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For the week of June 21 through June 27, 2000

Wolf education is key to social acceptance

Suzanne Laverty. Express photo by Ron Soble."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. A huge amount of controversy was brought up every time you mentioned the word ‘wolf.’"

Suzanne Laverty, Defenders of Wildlife,

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 America’s most efficient and misunderstood predator.

A wolf forum—presented by the Boulder-White Clouds Council, a local conservation group—was 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 River.

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 accept wolves.

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 it’s 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 philosophy—to 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, Idaho’s wolf population has risen to between 140 and 150.

"Where the wolf population will level out we don’t know yet," he said. "Some are concerned that we’ll have thousands of wolves."

Mack said Idaho will probably end up with 300 to 600 wolves.

"It’s 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 it’s a huge challenge, and social change takes time."

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 relocation’s 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 Minnesota—which has a robust wolf population of nearly 3,000—lethal 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 livestock.

"There’s 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 it’s 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.

"It’s disturbing what happened to the White Cloud pack…because when a wolf pack is killed, that’s the loss of a wolf family."

Ranchers, however, are not the only problem facing wolf reintroduction in central Idaho, she said.

"Outfitters fear they’ll eat all the big game so they can’t make a living," Kincannon said. "They don’t hate the wolf, they just fear what will happen to them, that they’ll 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 guy is.

"It’s 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 common ground."

As for the Central Idaho Wolf Coalition’s claim that wolves are devastating elk herds, Mack said it’s 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 Idaho’s 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 aren’t eating all the elk," Stone said. "If you don’t get an elk, don’t 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 Idaho’s wilderness where there should be wolves and not cows.

"That’s huge for them to say that among themselves," Laverty said.

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 Thursday’s wolf forum, Laverty said that despite the controversy surrounding wolf reintroduction in central Idaho, she sees hope in finding common ground.

"We’ve been through the conflict for decades," Laverty said. "Now we’re beginning to see people trying to work together to resolve the conflict. I think that’s pretty exciting."


Some of the participants in Thursday’s wolf forum expressed concern over a revised wolf management plan being drafted by the Idaho State Legislative Wolf Oversight Committee.

Heberger said the draft doesn’t 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.


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