Wolf: Endangered or 'wildlife terrorist?'


December 21, 2002


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Boise, Idaho (AP) - Seven years ago next month, a male wolf burst out of its opened travel crate and bounded into the snowy wilderness along the Salmon River, the first of 35 released in Idaho through a federal reintroduction process.

The gray wolf remains on the Endangered Species List to this day and the Central Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition wants the estimated 260 descendants from the 1995-96 releases out of the state immediately, calling them "land piranhas and wildlife terrorists."

"The feds had no plan. They just dumped them off and they've taken off like rabbits in Australia," said Stanley hunting outfitter Ron Gillett, an impatient coalition founder. "Let's say this drags on for another 10 years. Do you know how many wolves we're going to have in 10 years?"

Organizations in the other Rocky Mountain reintroduction states of Montana and Wyoming share that sentiment and opposition is emerging in Utah and Wyoming as wolves disperse there.

The Idaho group is gathering funds, running anti-wolf newspaper ads and cornering political leaders to talk.

Such activity is going on across the West.

Wyoming officials propose allowing wolves to be shot as predators, except for national parks and wilderness areas where they would be trophy game animals.

Friends of the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd want their federal protection lifted, claiming they threaten elk in Montana's Paradise Valley.

A wolf was caught 22 miles from Salt Lake City last month, the first proof they have returned since being eradicated 70 years ago.

The Utah Farm Bureau Federation says there is no space in the state where wolves will not clash with agriculture.

The Oregon Cattlemen's Association, Oregon Farm Bureau Federation and Oregon State Grange have petitioned the state to remove wolves from the state's list of endangered species.

Gillett outfits for elk hunters and wildlife watchers. He contends wolves are hurting mom-and-pop businesses across central Idaho, including his own.

"Once you put them in there, they kill everything that moves. They kill all of the prey first, whether that be squirrels, deer, elk or mountain sheep," he said. "Then they kill the other predators and when they get down to wolves, they are cannibals."

He said his hunting clients report seeing a lot of wolf tracks and few elk.

Wolf supporters hold that the return of the packs restores a natural balance after the species was hunted to near-extinction in the 20th century.

But Jack Oyler of the coalition cites the research done by Val Geist, a professor emeritus of environmental science at the University of Calgary. Geist contends the West's plentiful big-game animals are the result of careful wildlife management, and wolves on the loose undo those efforts.

"When Lewis and Clark went through Idaho, they didn't eat elk steak. They ate horsemeat," Gillett said. "The last 50, 60, 70 years have been pretty good game management."

Idaho's rugged topography and the federal bureaucratic process mean the coalition will likely never get its wish to rid the state of wolves.

Under current rules, once the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determines there are 30 or more breeding pairs of wolves for three consecutive years in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, it can move to delist them. Those requirements have been satisfied and delisting will begin soon, said Ed Bangs -- ed_bangs@fws.gov  or 406-449-5225 ext. 204 -- federal wolf recovery coordinator in Helena, Montana. Mr. Bangs is in charge of all federal wolf management in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

Idaho has written a necessary managing plan, while Montana and Wyoming are working on their own.

The latest estimate holds that Idaho has about 260 wolves, while Yellowstone holds 218 and northwestern Montana 84, he said.

Gillett attended the Idaho Fish and Game Commission's Dec. 12 discussion of its role in wolf management. It showed just how long the delisting process will take to complete in the state.

Gov. Dirk Kempthorne's Office of Species Conservation advised the board to start preparing for managing the wolves following delisting. The Nez Perce Tribe currently has oversight.

The commissioners dread getting involved with the wolf process, viewing it as a potential black hole for funds and liability.

Commissioner Alex Irby of Orofino sees the effort extending years into the future, while the growing wolf packs further decimate his region's once-plentiful elk herds.

"If you think you're going to get this thing through without federal lawsuits, you're crazy," Commissioner Fred Woods of Burley told the gathering.

Gillett is an impatient man and such predictions are exasperating.

"We figure that if we live here, we should have some kind of control over our destiny," he said. "Why can't Idaho manage its own wolves?"

Copyright 2002 The Associated Press.