New wolf policy proves deadly to Idaho and Montana wolves.
Policy of appeasement will not work.

Two more of the Whitehawk Pack Killed

April 4, 2002


 I should have seen it coming when Ed Bangs told me the other day he could see 40 or 50 wolves killed this year in control actions. It didn't sink in because in 2002 wolf depredations were down save for a few lone wolves and one Montana Pack -- the Gravelly Pack. In Idaho wolf "depredations" have dropped for 3 years in a row despite a large increase in the number of wolves.

Scott McMillion wrote a story in the Bozeman Chronicle this week showing the utter trivially of wolf predation on sheep. Wolves killed 138 sheep total in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho in 2001. Most of these were lambs, although there was the unusual case of the 2 or so Gravelly Pack wolves they didn't catch killing about 30 government rams at the Sheep Experiment Station.

McMillion reported that in just Montana 2,100 sheep and 12,200 lambs were killed by coyotes last year. Domestic dogs killed 500 adult sheep and 600 lambs in Montana. Our national symbol killed 100 sheep and 1,500 lambs. Bears nabbed 200 sheep and 300 lambs. Mountain lions felled 100 sheep and 300 lambs. McMillion wrote: "Diseases, weather, poison, old age and other factors claimed another 38,600 animals, including 1,200 sheep that died like turtles: when their wool became waterlogged, they rolled on their back and they laid there until they died."

But instead of declaring victory, the government has started killing wolves with a vengeance. First there was the typical-appearing control of the Ninemile Pack in the Ninemile Valley of Montana where every other year the wolves kill a few cattle and a couple wolves are removed and things are OK. This year it was llamas. Two wolves were shot and now it looks like 2 or 3 more will go. This is Montana's oldest wolf pack. Llama killing is increasing. Llamas are yet another non-native animal and a favorite of hobby farmers, and not much is yet known about their vulnerability to native predators or how to protect them.

More disturbing was the "control" of 4 members of the Sheep Mountain Pack, including well known Druid wolf 224M. It appears that all that three of the wolves did was enter a few pastures with horses, which is the only thing they can do near Pine Creek and Deep Creek in Paradise Valley because the land has all been cut up into horse pastures. They didn't attack the horses. Of course the horses were nervous. Then the 3 wolves traveled south and joined the main Sheep Mountain pack where they found and ate a calf, an aborted calf. For this, four of them were shot.

Finally, Monday in Idaho at the old flash point, the East Fork of Salmon River, part of the Whitehawk Pack, which was protected against sheep by volunteer wolf guardians all last summer, killed one sheep (lamb) somewhere in the East Fork of the Salmon -- one sheep!  One sheep is maybe worth a hundred dollars, and, of course, the owners will be reimbursed. After an operation that cost perhaps $2000 dollars, two wolves were shot, and ranchers seem to have been given permits to shoot any wolf on sight on their property. On Wednesday one more member of the pack was shot after it might have killed a cow calf.

Wednesday, the Boise newspaper, the Idaho Statesman reported, "A new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service policy will allow Idaho farmers and ranchers to get federal permits to kill wolves even when the predators are not seen killing livestock." Carter Niemeyer who manages Idaho wolves for the USFWS was quoted as saying, Idaho's congressional delegation, the Idaho Cattle Association, Idaho Wool Growers Association and private landowners had pushed for the change.  . . . . In addition, the Fish and Wildlife Service issued four of the new “lethal take permits” to local ranchers because of the chronic depredation pattern." In fact, this pack is not a chronic depredation pack, they have faced a chronic sheep problem. They have been beset by sheep on protected federal land from the start when last June sheep from Hagerman, Idaho, 120 miles away were dumped on the pack's rendezvous site in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, which was established to protect scenery and wildlife first. Livestock is a permitted use in the SNRA  if it doesn't bother wildlife.

Fortunately, the Western Watersheds Projects and the Idaho Conservation League are suing the SNRA for failure to protect wildlife from sheep. Let's hope the lawsuit succeeds and for good measure they find some other things to sue about such as the conflict between sheep and elk.

As for the cattle Association and the wool growers associations, USFWS has worked hard and successfully to reduce losses to an amazingly low level -- not even worth a news story in a county newspaper. A sheep is dead. Is that news? People who herd sheep will tell you the news is when they manage to survive the year.. What was the response of these interest groups for reduction in wolves killing sheep and calves, praise? No, it was this policy and claims that losses are out of hand

What this shows is compromise with these groups is impossible. They only enroll a fraction of the livestock producers in the state. They are a self-perpetuating elite. The same, albeit Montana, groups are behind the expensive and pointless campaign of bison killing in Montana. Why do they do it? Why is good performance not rewarded? Why do they go out their way to irritate people? I think it has to do with power and control.

From a story in the High Country News back in January 1995, "The issue is not wolves," Karen Henry, president of the Wyoming Farm Bureau, told the Associated Press. "The issue is control of the land." The same approximate quote has been repeated many times by other groups who say they represent the cowpersons.

For wildlife enthusiasts, hunters, anglers, photographers, watchers, trackers, researchers, it is about wildlife, not control of the land. However, if these groups insist the issue is control of the land, then that is what it will be. Their position makes them inconsolable, and all people who appreciate wildlife should realize the fact. And government workers should realize it too. No matter how good a job you do, you will get no appreciation. You will get abuse. You will be threatened. The recourse should not be to shoot wolves because their presence irritates the cattle association, or reduce the size of elk herd because elk eating grass irritates the cattle association, or put restrictions on fishing because cattle have destroyed their habitat. Government workers should join PEER. The rest should join the Western Watersheds Project, a conservation outfit that knows how to stand up to the cowbullies. And for all of us, an old, but wise quote "Don't mourn, organize."

Update. Late afternoon 4-4-02. Today Wildlife Services killed two more of the Whitehawk Pack. The alpha female has not been shot. She is pregnant. That leaves 4 or 5 members of the pack.

4-5 . About 2 weeks ago I learned Curt Mack had set up a wolf meeting Sunday night meeting in Challis. Yesterday I learned the public wasn't invited. It was with the livestock operators. Today 4-5, however, Carter Niemeyer said it wasn't a secret meeting. Of course, it is now a bit late now for folks to change plans and go to Challis.


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