the week of November 18 thru November 24, 1998  

Sawtooth wolf pack becomes center of dispute

Wolf center denies filmmaker’s claims of abuse

Express Staff Writer

A petition charging the Wolf Education and Research Center with failing to properly care for a captive wolf pack has the filmmaker and former owner of the animals and the current caretakers snarling at each other.

The petition was circulated by Jim Dutcher of Dutcher Film Productions, who originally kept the wolf pack in the Stanley Basin. During that time, Dutcher published books and made a film about the daily lives of the captive pack of wolves. He has made similar films about the lives of captive cougars and beavers.

The captive wolves were held by Dutcher in a 15-acre compound near Stanley in the early 1990s. After the film work was completed, the wolves were moved to their current home at a 300-acre visitor center near Winchester, Idaho, on Nez Perce tribal lands.

Dutcher refused to comment on his petition, the allegations made in it, and what prompted him to draft and circulate it, nor would he divulge the names of the approximately 50 people he says signed it.

The petition was presented to the Wolf Education and Research Center board of director, which is responsible for the wolves’ well being, at the annual meeting on Oct. 11.

Local veterinarian Randy Acker, who handled medical care for the wolves under Dutcher’s tenure, was asked by the board of directors to check the health of the pack.

Contrary to allegations in the petition that the Sawtooth wolf pack is not receiving adequate water, food, or medical care, Acker reported that the animals were in good health.

"The pack is healthy, happy and well adjusted, and in as good a shape as I have ever seen them," Acker said. "The care they receive is as good as can be for any captive pack—probably the best in the country."

Dutcher refused to comment on his reasons for circulating the petition or making the allegations.

"It is just too sensitive to discuss at this time," Dutcher said when asked about the contradiction between circulating a public petition critical of a publicly funded education and research center and refusing to make public comments about that petition.

Instead, Dutcher issued a brief press release.

"Unfortunately, the response to this petition has included attempts to smear me with malicious and false rumors," Dutcher writes. "The people behind these rumors are hurting the organization and putting the future of the organization and the Sawtooth Wolf Pack in jeopardy. I would hope that members of the community who know me and the work Dutcher Film Productions has done to promote and protect wildlife will continue to stand behind me, while we attempt to address these problems in a sensible and businesslike way instead of in a vitriolic and public manner."

Dutcher would not say what the rumors are or where they were circulated.

The Wolf Education and Research Center in a letter dated Nov. 4 also refers to "negative rumors," which were specifically circulated in Dutcher’s petition. The letter states in part:

"The rumors go something like this:

 WERC is no longer properly caring for the captive pack.

 The food and water supply to the wolves is inadequate, as is the medical attention they receive.

 WERC no longer has trained and experienced staff to care for the wolves."

According to Acker, he examined every aspect of the wolves’ living conditions—food, water, weight, coats, the staff and facility.

"The health of the pack is good," he said. "They are in wonderful shape. It is incredible what a good job is being done to care for them."

The petition also alleges that the Center inappropriately uses membership donations. "It spends over half its revenues on overhead instead of on educational and research programs," states the petition.

According to the Center, "Our auditor has scrutinized WERC financial reports and confirms that the financial claims made in the petition are false."

"We would like you, the petitioners and other concerned individuals, to know that not a single one of the allegations is true," the board’s letter states.

In his petition, Dutcher demands that the education and fund-raising efforts be reworked "to better utilize resources which have been made available to WERC, including Discovery and Dutcher Film Productions’ national outreach materials and publicity." Discovery Channel was involved in producing and airing Dutcher’s most successful wolf documentary.

Meanwhile, the Wolf Education and Research Center board is working on damage control.

"Unfortunately, an unfounded attack such as this can become a self-fulfilling prophesy by endangering the welfare of the wolves we care for," it states in its Nov. 4 letter.

The Wolf Education and Resource Center relies on membership support for the majority of its funding. If membership declines due to an attack on the credibility of the organization, then the financial ability of WERC to care for the wolves diminishes.

"It is ironic and deplorable that this nonprofit organization now has to spend untold hours and precious resources defending itself when it should be devoting all its energies toward educating the public about wolves and their role in the ecosystem, and toward smoothing the way for the wolf recovery in the Northern Rockies."


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