For the week of November 25 thru December 1, 1998  

Wolf Center responds to filmmaker’s charges

Former board members say Dutcher killed healthy wolf

Express Staff Writer

The issue is control of the Sawtooth Wolf Pack, not the care of Idaho’s best known captive pack of predators, according to those involved in the dispute.

Charges began flying after a filmmaker and former caretaker for a captive pack of wolves authored and circulated a petition charging the Wolf Education and Research Center, the current caretakers, with failing to properly care for the animals.

However, supporters on both sides of the issue in a position to know, except for the filmmaker who made the Sawtooth Wolf Pack famous, agrees the wolves are as healthy, well cared for and content as 11 animals meant for the wild can be in an enclosed compound.

The man who made the pack famous is Jim Dutcher of Ketchum, who is in the business of producing films and books using captive wild animals.

Dutcher has attained a measure of success in his business, including an Emmy each for he and his wife, Jamie, for Discovery Channel’s "Wolves at Our Door," his film about the Sawtooth Wolf Pack. He filmed the pack, which he raised from pups, and cared for it for several years in the early ‘90s when he owned and kept the animals in a 15-acre compound near Stanley.

In 1996, after filming was completed, Dutcher started and contributed at least $15,000 to the Wolf Education and Research Center in Boise to care for the wolves and to promote public awareness and education about the wolves. The wolves were moved to Nez Perce tribal lands near Winchester, Idaho, where they remain today under the care of the WERC and the Nez Perce tribe. Visitors and researchers can view the wolves in their new, larger habitat.

Now Dutcher wants to return to filming the Sawtooth Wolf Pack, and his filming goals and requirements are in conflict with the Center’s educational and research programs.

In order for Dutcher to make another film for Discovery Channel, he has proposed a two-year filming schedule at the Winchester site that essentially shuts down the wolf center during the 50 to 60 days a year of anticipated filming and interferes with the normal operation of the Center the rest of the time.

"We have, in the past, suggested to Mr. Dutcher that better coordination with WERC before production of certain educational materials might result in educational tools that are more relevant to the organization’s programs," said the words of the Wolf Center’s board of directors in a response to Dutcher’s proposal.

The WERC did not outright turn down Dutcher’s new film proposal, but it did not agree to relinquish so much control during the proposed filming.

Dutcher’s response to those conflicts was to circulate a petition and to threaten a lawsuit against the Center with the aim of forcing the resignation of members of the WERC board of directors to be replaced "with new people and energy." The petition was reported in the Nov. 18 Idaho Mountain Express.

The threatened lawsuit is "on hold" for the time being, according to Dutcher.

The Wolf Center’s response to Dutcher’s petition and threats was a 23-page single-spaced detailed review and reply to every point raised in the petition. It was sent to each of the 47 people who signed the petition.

Two key points of the petition so far as the general public is concerned are Dutcher’s allegations that the wolves are unhealthy due to an inadequate water source, food supply and medical care; and that the WERC inappropriately uses membership donations.

Because the Center is publicly funded through donations and memberships, the allegations of misuse of funds is both serious and potentially damaging to the organization, and, therefore, the well being of the Sawtooth Wolf Pack, according to the Center.

The board’s response to the petition includes statements attesting to the good health, water source, food supply and medical attention given to the wolves by people who are familiar with the wolves both in their current home and when they were in Stanley.

During a long interview at his Ketchum home Saturday, Dutcher was asked why he circulated the petition.

Dutcher replied that he first became concerned about the well being of the wolves because of conversations with wildlife biologist Megan N. Parker and wolf caretaker Keith Marshall last summer. According to Dutcher, both Parker and Marshall indicated to him that the Wolf Center was not taking appropriate care of the pack, and their concerns led to the petition.

Dutcher said the petition was not connected with the Discovery Channel film project.

Both Parker and Marshall left the WERC late last summer. Parker is working on a wildlife project in Botswana, but in a series of e-mail correspondence with the Idaho Mountain Express on Sunday and Monday, Parker refutes Dutcher’s allegations.

In reply to the question of what were her concerns relayed to Dutcher that led to the petition, Parker replied, "I’m not sure what you are talking about, and I am unaware of this petition except by hearsay. I certainly didn’t relay any concerns about the Sawtooth Pack to Jim to cause any kind of petition. It is news to me."

"My concerns are that the Sawtooth Pack is taken care of in the best possible way for their health, safety and social needs," Parker continues. "I believe that the pack has always received excellent care from its caretakers."

Marshall is reported to be living in a yurt somewhere in the back woods of Washington state and is currently unavailable for comment. However, in a memo (included in the 23-page petition response) to the WERC staff dated July 29 concerning the water source for the wolves "when it was thought that the wolves were out of water," Marshall wrote: "At NO time were the wolves nor have they ever been at risk for lack of water. Megan and I have been keeping a close watch during these drier times. The flow of the vernal stream is less than desirable but fortunately the meadow is spring fed year round and has a continual cool water source. A plan of improvement has been drawn up by the Tribal Water Resources, approved recently by the WERC and is being actively pursued. The quick response to this situation is very reassuring to me and the wolves (if they knew). I feel confident that with all the caring people connected to this project, any future emergency will be dealt with quickly and positively."

Dutcher told the Idaho Mountain Express that he had visited the wolves just over a week ago and, in his opinion, they were in poor health.

He was asked about the disparity between his opinion of the wolves’ health and Ketchum veterinarian Randy Acker’s assessment (as reported in last week’s paper) that, "The health of the pack is good. They are in wonderful shape. It is incredible what a good job is being done to care for them." Dutcher said that he (Dutcher) knew the wolf pack better than anyone else, and that, while Acker was a competent veterinarian and friend, he was not a qualified or highly knowledgeable wolf veterinarian. However Dr. Acker was the veterinarian hired by Dutcher to attend to the wolves during Dutcher’s six-year tenure as caretaker.

Dutcher’s credibility as a care giver to the Sawtooth Wolf Pack during that time has been called into question this week by the public disclosure of what has long been a rumor in the Wood River Valley.

In late September of 1993, Dutcher is reported to have made a decision to euthenize a perfectly healthy captive female wolf named Aipuyi, despite the protests of the members of the WERC board of directors.

In a letter dated Nov. 3 to the Wolf Education and Research Center, Dr. Acker writes, "In September of 1993 I was an employee of Jim Dutcher and of Dutcher films. We were working with the Sawtooth Pack in Stanley, Idaho. At that time the pack was under the exclusive control and ownership of Jim Dutcher. I was instructed by Jim Dutcher to put the wolf named Aipuyi to sleep on September 30th. As an employee of Dutcher films I did perform this euthanasia. Karen McCall was present and will verify this fact."

Dutcher then convinced the members of that board to lie to the public, to the people who had adopted Aipuyi with sponsorship money, and to the membership of the WERC by telling them that Aipuyi had severely broken her leg in a dominance fight and that euthanization was the only choice.

According to every member of the WERC board at that time--Kristin Poole, Doug Christensen, Karen McCall and David Langhorst--Aipuyi was in perfect health at the time of her death and this deception was carried out at Ducher’s insistence in order to protect the WERC.

Since the conflict caused by Ducher’s recent petition, every member of the 1993 WERC board has come forth to, in the words of McCall, "release the burden of knowledge of what I consider to be unethical actions carried out during my employment with a wildlife film production company. I’m a whistle blower of sorts."

Poole, McCall and Langhorst confirm the accuracy of Doug Christensen’s Oct. 29 letter to the WERC about Aipuyi’s death in which he writes, "As the Founding President of the WERC, I am obligated to come forward with information… After the fact, the organization was left in an extremely difficult position. Dutcher had made a unilateral decision without regard to the complexities it would cause for the WERC. He informed the board and staff that the only way to protect the organization was to alter the reason for the wolf’s death with an article in the newsletter. The story, printed in the winter 1994 issue, stated that Aipuyi had broken her leg in a dominance fight and that there was absolutely no option other than euthanization."

Christensen continues, "I have been carrying this deception for the past five years. For some time I have realized that Dutcher created this story not to protect the WERC, but to protect himself from accusations of unethical activities toward animals. It is long past the time for the truth in this matter to be told."

"It appears that Mr. Dutcher is currently attempting to discredit the WERC with widespread public misstatements of fact about the operation of the Wolf Center on Nez Perce lands and the care given to the wolves by their custodians," Christensen writes. "In my view, it may become necessary for the board to make public the truth concerning the wolves’ care and overall treatment."

"I take full responsibility for that decision. The wolves were owned by me, and not the WERC," said Dutcher, who also said he asked the board to go along with the story for the sake of the people who had put up money for the adoption of the wolf.

According to the Wolf Center’s response to the Dutcher petition, his allegations regarding WERC financial mismanagement of funds "was based on inaccurate or incomplete information."

In the reply to Dutcher’s petition, Loren Kronemann, president of the board, writes, "Neither management nor Board were contacted by Mr. Dutcher to provide accurate financial information, nor to verify ‘facts’ presented in the petition. At the time the petition was presented to the Board, we were shown a copy of a Business Plan for the Wolf Visitor Center, which was apparently the basis for many of the allegations. This business Plan, dated July 25, was in fact a confidential draft document, which had not yet been even discussed (much less approved) by the Board. It is unclear to us how Mr. Dutcher procured a copy of this. Had we known that he was using this draft as a reliable source of information, we would have provided him with correct data and up-to-date projections. As a member-driven, nonprofit organization, the WERC is open to scrutiny and very willing to provide members with any public documents they request."

Dutcher says that the confidential draft document was given to him by a potential donor to the WERC, who passed it along to him. He would not reveal the person’s name.

Dutcher, in turn, passed what the WERC terms "inaccurate" figures along to Kay Sprinkel Grace, a San Francisco-based organizational consultant. According to Dutcher, Grace advised him that, based on the information she had been given, WERC needed to reallocate its revenues.

In response, the WERC released its 1998 budget figures which show a very different percentage allocation of revenues than Dutcher’s petition alleges. That budget was examined by Jared J. Zwgart, a CPA with Bailey & Company in Boise.

"The allocation done by management seems reasonable among the programs for the 1998 budget," Zwygart reports.


 Back to Front Page
Copyright 1998 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.