Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

From: Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Helena, MT 9/06/02

Subject: Status of Gray Wolf Recovery, Week of 9/03 to 9/06, 2002


NEW WEB ADDRESS- See maps of wolf pack locations and home ranges.

Fontaine flew on the 3rd and found a new pack just north of Avon, MT. The Halfway pack had 8 members- none of them are radioed. They appeared to be on a kill and near cattle, so Wildlife Services investigated and found that the pack had killed a calf. We suspect that the alpha female of that pack may be a relocated female [moved in 2000 from the Boulder/Castle Rock pack to Lake Koocanusa with 4 siblings (Parsnip wolves) (see wolf killed on highway 9/3 below) who’s shed radio-collar was recovered north of Avon in 2001. A special thanks to the local sportsman and taxidermist who let Joe know about where to look. The Ninemile pack was observed, at least 2 pups were among the 5 wolves seen and another radioed pack member was nearby- making the pack at least 6 strong. Nine wolves were seen in the Castle Rock pack and 2 were harassing a cow/calf pair. The producers were notified. The Fish Creek pack was seen with at least 3 black pups. The Big Hole pack was also located and it was near the Lolo Pass visitor center.

Another pack was tragically discovered just east and outside of Dillon, MT, when 2 pups were killed after pulling M-44 coyote getters that had been set on private land by Wildlife Services. Wildlife Service had conferred with the Service before placing these devices and they were in an area where no wolves were suspected to be. LE visited the site with WS and is following up to make sure everything is in compliance with the experimental population regulations, which allow for such accidental take.

The carcass of a radio collared gray wolf was recovered from highway 12 on McDonald Pass [just about highway maintenance building] just west of Helena on the 3rd. She ran into the side of a car on the highway. She [#284] was one of the Parsnip wolves that was captured from the Boulder pack and relocated along the West side of Lake Koocanusa in December 2000. She had lactated and we suspect she was the alpha female of the Great Divide pack. We will search for the pups to see if another wolf is tending them. They will likely die if orphaned but reported observations of a black adult wolf were made in the same area after the female was killed by several people.

Seasonal biologist Paul Frame returned to assist with radio-collaring efforts Sept 1 -10. Paul had some time between his field work on Arctic wolves and graduate school in Canada. Issac Babcock starts as a seasonal for the Service on Sept 8. He will also be involved in radio-collaring wolves, primarily in Montana. We are fortunate to have such a skilled and flexible trapping crew. On the 5th Paul caught and radio-collared a 90lb. black adult male from the Fishtrap pack.

Nez Perce Tribal biologists collared a pup in the Gospel Hump pack this week reconnecting telemetry contact with the pack.

Please report wolf sightings in MONTANA, IDAHO, OR WYOMING!!


Three calves were eventually confirmed killed on a Forest Service grazing allotment by the Sunlight pack [GYA area] on the 31st through the 4th. Wildlife Services trapped at the carcasses. A pup was captured radioed and released on site the 2nd. On the 4th, the alpha female was re-radioed and released on site and an adult uncollared female was killed. Control has ended unless more livestock are killed. The pack now consists of +6 pups and about 9 adults.

On the 5th a lone wolf [suspected to be the same one that has repeatedly been hanging out in that area] got through the electric fence (the power switch on the fence failed) and llamas were scattered widely for miles but none were killed. However, wolves in the Ninemile Valley killed 3 more sheep, 1 missing, on a farm near the llamas [sheep have been repeatedly killed there] on the 6th. The next day all pack members were nearby. WS will attempt to lethally remove radioed wolf #389 that was previously trapped and released on site and another uncollared adult. Wolf #389 was repeatedly located and seen near the llama pen on a number of occasions.

The newly discovered, 2 adults and 6 pups, Halfway pack killed a calf just north of Avon, MT {NW MT endangered area). No control is planned at this time but a radio will be put in the pack at first opportunity. If more depredations are confirmed the alpha male will be killed.

Wildlife Services investigated a pile up involving around 80 sheep on a Forest Service allotment in the Gravelly Range. Cause of the pile up could not be determined because all evidence was removed by the remainder of the sheep herd.


Nothing new to report.

Information and education and law enforcement

On Tuesday September 3rd, Peter Jennings and ABC news program aired "In Search Of America". The show examined how the basic principles of our Founding Fathers are holding up in today’s America. The hour long show used the wolf recovery effort in Idaho to examine state and federal relationships and authorities. Issac Babcock’s wolf footage from central Idaho was outstanding. An abbreviated text of the program is attached.

Bangs and Chase Hibbard the chairman of former MT Governor Marc Racicot State Wolf Advisory Group participated in interviews with the radio show for the NPR Home Ground Radio program.

The Service's weekly wolf report can now be viewed at the Service's Region 6 web site at   in addition to the regular distribution.

Contact: Ed Bangs (406)449-5225 x204 or ED_BANGS@FWS.GOV

Call of the Wild

Wolf Reintroduction Pits Federal Power Against Local Ranchers

Sept. 3 — To tourists who visit Yellowstone National Park, the gray wolf is a magnificent sight — a noble animal whose successful reintroduction in the last decade represents the nation's commitment to preserving its natural heritage.

But to ranchers in central Idaho, the wolf is a very different animal: a vicious predator that has been forced on them by the federal government and environmentalists living in big cities hundreds of miles away.

"Isn't it a wonderful concept, to have this huge national zoo?" rancher Aggie Brailsford says scornfully. "I don't know whether they have the concept that we do: of a lamb with its back end ripped out and being eaten alive."

The ranchers say the wolves, whose numbers have grown nearly tenfold in central Idaho since their reintroduction seven years ago, prey on their livestock and threaten a way of life that has sustained their families for generations.

The Republican politicians who represent them in Congress have denounced the wolf program as part of a federal "war on the West" that is also challenging long-held logging and mining rights on federal lands.

The conflict raises questions about Americans' relationship to the land they live on — especially the great spaces of the West — and to the government they elect to rule them.

How the West Was Really Won

Despite its image of rugged individualism, the West as we know it today is very much a creation of the federal government, many historians say. The federal government relocated the Indians to make space for European settlers, built up a water supply, and provided subsidies and programs crucial for development. "Without the federal government, we wouldn't have the West as people understand it," says John Freemuth, a political science professor at Boise State University. "Yes, there were rugged individuals that did marvelous things. But the story is the story of government."

The gray wolf was virtually extinct in the West by the 1930s. (

Another problem the government tackled was the wolves. Gray wolves were once common across North America, but the earliest European settlers came from countries where wolves were hated and feared, and used as symbols of evil in fairy tales. Wolves are opportunists who hunt for the easiest prey, so they attacked the settlers' livestock, threatening the food supply that would fuel further development in the West.

The settlers wanted the wolf eradicated. Because wolves have no regard for borders, individual states could not do the job. Instead, a coordinated national effort was needed — the kind of role the Founding Fathers had envisioned for the federal government. The government's wildlife agencies waged a concerted campaign against wolves, employing federal trappers to kill them and paying bounties to settlers for their pelts.

"The federal government was very much complicit in the Western ethic of the 19th century, which was: resource exploitation, mining, logging, ranching comes before all else," says former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, who oversaw the wolf reintroduction in the 1990s and comes from a long line of Arizona ranchers.

Americans generally shared the government's view that the land was there for the benefit of humans and human development, and by the mid-1930s, the gray wolf was virtually extinct in the lower 48 states.

1973 Law Ushers in New Era

The federal government also retained ownership of huge swathes of Western land. Today, 61 percent of Idaho is federally owned. Since the 1930s, ranchers in Idaho have had the right to lease millions of acres from the federal government to graze their cattle and sheep. The ranchers passed the leases down from generation to generation, and their livestock, free from wolves, flourished.

But interest in the gray wolf was reawakened in the 1960s, with the emergence of an environmental movement that argued that man's conquering of the natural world had been too destructive. The movement led to passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973. When he signed the act into law, President Richard Nixon said, "The notion that the only good predator is a dead one is no longer acceptable."

The gray wolf was one of the first species listed under the new law, launching a movement to bring the species back from the brink of extinction. The program, opposed each step of the way by the livestock industry, took nearly 20 years to work its way through the federal bureaucracy. But by 1995, a plan was finally in place for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reintroduce wolves into Yellowstone National Park and the Central Idaho Wilderness.

Imported from Canada

Over a two-year period, federal agents captured 66 wolves in the Canadian province of Alberta, doping them with tranquilizer darts from the air. Thirty-five of the wolves were given radio collars and released in central Idaho.

One member of the federal team, biologist Carter Niemeyer, said the Canadian trappers they were working with warned them that the wolves would breed rapidly in their new habitat in Yellowstone, preying on the abundant deer and elk, and would occasionally attack livestock, making ranchers angry. "Everything those Canadian trappers told me has come true," says Niemeyer, who today runs the Fish and Wildlife Service wolf program in Idaho. The number of wolves in the Idaho program has grown to nearly 300.

The ranchers of central Idaho opposed the wolf reintroduction plan from the start. "We were just stunned that the federal government turned these animals loose, knowing with certainty that they would eat our lambs and our calves and they would threaten the livelihood of ranchers," says Ted Hoffman, president-elect of the Idaho Cattle Association.

Within days of the first release, a local newspaper reported that a wolf had killed a newborn calf and been shot dead while feeding on it.

The wolves have continued to kill cattle and sheep, despite efforts to stop them. Although it is hard to track livestock losses because the remains of a kill are often not found, ranchers say they lose more and more animals as the wolf population increases.

Many say they resent what they see as meddling by environmentalists and federal officials in their local affairs. "The people in the city want this, and there's more of them there, so it becomes an issue of 'A lot of people here want this and you're just a few and you're expendable,'" says Melodie Baker, a rancher on the East Fork of the Salmon River.

The ranchers' resentment is heightened by the fact that, while they can hunt other predators — such as coyotes, cougars and bear — they are not allowed to shoot wolves. The penalty for killing a gray wolf is a fine of up to $100,000, with the possible forfeiture of a rancher's grazing lease.

Backers of the wolf program say the wolves do not kill enough livestock to seriously threaten the ranchers' livelihood. And Babbitt says that while many ranchers have come to regard the federal land they lease as their own, it is not: "These are public lands owned by the people of the United States."

The former interior secretary believes the ranchers are "stuck in an image of the past," when the federal government and the American people shared a view of the land as something to be conquered and exploited for human gain. "That's changed. That's history," he says. "We are now about recognizing our heritage and restoring our landscape to a condition that was there when the first pioneers came."

Can Wolf and Rancher Coexist?

Some officials involved in the program are sympathetic to the ranchers' complaints. "We did impose the wolf on these rural people," Niemeyer acknowledges. He and his boss, Ed Bangs, who heads the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's wolf programs in the West, believe the federal government has an obligation to find a way of managing the wolves without forcing the ranchers out of business.

Working with the ranchers, federal wildlife agents have tried several approaches to stop the wolves from preying on livestock, including electric fences and nonlethal projectiles, but none was successful.

With one pack of wolves in the East fork of the Salmon River, they even tried using loudspeakers that broadcast deafening screeches and wails to chase the wolves away, but the wolves kept killing cattle and sheep. Niemeyer and his colleagues concluded the pack had become habituated to eating livestock and reluctantly decided they had to be shot. Wolf advocates around the country were furious, and most ranchers dismissed it as too little too late.

Most ranchers today are resigned to living with the wolves, and see one possible solution: for the federal government to give control of the program to the state, which they believe would be more responsive to their concerns and less politically beholden to national environmental groups.

But for that to happen, the gray wolf would have to be taken off the list of endangered species. The wolf packs in central Idaho are thriving now, their numbers at a level where the state can apply to have them delisted. However, the state must propose a plan for managing the wolves that meets the federal government's approval. Until that happens, the ranchers are left in the paradoxical position of wishing for the continued success of an animal and a program that they despise.