Stanley anti-wolf leader wants Idaho Fish and Game to pick up Stanley Basin winter elk feeding,

March 22, 2002, update March 24 and 29

There is a controversy this winter in Stanley about if, when, and who should feed the elk that have begun to winter there since the mid-1990s. Leading the charge in favor of feeding, and feeding paid for by the state, is vocal anti-wolf advocate Ron Gillette, a leader in the Central Idaho Wolf Coalition, which wants all wolves removed from Idaho.

Below are links to letters in the Challis Messenger by Gillette and a response by Jim Lukens, Idaho Fish and Game supervisor for the area. There is also a link to a long, and interesting story on the contentious issue by Challis Messenger reporter Todd Adams.

As I see it, Stanley Basin is well known as the coldest spot in Idaho (check the Idaho state temperatures every morning for the lowest temperature). Stanley Basin, the nearby Sawtooth Valley, and the surrounding mountains are fine elk country in the late spring, summer, and fall, but historically very few elk have wintered in Stanley Basin or  Sawtooth Valley because the snow is deep, lasts a long time, and it is cold, cold, cold.

The elk migrate out of these high valleys to the lower and drier country toward the Middle Fork of the Salmon, the East Fork of the Salmon, the main Salmon River downstream from Stanley toward Clayton, Challis and beyond. Challis is much warmer and in a rain shadow. Few people realize it, but Challis has about the same annual precipitation as Tucson, Arizona.

The first wolf pack to claim the Stanley area was the Stanley Pack. Folks expected the wolves would migrate out when winter came and their prey left, but about the same time some local residents, including Gillett, began to feed the elk. Idaho Fish and Game policy, unlike Wyoming, is against wintertime feeding.

As people all over the country have learned, when you start feeding animals in the winter, they remember and they linger. More generally, people who feed birds learn that you have to continue doing it or the birds will starve. Birdfeeders also often learn that eventually owls and hawks will show up to prey on the seed-eating birds. In more remote areas, bears often show up beginning in April for a real "paws-on" approach for gaining bird seed.

When large ungulates are fed, predators show up. There is a current controversy in Jackson Hole in the Solitude sub-division where feeding of mule deer has created an ever growing wintertime herd in the subdivision. Last winter cougar appeared and there have been reports of wolves as well as close encounters of residents and the wintering wildlife.

The Stanley elk-feeding situation is no different. The Stanley  wolf pack grew to about 17 members. During the winter the pack would splinter into small groups and hang out near the various small private feeding stations described below by reporter Todd Adams. The pack would reform when spring arrived.

That pack is history now, but there are reportedly 3 new wolves hanging out near Stanley.

The new Whitehawk Pack that formed in the area last summer has not wintered in the Sawtooth Valley or Stanley Basin, but in the more suitable East Fork of the Salmon River where the snow depth did not exceed 4 inches (at the drainage's lower end) this winter. It appears that most of the pack survived the winter. One pup disappeared. There has been no wolf killing of cow calves this year, so far (the numerous RAG boxes deployed in the area seem to be working).

The feeding controversy aside, the great irony is that one of the most vocal anti-wolf people in Idaho aggressively supports the feeding that has brought wintertime wolves to Stanley.

According to his advertising, Gillette owns the Triangle C guest ranch at Stanley and offers day float trips and bighorn sheep hunting.

March 21. Stanley outfitter criticizes F&G for not feeding elk. By Todd Adams. Challis Messenger.

March 14. Stanley Elk, letter by Ron Gillette.

March 21. The rest of the story, letter by Jim Lukens. Regional Supervisor. Idaho Dept. of Fish and Game.

Check out the Stanley web cam to see how much snow is in Stanley.

Update 3-24-2002. An interesting bit of extra information about the elk feeding in Stanley Basin and the Sawtooth Valley to the south . . .

Near the twin towns of Upper Stanley and Lower Stanley the elk are being fed alfalfa hay on the east side of the Salmon River. This location is one where lack of slope and lack of sun causes the snow to melt out slowly. The elk are trying to access the nearby south-facing hill slopes which are now partly bare and plants beginning to green up. To do this the elk have to make a deep ford of the Salmon River and immediately cross Idaho Highway 75 between Upper Stanley and Lower Stanley. When they have made it to the other side, they have been frightened back by snowmobiles which are still buzzing up and down on the remaining areas of snow on the south-facing slopes. The elk have been frightened onto the highway several times.

If a motorist is injured by an elk, I can see a lawsuit against those who are feeding the elk. Moreover, the elk are being fed on the wrong side of the highway and the river. They have to stand in deep snow and lack cover.

I might add that remote Stanley is beginning to experience the classic wintertime snowmobile problems -- noise, pollution, and wildlife harassment.

Private elk feeding is also continuing to the south of Stanley in the Sawtooth Valley. Here too, elk are concentrated and close to Highway 75 which was winter traffic and an increasing number of steelheaders in their rigs there to take advantage of this year's good steelhead run. Apparently several wolves are in the area too.

Now that the elk have been conditioned to stay in the area, one possibility is that Idaho Fish and Game should capture all the elk when they arrive in December and move them to a suitable distant winter range. That would end the problem (with the exception of the psychological investment some people have in matter).

Update March 29-

While Ron Gillette likes to say 96% of the population of Stanley, Idaho agrees with him, it seems that 2 of the 4% who don't,  wrote letters to the latest issue of the Challis Messenger.

3-28. Challis Messenger.  Elk feeding committee member responds.

3-28  Challis Messenger.  Wildlife left wild

As a point of reference to the second letter, Obsidian, Idaho, is a cafe and a couple houses about 8 miles south of Stanley.



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