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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of April 10 - 16 , 2002


USFWS kills White Hawk wolf pack

Pack preyed on a sheep and two calves

Express Staff Writer

For the second time since wolves were reintroduced to Idaho six years ago, a wolf pack has been decimated in the East Fork of the Salmon River valley near Clayton.

The entire White Hawk Pack, including its alpha pair and eight subordinates, was shot in federal control actions. Inside the span of a week, the pack preyed on a sheep and two calves, each time resulting in increasingly severe responses from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services.

Two years ago this month, members of the White Cloud Pack, which roamed the same region, were killed and the pack disbanded after wolves preyed on calves in the valley, southwest of Clayton.

Over the weekend, the five remaining White Hawk Pack wolves were killed in response to a private property livestock kill. Three White Hawk wolves were killed after they preyed on a calf earlier in the week, and on April 2,, two were killed after preying on a domestic sheep in the same area.

The pack’s popular, and possibly pregnant, alpha female, a creamy-white wolf dubbed Alabaster, is among the dead animals.

Wolf advocates are upset.

Last summer, from June through late September, 32 volunteers from seven states joined in an effort to protect the White Hawk wolves from their natural instincts in the Sawtooth Valley. Along with human hazing, radio-activated guard boxes (RAG boxes), which are designed to frighten radio-collared wolves using strobes and ear-piercing sounds, were deployed around grazing and sleeping sheep.

Three miles of fladry lines, which are designed to frighten wolves, were strung. Transportable electric fencing was maintained.

"After the Wolf Guardian project started, no more wolves were killed due to depredation, and the sheep were safe," reported Cheri Beno, one of the volunteers who worked to keep the wolves and sheep separate. "I’m very proud of my involvement and of all those guardians who worked hard and made a difference. They made it work."

But at the news of last week’s lethal control actions, Beno, of Washington state, said her stomach turned.

"In my heart, I believe wolves everywhere deserve a fair shake, and that all top-line predators belong in our world. Someone more intelligent and with more far-seeing capabilities put them here in the first place. By far, man is the worst predator of all."

However, wolf advocate and Idaho Conservation League Central Idaho Director Linn Kincannon, of Ketchum, said she sympathizes, to a degree, with the East Fork ranchers.

"The East Fork is a problem, because we’re talking about private land," she said. "Those ranchers have the right to protect their property. But I think we need to find solutions other than wiping out whole packs. This is unacceptable.

Lynne Stone, executive director of the Boulder White Cloud Council, said she laments that the entire Sawtooth National Recreation Area has nary a wolf in it.

"Right now, from Sunbeam to Stanley to Galena Summit, there might be two or three stray wolves that have wandered in," she said. "They could have darted them. They could have relocated them. My feeling is that the black heart politicians and the groups like the Farm Bureau and cattlemen were weighing in so heavily."

But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services’s Idaho Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Carter Niemeyer, said aversive measures failed with the White Hawk Pack too many times and decisions were based on the packs repeated livestock depredations.

"We attempted to use many preventative measures with the White Hawk Pack, including RAG boxes, helicopter hazing, electric fencing, ground pursuit and harassment," he said. "These non-lethal means of control did not deter the wolves’ persistent livestock depredation. We will continue to use various non-lethal measures to control problem wolves, but the reality is that chronic depredation incidents may result in the lethal control of some gray wolves in Idaho."

Fish and Wildlife is hoping that a combination of various measures, including private landowner lethal take permits, will be successful in preventing future depredations if or when wolves move back into the East Fork valley.

"In this situation, the Service, Wildlife Services and the Nez Perce Tribe believe that all reasonable efforts to use non-lethal means to discourage depredations were exhausted," Niemeyer said.

The control actions also prompted the Wolf Recovery Foundation to pull its donations in Idaho and Montana of radio collars used to track wolves.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service said the radio collars would protect wolves from illegal killing," said WRF vice president Ralph Maughan, of Pocatello. "But the collars have made legal killing far too easy a solution for the government whenever there are minor livestock problems."

Thirty-five wolves were transplanted from Canada to Idaho in 1995 and 1996. In December counts they had multiplied to 261 in 17 confirmed packs. By the end of 2002, federal wolf managers estimate 500 wolves will be roaming the mountains and valleys of Idaho, Yellowstone National Park and northwestern Montana.

And Niemeyer said most of Idaho’s wolves appear to have wintered well.

"We feel that most of the pairs we identified last year are still functional," he said. "In December, we identified 17 packs. Fourteen of those pairs produced pups last year. Right now, I feel like we’re going to have a few more breeding pairs this year than last year."

Fish and Wildlife believes that 30 breeding pairs of wolves for three successive years throughout Idaho, Montana and Wyoming will constitute a viable and recovered wolf population. If current trends continue, removal of wolves from the Endangered Species Act, could occur by the end of 2002 if the three states have drafted adequate wolf recovery plans of their own.


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.