Ensuring ungulate populations recover in areas negatively impacted by wolves



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  • 21 May 2019 11:59 AM | Justin Webb (Administrator)

    Wolves Part 2 

    Follow along 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!

     Click link below to view part 2:

    Wolf Reintroduction in Idaho (1995-2011)

    Following the reintroduction of 15 wolves into the Central Idaho wilderness in 1995, an additional 20 wolves were transplanted into Idaho from Canada. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wanted to make sure they brought enough adult wolves into Central Idaho so they could pair up, set up territories and produce young on their own, restoring wolves to the Central Idaho ecosystem.

    The experiment worked extremely well. The Central Idaho wolf population took off rapidly, just as transplanted wolves did in Yellowstone National Park. The Central Idaho wolf population grew quickly to the official recovery goal for Idaho – 10 breeding pairs or roughly 100+ wolves – in just three years.

    Rocky Mountain gray wolves found rich habitat in Idaho with plenty of food, and their populations took off rapidly following reintroduction in 1995.

    There was a record-high elk population in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness at the time – an estimated 6,000 animals – so the wolves had plenty of eat.

    “I didn’t expect them to take off quite like they did,” said Gary Power, who was the Salmon region supervisor of Idaho Department of Fish and Game at the time. “I figured they’d expand and do quite nicely because they had a food source, and they’d do well.”

    Wolf advocates were overjoyed with having wolves setting up residence in Central Idaho. They went camping in “the Frank,” hoping to hear wolves howl in the woods at night.

    Matt Miller and his wife went camping in Bear Valley, hoping they would hear wolves. Miller, lead science writer for The Nature Conservancy, has traveled to Africa and Brazil to see large predators.

    “There were chinook salmon literally splashing in a stream by a campground, there were elk bugling up in the hills, and I thought what could make this better?” Miller says. “We climbed into our sleeping bags that night, and all of a sudden, my wife said, is that a siren? We had grown up around coyotes, it’s not a coyote, it’s wolves! For the next 45 minutes, there was this deep howling, echoing across the canyon, for me just being out there with those large predators, it makes the wild a bit more wild.”

    The original wolf recovery zones created by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

    But it wouldn’t take long for wolves to prey on livestock. Just 9 days after the first batch of wolves were transplanted into Central Idaho in January 1995, Wolf B13 ventured 60 air miles to Salmon rancher Gene Hussey’s cattle pasture and was found dead from a gunshot wound, lying next to a dead calf that B13 had presumably killed.

    The incident was an emotional flashpoint and made instant headlines in the regional and national media. Someone had shot and killed the wolf while it was feeding on the calf. Hussey notified the county sheriff and Wildlife Services immediately.  A necropsy was performed in the field by a Wildlife Services agent.

    “I find a dead calf, laying by wolf B-13,” says Layne Bangerter, who worked for USDA Wildlife Services at the time. “Perfect bullet hole in the chest of the wolf. Dead calf. I spent into the night, skinning the calf, everybody watching me making my determination. The calf had walked, it had been alive, and it was my determination that the wolf killed the calf.”

    Ranchers were allowed to shoot a wolf caught in the midst of preying on their livestock, but a mysterious passer-by could have faced 1 year in prison and a $100,000 fine since the wolf was protected under the Endangered Species Act.

    The wolf kill confirmed what ranchers had feared all along – that wolves would not necessarily stay inside the Frank Church or Selway-Bitterroot wilderness boundaries, and they would kill livestock on private ranchlands outside of the wilderness. This was the first of many incidents of wolves killing livestock to come.

    Wolf B-13 strayed from the wilderness within days of its release, killing a calf at Gene Hussey’s Ranch on Iron Creek. B-13 was shot and killed next to the dead calf.

    “The citizens of Salmon, Challis, were on edge,” Bangerter says. “The classic clash between the federal government and the state and local government was happening right in the wild west of Idaho.”

    When it came to managing wolves in Idaho, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had to contract with the Nez Perce Tribe to do the field work and monitoring. The Idaho Legislature prohibited the Idaho Department of Fish and Game from assisting with wolf reintroduction in any way.

    Knowing the political realities, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had bypassed the state of Idaho with the wolf-reintroduction program by releasing the animals on national forest lands controlled by the federal government. They didn’t need state permission, but if they had asked for it, they wouldn’t have gotten it. Idaho legislators didn’t take kindly to being forced to do anything by the federal government – especially something so controversial.

    Former State Senator Laird Noh, chairman of the Senate Resources and Environment Committee, and a Kimberly sheep rancher, explains.

    “They were obviously very opposed to it,” Noh says. “It just seemed somewhat insane, it didn’t make sense that you would bring a wolf back into the environment when you had worked so long for so many years over so many generations to eliminate that pain and suffering to your livestock.

    State Senator Laird Noh, R-Kimberly

    “So suddenly, here you’re in a situation, where you’re confronted with wolves, who are viewed as something that rips and tears and kills your sheep and livestock, and you’re prevented from protecting them as you would like to do.”

    The gulf between urban environmentalists who wanted wolves in Idaho vs. rural ranchers, some of them state legislators, who opposed wolves, was as wide as the Grand Canyon. Big game hunters had mixed opinions. Some feared that wolves would decimate elk and bighorn sheep herds.

    “It was the most controversial wildlife issue I was ever involved in,” Power says. “The emotions on both sides of the spectrum, from those who said they’re going to eat all the children, to those who said there’s never been a problem, and there’s not going to be any problems. It was just extremely tense.”

    “You try to draw a good hand in life, but as someone once said very wisely, you’re much better off if you learn how to play a bad hand well,” Noh says. “That’s what Idaho had to do with the reintroduction of wolves under the Endangered Species Act. It was a bad hand. We had to use the law and do the best we could, which still wasn’t very good.”

    USDA Wildlife Services, meanwhile, responded to wolf depredation incidents in Idaho, sometimes trapping and relocating wolves or taking lethal action to prevent further livestock kills. Wolf numbers continued to climb statewide.

    The final environmental impact statement on wolf reintroduction predicted that wolves would kill about 10 cattle and 57 sheep per year when the population goal was reached of 10 breeding pairs in Idaho.

    Idaho Wolf Pack map, 2001

    Four years after wolf-reintroduction there were an estimated 140 wolves living in Idaho, 12 confirmed packs, with a minimum of 65 pups. Each pack had an average home range of 364 square miles or 233,000 acres of land.

    That same year, in 1999, wolves killed 19 cattle and 64 sheep, affecting 14 different ranchers. Those were only the confirmed kills.

    In hopes of reducing the economic blow to ranchers, Defenders of Wildlife, a national environmental group that pushed for wolf-reintroduction, set up a compensation fund to pay ranchers for the market value of livestock in the case of confirmed wolf kills.

    By this time, it became clear to Senator Noh that state of Idaho needed to develop a wolf management plan that would be acceptable to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service so wolves could be de-listed from the Endangered Species Act and the state could manage wolves on its own. Idaho’s wolf population had already surpassed the benchmark for de-listing 3 years in a row.

    The Idaho Legislature created a Wolf Oversight Committee that held multiple hearings around the state to develop a wolf management plan.

    Meanwhile, wolf populations continued to thrive in Central Idaho. By the end of 2003, there were a minimum of 38 wolf packs producing litters in Central Idaho and 375+ wolves – more than three times as many breeding pairs as needed to de-list wolves in Idaho, according to the Nez Perce Tribe wolf monitoring report.

    In the 2003 report, officials said the first benchmark for delisting wolves from the Endangered Species Act had been met. “Thirty breeding pairs across three restoration areas had been achieved by the end of 2002. The Fish and Wildlife Service anticipates the delisting process may begin in 2004.”

    In 2002, the Idaho Legislature adopted a Wolf Management Plan for Idaho. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service accepted the plan. The Legislature was ready for Idaho Fish and Game to take over wolf management in Idaho.

    Idaho Wolf Pack map, 2007. Each purple circle indicates an active wolf pack. They were spreading far beyond the recovery zone in Central Idaho Wilderness at this point.

    For wolves to be delisted from the Endangered Species Act one more benchmark had to be achieved – Montana and Wyoming also had to create a wolf management plan that was acceptable to the Fish and Wildlife Service. The state of Wyoming was slow in getting that done.

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tried multiple times to give Montana and Idaho a larger role in managing wolves under Section 10 (J) of the Endangered Species Act. But a number of national environmental groups sued the Interior Department to prevent the Service from doing so.

    The judge ruled that he could not de-list just a portion of the recovering Rocky Mountain wolf population, without an acceptable management plan from the state of Wyoming.

    By 2006, there were at least 673 wolves in Idaho and 76 wolf packs, according to an annual monitoring report by Idaho Fish and Game and the Nez Perce Tribe.

    The same year, wolves killed 40 cattle, 237 sheep and four dogs in 117 different investigations on wolf-depredation.

    The Legislature was getting an earful about wolves preying on livestock, and Idaho Fish and Game was hearing about wolves killing too many elk.

    Former Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, who was Idaho’s 1st District Congressman at the time, started to hold an annual trail ride to talk about land-management issues.

    “We started the congressional rides in my first year as a congressman, and the idea was I wanted to bring some of those eastern congressmen, bring them in the Idaho, put them in the saddle, and sit around the campfire at night, and talk about these issues,” Otter said. “And in the first 4-5 years, it was wolves, wolves, wolves, wolves, and the continued growth in population.”

    By this time, Layne Banger was working for Senator Mike Crapo as his top natural resources aide.

    Gov. Otter led trail rides with government agency officials from Idaho and Washington D.C. starting in the mid-1990s to educate them about natural resources issues. “All we heard about was wolves, wolves, wolves,” Otter says.

    “The frustration in Congress was, we’ve achieved recovery in Idaho, Yellowstone and Wyoming, and Montana, times 10, probably times 20, why isn’t the ESA working? Why can we not delist the wolves?”

    In January 2007, the Fish and Wildlife Service published a rule in the Federal Register that de-listed wolves from the Endangered Species Act in Idaho and Montana. Both states had met and exceeded all the legal requirements.

    In response, a coalition of 13 environmental and animal rights groups sued the Secretary of Interior, contending that it wasn’t appropriate to de-list wolves in only Idaho and Montana. They argued that Wyoming’s wolf management plan was too hostile toward wolves, and it would not be scientifically appropriate to de-list just a portion of the Rocky Mountain wolf population, among other things.

    29,000+ wolf tags were sold in the first wolf hunting season in Idaho in 2009. (Courtesy Mystic Saddle Ranch)

    Idaho Fish and Game held its first wolf hunting season in 2009. More than 29,000 wolf tags were sold, leading to a harvest of about 135 wolves. The wolf hunting season stopped the steady increase in wolf populations for the first time since wolf-reintroduction began. But wolves were much harder to hunt than anyone realized.

    “The first year of the season, people couldn’t find wolves,” Power said. “And originally, they thought they were behind every bush in the state. So pretty soon, they got first-hand experience … they do travel a lot, they’re hard to find, and maybe there aren’t quite as many as what we thought there were.”

    By the end of 2009, there were at least 835 wolves living in Idaho, including 94 wolf packs. Confirmed or probable livestock depredation incidents that year included 98 cattle, 442 sheep, and 15 dogs.

    In 2010, a federal judge from Montana blocked de-listing and halted state management. No hunting or trapping would be allowed in 2010. But finally, in 2011, Congressman Mike Simpson of Idaho and Senator Jon Tester of Montana attached a rider to an appropriations bill, de-listing wolves from the Endangered Species Act in Montana and Idaho. The congressional maneuver was upheld in federal court.

    Hunting and trapping seasons resumed in the fall of 2011 in Idaho. By then, the state’s wolf population was well over 850 animals – 101 packs in Idaho and 24 packs on the state border with Montana, Wyoming and the state of Washington.

    Idaho wolf pack map, 2011

    With state management in place now, Idaho Fish and Game could manage wolves as a big game animal with hunting and trapping seasons on an ongoing basis.

    “Our goals are to manage wolves like bears and lions and deer and elk as part of the native wildlife resource,” says Jim Hayden, wolf and predator biologist for IDFG. “They’re here. They’re here to stay. Let’s manage them as a species in their own right. We’ve seen wolf populations do very well, expand, they’re very adaptable animal, they seem to be relatively stable right now.”

    It had taken 16 years to get wolves removed from the Endangered Species List. Wolf advocates had succeeded in restoring wolves to Central Idaho in numbers far greater than the 10 breeding pairs that the reintroduction plan envisioned.

    To ranchers who were concerned about the increasing incidence of wolf depredation on livestock, the reintroduction effort had strayed far off-course.

    “We would have met the criteria for delisting in 1999,” says Casey Anderson, manager of the OX Ranch northwest of Council, Idaho. “Because of the pressure from the environmentalists and other groups, and the lawsuits, they just moved the goal posts down the field.”

    Suzanne Stone with the Defenders of Wildlife says she was not surprised that wolf populations took off in Idaho.

    “It’s not that surprising that they took hold, the way they did because they had such healthy habitat to support them,” says Stone. “It just made a perfect place to bring them back.”

    Greater Northwest wolf pack map, 2012 … by this time, wolves were spreading into Washington and Oregon from Idaho …

    With wolves delisted from the Endangered Species Act and the federal government taking over the compensation fund for livestock killed by wolves, Defenders ended its compensation fund in 2010 after paying out $1.4 million for confirmed kills.

    By 2012, with wolves occupying most of Idaho north of I-84, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and Western Montana, there were no longer any boundaries guiding wolf recovery in Idaho or the Northwest.

    “That was the camel’s nose,” Otter says. “There was no way they, Babbitt, could possibly have believed that they would release wolves in a park in the Rocky Mountain West, and that’s where they’re going to stay.”

    “They’re going to go out and establish new territories and they knew that. What were the unintended consequences? The unintended consequences were the fact that after the introduction, even with the denials, the populations of wolves exploded, the federal government had control of them, and they weren’t going to turn it over to the states.”

    Next: Part 3 Meet Jay and Chyenne Smith: Raising livestock in Idaho 

  • 26 Apr 2019 12:02 PM | Justin Webb (Administrator)

    Huge Kudos to Steve Stuebner for his hard work, and for sharing this project with us! Idaho Rangeland Resources Commission has launched Part-1 of a very detailed informational 5 part series on wolves in Idaho! Click the link below to watch a quick 5 minute intro to this 5 part video series. Scroll down to read more details and/ click the Full Video Link below to watch the full video. Stay tuned for the next in this 5 part series!


    There is much of the general public who's only education about wolves, comes from those whom believe wolf numbers should be left un-checked, and allowed to expand indefinitely, despite their negative impacts on ungulate populations, the ranching community, and our hunting heritage....Please help us share the wolf story from the point of view from those forced to live with wolves, and those charged with trying to manage their numbers.

    ~Justin Webb~

    Wolves Part 1 Early History of Wolves in Idaho

    Central Idaho Cattle

    Steve Stuebner Central Idaho

    Wolves are a mysterious, highly intelligent creature. Living at the top of the food chain, they are effective predators, hunting in packs as a family unit.

    Native American tribes had great respect for wolves. They had strong spiritual connections to them. But over the span of history, it’s rare that wolves have been able to co-exist with European man. Wolves evoked fear in the Grimm’s fairytale classic Little Red Riding Hood, dating to the 10th Century. Wolves were exterminated from Northern Europe by the Middle Ages. To many, they were the symbol of the devil.

    European immigrants brought those viewpoints with them when they settled America. As civilization grew, wolves were pushed into the western frontier, the Rocky Mountains. Starting in the 1840s through 1880, about 400,000 settlers came West on the Oregon Trail, with a dream of finding greener pastures in Oregon and the West.

    Image from the fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood”

    Ranching and farming in Idaho and the West got started via the Homestead Act of 1862, which encouraged pioneers to stake their own piece of land, up to 160 acres, for no charge. They were required to farm the land, improve it, and stay for five years. Over the next 70 years, the federal government granted 1.6 million homesteads covering 270 million acres of land.

    This is how much of the West was settled. Ranchers homesteaded on creek-bottoms where they could raise hay and livestock, and they ran cattle and sheep in the mountains surrounding the ranches on what was then public domain for no cost.

    During this time of westward expansion and development, wolves and other feared predators were trapped, shot and poisoned. The priority was to civilize the West, and predators were seen as the enemy.

    “My grandmother moved to Peavey, Idaho in 1906,” says John Peavey of the Flat Top Ranch in Carey. “She raised 7 kids. “Milk supply was really important. And she had a milk cow. Something that would harm that milk cow wasn’t welcome at all because it was really important to growing family, growing kids, there was no store down at the corner to go buy a half-gallon of milk; it was go out there and get it before the calf did.

    Protecting chickens and the milk cows was paramount in the frontier days.

    “So the chickens and the milk cow and maybe a few beef cattle and a horse or two were really really important, and wolves were a threat to all of that. It was survival!”

    At a federal level, the U.S. Biological Survey took on the responsibility of eliminating wolves and other predators in the West in the 1930s. The Animal Damage Control Act gave the Secretary of Agriculture broad authority to expand the control of predators and animals with disease. By the early 1930s, wolves were believed to be extirpated from Idaho and the Northern Rockies.

    Early ranching in the West on the public domain. (photo courtesy Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village)

    “It was a lot better to have the government involved than a bunch of ranchers with a lot of exotic poisons and things,” Peavey says. “It enabled the government to deal with it as efficient as they possible can with people who are trained to handle and do these things and know what the rules are.

    “If you’re setting traps for animals, it’s important to know that a lot of people worry about the suffering and those traps need to be checked often. And with the government doing it, it will be done that way.”

    Government trapper (courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

    During the Great Depression, the Taylor Grazing Act brought much-needed order to livestock grazing in the public domain, known today as BLM lands. “The Taylor Grazing Act put a referee in the very contentious neighbor against neighbor situation,” Peavey says. “It was whoever raced to the watering hole first. It was a bad situation that was needed to cut the numbers down some, and bring some organization to it. It was a law that came just in time to stabilize the grazing industry.”

    Under the Taylor Grazing Act, ranchers could apply for permits to graze livestock on public lands for a small fee. The permits were subject to renewal every 10 years. Ranchers with homesteads or base property received preference for grazing permits.

    “They got people to agree to where they had a right to graze, and where their neighbor had a right to graze,” Peavey says. “The BLM tried to figure out how many animals should graze a certain area, and keep neighbor vs. neighbor situations to a minimum.”

    During the mid-1930s, known as the Dust Bowl era, a new emphasis was placed on soil and water conservation, halting erosion on farmlands but also on rangelands.

    Following World War II, the United States embarked on an unprecedented economic boom. In the West, logging, mining and livestock grazing expanded during a time of rapid industrialization. No one saw any limits to development.

    In 1970, Earth Day caused a big sea-change in America in terms of environmental awareness. Rivers and lakes were so polluted that some caught on fire. Air pollution was a severe problem in industrial areas. Congress passed the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act in the 1970s. Rocky Mountain gray wolves were listed as an endangered species in 1974.

    At the same time, the membership of environmental organizations expanded and new groups formed, giving environmentalists more clout in Congress and in the courts.

    In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service started to hold public meetings about the possibility of reintroducing wolves in Yellowstone National Park and in Central Idaho. This was one of the most controversial and emotional issues to surface in modern history. Urban environmentalists supported wolf-reintroduction to bring a top predator back to the North Rockies ecosystem. Many ranchers and big game hunters opposed it, fearing what would happen to big game herds and livestock.

    “Very contentious because the wolf is a symbol in so many ways,” says John Freemuth, a professor of public policy at Boise State University. “It’s a symbol to some people, a West where they thought they’d taken care of the wolf, gotten rid of it. Then, we realize through ecology and other things that the wolf belonged here, in terms of what was here in the ecosystem.”

    “Wolves play a unique role in the ecosystem,” adds Suzanne Stone with the Defenders of Wildlife. “They help cull disease and overproduction from elk and deer, so elk and deer stay more healthier as a whole. Wolves have a huge role to play that has a beneficial ripple affect across the ecosystem.”

    Ultimately, the process was political. Approximately 165,000 public comments were received nationwide. A majority favored wolf reintroduction, as did President Bill Clinton’s Interior Secretary, Bruce Babbitt.

    “Let’s face it, Bruce Babbitt fits the stereotypical role, western governor becomes Secretary of interior like Cecil Andrus, they understand the West and all the values,” Freemuth says. “Clinton is from Arkansas, what does he know, right? Babbitt really wanted to do things during that era,” Freemuth says. “A Republican president would not have done that (reintroduced wolves). They would have heard from Republican governors in the West saying, you don’t want to do this.”

    Under the reintroduction program, the Fish and Wildlife Service classified wolves as an “experimental non-essential population.” That meant the states and the Fish and Wildlife Service had more latitude in killing or controlling wolves if they preyed on livestock or caused too much impact on big game populations. The Fish and Wildlilfe Service set a recovery goal of 10 breeding pairs in Montana, Central Idaho and Wyoming, or 30 total.

    In 1995, 31 wolves were released into Yellowstone National Park, and 35 were released along the Salmon River at Corn Creek on the eastern edge of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness in Central Idaho. The experiment had begun.

    Next: Wolves Part 2 – Wolf Reintroduction in Idaho 1995-2011

  • 11 Mar 2015 5:33 AM | Anonymous

    We are excited to announce that at today's Idaho Fish and Game Commission Meeting, a motion was made and passed unanimously to implement the collaboratively proposed Wolf season changes as the recommendation was presented to them by the Department.

    As you'll see below, their recommendation was not exactly as we proposed it but we are excited to be successfully working with the department to create better tools for sportsmen to be able to properly manage our expanding wolf populations! Pictured (highlighted in red) below are the changes the way they will appear in the regulations proclamation.

    Special thank you to Rusty Kramer, President of the Idaho Trappers Association for heading up the collaboration process to bring on board representation of more than 85,000 supporters from various organizations who signed on to support our proposal. I've said this before and I'll say it again-- Its imperative that sportsmen and ranchers unite to create one voice so we are able to make the changes we see a need for. Thank you to all the organizations and leads of those organizations for you support!

    Idaho Trappers Association
    Foundation for Wildlife Management 
    Intermountain Fur harvesters
    Upper Snake River Trappers
    Idaho Houndsmen Association
    Eastern Idaho Houndsmen Association
    Idaho Farm Bureau
    Idaho Wool Growers Association
    Idaho Wild Sheep Foundation
    Idaho Wildlife Federation
    North Idaho Whitetails Forever
    Idaho Deer Alliance
    Western Bear Foundation
    Idaho Cattlemen Association

    Idaho State Bowhunters


    I'd also like to thank Jon Rachael, Jim Hayden, Cory Moseby, and all other IDFG Staff who worked diligently along side us to make these changes possible. We are in the planning stages of additional change proposals for this springs bi-annual season setting cycle, and we are excited to be working with these guys in the future.


    To some, these changes may seem small, but there is much to be celebrated from the fact that not only were we able to bring sportsmen together from several different backgrounds and interests, and get them all to agree on one proposal, but were also able to work with the department to create positive change. I hope now that its been accomplished that those who doubt it possible, will see the value in collaboration as we move forward with next years proposals. 




    Justin Webb

    Executive Director F4WM


    On the Web us on Facebook: 

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