Eyewitness report on the Salmon, Idaho wolf meeting

8-19-2001 (meeting was 8-14)


Public hearing at Salmon, Idaho August 14, 2001.
     By Salle Englehardt. Copyright August 2001

I learned late on August 13, 2001 that there was a public hearing scheduled at Salmon, Idaho for the following morning. I reasoned that there would be few individuals who could attend on such short notice, particularly since it was at a remote location in the morning on a weekday. I am currently unemployed so I chose to go. I left Pocatello at 4:30 am and drove to Salmon. I was not able to attend the early meeting for agency personnel so I had breakfast and went for a short hike since I would be seated throughout the meeting and then spend three hours driving back afterward.

At 10:10 am I entered the town hall and waited for others to arrive. Three wolf monitors from the western part of central Idaho were there and a few other wolf recovery supporters that I recognized. I went in wearing an old work shirt from a petroleum transport company I once worked for to give the impression that I could be on either side. I parked around the corner and chose not to speak. I went to observe and take notes. I was greeted by Carter Niemeyer of U.S. Wildlife Services and Ed Bangs of U.S. Wildlife Services whom I met last April at Chico Hot Springs [Interagency wolf conference]

Niemeyer sat next to me during the meeting. I was glad he did, partly for protection, partly because I wanted to have some help recording the names and affiliations correctly since I don't know who most of these people are.
The rest I could figure out for myself. I am aware that the same set of individuals will show up at hearings every time they are held. We sat at the back of the room with our backs to the wall as there was considerable presence of firearms in the room and only some of them were accompanied by a badge on the bearer's chest. Under such circumstances I have learned to be extremely cautious. I have seen things go terribly wrong under similar conditions and wanted to be near a door and have nothing but a wall behind me with both exits in sight. Niemeyer seemed to have a similar sense of self preservation which gave me a feeling of comfort.

In attendance were U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, Jim Tate from the Dept. of Interior, Georgia Dixon (Senator Craig's office?), Laurel Hall from U.S. Rep. Simpson's office, Ed Bangs-coordinator for wolf recovery U.S. Wildlife Services, Greg Greg Schildwachter, advisor to the governor's Office of Species Conservation the species recovery policy advisor for Gov. Kempthorne, and Lenore Barrett state rep. of the Custer/Lemhi County district. There were other agency officials whom I don't know and whose names I didn't record but spoke to after the meeting ended.

I took dictation of all testimony in my own shorthand, 25 pages of notes. This is the transcription of what I recorded with as many quotes as I was able to write down. I omitted some of the testimony because it was redundant but I have described the content in my own words as I understood it.

The audience was first addressed by Sen. Crapo who set speaking time limits to 2 minutes after which a small group asked to forfeit their time to other speakers, mostly to Ron Gillette of the Central Idaho Wolf Coalition.

Crapo opened with his comments about his views and, supposedly, the official State opinion on wolves. He identified concerns over conflict issues relative to social and economic impacts on the presence of wolves in Idaho as well as public safety issues, the impact on ungulates and the cost of the program. He said that the official State opinion is that "wolves are a burden on the State" and that aggressive actions to delist them was the goal. With delisting, Crapo insisted, that ranchers could then simply kill them when they saw them on their land or chasing their cattle. He stated that he was concerned over the safety of individuals when wolves are "in their area", as he nodded slightly and made eye contact with Tim Sundles.

At this point I wish to move forward to the very end of the testimony because it became the centerpiece of the meeting. It was in all the local news that evening and the next morning. Sundles was the last speaker, which was apropos, due to the impact his tale was intended to make. This also brings up the possible orchestration of terminology used by several speakers leading up to Sundles' story.

After the meeting Sundles was approached by all media reps. He appeared more than happy to tell the whole story over and then some.

Sundles' story emerged in this fashion. Sen. Crapo got up and acted as though all was said but he wanted to make sure everybody had their say so he asked, "Is there anyone else?" It was at this time that Tim Sundles got up and approached the podium. He hadn't signed the speaker sign up sheet at the beginning of the meeting.

[Speaker no 18] Tim Sundles, Resident of Carmen (north of Salmon)

In a shaky tone he looked around nervously and began, "My wife didn't want me to get up and tell this story but I feel I have to. I killed a wolf recently. I know I'm in trouble with the law about this but I killed an alpha with a radio collar. I know his number and I know all about this wolf now. We were camping up in the Frank Church wilderness and it attacked my wife and me....I shot it with four rounds. We packed in..." He went on to tell his tale about how the terrible event took place, failing to mention the number on the collar, and stating that he's a marksman of note so he was a good shot but that the first round didn't take it down. He gave an account in sketchy detail about how the pack stalked them and rousted his mules. He said he hazed it only to have it return to attack him and his wife a couple hours later in "broad daylight". He claims they were "on vacation" and weren't looking for wolves even though he's made it no secret that he's anti-wolf. He said that he found out, when he turned himself in, that this was a problem wolf and that "...he'd been relocated a number of times." ("I know all about this wolf now"= five times)

Applause. Solitary standing ovation by Idaho State Representative Lenore Barrett.

At first I wondered why this guy was not in shackles or handcuffs and why was he not surrounded by the marshals upon his opening statement. The longer he spoke the more I believed that this was a carefully scripted testimonial, fabricated for this event. It was then that I understood the many claims about personal safety and unprovoked attack on humans that had been made throughout the meeting. It was also clear what the eye contact between this guy
and Senator Crapo at the beginning of this whole session was about. I was later told by informed sources that Sundles is well known locally for his views and claims. I also learned that the wolf in the alleged attack had never been relocated and had not been a problem wolf.

Having read the Candace Burns article in the Idaho Falls Post Register the morning after, I see that Sundles' story was the lead in her report. I noticed that she was careful to speculate that his story was a surprise to the audience and especially to Sen. Crapo. The eye contact that I noticed, I was sitting behind him a few feet back which made the line of Crapo's sight especially clear, indicated to me when Sundles gave his testimony this was not the first time the senator had heard the tale. It was no more a big surprise when Ron Gillette, of the Central Idaho Wolf Coalition,
stood up and offered to pay for his legal defense that it was, obvious to me, orchestrated. Perhaps Sundles shot the wolf and then made up the story.

Returning to chronology of the meeting, Jim Tate spoke next after Crapo. He opened with salutary statements in praise of Gale Norton and commented on what "a good job she is doing" and he thinks she will be very productive as Secretary of the Interior by including public involvement . . . as though it was not one of the practices of the previous administration, judging from his tone.

Ed Bangs spoke third. He gave a brief history relating the number of introduced wolves and related that the population is increasing at a healthy rate and that there are 29 confirmed breeding pairs at the 2000 wolf census.

The goal for delisting is 30 breeding pairs. 

He emphasized the possibility of reaching that goal by 2002. He suggested that there may eventually be a Fish and Game managed harvest season on these animals much like those held for cougar and bear after delisting has been implemented and that the target number of breeding pairs can be maintained. He stated that observation of predation impact on livestock is much lower than anticipated at the outset of the recovery program. He stated that the focus is to delist wolves as soon as possible but that this requires an accepted State management plan that can maintain an established number of breeding pairs or the federal government would have to take over management again to maintain the population to avoid another instance of extinction.

Greg, from Governor Dirk Kempthorne's office spoke next. His anti-wolf bias was obvious in his tone and vocabulary. He stated that, "The Governor's perspective is that the wolves are a burden to humans and wildlife..." His targets are 1) the "paperwork" meaning that the policies need to be written and ratified for delisting. 2) sustenance of elk populations and other big game. 3) dealing with issues of livestock. He then went on to claim that "The Endangered Species Act is out of date. It is a failing policy and we can't wait for a new law." He continued to suggest that the big game effects are a "tough transition" through movement of elk populations and mortality of calves within herds was devastating to the populations of elk. He suggested that the "best ways to live with it" were to force the federal government to fund all operations involving the wolves. He said, "...it's hard to live with wolves" and he blamed the federal government for all the trouble and that "we have no say" in the matter. I believe he meant that the citizens if Idaho had no say but it translated, in my opinion, to those who object to reintroduction of the wolves.

It occurred to me, at this point, that the State officials were promoting an atmosphere of the underdog who had these troublesome predators foisted upon us against our will which would translate to the promotion of the myth that the federal government is a dictatorship that should be fought at all costs.

Next Sen. Crapo stood up and asked Ed Bangs to clarify the stipulations of the delisting process. He asked if Idaho could be considered separately from Wyoming and Montana in the delisting process. Bangs answered that all three states were "linked" in this issue and that all three states, since they are a regional ecosystem habitat, must have a management plan in place before delisting could take place and that no, Idaho could not act separately from the other states.

The public comment session-

(Note: I am trained to tally terminology that is used in excess during testimony. Thus, I have included some word counts in the testimonies to provide a sense of the rhetorical tone of comments made by individuals though I did not actually write out the entire comment due to redundancy.)

     1) Dave Nelson, cattleman from MacKay, president-elect of the Idaho Cattlemen's Association.

          "Thirty-five Canadian grey wolves were introduced in Idaho in spite of tremendous efforts against this. Now there are, what, 300? I want to hammer on the issue of property rights. We must delist them immediately or sooner, financed by the federal government. We have to protect private property rights. These Canadian greys get into trouble, they cause stress to cattle and reduce births and conception. These are welfare wolves. I call them that because it is taxpayer's money that pays their way. I'm a Canadian, in Canada we have 'wild wolves' and they would get into trouble all the time, when they came down into the valley we killed 'em." "We need to keep 'em wild. We need to have the opportunity to destroy them on our private property to protect our personal safety and prevent child attack!"

          "We need to overhaul the Endangered Species Act and we intend to pick it apart one brick at a time. Introduction was terrible for outfitters, hunters and...I have a whole list of hurts here.." "The cost is out of hand and getting worse. It is urgent that we delist them and finance management." (Private property = 14 times)

     2) Jack Oiler, Central Idaho Wolf Coalition.

          He began by presenting a letter on big game herds from 5/20/99. He didn't give the origin of the letter or its composer. "The State legislators of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho strongly oppose the terms dictated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. We disagree with management costs. They have ignored the concerns of our Senators and State legislators. We had no vote. Idaho should have had the opportunity to object."

          "The legislators has spoke clearly. Idaho State legislation HJM 6 of 2000 and HJM 5 of 2001 are clear, very clear. There has been a tremendous impact...effect on hunters, Small business, tax bases...I have a full page of losses here."

          "On 8/12/94 Ed Bangs admitted there were wolves in Idaho but he ignored that. Our big game are decimated in Idaho because of these wolves."

     3) Dave Richmond, Friends of the West, Clayton.

          "I have no fear of wolves. The only and worst fear is fear itself. I think we've all heard that one enough from FDR. I worry about the breakdown of democracy when we say that wolves are a problem and that 'we' don't want them here."
          "There has been an increase in elk and we need to balance the ecosystem. Before wolves were reintroduced we had aspen decimation because the elk stayed in one place. Wolves are important, they're integral to the ecosystem. There has never been an unprovoked attack" [on humans].

      Following this comment Sen. Crapo had to get up and calm the crowd who were booing and groaning.

     4) Marilyn Brower, part time teacher, Clayton.

          "I have lived in Clayton Idaho for 20 years and I'm a teacher. There are many legitimate sides to this. The two most fundamental are; one, Idaho citizen rights of representation and Constitutional and second, Idaho's right to deny the federal government's imposition of predators!" When I go hiking, I carry a 9mm! And when I see a wolf I'll shoot 'em if I can hit 'em."

 "It is well known around the world, in Europe and India, that these animals are people eaters!" She went on to identify an alleged list of quotes from the New York Times of numerous claims of wolf attacks.

          "We are not allowed to protect ourselves...to protect our lives."

     ~ Applause, no smooth over by Crapo.

     5) Bob Loucks

          "Since the first proposal of wolf reintroduction in 1984 we have been polarized over this. There are eco-sickos and rancher-sickos and neither extreme is going to get their way or win. It's a 'no win' position. We need to reach the recovery goal and delist them. We need an oversight committee."

     6) Stew Churchwell, East Fork of the Salmon River

          Churchwell's concerns revolved around the likelihood that "politics derail good science" on this issue.

          He stated that many government agencies and academics "watch populations" and that he agrees with "sound management". He quoted Aldo Leopold in a famous quote where Leopold wrote that in order to preserve a whole item that has been dismantled and in order to repair it one must "save all the parts". He stated that "we need all the parts" and that wolves are a part of the natural setting. He said that the Endangered Species Act and wolf recovery are necessary and that the health of the region's natural resources depend on wholeness. He scolded that the "no wolves" advocates "don't get it." "Wolves are an essential component."

     7) Dan Jolly, rancher (Jay Nieder's [see Nieder's testimony below] son-in-law, member of U. S. Senator Larry Craig's staff), Nampa .

          Jolly said that he has been discouraged since reintroduction. He claims that it is "not working". He said that Adam Gall, his ranch hand, said just today that there are more wolves on his property and "up the country". He said that if there's elk anywhere, there's wolves nearby. He complained that delisting would work if and only if there was an increase of elk on his ranch. He said that there was a problem with the elk calf count and that the cost of wolves was increasing and never going to go down. He said "We need to know the rules of the game before the game starts." And, "...we need more ranchers, foresters and miners on these committees."

     ~This individual sounded as though he was penning up the elk and that there was a problem with elk being a migratory grazing animal. His tone seemed to equate elk on his property with ownership of wild game.

     8) Scott Farr, Outfitter on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

          Farr insisted on delisting as soon as possible with [elk] recruitment levels in specific areas. "I'm serious as a heart attack, there are so many out of business outfitters and there will be more no matter what research says." "Wolves cause a decline in ungulate populations in their areas." (recruitment levels = 5 times)

     ~I had to wonder how much these outfitters he mentioned really know about the nature of their prey. Could it be that they have become so comfortable with elk lingering in predictable places in "their areas" that the movement of this migratory specie has become a problem for the predictable security of a kill with the least amount of sportsmanlike activity as in actually having to "hunt" them? Are their clients really wanting to actually hunt or be led to a virtual pen where they can just walk up and shoot their trophy? If that is the case, there is a serious problem with this so called "sport" activity. The tracking of prey is what the "sport" is supposed to be about, not the shooting of a high-powered rifle to hear its report in the woods with the added benefit of killing a penned animal in the process. That's what I am always told by hunters -- that finding their prey and actually "hunting"is the what makes it a sport.

     9) Ron Gillette, outfitter, Stanley - given 4 extra minutes conceded by his supporters.

          Facing Ed Bangs he began, "We're tired of misinformation! I'm an outfitter from Stanley, I have nine cabins in Stanley and I run float trips and hunting guide trips in that area. I did my own survey last fall. Of all the hunters that rented my nine cabins all said they would not be back and they said it was because of the wolves. They have devastated the elk, their numbers are plummeting. These hunters said that they found carcasses with half a pound of meat on them and that they saw tracks around them and that there were no elk to hunt."

          "The only way to delist them is to petition the Secretary of the Interior. These are Canadian wolves, an alien species." {A comment from the crowd: "You're an alien species"} Mr. Gillette continued with his demand that "...the Canadian grey, all of them and their offspring, be removed from the state immediately." "Congress has broken every promise it ever made. They said there'd be no economic hurt, that it wouldn't effect hunting." He went on to say that study is not capable of revealing the damage done to the citizens of Idaho and ventured the notion that item 7G of the Endangered Species Act says the state may petition against the reintroduction and that item I requires delisting.

          He then restated that he opposes the federal government and its regulations and said, "They will never be delisting in our lifetime!" "We've done our homework. There are three public policies that the federal government has ignored and broken its promise on; the Taylor Act, Pittman Act, and Uncontrolled Predators Act." He called for "...legislation to enact immediate removal, stop the slaughter of wildlife [that goes on] unchecked."

     10) Suzanne Laverty, Boise, Idaho representative for Defenders of Wildlife.

          "Ufda!" she said of all the rhetoric that was put forth in the previous testimony. She stated facts about the reimbursement programs as well as purchase of deterrence devices, volunteers, purchase of alternative grazing areas and the many efforts of the Defenders programs to relieve the losses due to predation and to take action to avoid wolf/cattle interaction. She stated that in all this time there have been roughly 200 sheep lost compared to 20 lethal control actions taken against wolves that have been found to prey on livestock. Laverty also commented on the many ranchers that "we" [Defenders] have been working with, present at this meeting. The room fell uneasily quiet.

     ~It seems that the comment on the number of ranchers that were "working with" Defenders of Wildlife was aimed at those who were giving negative testimony about the wolves solely for the benefit of Sen. Crapo's credibility with Tate, when in the "real world" they were actually living with a more positive attitude about wolf management practices.

     11) Rebecca Wiegand, Lowman

          She began by looking around the room and calmly stating that despite the prior negative commentary, "We want wolves. There is good management." She quoted some figures relating that the cost of wolves being relocated or killed in control actions were much greater than the cost of livestock losses. She then asked Ed Bangs to address two issues: 1) big game populations and the rates of predation and health conditions based on scientific studies that have been ongoing since the mid 1980's to the present and 2) Issues of personal safety and just how many actual wolf attacks on humans have ever been documented.

          She closed by saying, "Wolf recovery should be based on science and biology."

     12) Jay Neider, rancher, Stanley

     "There have been four wolves seen in my pasture and the Forest 'Circus', US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Indians don't even know it. We're lied to all the time. They've denned on my property; my [grazing] allotment!" He then confronted Ed Bangs about several of his claims and accused Bangs of lying to him and the other ranchers waving his hands as though he might backhand Mr. Bangs.

. . . At this point, when Mr. Neider became too flustered about his topic, he wandered from his script and ranted about the federal services lying and the Nez Perce tribal council lying, referring to them as "the Indians".  I was later informed that his son-in-law, Dan Jolly speaker #7, is on Larry Craig's staff and lives in Nampa.

     13) Bob Wagenknect, sheepherder, Leadore.

     He said that there were "cross-purposes eliminating problem wolves by killing them." He said, "We use guard dogs." He said he almost ran one [wolf] over and his friend shot one and they were the only wolves he's seen. "The only predator around is the two legged kind." He called for "...better management and better control." He said he reasoned that "...the cost of a thirty dollar ewe" compared to the expenses of wolf control actions and other costs involved in the reintroduction program was essentially a no-brainer.

. . . It appears that, in addition, his intent was to present the idea that if wolves keep getting shot and suffer lethal control actions, delisting would be a long way off in the future, if that's what the state government wants and which is likely to be only real outcome.

     14) Gary Power, former Idaho Fish and Game employee.

     Mr. Power stated that he was working for the Fish and Game Departnnt when cougars were the problem predator. He indicated that it was basically the same -- same issues different species. He is currently involved in a winter study of ungulate/predator population with a graduate student who is writing a thesis usung this information. Mr. Power cited actual winter counts taken of animal populations in big game management unit 28. He stated that most of the of the prey taken by cougars compared to wolves was somewhat different due to the manner in which each species hunts.

     He said that the animals taken by wolves were generally in poor health, though the preferred prey for wolves are elk calves. Cougar will take healthier prey but these numbers are not great. He also mentioned that last year's fires were the cause of some displacement of wildlife in those areas affected by the fires.

     He said the study is in need of funding. It started out with $20,000 from Lemhi County but has acquired additional funds exceeding that amount through grants and donations from many nongovernmental organizations. He said the study will continue as long as they can acquire funding sufficient to sustain it.

     He closed by saying, "Good science...get[s] real facts."

. . . Mr. Power ran out of time but two minutes were conceded by a man in the back row of the audience and he was allowed to finish.

     15) William Wilson, Lowman

     Mr. Wilson spoke about poaching and stated that there was a considerable amount of it going on in his area and that if the outfitters were worried about elk population decimation, they might get on this issue and do something about that rather than complain about wolves. He said that there were quite a few incidences of poaching of several animals shot by high-powered firearms and the carcasses left to rot. He said, "...sure, the wolves come and eat them after they've been shot but they don't use bullets and kill half a herd" [in one evening and just drive away]. He went on to say, "Wolves are getting a bad rap. We need preservation [of natural predators], we need bears and wolves. We don't need a vacuum where humans are the only predator."

     16) Bernard Schwartz, ranch hand

     He got up and started to speak though his voice got shaky after his opening sentence. "I'm
concerned. Not about wolves but about the flag. I went to war and fought for that flag." He went on about how he was a patriot and that "..it's bureaucrats! Bureaucrats are running the country! And I don't like it!" He said he was a hired hand on a ranch run by some couple in the audience and he just wasn't happy about the bureaucrats, "...they run roughshod over our rights!"

     17) Lenore Barrett, state rep. of the Custer/Lemhi county district.

     She marched up to the podium and began, "This issue has been debated to death! And the pseudo-science surrounding it. There was no problem with wolves until wolves were reintroduced!" She endorsed the legislative "memorial" she wrote with the help of Ron Gillette. "This memorial was passed in the Idaho State legislature, this is an official policy statement, that calls for the immediate removal of these wolves." She said that this "statement" calls for monetary reimbursement of all the costs related to reintroduction. "The Idaho Republican party wants the removal of all wolves and their offspring."

     After repeating the information above a number of times she closed with, "State funded management for an animal we don't want, don't need and can't afford? We don't need the federal government..." [telling us what to fund and what to do]. "We need to protect our safety, well being and property rights." (Immediate delisting = 8 times)

     18) Tim Sundles, Carmen (north of Salmon) -- the highlight of morning. His testimony is reported at the beginning of this report.

Sen. Crapo closed the meeting using the term "diversity" like it was a new word he just learned and was trying to figure out how to use. He called for "aggressive" action to delist the wolves and that broad public consensus was needed to achieve this end. He said "...we must address the impacts on humans and society." At that moment I became disinterested in his reiterations and stopped taking notes. (Diversity = 6 times; Impact = 5 times in 3 minutes)

. . . I sensed that the Senator's intent was to get delisting enacted in a hurry so that the ranchers could have an open season on wolves and was not willing to heed Ed Bangs' reminder that if the wolf population declines to a dangerous level the federal government would be back in the business of controlling the management of the wolves again, like it or not. It also seemed that "aggressive action" to delist implied that humans could somehow hurry up the natural processes by which wolves multiply. It was very confounding they way he used this phrase.

[Ed note:] Englehardt is a member of the Board of the Wolf Recovery Foundation. I want to thank her for the time-consuming job of transcribing her notes.


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