When Suzanne Laverty first met Travis Bullock, who calls himself a "redneck outfitter," she wrote a brief impression of him in her diary: "Travis Bullock - Butthead."
But Bullock wasn't so bullheaded that he didn't
see value in Laverty's suggestion that he capitalize on the
nation's curiosity about the wolves that had been transplanted into
Idaho by the federal government in 1995 and 1996. Almost before she
knew it, Laverty, then program director for the Wolf Education and
Research Center in Boise, Idaho, was helping Bullock figure out how
to market "wilderness wolf trips."
first fiery meeting, she and Bullock have teamed up to lead
expeditions into the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.
Laverty tells visitors about the wonders of wolves, while Bullock
tells them about his worries.
"The big thing that
doesn't get talked about in the movies is their effect on elk,"
Travis tells his guests at dinner in Idaho Falls, the night before
they fly into his camp. "A lot of money has been spent on putting
wolves back, but not a dime has been spent studying what's
happening with the ungulates."
and butter is fall elk hunting, and he and other Idaho outfitters
say they have seen a dramatic reduction in elk calves. Meanwhile,
nobody is monitoring the wolves' impact, they say, not Idaho Fish
and Game and not the Nez Perce Tribe in charge of wolf recovery in
In Bullock's view, the wolves have been
dumped in Idaho by the feds, without adequate funding or
forethought. The Nez Perce Tribe in Lapwai, Idaho, is in charge of
wolf management. But its budget is barely big enough to track adult
wolves and to collar the pups. Nothing is left over to study the
wolves' effect on elk, or on anything
Now in their third year of leading
wilderness wolf trips, Laverty and Bullock have fine-tuned their
partnership and their friendship.
longtime advocate for wolves, is the expert on the animals when she
can make a trip. Bullock, a fifth-generation Idahoan, provides the
base camp, mules, guides, food and backcountry
Bullock hiked "the Frank" as a child,
went to work in an outfitter's camp at age 14, and bought his
outfitting business at 26. He treats his wolf-loving guests to an
intimacy with wilderness and Western hospitality. He sings songs on
the trail, plays the harmonica around the campfire, and spins
backcountry tales. Laverty relates wolf lore and fact with a voice
as soothing as brook water. She also can howl just like a
"Until people make that personal contact,
they tend to put each other into categories," Laverty said. "Just
seeing each other as opponents is a missed opportunity. We're
learning together on a lot of these issues, and to be able to work
together is a real privilege."
non-cooperators in the trips are the elusive wolves. Without
telemetry equipment (Laverty expects to be able to use it in the
future), the odds of seeing one of the animals are next to nil.
Still, surrounding trails are littered with their scat and prints.
And, if the wolves are in the neighborhood, guests may hear them
howling. So far, all the clients have come from the Eastern United
States, and almost all go home with a plaster cast of a wolf
Guests wind their way through the Frank
Church on mules, always on the lookout for wolf sign. And wolves
wind their way through conversations on horseback and around the
campfire. On the trail, the wolf is a mystery lurking in the
shadowy forests and deep folds of the rugged wilderness. In
conversation, the predator is the catalyst for fiery and friendly
"Arguing is one of the things we do
best," said Laverty. "We were so busy having a heated discussion on
the trail one day that everybody else got to see the bear that we
missed while we were arguing."
Laverty say they've grown to trust and respect each other in spite
of, and because of, their different points of view. Bullock hopes
his knowledge of wolves and partnership with Laverty will add
weight to his suggestions for wolf management. Laverty says she
understands better the concerns of outfitters. And guests who ride
along with them recognize there's more to wolf recovery than they
"We never realized how much controversy
there was over wolf reintroduction," said Margaret Zimmerman of
Milford, N.J. "Talking to Travis, I learned that people out there
have concerns about livestock and hunting that we never thought
Candace Burns lives and
writes in Salmon, Idaho.
can contact ...
* Travis Bullock, Mile High
Outfitters, P.O. Box 1189, Challis, ID 83226
* Suzanne Laverty, Wolf Recovery
Foundation, P.O. Box 44236, Boise, ID 83711