Ensuring ungulate populations recover in areas negatively impacted by wolves



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  • 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
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  • 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.

  • 31 May 2019 12:47 PM | Justin Webb (Administrator)

    Multiple reports of abnormally bold wolves this month!

    F4WM has had several reports from the Athol Idaho area between Sandpoint and CeourdAlene, of wolves (one wearing a collar) roaming through back yards and harrassing house pets. Trail cam photos have been captured of them in this rural but developed area. Although we do not believe a person needs to be fearful of wolves, having a healthy respect for all wildlife is important, and keeping close tabs on your pets and livestock is vital in wolf territory! WOLF SEASON IS OPEN YEAR ROUND ON PRIVATE LAND IN THIS REGION - INCLUDING PRIVATELY OWNED TIMBER COMPANY LAND, BUT REMEMBER YOU MUST HAVE A HUNTING LICENSE AND WOLF TAG to legally harvest a wolf. 

    Below is one of many instances in which wolves acting aggressively or curiously have been shot in recent months. Please go prepared with a sidearm if recreating in wolf country. 

    "Stevens County Wolf shot in self defense" (Click to read the story)

    Stay alert when in wolf country!

    F4WM Executive Director

    Justin Webb

  • 29 May 2019 7:21 AM | Justin Webb (Administrator)

    Wolves Part 4 

    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 here to watch the full video!

    Read the report below!

    More than 20 years after wolves were reintroduced in Idaho, Idaho ranchers have been surprised to experience a host of issues related to wolves killing or stressing livestock that no one expected or had heard about before.

    Direct predation of livestock was expected to occur, although not at the levels seen today. As wolf populations increased statewide, the scale of livestock depredation has steadily increased and it’s become a chronic issue in 8 Idaho counties.

    But no one knew, for instance, that range cattle spooked by wolves would attack herding dogs, an essential tool that’s been used for more than 100 years to herd livestock.

    “What now happens is you send your dog into a meadow, after cows have been tormented daily by wolves, the cattle will come at your dog, run at your dog, and try to kill your dog,” says Robin Brown, owner of Broken Circle Border Collies near Council. “They will actually rear up like a stallion, and with their front legs, stomp, stomp, and try to pin that dog down so they can protect their babies from the wolves.”

    Robin Brown raises and trains border collies for herding livestock.

    Robin Brown is a professional dog trainer. Raising quality herding dogs is her profession. She has seen first-hand how wolves can change the dynamic between herding dogs and cattle.

    Ranchers pay good money for trained herding dogs – often more than $5,000 per dog.

    Once cattle have been spooked by wolves repeatedly, ranchers can’t use their dogs to herd cattle, she says.

    “So it becomes near impossible, it doesn’t matter if you have 2 dogs, or 5 dogs or 7 dogs, you’re never going to move that cow again with a dog because she thinks the dog is going to kill her,” she says. “So that is how everything has changed. You have to work a lot more hours, more days to get the cows out of places. The dogs are essential.”

    Range riders for the OX Ranch northwest of Council have experienced the same issue. It’s all related to livestock getting spooked by wolves during wolf attacks, and the stress-related impacts that occur afterwards. The OX Ranch has 20,000 acres of private land, and 130,000 acres of public grazing allotments, where they raise 1,200 cattle. At least three wolf packs have been living in the same areas as the OX cattle, on private and public lands, for 10 years.

    “The trouble is, when you have a pack of wolves in the area, they’re continually putting pressure on those cattle,” says Casey Anderson, manager of the OX Ranch. “So the cattle aren’t using the range the way they did in the past, and to the goals that we have set to be good stewards of the resource. They’re always feel fearful for their lives, that they’re under attack, heads aren’t down eating, they keep getting thinner, they’re not utilizing the area they have to feed in.”

    In 2009, a heavy wolf-predation year, Anderson participated in a Wolf-Cattle Interaction study by Oregon State University and the Agricultural Research Service. They tracked a radio-collared wolf that was running in a pack of 12 animals and 10 radio-collared cattle in a herd of 450. The study documented 783 encounters between that radio-collared wolf and the radio-collared cattle from June to November.

    Map shows interactions between a radio-collared wolf and radio-collared cattle in the Wolf-Cattle Interactions Study on private and public lands near the OX Ranch.

    That year, the OX had 17 confirmed kills of mother cows, yearlings and a bull, plus wolves injured several horses and killed an expensive border collie. By the end of the season, an additional 65 head of cattle were found dead or missing that couldn’t be confirmed.

    All of those impacts cost money.

    “You add all of that up – $80,000. Our cattle were coming off the range at least 100 pounds lighter than normal. Those cows had to be put directly on hay. Our conception rate went down to 80 percent.”

    Lighter calves and lambs coming off the range, reduced conception rates and cattle attacking herding dogs are three key issues that were not expected.
    Other unforeseen wolf impacts include:

    • Stressed cattle bunching up together to protect themselves from wolf attacks, leading to less forage consumption and poor use of the range. An Oregon State University study documented that cattle traumatized by wolves suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD, the same issue affecting American combat veterans. “Wolf attacks create bad memories in the herd and cause a stress response known to result in decreased pregnancy rates, lighter calves and a greater likelihood of getting sick,” said Reinaldo Cooke, an Oregon State animal scientist who did the study.

      Cattle from the OX Ranch bunch up to defend themselves from a wolf attack under a simulated scenario in an Oregon State University study in Burns. The OX cattle acted differently than a control group of cattle that had not been exposed to a wolf attack. Wolf attacks can cause cattle to suffer from PTSD, the same issue affecting American combat veterans.

    • Wolves killing healthy mother cows and sometimes leaving them to rot, sometimes with no outward sign of trauma. Wolves were thought to be likely to kill only the sick and the weak. Last year, wolves killed 45 mother cows.
    • Large numbers of elk dropping into private ranchlands at different times of the year to avoid wolves. Elk apparently see the private pasture lands as “safe” zones. The pastures are a vital part of a rancher’s cattle operation, important feed for cattle to eat in the fall.
    • A higher percentage of mother cows and calves getting killed by wolves on public rangelands than expected.

    All of these impacts increase costs for ranchers, and potentially can cause significant economic harm to Idaho ranch operations, affecting each ranch business and the state’s rural economy. At last count. more than 435 ranchers in Idaho have been affected by wolves killing livestock, and likely, some of the unforeseen issues.

    While urban environmentalists wanted to bring wolves back to Idaho to restore a top predator in the food chain, as time marched on, wolf populations grew, causing the negative impacts of wolf-recovery to fall on rural ranchers and the rural economy. Each item on the list can cut into a ranch business, one by one, undermining revenues and people’s livelihoods.

    “It’s like a death of a thousand cuts. While no one of these things is very significant, it’s the cumulative effect that starts building up for a small business,” says Dick Gardner, a professional economist for Bootstrap Solutions.

    “A rancher is in the forage business. They’re in the business of growing grass, either on their own home place, or public lands … making sure there’s plenty of grass, and it’s converted into pounds for calves or lambs that are sold, and that’s where they get their revenue. The story of wolf introduction to me is the story of ranchers reluctantly accepting the presence of wolves, but then see that presence grow and grow and cause these tiny ripple effects that no one anticipated really.”

    Ranchers are in the business of putting pounds on calves and lambs. If the animals are stressed or attacked by wolves, that can lead to reduced forage consumption and reduced income at shipping time.

    Gardner points out that in rural Idaho counties, ranching is a significant contributor to the local economy. The large tracts of private land embodied in a working ranch provide key tax base for local government and public schools.

    “In many rural communities, they can still be the bedrock of a rural economy,” Gardner says.

    Cattle ranching is big business in Idaho. Cash receipts from the beef cattle industry in Idaho averages about $1.7 billion a year.

    “The cattle industry is the 2nd largest ag industry in the state – it’s about 23% of the ag receipts we get from cattle,” notes Garth Taylor, University of Idaho ag economist. “When you look at some of these small communities, this ranching business is very important to the regional economies. For example in the Magic Valley one out of every other job is related to ag business. The cattle industry has some of the highest multipliers. It’s new dollars coming into your community that create wealth.”

    In the case of confirmed direct wolf predation on livestock, ranchers can apply for reimbursement from the Idaho Governor’s Office of Species Conservation.

    But for most of the unforeseen economic impacts caused by wolves, ranchers have to absorb the costs. Let’s take a look at them one by one.

    Lighter calves or lambs coming off the range

    A Montana study in 2014 detailed the potential cost to ranchers whose livestock were attacked by wolves, leading to lighter calves coming off the range.

    In general, the weight of calves and lambs at shipping time determines the annual pay for ranchers.

    The Montana study found that on ranches where wolf predation had occurred, surviving calves lost an average of 22 pounds. Based on the sales of 250 light calves, at a rate of $1.15 per pound, that adds up to a loss of $6,679, or 7 times the typical reimbursement rate of $900 for a calf killed by a wolf, study authors said.

    A Montana study found that cattle spooked by wolves were an average of 22 pounds under weight, causing a loss of that’s 7 times as much as the typical reimbursement rate for calves killed by wolves.

    “Just the cattle sensing the presence of an apex predator nearby is going to stress those cattle,” Gardner points out. “If they’re stressed, and they’re running and the adrenaline is flowing, they’re not putting on the pounds. And that’s where a rancher makes their money.”

    A study by Oregon State University documented the stress caused by wolves in livestock. By examining the brains of cattle impacted by wolves, the researchers discovered that cattle exhibited the same symptoms that American soldiers experienced in war – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

    “Wolf attacks cause bad memories in the herd and cause a stress response known to result in decreased pregnancy rates, lighter calves and a greater likelihood of getting sick,” said Reinaldo Cook, an animal scientist for Oregon State.

    Sheep ranchers also have experienced reduced weight gains with herds affected by wolves. Sheep rancher Harry Soulen estimates that wolves killed 100 head of his sheep in the summer of 2016. Their lambs came off the range lighter than normal because of wolf predation and stress, he said. In 2018, Soulen lost 65 sheep to wolves, right before shipping time.

    Lighter lambs translate to less profit, Soulen points out. “As many lambs as we’re shipping, well over 3,000 lambs, and we’re probably giving up 5-10 pounds, if you call that 15,000 pounds, that translates to $20,000 that you’ve maybe given up on weight loss. It’s pretty darn significant.”

    Wilder sheep rancher Frank Shirts also is seeing an impact on his sheep herds by wolves. “Every night, they’re on you. If the sheepherder wasn’t there, they’d kill them all,” Shirts says. “Wherever we go, there’s wolves.”

    Wolves are causing an average weight loss of 8 pounds per band of sheep, according to Wilder rancher Frank Shirts. That adds up to a loss of $16,800 per band of sheep – for 1,400 lambs at shipping time.

    Wolves follow the sheep from the Boise Foothills all the way to Idaho City and Atlanta in the Boise National Forest, Shirts says. When the sheep are shipped to market in August, they’re an average of 8 pounds below optimum weight, he says.

    Doing the math, that’s 1,400 lambs per band of sheep, coming off the range 8 pounds light, resulting in a loss of 11,200 pounds. Multiply that by the market value of lambs at $1.50 per pound equals a loss of $16,800 per band of sheep, he said.

    “That’s a lot of money. And if you have 10, 12, 14 bands that’s figures up pretty fast,” Shirts says. “It’s just killing us. And it’s putting the sheep man out of business.”

    Issue: Reduced pregnancy rates in mother cows – “Breeding back”

    The typical pregnancy rates for healthy mother cows is about 95 percent or better. If mother cows don’t get pregnant after being stressed by wolves, that cow is considered to be a financial drain for the next year. But ranchers have at least a two-year investment into that cow to the point where it can give birth to a calf. Some ranchers might hang onto that cow for another year to see if it gets pregnant, and some might just sell it for salvage.

    Riggins rancher Doug Boggan said he’s seen the pregnancy rates for his mother cows drop below 90 percent because of wolves spooking his cattle.

    “Last year was the worst year in terms of getting cows bred,” Boggan says. “Last year, I was 10 percent open. It’s costing an awful lot of money. Normally, when a cow doesn’t breed-back, she’s down the road. Last year, I felt I had no choice, was the first time that I ever kept those cattle, trying to get them bred-back and I think they’re going to breed-back this year.”

    The salvage value of a mother cow would typically run 40 cents per pound or $400-$500, experts say.

    But the bigger loss is the potential value of a mother cow raising calves for about 10 years. If the mother cow that doesn’t get pregnant is 2 years old, the rancher has lost 8 years of productivity, or 8 calves @ market value of $1,000 each equals $8,000 in lost revenue.

    And then to replace the mother cow, it would cost another $1,000 to raise a heifer calf to the point where it could get pregnant and raise a calf.

    Issue: Stressed cattle attacking herding dogs – what’s the impact?

    Leadore rancher Chase Whittaker also has experienced this issue with his cattle.

    The Whittakers also are experiencing the problem of cattle attacking herding dogs after they’ve been spooked by wolves, forcing them to hire extra range riders and leave the dogs in the truck. (Courtesy Chase Whittaker)

    “We run on an association in the forest behind us, and I don’t even take a dog anymore,” Whittaker says. “It’s up and down country, and you’re trying to push cattle up the hill, and the cows are chasing your dogs down the hill. That’s all they know now … it’s a fight for life when they see a canine. They want to kill that dog because they know what the wolves will do.”

    “So now it takes more of us to push cows in the forest. It’s universal in the last several years, the young cows are way worse. I never used to have trouble, but now, the young cows are the worst. It takes more time, and a couple of guys to get the job done. More time spent that you don’t really have.”

    To recap, the economic impact of a trained herding dog amounts to the lost value of the dog, which might be temporary, and the increased cost of labor to herd cattle. Hiring extra range rider cowboys costs $100 to $120 a day for however many days they are needed, while the herding dog, worth $5,000, sits idle.

    Issue: Mother cows killed by wolves – what’s the impact?

    On a cool morning in August, Cascade rancher Phil Davis was busy working cattle, sending a group of heifers to market. These are normally happy times for a rancher, a day when they get paid for a year’s worth of work.

    But then a neighbor called Davis, saying a mother cow was down in a pasture nearby.

    Davis drove across pasture and found the cow dead by a fence. He looked for any external signs of trauma. Was it disease or predation? The only visible sign was some blood on the ground next to the cow’s nose.

    Davis suspects that a wolf or several wolves killed the mother cow. He calls Wildlife Services and requests that their trappers come look at the animal.

    USDA APHIS Wildlife Services trapper Greg Jones performs a necropsy on a dead mother cow on the Davis Ranch in Cascade. There were no outward signs of trauma but after Jones skinned the animal, he found multiple places where wolves had left bite marks and trauma, killing the mother cow in the middle of the night.

    It was surprising to ranchers across Idaho that wolves might kill mother cows when preying on livestock. Last year, wolves killed 45 mother cows, including two on the Davis Ranch.

    “There was quite a bit of surprise when wolves took the first mother cow. … It just didn’t seem likely,” Davis points out.

    It’s been even more surprising that wolves may kill calves or mother cows and leave no outward sign of trauma. Trapper Greg Jones encourages ranchers to call Wildlife Services to double-check.

    “So many cowboys and buckaroos will see a dead cow, not a mark on her. You wouldn’t think an animal could kill something that big without leaving outside marks. You have to skin them out. Every dead animal, if it’s in wolf country, has to be skinned out.”

    The proper protocol is to contact USDA APHIS Wildlife Services and have the professional trappers do a necropsy to determine the cause of death, officials say.

    What if a mother cow killed by a wolf? What’s the cost?

    Average market value of a mother cow = $1,230. Value of abandoned calf will be about 70% of the full market value, a 30% loss or about $300 per lost calf.

    Plus, if the wolf kill occurs in August, that mother cow would be pregnant with next year’s calf, a value of $1,000. So a wolf kill of a mother cow amounts to a triple whammy – the loss of that mother cow, the orphaned calf with diminished value, and the death of the fetus inside the dead mother cow.

    Ranchers across Central and Southern Idaho are seeing more elk hanging out in hay pastures at odd times of the year, apparently seeing those areas as a safe zone from wolves.

    Elk hanging out on private ranchland, seeing it as a safe zone

    “Wolves have changed the habits of wildlife, elk and deer herds, and they had moved out of the hills into the hay meadows, that’s become a huge issue in the state,” says Richard Savage, a Clark County rancher who sits on the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board. “We always love to see wildlife on our property, but it creates an unfortunate situation for everyone involved really because it’s vital to their livelihood to have that feed for the cattle in the winter.”

    Ranchers are seeing this occur in many areas. The economic cost depends on the size of the elk herd, how much forage they eat, and how long they stay in the pasture, eating valuable feed that’s typically needed in the fall for livestock.

    Ranchers/landowners can apply to recoup costs from the loss of pasture feed through Idaho Fish and Game. They must notify Fish and Game within 72 hours of a crop-depredation issue, allow sport hunting on their property, and other items on a checklist.

    Full-grown elk eats 21 pounds of feed per day. The cost to the rancher is $8 per hay bale or loss of pasture feed – how many pounds of feed consumed multiplied by how many days?

    The cost of losing livestock on public range

    Ranchers who run livestock on public lands expect that they’re going to lose some animals to predators. Pre-wolf, they lost about 1-2 percent of their herd to predator issues. Post-wolf, that number has jumped to 4-5 percent of the herd, depending on location and wolf predation.

    Indian Valley rancher Steve Sutton runs cattle on the west side of the Payette National Forest in the summer. He’s been sustaining losses in the 5 percent range for several years in a row during a time when wolves have been killing large numbers of livestock in the local area.

    “We rarely have a confirmed or a probable up here. We simply don’t find them,” Sutton says.

    Indian Valley rancher Steve Sutton is experiencing a 5 percent death loss with calves on the Payette National Forest. It’s hard to ever find the wolf kills, he says, and if they do, black bears often eat the carcass before Wildlife Services can perform a necropsy.

    “The bears find those carcasses within a day or two and just clean them up. If we do find the hide and the bones, there’s not enough there for Wildlife Services to determine the cause of death.”

    A study by Bjorge and Gunson in Canada found that for every confirmed wolf kill found on public range, there could be another 6 wolf kills that are never found.

    Sustaining losses in the 4-5 percent range is too high for a business where profit margins are measured in the 2 percent range, he says.

    “Way too much. But that’s not our big cost. We have a huge cost in cows that come in open, don’t conceive, weight loss on our livestock, and they don’t handle well in the forest, we can’t manage our grazing with wolves in the country,” he says.

    Sutton could be representative of ranchers who run cattle on public lands where chronic wolf predation is an issue.

    “If you are in a place where you’re losing 4-5 percent, all of a sudden that has huge economic impacts on that ranch,” adds Leadore rancher Merrill Beyeler. “We’re going to have to take a really hard look at how we manage predation and how we ensure the economic viability of ranches and how we’re going to make that work.”

    What’s the cost? Let’s do the math. For a herd of 100 cattle, 5% loss equals 5 calves with a marketable value of about $1,000 per calf of $5,000 total.

    Worst case scenario, ranchers worry that the cumulative impact of the unforeseen issues could force a number of family-owned ranchers out of business in Idaho. That would potentially lead to the conversion of those ranches to subdivisions or small ranchettes, loss of open space and crucial fish and wildlife habitat. It also could lead to out-of-state people buying up those ranches and closing off public access.

    Idaho already is seeing new conflicts with out-of-state interests buying up large tracts of private land and posted it No Trespassing.

    Open space provided by ranching on private lands could turn into subdivisions if the operating costs prove to be too high. Leadore rancher Merrill Beyeler believes that the health of our rural communities is crucial to maintaining a high quality of life for all Idaho residents, including urban residents.

    “They want a private enclave and they don’t want to share it with the public at all,” says Carey rancher John Peavey. “Those of us who have been here a long time accept the fact that people like to hunt, go through our land, and hunt on federal lands. If we go under, the next buyer is not going to want to share that.”

    “You could have parking lots and Wal-Marts and all kinds of things out there that people aren’t going to appreciate.”

    Maintaining the health of Idaho’s rural communities and landscapes are something that urban people value and enjoy on their way to playing in the mountains, notes Merrill Beyeler, a Leadore rancher and board member of the Lemhi Regional Land Trust.

    “I do not believe that we can maintain the health of our urban populations in the absence of our rural communities,” Beyeler says. “The land mass that they occupy is some of the most critical habitat for wildlife, fish, and our avian populations. When we look at what’s driving Idaho’s economy, new businesses, new talent, it’s being able to access our great outdoors.

    “All of those urban areas are close to our great outdoors, in just minutes, you can be outdoors and enjoy the diversity that exists. Much of that diversity is dependent on our private lands the health of our rural communities.

    “When you want to be outside, open space and the opportunity to see wildlife, clean water, that’s all part of what makes the experience. Whether you’re out rafting, hunting, fishing or hiking and looking for those places of solitude. Seeing a rancher moving a group of cattle across the landscape, that’s something iconic that connects us to the present and back to the past.”

    Next: Part 5 – Wolf Management in Idaho 2012-present

    • 21 May 2019 12:19 PM | Justin Webb (Administrator)

      Wolves Part 3 

      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 3:

      Jay Smith always wanted to be a cattle rancher, and Chyenne Smith had a lifelong passion for riding horses.

      Over 15 years ago, the two met in Salmon, and together, they realized their dreams on the J Lazy S Angus Ranch.

      “We started from scratch, and we couldn’t have done it without the right partnership,” says Jay Smith.

      “It was an adventure for me. And it meant that I could ride horses a lot, so it was a good fit,” add Chyenne Smith.

      Even though Jay grew up in a family with ties to ranching in Carmen Creek, he wasn’t in line to inherit a ranch. So he studied business and agriculture at the University of Idaho, and went to work for Karl Tyler Chevrolet. Jay put himself through college as an auto mechanic.

      Chyenne, a native of Roundup, Montana, studied art and visual communications at a college in Colorado. But she started her own construction business after finishing school.

      Jay and Chyenne Smith love ranching in Salmon, Idaho, fulfilling a lifelong dream. Jay likes a new challenge every day; Chyenne loves riding horses on the range, plus raising kids, animals, etc.

      By the time the two met, Jay was already starting a small-scale cattle operation in the Carmen Creek Valley. Jay took Chyenne for a long horseback ride to see the Salmon River country from high above the valley. He put her on a good riding horse that an experienced rider like Chyenne could enjoy.

      “I was like, this is great! The horse thing cinched it,” Chyenne says.

      They got married in 2005. But then, they needed to buy a ranch, expand the operation. For most people in their late 20s and early 30s, you can’t go out and buy a ranch. It’s way too expensive – multi-millions.

      But Jay and Chyenne were passionate about their dream. Suddenly, it all fell into place.

      “This guy who owned this place needed it hayed. And that was fate, it was almost like meeting Jay, it just happened,” Chyenne says. “We came down here, Jay did the hay, and he said, “Don’t you guys have a ranch?” We said no, and he just decided we needed to have this ranch. It was a matter of figuring out how we were going to pay for it still, but he really wanted us to have the ranch.”

      The J Lazy S Ranch is located over the hill from Carmen Creek, where Jay Smith grew up, with the Beaverhead Mountains in the background.

      Jay and Chyenne bought the ranch in 2006. They registered their brand as the J Lazy S Angus Ranch. They built-up their cattle operation to the point where they run about 160 head of leased cattle and about 160 head of registered Angus cattle on 475 acres of private and leased land. The Smiths also run cattle on the BLM Badger-Springs Allotment to the east of their ranch, BLM range in the Salmon River bottoms, and on the Diamond-Moose Allotment high above in the Salmon-Challis National Forest to the west.

      Jay and Chyenne love their life on the ranch.

      “First and foremost, it’s always how I wanted to raise my family,” Jay says. “Wide open spaces, and a work ethic, care for your animals, chores. I was raised this way, and I wanted that for my children.”

      Jay and Chyenne have two daughters, Carma, 12, and Claira, 9.

      “I love all of it, I love the whole package,” Chyenne says. “I like being able to be way outside in the wilderness and the trees and the cattle, the riding, I like watching the crops grow, the hay, raising the horses, the puppies, the chickens, the cats, it’s all pretty nice.”

      An overarching theme that permeates the J Lazy S Angus Ranch operation is to always strive to make things better.

      “I love a continual challenge,” Jay says. “In the cattle business, you can always make your cattle better, you can always make your range better, you can always make your crops better, the challenges are never done. You can go as deep into the science and as hard into the work as you want, there’s more than you can handle tomorrow. I enjoy that. I like to have a challenge in front of me every day.”

      The Life on the Range video crew followed the Smith family for a year to learn about animal husbandry, range stewardship, water conservation, and wolves. In the process, we saw how Jay and Chyenne’s ties to their family, friends and community all contribute to the overall success of a family business.

      Let’s tag along with the Smith family on their daily adventure of raising cattle in one of the most beautiful places on earth, Salmon, Idaho.

      Jay prepares to weigh a newborn calf … they keep detailed records on all of their animals throughout the year.


      Come January, it’s time for calving to begin. Mother cows give birth frequently, starting in early January and then tapering through March.

      “Truly this is the beginning, starting a new cycle. A sense of renewness for the ranch,” Jay says.

      Every day, the Smiths keep watch over all of the new calves that are born, with some extra labor for a 24/7 operation over two months. They constantly check the newborn calves to ensure the birth goes well and that they start nursing as soon as they’re able.

      “That first shot of mother’s milk. It gives them the immunity they need. It jump-starts their whole system. It’s critical. We do everything we can to make sure that calf gets that, because they need it,” Jay says.

      Sometimes Jay and Chyenne have to graft a calf to a different mother cow. Jay ties the legs of a mother cow around the post in the barn so she can’t reject the calf, and Chyenne does the rest, helping the orphaned calf bond to its new mother and drink mother’s milk.

      After each calf is born, the Smiths weigh the calf, and give it an inoculation of vitamins. They keep records on each calf’s birth date, weight, its actual genetic information, its sire and pedigree.

      During calving season, keeping watch over the cattle at all times is paramount.

      “Every time you get up to make a check on the cows, that’s running through your mind,” Chyenne says. “What am I going to find that’s not right? How do I make it right when I find it? We still find things that are new … check to see if a calf is limping … if their navels are swollen … watch to see if the calves are perky or if they get up kind of slow … might be an indication that something is up.

      “You have to be with them, and look at them. We’re constantly calling our local vet and talking to them.”

      “We have a tighter relationship with our vet than we do with our family medical doctor,” Jay says. “That guy is on speed dial, and we talk to him a lot.”

      Jay and Chyenne’s daughter, Claira, standing, and friend Sarah watch as the family gets ready to brand cattle on a March morning.


      It’s the last weekend in March, and friends and family come to the J Lazy S Ranch to help brand cattle.

      Friends help rope the calves for branding, and family members pitch in to help handle the calves. The first step is to separate the calves from the mother cows.

      Jay gets a hot fire going to get the branding irons ready.

      Riders take turns roping the calves and helpers wrestle the calves to the ground for branding.

      “Branding is the oldest and still the truest form of identification for a ranch,” Jay explains. “There is a state brand department that watches for theft, but really and honestly, it’s mostly used amongst friends and neighbors. When we come off a co-mingled range where 4-5 of us run on one range, we sort each other’s cattle as we come off, we use those identification marks more for ourselves than any other reason.”

      Jay’s younger brother Chris and niece Katie are quite the team, wrestling the calves to the ground like pros.

      Chyenne and Katie Comstock share a lighter moment before wrestling calves for branding. Katie is a family relative who loves to help out on the ranch whenever possible.

      “This has always been a tradition for me,” says Chris Smith. “It’s been a few years since I’ve done branding. It’s something I’ve done ever since growing up.”

      “I grew up coming down to Salmon from North Idaho, I’ve been doing it when I was just as little as these kids running around here,” adds Katie Comstock. “I was born here, so this has always felt like home to me, especially branding, kind of an iconic Wild West still.”

      Chris is a policeman for the Lewiston Police Department, and Katie works for an organization that supports Christian missionaries. But they love to come help on the ranch whenever possible.

      “Yep! Riding range, riding cattle in the fall, we’re game to do as much as we can,” Katie says.

      The team branded the Smith’s leased commercial cattle with an LT brand, and then their registered Angus cattle with the J Lazy S brand.

      Jay Smith keeps a keen watch over each animal during the process for quality control.

      “One of the things I do is make sure each one of these cows are just right at all times,” Jay says. “I want them handled properly, I want injections done correctly, and that’s all for quality assurance. Make sure we make the best live animals we can, and that they make the best beef product in the end. Handle them correctly, and all things go well.”

      The Smiths fed everyone a big pot roast for lunch for helping them out.

      Friends love to rope calves during branding time. Alfonzo Martinez joins in on the fun at the J Lazy S Angus Ranch. 

      “We have a lot of great friends, neighbors, family, we have a great community,” Chyenne says. “You almost have to be careful to not tell too many people or otherwise, you’d have about 200 people here. Everybody in the community likes to help each other brand.”


      The next step, after branding, is the Smiths separate their cattle into groups in preparation for breeding.

      Five bulls are released into their herd of leased cattle to work on impregnating 100 cows over a 45-day period. Each mother cow comes into heat every 21 days, even while they’re nursing their calves.

      For their registered Angus cattle, they set up a special portable shelter for doing artificial insemination work to breed ideal characteristics into the mother cows.

      Jay Smith spends hours on the computer researching the best traits in registered Angus bulls to mix into his cattle herd, and purchases the semen on the open market.

      “Always trying to create the ideal cow,” Jay says.

      Spring Turnout

      In early May, it’s time to turn out the leased cattle to a spring BLM grazing allotment next to the Salmon River. At daybreak, Jay and Chyenne round up 80 cow-calf pairs and 4 bulls in a private-land pasture in a matter of minutes.

      Then, the Smiths trail the cattle along busy U.S. 93 with a great support crew. Bill Slavin, who leases his cattle to the Smith’s, helps keep the animals going in the right direction on a motorcycle, heading off any stragglers.

      “Spring turnout day,” Jay says. “We gathered the cattle at about 6 this morning, had to do 3 miles of US 93. Friends and neighbors helping out. Went really smooth. We’re off the highway, got about 2 miles to go to our turn-out spot. On to a little strip of BLM for a couple of weeks and then we start heading up the mountain on to the forest in the first week of June.”

      The Smiths drive cattle on U.S. 95 in the early dawn hours from their ranch to BLM range on the Salmon River bottoms.

      The Smith’s girls, Carma and Claira, enjoyed the ride. Claira rides Clover, and Carma rides Badger. I asked Claira about the ride. “It was fun,” she says. “Cars bother you? No, not a bit.”

      “This is a mixed emotion day,” Jay says. “We’re always happy to be done feeding hay for the season, always glad to get the cows on green grass, we love the range, we love what that means in terms of a renewable resource that can’t be utilized in any other way. But, we know we’re going to have predator issues. It’s just a matter of how severe, when and where. We know there’s going to be a price to pay for that. Just a matter of how severe that price will be. We won’t know until fall.”

      The Smiths run their cattle on the Diamond-Moose Allotment in the Salmon-Challis National Forest in the summer. The Diamond-Moose has a history of chronic wolf depredation on livestock. The Smiths always hope for the best, but they know that wolves are in the neighborhood.

      They also have had some issues with people in the forest.

      “We’ve had some animals shot in the past,” Jay says. “Mostly, people just disturb them, running around with ATVs, stuff like that. Wolves are the issue. That’s what costs us in the end.”

      “We had a good year last year, and a pretty tough year the year before. It’s so random. I wish I knew.”

      On to Summer Range

      In early June, it’s time to trail the cattle from the Salmon River to summer range, a beautiful patch of mountains and succulent meadows in the Diamond-Moose Allotment.

      As always, the Smiths recruit friends and family for an arduous, day-long ride to the high country. They start by crossing the Salmon River on horseback to gather 80 mother cows and their calves, 160 Angus cattle.

      Jay Smith explains the day’s challenges. “It’s a long ride to the top of the mountain, no good places to stop, corral or hold cattle, or they’ll end up back at the bottom, so you’re committed to a long day.”

      Chyenne Smith and neighbor friend Ron Johnson cross the deep and swift Salmon River to start the cattle drive to summer range.

      After they gather all the cows, they push them up an open ridge and up, up, up toward treeline. The Smiths know the mountain like the back of their hand. They hit small springs along the way for the cattle and horses to drink.

      “The challenge is to not miss any shade and water because it’s such a long ride,” Jay says. “The challenge is to have a crew that works well together so you can get it done in 1 push.”

      Jay’s dad, Jim Smith, and their hired man, Alvin, hit the top first with their group of cattle. Jay and Chyenne’s crew arrive moments later with the main group of cattle. Everyone is tired after more than 8 hours in the saddle. Claira collapses in her mother’s arms. It’s time for a cold drink and a much-deserved rest.

      The cattle have abundant fresh green grass to eat up here. They load the horses into the trailers and head for the Smith cabin a few miles ahead. Everyone looks forward to a hearty steak dinner tonight.

      Jim Smith bought an old mining claim here years ago and built the cabin in the middle of a mountain paradise.

      Nothing like a warm fire on a cool morning at the Smith cabin near their summer range.

      “This is a special place up here for a lot of reasons,” Jay says. “It’s a really special place to be our hub for our summer operations. My father and great-father ran cattle up here ran cattle up here pre-Taylor Grazing Act, my family has been a part of this mountain always had a special place in my heart, just always been in my blood.”

      For Chyenne, the trip involves a lot of advance planning and logistics.

      “My biggest preparation is just stressing out for a week. Just to get myself hyped up,” she says. “We have to make a list of the food we want, plus you need all the right clothes because you never know what the weather is going to be like. Make sure everybody’s tack is in working order, that we have enough horses for everybody.

      “And then inevitably, we always forget something. This time, we forgot butter, so we’ll have to get by with butter for a couple of days. Make sure we have enough snacks for the kids in the saddle bags. I know of all the things that people come do with us, this is probably their favorite thing to come do.”

      Jim and Sue Smith make a big breakfast for the group the next morning. The plan is to move the cattle through a series of green meadows today.  The objective is for the cows to put on weight every day.

      Because of the topography and elevation, we’re always moving them to green feed. We have a 2.5-pound average daily gain is our minimum requirement. They’ll gain real well up here.”

      The Smiths drive the cattle over to a steep creek crossing.  The cattle and the horses are sure-footed in the steep country. The Smiths will keep tabs on the cattle for the next 5 months, keeping them on the move in the summer range. That’s one of Chyenne’s favorite things to do.

      The Smiths and friends drive cattle across Moose Meadows on a beautiful summer day.

      “It’s gorgeous. It’s gorgeous everywhere here,” Chyenne says. “I feel free, unattached. All of your worries kind of get wiped away, and you can focus on what you’re doing. It’s very rewarding and very freeing.”

      Plus, Jim and Sue Smith love to hang out at their mountain getaway, and keeping watch over the cattle is one of their favorite things to do. It also seems to help keep the wolves away from their livestock.

      Sue Smith has been coming up there since she was a little kid – more than 65 years.

      “It’s just the best thing ever. The freedom, a good horse, and beautiful country. Just an opportunity to enjoy the solitude and spend quiet time with my lord and savior. It’s perfect for me,” Sue says.

      Ron Johnson enjoys helping out, too. He lives next door to the Smiths.

      “I’ve spent a big part of my life in the wilderness … to have cooking over the fire, be out in the wilderness and the fresh air, there’s nothing better … the food tastes better, the friendships, talk around the fire, everything,” Johnson says.

      The Smiths are great people, he says.

      “It’s absolutely amazing. Their heart and their house is open to you instantly at the time they meet you. It’s just the way they are. Really cool.”

      Water conservation for salmon and steelhead 

      While the cattle are out on summer range, Jay and Chyenne tend to chores around the ranch. A big one is to cut hay in the pastures.

      Jay has been working on boosting the yield of the hay fields with an innovative irrigation system.

      “We actually had our best hay crop ever this year,” he says. “There were a couple of factors that went into that. We had a wet June, and then, we’re always trying to make things better. We do soil sampling, use moisture probes so we put on the right amount of water. A few things we do every year to maximize production and reduce input costs.”

      Water efficiency project on the Smith Ranch led to increased flows in Carmen Creek for steelhead spawning. (Courtesy Governor’s Office of Species Conservation)

      The Smiths also have made improvements to their irrigation system to improve conditions for salmon and steelhead in Carmen Creek. This was a long-term project with multiple partner agencies. The concept was to change the point of diversion from Carmen Creek to a Salmon River canal to leave more water in the stream for fish.

      Smith worked with the Governor’s Office of Species Conservation in Salmon to generate cost-share funds for the conservation project. It took 5 years of meetings to put the complex project together.

      “In 2015, the stars aligned and the project came to life. And very few obstacles since, it’s been really good,” he says. “We had a 3-year contract with NRCS where we metered every drop of water we used so we could prove that we were staying within the amount of water we transferred. We soil-sampled for 3 years to make sure we weren’t putting any nitrates in the ground.”

      “So now, there’s a little over 2 cfs in the bottom of Carmen Creek in a critical time of year. It was a great win-win. We got a great system that works well for us, and our crops, and our fish have some water to spawn in.”

      Range stewardship on Fall Range

      In the fall, the Smiths graze their registered Angus cattle on the Badger-Springs Allotment, just up the hill to the east of their home ranch. It’s a beautiful area with the Beaverhead Mountains in the background.

      Jay Smith talks about range improvements in the Badger Springs Allotment.

      Tom McFarland, who ranches in the upper Carmen Creek area, was involved in developing a grazing management system in the Badger-Springs Allotment with the assistance from the NRCS and BLM in the late 1990s.

      With solar hot-wire fencing, more than 4 miles of water pipelines, and 7 water troughs, they divided the allotment into a three-pasture rest-rotation system. The new system would spread out the cattle on the range, protect natural water sources, and allow the plants to thrive during non-use periods.

      “With that, we saw a huge change in the native materials that we had to graze,” McFarland says. “They would all get a break at least every other year. It was really significant. Our calves put on more weight. We sell more pounds in the fall. The plant communities and range conditions have significantly improved.”

      Indeed, range monitoring data from Tom’s son, Seth McFarland, have shown an improving range trend over time.

      The Badger-Springs Allotment is one of Jay Smith’s favorite spots.

      “I grew up in this country just on the other wide of this ridge, and I’ve known this piece of ground my whole life,” Jay says. “About 20 years ago, this has always been a good piece of range, and we decided, let’s make it better. With this system, and the deferred rotation in the spring, we’ve made a huge amount of difference in this low country. It’s got perennial grasses, needle and thread, bluebunch wheatgrass, all of the desired species are here. It’s a sign of good management.”

      Jim and Sue Smith celebrated their 50th anniversary with a fun barn dance at Jay and Chyenne’s ranch.

      Giving back to family and friends – Barn dance for Jim and Sue Smith’s 50th anniversary

      Jay and Chyenne Smith cleaned out the upper story of their red barn so they could host a big 50th wedding anniversary party for Jay’s parents, Jim and Sue.

      They invited friends and family to come, and lots of people showed up. They hired a band to play country western music, and Jim and Sue had a wonderful time, dancing to just about every tune. Dancing is one of their favorite things to do.

      “It’s a close-knit community here,” Chyenne says. “Yeah it sounds silly to say, when they ask for something, and they never ask for anything, we try so hard to do it, because they give us so much. It’s the least we can do.”

      Jay and Chyenne dance to a number surrounded by friends and family.

      “Our family is community oriented, that goes back to our history,” Jay says. “Your neighbors are your source of recreation, your friends and your co-workers. Your kids go to school together, we see each other at the grocery store, at church, or whatever, you run into these people so it’s real natural when there’s a community event that it’s well-attended, by a wide variety of people.”

      Shipping cattle to market 

      Come November, Jay and Chyenne are ready to ship cattle to the market. The calves are fattened up and looking great.

      Jay and Chyenne keep detailed records as the calves grow throughout the year. Right before shipping, they weigh the calves to make sure they’re on target for the contract they’ve signed with the buyer.

      They are shipping a mix of heifer calves and steer calves tomorrow. They are expecting all of the calves to meet minimum weights, if not exceed them.

      Early the next day, the Smiths round up the  calves, load them into stock trailers and drop them off in a corral where they can be weighed by the cattle buyer/broker at the Carmen Creek scales.

      Fresh snow fell overnight, making for a wintry-like scene for shipping cattle.

      It’s a critical time of year for the Smiths as this is when they get paid for a year’s worth of work. All of the care that they’ve put into their animals contributes to the pay day.

      “The animals looked really good, and what really matters more to me is they looked good to the buyers,” Jay says. “We brought a few extras here so they had room to sort, and they looked good enough that they took them all, above and beyond the contract. Can’t do better than that.”

      Cattle trucks back up to the Carmen Creek corrals to ship the Smith cattle off to market. This is an important day when the Smiths get paid for a year’s worth of work.

      Overall, Jay is happy with how things turned out this year. Fortunately, they had almost no death loss to predators and wolves.

      “If you consider price, death loss, all things considered, this has been a good, slightly above-average year,” he says.

      The Smiths signed a contract to lock in the price earlier in the summer, so they knew what to expect. And they budgeted for the outcome. Now, they can take a little bit of a breather before calving starts in January.

      They’ll go to the Lemhi County Cattlemen’s annual meeting, a festive affair, and then, the Idaho Cattle Association annual meeting in Sun Valley. Jay is an officer on the ICA board. And then they’ll enjoy a vacation in Arizona with the kids.

      “The kids are excited, they’ve never been on an airplane, go somewhere warm, and then buckle down and do it all again.”

      The Smiths work hard to raise quality animals and make things better in all aspects of their business and operation.

      “My great-grandfather bought these ranches on Carmen Creek in 1924, and our whole philosophy is sustainability. We wouldn’t have lasted this long if we didn’t care for the resources and care for our cattle and make sustainability our No. 1 priority,” Jay says.

      Ultimately, Jay points out that running a ranch is a business, and he stays focused on a sustainable budget and producing the best quality cattle possible.

      To help stay on budget, Chyennes drive a school bus for their kids’ charter school. Jay does extra mechanic work, sells a round hay-bail system, and manages the bull sale for Leadore Angus.

      Carma Smith helps drive cattle on fall range.

      All of their hard work ensures that they can raise their daughters on a ranch, a lifestyle the girls enjoy. Claira is 9 years old now, in 4th grade. She talks about what she likes to do on the ranch.

      Claira Smith likes to play with the chickens, ride horses and climb trees on the ranch.

      “Riding the horses and chasing the cattle,” she says. “I like feeding the horses, feeding the cattle grain, I like to go with my dad on the 4-wheeler to feed the cattle, and I like to go with my Mom to feed the horses. Also my favorite part is in the horses pen, I showed my cousin how to ride a horse, and I learned how to gallop. I also like driving the tractor.”

      Claira likes playing with the chickens, too. “Whenever I get close to this one chicken, it’ll huddle down, and I can pick it up. One time, I let some chickens in the house, and it pooped on daddy’s hat.”

      Carma is 12, and she’s in 7th grade. She likes riding horses with Claira. They often ride in the back 40.

      “We make a big loop. The chickens always follow me because I give them food, and the lambs chased us up trees.”

      Carma also likes to crochet and she’s a budding artist. She likes to draw colorful dragons.

      Ultimately, the Smiths want people to learn about ranching, raising animals and ranch life.

      “In this livestock deal, it’s not optional to tell your story,” Jay says. “There’s fewer and fewer of us all the time, and more and more people don’t understand what we’re doing, how we’re raising a healthy nutritious food source, responsibly and sustainably, if we don’t tell our story, who’s going to?”

      “We really truly believe that this life and this lifestyle is a gift. It’s not ours to covet and withhold, it’s ours to share. That’s definitely our philosophy.”

      Next: Wolves Part 4 – Unforeseen impacts caused by wolves in Idaho

      Stay Tuned!

    • 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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