It looks like a wolf pack may have denned near Stanley, Idaho, because there have been more wolf sightings adjacent to town following the first one which got so much news. Previous story.
Wolves really aren't new to Stanley, but most people there haven't seen the wolves. When the 2nd batch of wolves was reintroduced to Idaho back in 1996, just a few weeks afterward the biggest wolf of the bunch came trotting down one of Stanley's gravel streets, stopped at the stop sign at the highway, crossed and loped up into the hills.
Stanley sits in Stanley Basin, which is a high mountain valley separated from a much larger mountain valley, the Sawtooth Valley, by the Redfish Lake moraine. Various wolf packs have used the Sawtooth Valley, Marsh Creek just to the north of Stanley, and the White Cloud Mountains since 1998. The Stanley Pack formed in 1998 and lasted until 2001 after it was broken up by control after killing livestock here and there. That pack was not as close to Stanley as these wolves of recent days, however.
Stanley Basin and the Sawtooth Valley is the one place in Idaho were wolf tourism could be similar to Yellowstone. Stanley's economy has changed over the years becoming much more recreation oriented. That means all kinds of outdoor recreation to which wolf watching would fit well because wildlife observation is already an attraction. Right now you might be able to rent a motel room in Lower Stanley and look out the window to see wolves chasing elk around.
Politics is changing too; perhaps one reason why Ron Gillett and his allies are so upset.
The problem is the livestock, a remnant of days gone by. All of the livestock in area are brought in during the summer. They do not winter over. Increasingly the owners of private land simply lease out the pasture to outsiders.
Update May 17. Good News.
The summertime grazing of sheep in the Sawtooth Valley has been a major source of wolf mortality in the past; particularly those sheep owned by Bill Brailsford of Hagerman, Idaho. Every summer his sheep come to the area at the south end of the Sawtooth Valley, and if there is a wolf pack in the area, some sheep die and two wolf packs have been killed off in the past, in part due to their killing of his sheep, at times leaving the Valley wolfless.
Conservation groups tried to work with Brailsford to proactively reduce the problem, but he was not cooperative. Now it turns out that he has sold his operation to Plateau Farms. They appear to be much more open to dealing with potential problems before they start and will not turn out sheep until Aug. 1 instead of Brailsford's May date in years past. This will reduce the conflict between the sheep and wolf denning areas.
Western Watersheds Project, represented by Advocates for the West, is engaged in litigation over one of the other big sheep allotments in the area and three more grazing allotments to the south. This case, regarding the "North Sheep allotments," is with the U.S. Forest Service and their failure to perform the required analysis of the capability of land to support livestock. Last February Western Watersheds Project won [text of decision] in federal district court. The case is on-going, but the facts on the ground are that the land in the Sawtooth Valley vicinity probably can't support the grazing it is receiving without damaging the resource. The Forest Service's lax attention to its own regulations might well mean an injunction on grazing by Faulkner Livestock.
The southern end of the Sawtooth Valley is about ten miles south of the Stanley Basin area, the latter being the major theme of this article.
Update May 23
Last weekend in the Stanley, Idaho area, "Wild Idaho," the annual conference for the Idaho Conservation League was held. There was a brief workshop on wolves and then folks went looking for them. Over the weekend, there were six separate sightings of wolves. This was in part due to the fact that people were, for the first time, actively looking for them and communicating by cell phone. This type of coordination (although much more advanced) is why almost everyone who wants to take the time can see the wolves in the Lamar/Slough Creek area of Yellowstone Park. It encourages me that wolf tourism could happen in Idaho. It requires an organized effort. Previously it was thought that Idaho wolves (500 + of them) were too hidden and too remote). Now I don't think this is so.
Update May 29
Two yearling gray wolves were collared May 24 on SNRA land, high above the Salmon River in the general vicinity of Stanley.
Cows on the Neider property right where the wolf was 2 weeks ago.
A few days ago, cattle and calves were brought into one of the big meadows the wolves have been frequenting (it is the meadow in the bottom left in the photo of the Sawtooth Mountains and Stanley, below). This is private property and is an annual event. Interestingly, however, is that even though the grass growing season was late due to the extra long winter, the cattle were brought into this high mountain valley early. I wonder why that was the case? So far I have not heard of any cattle lost to wolves. Elk are incredibly abundant in the area, but the wolf den is in the mountains not far from these cattle.
The cattle are all on the meadow pasture owned by Jay Neider—50 cows, 50 calves, 25 yearling, and a handful of bulls. The other pastures are still cattle free.
News on May 30-
Shot Fired in Memorial Day Stanley Wolf Incident. Here's a report from Lynne Stone. Around noon, a gray wolf was seen chasing a cow elk through Jay Nieder's pasture just south of Stanley. An eyewitness reported that the cow elk jumped into the swollen Salmon River and started swimming for the west shore, only its head visible in the high water. This was about a half-mile south of what's locally called the "Walmart Parking Lot" [because of its size. There is no Walmart]. At one point the wolf followed the elk into the river, but then turned back to wait on the east bank, in full view of a gathering group of people.
A pick-up truck came out of the Nieder ranch to Highway 75 and drove up to where people were watching the wolf watch the elk. Two men got out. One had a rifle. The eyewitness I spoke to recognized one of the men, but until authorities have a chance to investigate, I'd rather not name him. The report is that a rifle shot was fired off the highway shoulder, across the river, apparently to scare the wolf away from the elk. The wolf flinched, turned tail and ran off through Nieder's pasture. The eye witness commented that if the shooter had wanted to kill the wolf, it would have been an easy shot. Rather, the shot scared the wolf off. It is illegal to shoot from a public highway.. One occupant of the pick-up truck was also blaring the horn which likely scared only the elk, not the wolf.
The elk, which was growing exhausted from swimming in the deep, fast current finally opted to return to the east bank to avoid all the humans and blaring horn on the west bank. The elk climbed out of the river, went over the log fence into Nieder's pasture and trotted away. The wolf had disappeared into the foothills. A four-wheeler and an older pick-up truck was then seen going up the Nieder ranch road to where the wolf disappeared.
At least two of the event's eye-witnesses live and work near Stanley. There was no law enforcement at the scene, but Idaho Fish & Game has been notified. The wolf was chasing the cow elk through a pasture that had about 30 head of cattle including a dozen young calves. The cattle went on grazing, unbothered by the wolf-elk chase. In all, there are about 125 head of cattle now on Nieder's, including about 50 young calves.
There are no other cattle anywhere yet in the Stanley area as it was a long winter, late Spring, pastures are still soggy and the grass is just starting to grow and get some height. But since Nieder and his son-in-law Nate Helms are outspoken in their opposition to wolves, it's not surprising to me that cows, some with very small calves ("wolf bait as locals call them") came on early. The Memorial Day wolf was only interested in the cow elk. This might not be the case in the future as veal on the hoof is a much easier meal. Ed. comment. Wolves are rarely more interested in cattle than in elk if elk is what they have learned to hunt. However, they can easily become interested in cow calves because, unlike older cattle, calves run (a signal to wolves that they are potential prey).
"The Perfect (wolf) Storm is brewing in Stanley." (John Robison, Boise, said this during a recent wolf field trip.) The first wave was May 4th, when Ron Gillett took his rifle into Nieder's pasture where a wolf was eating a calf elk. Today's incident is the second. and more will surely follow.
By Lynne K. Stone Copyright May 14, 2006
The lone wolf gives chase. Copyright Lynne Stone
The wolf chasing the elk along the bank of the Salmon River (the fence keeps the livestock out of the river).
Copyright Lynne Stone
Elk escaping in the Salmon River. Copyright Lynne Stone
The wolves did not follow. After a while, all three wolves regrouped atop a ridge. They stayed there for quite a while, and disappeared into the forest. Now every time I drive by that ridge I expect to see wolves. I'll never forget this special Mother's Day morning.
Editors note: Stone really appreciates all the e-mails that have been sent to her about standing up to Ron Gillett. She's trying to answer each one and asked me to say she apologizes if she misses anyone.
Return to Ralph Maughan's wolf report