Ensuring ungulate populations recover in areas negatively impacted by wolves



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  • 23 Oct 2020 4:08 PM | Anonymous

    Original article here.
    y Andrew McKean

    Ryan Williams wants to be clear. He’s not a wolf-­hunting expert. Though he spends the majority of the year around wolves and hunts them nearly all winter out of his family’s lodge in the remote Idaho wilderness, he says he’s more a perpetual student than a knowledgeable teacher.

    “You could hunt these things for a lifetime and never learn all there is to know,” says Williams, who works as a U.S. ­Forest Service smoke jumper during the summer, bowhunts elk in the tangled pine jungles of Idaho’s high country through the fall, and then calls wolves all winter.

    “Even when you think you have them figured out, they’ll pull some shenanigans that make you second-guess what you know. My friends have gotten so used to me coming back with a one-that-got-away story that they call me ‘Chances with Wolves.’”

    But Williams has an advantage that most of us don’t: a 2-million-acre classroom where he’s learned the behaviors and responses of wolves and developed a library of experiences about which hunting tactics work, which need refinement, and which are definitely not effective.

    “I can tell you with more certainty about what doesn’t work than what does,” says Williams, who lives and hunts west of Missoula, Montana, on the Idaho side of Lolo Pass. “Most prey-in-distress calls don’t work. Also, one of the best ways to not kill wolves is to rely on a single gun for all setups.”

    Idaho has had an established wolf-hunting season since 2012, just months after the carnivores were removed from federal protection. The population threshold that allows the Idaho Fish and Game Commission to hold a managed hunt is 150 wolves; in its last census, the department estimated the state’s population at about 1,500. Last spring, Idaho Fish and Game approved year-round hunting for wolves on private land in the northern half of the state—­including Williams' area—and established an annual bag limit of 15 wolves per hunter.

    A hunter extracts a tooth from the mouth of a wolf.Extracting a tooth that will be submitted to the Idaho Fish and Game Department.Matt Arkins

    Idaho’s experience is likely to be replicated by other Western states. While Montana and Wyoming have long and liberal wolf seasons, Utah, Washington, and Oregon have documented wolves within their borders but don’t have designated seasons. Colorado voters will decide this fall whether to reintroduce wolves west of the Continental Divide.

    Because so few of us have experienced wolf hunting, the frontier of knowledge follows pack distribution and the establishment of seasons, and makes even “nonexperts” like Williams leaders in our accumulated understanding of how to hunt these very adaptable canines. For Williams, whose family has operated a remote lodge on the upper Lochsa River for three generations, wolves are a relatively new presence in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests.

    “When I’m at our smoke-jumping base [in Missoula], I can look across the tarmac and see the very plane that brought the first U.S. wolves from Canada back in 1995,” says Williams. “It’s amazing to me how widespread and established they’ve become” in the intervening 25 years.

    As a diehard archery elk hunter, Williams has seen his success decline as wolves have diminished elk populations or pushed them out of his area, which once held the highest elk densities in Idaho. But he’s also seen wolf packs decline in size as their prey base shrinks. Instead of seeing packs of a dozen, packs now number five to seven wolves. The predators cover hundreds of square miles, and they’ve become extremely wary of hunters.

    “A lot of people around here hate wolves,” says Williams. “I don’t hate them. In a lot of ways, I wish they weren’t here. But they are here, and they’re not going away, as much as many people would like them to go. So I figured I’d learn as much about them as I can so I can manage their numbers. Along the way, they’ve taught me how to be a better hunter.”

    Here’s a glimpse at Chances with Wolves' playbook, based on his years of successful—and unsuccessful—wolf hunts.

    A hunter kneels behind a large wolf next to his hunting rifle.Williams’ wolf-hunting arsenal.Matt Arkins

    Pattern and Locate

    “Wolves are actually extremely easy to pattern,” says Williams. “That’s why trapping is so effective. They’ll use the same trails and roads all winter, and even year after year. But once they detect danger, they’ll change their patterns instantly until they sense the danger has dissipated. In the winter, which is mainly when I’m hunting them, they’ll gather on high, open ridges in the daytime. I can see them with optics from a mile away, but these places are hard to reach, especially when I’m busting deep drifts in snowshoes, so I’ve learned that you need to intercept them coming or going from those secure lookouts.”

    Read Next: Finding a Middle Ground on Wolves and Wolf Management

    Listen and Respond

    Williams says the ideal wolf-hunting scenario is one in which they reveal their location without prompting. “I like to drive or hike to a spot and then listen. If I can hear them howling, then I’ll figure out an approach and work in on them, then set up and use a prey-distress call when I know they’re fairly close. I don’t really want to start off howling, because that immediately lets wolves know that I’m in the neighborhood, and it puts them on alert. More often than not, once I howl, wolves will move away, not ­toward me.”

    Blow the Right Call

    Williams uses both mouth and electronic calls, using a selection of distress calls and howls, but he’s concluded that entry-­level electronic calls aren’t worth using. “The speakers don’t sound realistic, especially for howling,” he says. “Once I went to higher-end Foxpro calls, I got better results, mainly because the speakers are better and the more powerful remote control lets you set the unit farther away from the shooter.” He has had mixed luck with the Alpha Wolf Howler from Rocky Mountain Game Calls, based down the mountain in ­Kamiah, Idaho. “I’ve talked to a lot of wolves with it, but it’s huge and I keep bending the mouthpiece. The best mouth howler I’ve used is the E.L.K., Inc. Power Bugle. You can change tone and do a lot of different howling variations.” But Williams says the one response you never want to hear from a wolf is a bark. “It’s just like when an elk barks. It means the wolf is onto you, and your hunt is done.”

    A large gray wolf walks through the snow in the Montana wilderness.A gray wolf on the hunt in Montana.ImageBroker/Alamy

    Get Aggressive

    Calling wolves is just like calling other wild animals. You want to initiate a conversation and unlock some response. “When I first started calling, I’d just sort of call without purpose,” says Williams. But after an all-day conversation with a pack of wolves that held up in cover no more than 200 yards away without approaching, Williams finally had enough. “I had laid out in the snow for eight hours on a wolf-killed moose carcass, just howling back and forth with the pack. Finally I got so cold and so mad that I moved toward the pack and started cutting their howls off with my own howls, just getting in their faces. That was what it took to unlock them. They started getting mad right back and it unlocked them from their cover.”

    Hunt with a Buddy

    Borrow a tactic from elk and turkey callers and put a shooter in front of a caller. An incoming wolf that may hold up out of range of the call may be well within range of the hidden shooter. The same tactic can work for solo hunters who use electronic calls: Simply put the call 100 yards or so behind you. Wolves are so perceptive that you must use cover, minimize movement, and ensure that neither shooter nor caller is seen or winded by incoming wolves.

    Guns: Go Long and Short

    Williams says that for his first decade as a wolf hunter, he was badly undergunned. “I hunted with my elk rifle, a .30/06 that had trouble grouping beyond about 200 yards. I wasn’t able to reach out to distant wolves, but I also couldn’t get on wolves in the thick stuff. So I’ve gone with a 7mm STW on a chassis stock with a scope that I can dial for shots out to 1,000 yards. That’s a great dead-winter, long-distance setup. But I also have a shotgun with an 18-inch barrel and Federal FliteControl buckshot loads that will put all 9 pellets in a pie plate at 50 yards. More of my shots, especially when I’m elk hunting, are in thick stuff inside 100 yards and often inside 50 yards. So I also have a semi-auto, folding-stock carbine with a low-power scope that I have set up in either 9mm or 40 S&W that I’ll carry for wolves during elk bow season.”

  • 21 Sep 2020 12:44 PM | Anonymous

    Original Article Here

    The Diamond M Ranch has moved to defend itself against allegations that it’s to blame for wolves mauling and killing its cattle for more than a decade in northeast Washington.

    The family-owned operation, based in Stevens County, filed a motion Friday in U.S. District Court in Eastern Washington to take part in a lawsuit brought by three environmental organizations against the U.S. Forest Service.

    The suit claims the Forest Service idly stands by as the Diamond M refuses to avoid conflicts with wolves in the Colville National Forest. The Diamond M says it’s been “called out” and wants to join the court battle.

    Other lawsuits by wolf advocates in state courts against Washington Fish and Wildlife have criticized the Diamond M. Until now, the ranch has not defended itself in court.

    “We’ve been dragged through the mud and abused with no chance to redeem ourselves whatsoever,” Diamond M partner Len McIrvin said Monday. “We want to at last clear our name.”

    For many years, the Diamond M has been the bete noire of some wolf advocates, who say that if it weren’t for the ranch only a handful of wolves would have been killed by Fish and Wildlife.

    WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds Project and Kettle Range Conservation Group sued the Forest Service in June, alleging the federal agency’s indifference to Diamond M grazing practices violates the National Forest Management Act.

    Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson on Monday granted Diamond M’s motion, allowing the ranch to participate in the lawsuit. The ranch argues its business is at stake, an interest not shared by the Forest Service.

    “Even though they’re good people, we’re not number one in their lawsuit,” McIrvin said.

    The Diamond M has Forest Service permits to graze 736 cow-calf pairs. The ranch has been grazing in the Colville National Forest since 1945 and has never violated its permits, according to the ranch’s court declaration.

    Wolves began attacking the ranch’s cattle in 2008. Wolf packs saturate the region, according to Fish and Wildlife. The department has defended Diamond M, saying the ranch has tried to prevent attacks with non-lethal measures.

    No measure, or combination of measures, will stop all attacks, according to the department.

    The Diamond M has refused to apply for state compensation for cattle losses. The payouts are temporary and entice ranchers to accept an overpopulation of wolves, according to the ranch.

    “Their big criticism of us is we won’t take their money,” McIrvin said.

    Diamond M was one of three ranches that had cattle attacked this year by the Wedge wolf pack. In response, Fish and Wildlife eliminated the pack, killing the three members.

    Since then, the cattle have thrived, McIrvin said. “Those cattle are fat and sassy and behaving like they’re suppose to.”

  • 28 Aug 2020 9:06 PM | Anonymous

    Original Article Here

    By Jennifer Bruns, Regional Communications Manager

    Friday, August 28, 2020 - 9:20 AM MDT

    Trapper and wolf trapper education classes are being scheduled.  Anyone that needs to take either or both classes in order to purchase a trapping license or wolf trapping tags are encouraged to visit the Idaho Fish and Game (IDFG) website to find and register for a class in their area or contact their local regional office. Anyone who has not taken Idaho trapper education or held an Idaho trapping license prior to July 1, 2011 is required to take trapper education before purchasing a trapping license. All wolf trappers are required to take wolf trapper education in order to trap wolves.



    Idaho Department of Fish and Game temporarily halted all hunter and trapper education courses in March, due in response to COVID-19. Hunter education is available as an online course and the field day requirement has been temporarily waived until further notice. However, there is no online alternative in Idaho for trapper or wolf trapper education. With the opening of trapping seasons on the horizon, courses are being offered so that first-time trappers and wolf trappers are able to purchase licenses and tags. In order to safely provide the classes, the department will adhere to health department guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Students are asked to wear masks throughout the class, class size is smaller to aid social distancing, and class duration is shortened to reduce potential exposure times of students and instructors. Most classes will be held at IDFG regional offices throughout the state.

    Follow the links on the IDFG website or contact your local regional office for information about classes in your area.

    A complete list of classes can be found at:

    Trapper Education:

    Wolf Trapper Education:

  • 1 Jul 2020 3:55 PM | Anonymous

     In effort to increase harvest efforts on wolves, to promote elk management objectives, and in areas where landowner/wolf conflicts are occurring, F4WM was awarded $10,000 for the Panhandle Region, & $1220 for the Clearwater Region, $2000 for the Southwest Region, and $10,000 to be used Statewide, from the 2020 IDFG Commission Community Challenge Grant funding. These funds will be used as matching dollars ($500 grant funding /$500 F4WM funding ) to increase reimbursement amounts to $1000 per wolf in the areas where IDFG data shows that additional wolf harvest is needed to promote healthy ungulate populations in the select areas specified by IDFG. The select areas are listed below.


    Regional priority areas include:

    A. Within the Panhandle Region GMUs 7, 9; that portion of Unit 6 w/in the NF St. Joe drainage; that portion of Unit 4 north of Forest Highway 9; and that portion of Unit 4A south of the Clark Fork River and west of Forest Road (FR) 278 to its junction with FR 1066, west of FR 1066 from its junction with 278 to its junction with FR 332, and west of FR 332.

    B. Within the Clearwater Region GMUs 10, 12, 15, 18

    C. Within the Southwest Region GMUs 20A, 22, 23, 24, 26, 31, 32, 32A, 33, 39

    D. Within the Magic Valley Region GMUs 43, 44

    E. Within the Upper Snake Region GMUs 50, 62

    F. Within the Salmon Region GMUs 28, 29, 36A, 36B, 37

     IDFG employees are ineligible for reimbursement under this agreement and with Commission Challenge Grant funds. They are eligible for reimbursement under F4WM stand-alone program if meeting F4WM criteria for reimbursement.

    ​This increase will continue until all Community Challenge Grant Funding has been depleted, and is available to both members and non-members alike, as required by IDFG. Please see the “Reimbursement Process” page for more information regarding reimbursement requests.

  • 21 Feb 2020 12:39 PM | Anonymous

    Original article here

    BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — The Idaho Fish and Game Commission on Thursday approved nine proposals to extend wolf hunting and trapping seasons following a two-week public comment period in which the commission received more than 27,000 responses from across the world.

    In a news release, the Department of Fish and Game said the changes take effect immediately.

    The commission approved seven hunting proposals and two trapping proposals during the Thursday conference call meeting. The move allows wolf hunting from Aug. 1 to June 30 across much of the state, and year-round wolf hunting in southwest and south-central Idaho.

    Year-round hunts are also in effect in 19 hunting units with “chronic” wolf depredation on livestock, meaning incidents in four of the past five years.

    Wolf trapping is now legal in parts of southeast Idaho, and snare traps can be used in some hunting units. For more details, visit

    Fish and Game commissioners proposed the season changes late last month after unveiling new population data that estimates there are more than 1,500 wolves in Idaho. Federal criteria for wolf recovery require only 150 wolves in the state.

    During the 14-day public comment period on the proposals, Fish and Game received more than 27,000 responses, the overwhelming majority of which were negative. (For context, agency spokesman Brian Pearson said most proposals receive between 200 and 2,000 comments during the same time period.)

    However, officials noted that more than 80% of the responses came from outside of Idaho; in many cases, they were from outside of the United States.

    “Among Idaho residents who commented, about 55% supported each of the proposals, and about 45% opposed,” the Fish and Game news release said.

    Most respondents favored all or opposed all of the proposals.

    When the commission debuted the proposals in January, commission chair Jerry Meyers told the Statesman that he expected the comments to be “polar opposites.”

    “There’s not really any middle ground (on wolves),” he said.

    Nicole Blanchard

  • 6 Feb 2020 12:34 PM | Anonymous

    Original article here.

    Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks proposes to extend the wolf hunting and trapping seasons in northwestern Montana.

    The agency is currently setting hunting seasons for the 2020-2021 biennium. Its Region One office, which covers Lincoln, Flathead, Sanders and Lake Counties, announced the proposals in a press release Wednesday. If approved by the rule-making Fish and Wildlife Commission, they would:

    Extend the general hunting season from Sept. 15-March 15 to Aug. 15-March 31.

    Extend the trapping season’s end date from Feb. 28 to March 15.

    Increase the individual limit from five wolves per person to 10.

    Outside Region One, Fish, Wildlife and Parks also aims to maintain the quotas in Wolf Management Units 313 and 316, just north of Yellowstone National Park, at two each. An earlier version of their proposal would have dropped that to one each.

    During a public-comment period on the hunting season that ran from Dec. 5 to Jan. 27, “we heard from a substantial number of people attending the public meetings throughout northwest Montana who requested additional opportunity for wolves,” said Neil Anderson, the agency’s regional wildlife manager, in a statement.

    The minimum count of wolves in Montana has increased from less than 100 in 1998 to over 600 in 2017, according to FWP. Models indicate the total population may have reached 800 or higher in 2018. Montana’s wolves were removed from Endangered Species Act protections and placed under state management in 2011. Hunters and trappers harvested 254 wolves statewide in 2017.

    “We would be very supportive of those expanded seasons and larger amount of take,” said Blake Henning, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s chief conservation officer. He said that the hunting and conservation group’s members “would support these additional opportunities, and we want to support our members.”

    Wolf management has long been a controversial topic in Montana, with hunters calling for more hunting opportunities out of concern for deer and elk numbers, and some environmental groups opposing these measures and calling on the state to protect wolves and their place in the ecosystem.

    “The Kalispell area ... every year, is hammered. They kill a ton of wolves up that way,” said Marc Cooke, president of Stevensville-based group Wolves of the Rockies. In 2017, FWP recorded 84 wolves killed in Region One. “There are so many positives that wolves bring to the table ... that the only thing I can say is that the department is mismanaging an asset that is on the ground 24/7 in the state.”

    Sarah McMillan, conservation director at WildEarth Guardians’ Missoula office, wrote in an emailed statement that “Guardians opposes the hunting of wolves and all trapping,” and predicted that “Increasing the general season by six weeks and the trapping season by two weeks will result in more inhumane and pointless killing of wolves.”

    The Fish and Wildlife Commission will hear a presentation on the rules at its February 13 meeting in Helena, which will be live-streamed to all regional Fish, Wildlife and Parks offices. The agency plans to recommend extending the comment period for these rules through March 16, and for the commission to hold a vote on adoption at its June meeting. For the meeting agenda and draft proposal, visit and under “Quick Links” click “Commission.”

  • 27 Jan 2020 12:36 PM | Anonymous

    Original article here

    A new bill proposed in Idaho could open the door to year-round wolf hunting and “wolf-free” zones. The bill, which was proposed by Sen. Bert Brackett (R-Rogerson), was introduced last week before the Senate Resources and Environment Committee. According to Brackett, it would “manage a growing wolf population and assist in efforts to reduce depredation,” Big Country News reports.

    “Livestock depredation remains at an unacceptably high level,” said Brackett. “More needs to be done. Ranchers’ livelihoods are being threatened by wolves.”

    According to Big Country News, the “wolf-free” zones would be established within 11 existing big game management units south of the Snake River. While there are “few” wolves that live within these areas, the point of creating the “wolf-free” zones are to keep them that way. The bill would also classify units where depredation happened during four of the last five years as “chronic depredation” zones. There are currently 19 zones in central Idaho that qualify for this classification.

    “In both of those designations, wolves may be taken year-round by any hunter provided they have a valid hunting license and a wolf tag,” said Brackett.

    However, according to Big Country News, wolf hunting is already allowed during most of the year and even Brackett acknowledged that the state has a “good wolf management plan” in place. The bill would require state officials to review that plan should the population drop to under 20 packs or 200 wolves. Additional language within the bill includes an emergency clause “that would make it effective immediately following approval from the Legislature and governor.”

    The bill was met with opposition by both Democrats on the committee.

  • 16 Oct 2019 12:08 PM | Justin Webb (Administrator)

    F4WM Received 2019 IDFG Commission Community Challenge Grant!

    F4WM applied for and was awarded $10,000 for the Panhandle Region, & $10,000 for the Clearwater Region, in 2019 IDFG Commission Community Challenge Grant funding. These funds will be used as matching dollars ($500 grant funding /$500 F4WM funding ) to increase reimbursement amounts to $1000 per wolf in areas where IDFG data shows that additional wolf harvest is needed to promote healthy ungulate populations in the select areas specified by IDFG. The select areas are listed below.


    A. Within the Panhandle Region BMU’s Units 9 & 7, that portion of Unit 6 wIthin the NE St. Joe drainage, that portion of Unit 4 north of Forest Highway 9 and that portion of Unit 4A south of the Clark Fork River and west of Forest Road (FR) 278 to its junction with FR 1066, west of FR 1066 from its junction with 278 to its junction with FR 332. and west of FR 332.. (Note: F4WM Board of Directors voted to increase the uncovered portion of Unit 4a to $1000 per wolf for the duration the Grant funding is available. This is due to numerous packs in this areas pushing elk off he mtn and down into the farm fields where they are causing damage. Also these wolves have killed residents pet dogs and have been shot in those fields with cattle present. This additional funding is covered 100% by F4WM)

    B. Within the Clearwater Region BMUs where elk are not meeting management objectives and predation management is identified as a need, to include BGMU’s 10, 12, 15, 16, 16A 17. 19 and 20.

    NOTE: IDFG employees are ineligible for reimbursement using Commission Community Challenge Grant funds. They are however still eligible for reimbursement under F4WM stand-alone program funding if meeting F4WM criteria for reimbursement.

    ​This increase will continue until all Community Challenge Grant Funding has been depleted, and is available to both members and non-members alike, as required by IDFG. Please see the “Reimbursement Process” page for more information regarding reimbursement requests.

  • 18 Sep 2019 8:21 AM | Justin Webb (Administrator)

    This must watch video came out back in 2013 and some-how it just now came up on our F4WM crew radar. It covers much of the problems people are facing who actually live with wolves and how the Endangered Species Act has been hijacked to force wolves on us, by people who do not have to live with them, and are not affected by them. 

    Not sure how this one got by us for so long but please watch and share it!

    Justin Webb
    F4WM Executive Director
    On the Web
    Like us on Facebook:

  • 31 May 2019 1:09 PM | Justin Webb (Administrator)

    Wolves Part 5 ! 

    This is the 5th, and final in this 5 part series about Idaho's wolf introduction, a story told by the Idaho Rangeland Resources Commission. Special Thanks to Steve Stuebner for sharing this information! If you've not seen all 5 videos, each is posted as a news bulletin below - its worth the time to view this series in its entirety!

    Click the link below to watch full length part 5!

    Nearly 25 years after Rocky Mountain gray wolves were reintroduced to Central Idaho, wolves have had a negative impact on ranching and rural communities that likely will never go away and could get worse, officials say.

    In the last two years, wolves set new records for killing cattle and sheep in Idaho. They also killed farm animals such as horses, goats and llamas. These were just the confirmed kills.

    The story of wolf recovery in Idaho is largely a story about broken promises, unfunded mandates, and challenging wildlife management, officials say.

    Wolves were supposed to stay inside the Central Idaho Wilderness, but they didn’t. Wolves were supposed to be delisted from the Endangered Species Act after 10 breeding pairs recolonized the Central Idaho wilderness, but they weren’t. Wolf numbers exploded in Idaho to an estimated minimum of population of 800 to 1,000 wolves, occupying the mountains from Interstate 84 to Canada.

    Big-game hunters say that wolves have changed elk hunting in Idaho forever in areas where wolves are now full-time residents. Wolves have a 30-40 percent reproductive rate. “The fact is, there’s more wolves born each year than have been harvested in any given season,” notes Justin Webb, executive director of the Foundation for Wildlife Management.

    Ranchers who live in eight Idaho counties with chronic wolf depredation say that wolves are causing a multitude of impacts that threaten their future. The record number of wolf kills suggests that existing wolf-management could be more aggressive to reduce wolf numbers in problem areas, ranchers and landowners say. Hunting and trapping of wolves has occurred since 2011, but those methods are barely putting a dent in the wolf population.

    “We’ve gotta have some solutions somewhere,” says Chase Whittaker, a Leadore rancher. “The wolf needs to be scared of something, but right now, they’re not really scared of anything.”

    The Whittakers lost 45 calves in the mountains behind their ranch two years ago … the animals were never confirmed as wolf kills or found.

    Whittaker’s family runs the Two Dot Ranch near Leadore in the Lemhi River Valley and the Lemhi Mountains. They had 10 confirmed livestock kills by wolves most recently, and three years ago, they lost 45 calves that just flat disappeared in the mountains and were never confirmed – a loss of about $45,000 or $1,000 each.

    “That’s catastrophic to lose something like that,” Whittaker says. “If you’re going to run livestock, you’re going to be productive, you can’t have these predators preying all the time.”

    Wolves were reintroduced to wilderness areas in Central Idaho by the federal government in 1995 to bring an apex predator back to the ecosystem. The idea was that wolves would weed out sick and weak big game animals and make wildlife populations and the ecosystem more healthy. Their main prey species are elk, deer and moose.

    2015 wolf pack map shows that wolves are occupying most of Idaho north of I-84. Each purple circle indicates a wolf pack. A minimum of 800-1,000 wolves live in Idaho, not counting packs on the state borders.

    But the experiment didn’t go as planned or promised. Wolf numbers grew to levels at least 10 times what was promised, they didn’t stay inside the wolf-recovery zone as outlined in the Central Idaho wilderness, and the impacts caused by wolves have been much more severe on livestock and ranching than anticipated. Nowadays, wolves are mainly living in Ag-Wildland interface areas in Idaho, where large numbers of elk are living, and they are causing unprecedented damage to livestock, private property and rural economies, officials say.

    Since 1995, wolves have killed more than 982 cattle, 3,150 sheep, and 53 guard dogs, causing $1.6 million in damages and impacting 435 ranchers statewide. Smaller numbers of llamas, border collies, horses, goats and other animals have been killed by wolves as well. Federal officials predicted that wolves would kill 10 cattle, 57 sheep and up to 1,650 big game animals per year.

    Wolves are a pursuit predator, meaning they chase and run down prey. They are nocturnal, killing prey in the middle of the night. Few people, if anyone, can hear the screams of livestock or farm animals getting killed by wolves.

    Whitebird Rancher Ray Stowers says the shock of wolves killing your livestock is similar to a LA gang throwing a brick through his living room window.

    To Whitebird rancher Ray Stowers, who lost 4 calves to wolves last winter, it’s quite a shock. The wolves killed 2 steers and 2 heifers on his private winter calving ground, high above the Salmon River.

    Stowers felt like the wolves had the same impact as a L.A. gang throwing a brick through his family’s living room window.

    “It’s a pretty gut-wrenching feeling that you have to live with,” Stowers says. “I honestly look at our cows as part of our family. I mean I treat ‘em well. And I try to tend to their every need. But there is a situation that happens mostly at night, and you feel totally helpless because you can not protect them in country like this. It’s just impossible.

    “It’s just one of them deals where you just get this knot in your stomach, and every morning when you go around the corner, where you can first see where your cows are, you have this knot in your stomach, like, wonder what happened last night? I wonder who got killed?”

    Wolf populations have spread throughout the state of Idaho, north of Interstate 84, and they continue to grow beyond the state’s borders into Oregon, Washington and California. Idaho Fish and Game estimates there are a minimum of 80-100 wolf packs in Idaho. That roughly translates to at least 800 to 1,000 wolves living in Idaho, north of Interstate 84.

    After wolves were delisted from the Endangered Species Act, Idaho’s primary method of controlling wolf numbers – hunting and trapping by sportsmen – has reduced the level of concern by big-game hunters, says Idaho Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore, who recently retired.

    “We saw this what I would call, hate, disgust, angst, you name the descriptor, it went way down,” Moore says. “Once sportsmen were able to buy a permit to go out and take a wolf, they were empowered to do their part as managers on the landscape, and it made a large difference in how we were able to move forward.”

    But keeping wolf numbers in check has been difficult because they reproduce so rapidly. “We’ll never decrease the fact that wolves have a 30-40 percent productivity,” Moore says. “They’re going to be throwing pups and young that are highly migratory and territorial and they’ll be moving out into new territories.”

    Virgil Moore managed wolves for nearly 10 years as the Director of Idaho Fish and Game after the animals were delisted from the ESA.

    Wolf populations have spread throughout the state of Idaho, north of Interstate 84, and they continue to grow beyond the state’s borders into Oregon, Washington and California. Each purple dot on the Idaho pack map, or black dot the regional wolf pack map indicates an active wolf pack. Idaho Fish and Game estimates there are a minimum of 80-100 wolf packs in Idaho. Each wolf pack averages about 7 animals, but some can number much higher than that. That roughly translates to at least 800 to 1,000 wolves living in Idaho, north of Interstate 84.

    Ranching is big business in Idaho. There are about 6,000 cow-calf ranching operations – large and small – statewide. Livestock production is the 2nd largest ag industry in Idaho. Cash receipts from the beef cattle industry in Idaho average about $1.7 billion a year.

    A key issue is figuring out how to manage wolves without causing undue harm to ranchers and the rural Idaho economy, experts say.

    “The public said we want these apex predators back with the promise that they’d stay in certain areas,” says Chris Black, Bruneau rancher. “But they don’t know any boundaries, and economics and apex predators don’t mix.”

    The genie is out of the bottle and wolves continue to expand in Idaho. The main challenge now is how to manage wolves in Ag-Wildland areas, where the majority of wolves and their prey live today. Wolves are killing livestock and other animals in 8 counties that have chronic wolf depredation year after year – Lemhi, Custer, Valley, Adams, Boise, Idaho, Elmore and Washington counties.

    Wolves also have had an impact on elk populations and elk hunting in Idaho. Studies show that wolves generally prefer to eat elk, deer and moose in Idaho as their primary diet. Adult wolves need to eat about 9 pounds of meat per day.

    Idaho hunters – like Idaho ranchers – want the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to keep wolf numbers down to a manageable level.

    “It’s been fascinating to see wolves reintroduced and really dominate wildlife in the state. It’s been a struggle and a challenge,” says Benn Brocksome, executive director of the Idaho Sportsmen’s Alliance. “The challenges with hunting alone have been drastic. The old place where you took your Dad or your Dad takes your son, you can’t go there anymore because the elk are gone, there’s one or two deer where there used to be hundreds, they’ve really pushed the elk and deer populations around, and really diminished the populations in different areas.

    “Wolves continue to spread geographically, and grow in numbers, despite all of the plans that have been put in place to manage them. Still a lot of work to do.”

    After wolves were delisted from the Endangered Species Act in 2011, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game launched hunting and trapping seasons to manage wolves as a game species.

    Idaho has a three-pronged management system:

    • USDA APHIS Wildlife Services responds to reports of wolves killing livestock at Idaho ranches or on public lands, and takes control action to remove problem wolves.
    • During the big game hunting season, sportsmen can harvest wolves when they’re out hunting deer, elk and other species. About 30,000 hunters buy wolf tags each year. Harvest averages about 145 wolves per year.
    • Wolf-trapping seasons are in effect for 7 months, from Aug. 30 – March 31. Trapping harvest has been averaging about 100 wolves per year.

    To help soften the blow from direct wolf kills, ranchers can apply to receive compensation for the market value of confirmed livestock losses from the Governor’s Office of Species Conservation or the Farm Service Agency.

    Josh Uriarte in the Idaho Governor’s Office of Species Conservation responds to contacts from landowners who have confirmed livestock kills. “I get a phone call from a landowner, they say, what do I do? I tell them, you have a few forms to fill out. You have an application front page, you have a match, and you have a W-9 so the state can send you a check,” Uriarte says. Federal funds require a match, based on the hours of time and expenses that ranchers log in working to confirm wolf kills with the aid of USDA APHIS Wildlife Services trappers in the field.

    Non-lethal wolf control efforts

    The Wood River Wolf Project works with several sheep ranchers in the Blaine County area to reduce wolf predation with a variety of non-lethal techniques, and Pahsimeroi cattle rancher Glen Elzinga also uses non-lethal management.

    These ranchers like wolves and prefer to try to co-exist them, using various non-lethal tools to protect their livestock.

    The Elzinga family uses range riders 24/7 during the summer months to protect their cattle from wolves and other predators. The riders sleep with the cattle and herd them up at night as a safety precaution. (Courtesy Alderspring Ranches)

    For example, Elzinga was losing $25,000 to $30,000 to wolves and other issues while his cattle were grazing on public lands during the summer months. He and his wife decided to pay their daughters and others to stay with the cattle 24/7 while they’re out on public range for 3-plus months. The range riders herd up the cattle every night, and put them in a solar-fence enclosure to protect them from predators.

    “Since we started this new paradigm, we haven’t lost anything ever to wolves, larkspur, lightning or whatever, and it’s because if we’re going to be with them all the time, we looked at all those things in the eye, and we’re not going to have this death loss anymore,” Elzinga says.

    The Wood River Wolf Project herds up sheep flocks every night, surrounds the animals with fladry, and uses a variety of noise-makers, strobe lights and other accessories to ward off wolves at night.

    “You want to make sure you have a working knowledge of these tools, when to use them, and then rotate them so the wolves don’t become habituated and lose their fear of any particular tool,” says Suzanne Stone, with the Defenders of Wildlife.

    It takes extra time, labor and materials to use non-lethal control methods …  i.e., more money than a typical family ranch operation has in their budget.

    “The ranch family spends all summer irrigating, cutting and putting up hay to feed the animals all winter, and they don’t have room in their budget to hire 2-3 herders to ride all day and all night herding the cattle, moving fences, building corrals,” says Carey rancher John Peavey.

    Nearly all Idaho sheep ranchers are now buying extra guard dogs to protect sheep from coyotes and wolves, but sometimes, wolves kill guard dogs. Three guard dogs were confirmed kills in the last year.

    Some cattle ranchers also use extra range riders to try to protect their livestock. The non-lethal methods are experimental ways to ward off predators and wolves. In general, more human presence around livestock helps keep the wolves at bay.

    How does IDFG monitor wolf populations?

    Wolf population objectives were set in the 2002 Idaho Wolf Management Plan, written by IDFG, and approved by the Idaho Legislature. The plan calls for exceeding a population of at least 150 wolves to ensure that they don’t fall back on the Endangered Species list. Again, Idaho has a minimum estimated population of 800-1,000 wolves at the present time, according to Idaho Fish and Game.

    IDFG is moving to a photo grid system for tracking wolf populations in Idaho. It confirms wolf activities through the use of remote cameras in each square cell on the map.

    To save money, Idaho Fish and Game has been transitioning to a system of estimating wolf populations via remote cameras in documented wolf territories. Previously, they used radio collars to track wolf populations to provide more detailed estimates.

    “What we’re looking at is how much area is occupied by wolves, and how that changes over time. So what we have is a grid system set up across the state. Each grid is roughly the size of a wolf territory … ”

    About 220 remote cameras gather photo data through the summer months, and then IDFG staff analyzes the photo data, plus DNA data collected from wolf harvest, to determine wolf populations.

    “This stuff is all put together, run through the models and it gives us a real good handle on the area occupied by wolves in the state of Idaho,” says Jim Hayden, IDFG lead wolf biologist.

    Wolves are killing pet goats, border collies and llamas near communities

    It’s scary to some rural residents that wolves are killing animals so close to their homes and communities.

    Vila and Jack Thomason lost 2 pet goats to wolves in October 2018. One was confirmed, “Sweet Pea.” The Thomason Ranch is right next to U.S. Highway 95, north of Cambridge.

    Sweet Pea was killed in the dark of night, sleeping with the sheep.

    “She was out with the sheep, like always, and the wolves got her that night, ate her up through the collar. Had the trapper come in, and he confirmed the kill,” Vila Thomason says.

    “It feels horrible. Feels really horrible., especially because these wolves are pushed on us, we didn’t ask for them.”

    Two llamas were killed at Marilyn Johnson’s ranch near Kamiah. She could hear the animals being killed by the barn in the middle of the night.

    “It made me shiver,” Johnson said. “Wolves are not afraid. They’re bad and they’re getting worse.”

    Robin Brown is a professional dog-trainer, owner of Broken Circle Border Collies in Indian Valley. She raises border collies to sell to ranchers for herding sheep and cattle.

    Sweet Pea, a pet goat on the Thomason Ranch near Council, was killed by wolves last year while sleeping in a group of sheep in a private pasture.

    On a beautiful summer day, Brown was out riding horseback with her border collies in the national forest. Wolves are very territorial, and Great Pyrenees guard dogs, border collies and hounds are particularly vulnerable in the forest. One day, one of her border collies disappeared right under her nose.

    “She was the last maternal gene line to the best dogs I ever had,” Brown says. “I went up there on my horse, for a whole week trying to find that dog. On the 5th or 6th day, I was alone, I come into an open meadow, I see a lot of grass laid down, and I found my dog. I got off my horse, I saw a lot of wolf hair, a lot of wolf sign, I could see where they urinated on the dog, they licked her, she had no pads on her feet, her pads were down to meat.”

    Broken Circle Reece was killed by wolves in the forest while Robin Brown was training her border collies to work with cattle. It took her a week to find the dead dog.

    “I put her on my horse, and got just the most horrible feeling, carrying her on my horse back to the trailer. It was horrible.”

    Brown called the local trapper from USDA Wildlife Services to see if he could confirm the kill. He skinned the dog and confirmed it was a wolf.

    “He showed me the dog, what it looked like to me, someone skinned my dog, chopped it all up, crushed it into parts and pieces, crushed bones, muscle, tissue and meat, and then sewed the dog up in its normal body,” she says. “In that way, I was glad that I saw what the wolves could do. They killed my dog by crushing her hips, her back legs, her ribs, the crushing was so severe, that it tore up the meat inside her without puncturing the skin. At all.”

    Brown was emotional, but mostly, she was mad.

    “We had to change our whole life because of the wolves,” she says. “To me, they’re that scary creature in the nursery rhymes, they’re a horrible creature. People have to know the ugly stories about them, the ugly truth about them. They have done so much damage.”

    Wolf numbers have decreased in the Central Idaho Wilderness and increased in the Ag-Wildland interface where the majority of the state’s elk are now living.

    Wolves are living closer to the Ag-Wildland Interface than before

    One of the challenges with managing wolves in Idaho today is that it’s a dynamic situation – wolf populations follow their main food source – primarily elk and deer populations, and the locations can shift over time.

    After wolves were reintroduced in the Central Idaho Wilderness areas, wolves consumed large quantities of elk during the first 10-15 years of living in Idaho. Once that food source was diminished, wolf numbers increased in the forests and ranching country outside of the wilderness, where they are finding plenty of elk and – sometimes livestock — to eat.

    Elk populations objectives map also give an indication of where elk populations are healthy and meeting objectives. (Courtesy IDFG)

    “It does look like we drove the elk out of the backcountry, but that’s not the case,” says Virgil Moore. “Those populations that are back there, haven’t expanded, whereas the front country elk populations have expanded.”

    IDFG elk population maps help explain the dynamic. The areas shown in yellow indicate areas in Central Idaho where bull and cow elk population objectives are not being met.

    The reduction of elk numbers in the Frank Church Wilderness and in the Lochsa River country has had a tough impact on hunting outfitters. Those areas used to be one of the most prized areas to hunt elk in North America.

    “At one time, prior to reintroduction, outfitters were taking 4,900 clients, hunting clients, and by 2009, that had reduced to about 1,200,” says Grant Simonds, government liaison for the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association. “So for the small Idaho hunting businesses connected to the rural economy … this has been a detrimental factor.”

    “They have affected some areas more severely than others across Idaho, the Frank Church and the Lolo zone, people are really feeling a difference,” says Brian Brooks with IWF. “In some areas, we’re seeing record numbers of elk being harvested. I hunt near the Stanley area, I can tell you it’s popular for a reason, there are elk everywhere, and there are elk in the presence of wolves.”

    Targeting wolves with incentives for hunters and trappers

    In North Idaho, the Foundation for Wildlife Management based in Sandpoint has been trying to reduce wolf numbers to improve elk and moose hunting. The group is concerned that existing levels of hunting and trapping are not working well enough to keep wolf numbers down.

    “We have a problem. Our elk and moose are suffering horribly, we need to do something now, to make a difference,” says Justin Webb, executive director of the Foundation for Wildlife Managment. “Fact is, there’s more wolves born each year than have been harvested in any given season.”

    Active wolf hunters and trappers also say that wolves are getting smarter every year, and they are getting harder and harder to hunt and trap.

    “They are very, very intelligent, and extraordinarily wary, and if you don’t do everything right, you can just forget it. You’re not going to catch them.”

    Wolf pelts also don’t offer much incentive for trappers because they often have flaws and aren’t worth much money, Williams says.

    Idaho sells about 30,000 wolf tags a year, but a fraction of the hunters are successful in harvesting wolves … the animals are very smart and hard to hunt and trap.

    “For a really top-quality pelt, you could get $500,” Williams says. “But some are absolutely worthless – the ones that have lost a lot of hair because of mange and lice. The majority of the wolves we catch now have problems like that.”

    Given the challenge, the Foundation for Wildlife Management offers a cash-reimbursement program to incentivize hunters and trappers to pursue wolves.

    The Foundation offers cash reimbursements ranging from $250 to $1,000 for a successful harvest of wolves via hunting or trapping during regulated seasons. They are targeting specific hunting units where elk numbers are below management objective. The Idaho Fish and Game Commission contributed more than $23,000 in grant funding last year.

    Justin Webb, right, hopes to harvest a bull elk with his son in N. Idaho.

    “The driving factor for me is I have a 16 year old son, who’s starting to show interest in hunting, and he deserves to hear an elk bugle the way I have in my life.”

    Webb, the Executive Director for the Foundation for WIldlife Managment, says he would like to work together with livestock groups to perhaps target Fish and Game units where wolf predation is high, such as in eight counties with chronic wolf predation. Existing hunting and trapping efforts are not having success in those areas.

    The Idaho Legislature augments funding for USDA Wildlife Services by $400,000 a year to help the agency’s professional trappers work on instances of direct wolf predation on private and public lands. Those funds come through Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board.

    Ranchers and Idaho sportsmen contribute $110,000 each to the fund each year, and the Legislature makes up the balance with general funds.

    “I think it was a very beautiful thing that came together,” Moore says of the Wolf Depredation Control Board. “And I know Governor Otter felt the same. This was the proper use of government to find that sharing of responsibility with the livestock industry, sportsmen and general fund that held some of the responsibility for wildlife that’s now Idaho’s responsibility.”

    Idaho Fish and Game hopes to prevent wolves from colonizing south of I-84, Moore says. The agency may use more liberalized hunting and trapping seasons in response to the record number of wolf kills.

    “We don’t know everything yet,” Moore says. “This is a grand experiment. If you look at what the original ’95 plan called for, those best scientists on the ground, projected that we would have only a couple of hundred wolves, and they would only exist in Yellowstone and the Frank and backcountry wilderness areas. (skip to) Since that time, everything we had on paper in ’95 kind of went out the window, and we’ve been chasing this ever since.”

    Idaho Fish and Game needs to get more aggressive with control efforts, says former Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner Tony McDermott.

    “We just have too many wolves,” McDermott says. “Sportsmen, cattlemen, livestock producers, farmers, they’re all on the same page that Idaho needs to reduce its wolf population. We’re kind of at a critical stage.”

    Linnea Elzinga rides and sleeps with her family’s cattle all summer long to protect them from wolves.

    “I think they’re beautiful animals,” Elzinga says. “I think we can co-exist with them. A lot of people hate them because the damage they do to cattle, and things like that, but I think there’s a way to co-exist with them.”

    Robin Brown moved the base of her operations for Broken Circle Border Collies away from the mountains next to U.S. 95 near Council to avoid wolves. And then her neighbors, the Thomasons lost their pet goats nearby.

    “I don’t want them anywhere around me,” Brown says. “They’ve changed my business. They’ve changed my life. They’re all over the place. Something has to be done.”

    The Rangeland Commission’s investigation into wolves in Idaho raised many questions …. We’d like to ask Idahoans, What questions do you have?
    How is your family affected by wolves? If you were in charge, what would you do to improve wolf management? 

    Please respond in the comment field for this story, Wolves Part 5, Wolf Management in Idaho, on YouTube.

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