STANLEY, Idaho - The recent killing of five Rocky Mountain gray wolves on the backside of the White Cloud Mountain Range was simply too much for Lynne Stone to bear.
Stone, a Ketchum, Idaho, resident and longtime champion of wilderness designation for the Boulder-White Cloud area, says the elimination of the White Cloud wolf pack was "tragic and unacceptable."
Now she's asking for a "cease-fire" - a request that federal officials call impossible to meet. The option of killing or relocating wolves that prey on livestock was the key provision, politically, that allowed wolves to be reintroduced to Idaho and Yellowstone National Park under the Endangered Species Act in the mid-1990s (HCN, 2/6/95: The wolves are back, big time).
Roy Heberger, wolf recovery coordinator in Idaho for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said he had to give the kill order after at least three calves were killed by wolves on private ranchland along the East Fork of the Salmon River.
"We were trying to do a lot of things out there to stop the depredation but it wasn't working," Heberger said. "Once you have a situation where livestock is part of the wolves' search image for prey, you have to take action."
In the last six months, wolves have gotten into more trouble with livestock than in the last four years combined, as the wolf population in Idaho has swelled to about 10 packs and 140 wolves. Ten wolves have been killed by lethal control due to confirmed wolf-livestock depredation incidents over that six-month period.
Stone accuses the Fish and Wildlife Service of caving into ranchers' demands for control efforts, while Hank Fischer of Defenders of Wildlife defends the agency's action.
Defenders, a national conservation group, provides financial compensation to ranchers when confirmed wolf-livestock kills occur. So far, Defenders has paid about $39,000 to Idaho ranchers for 154 sheep losses, 47 cattle, and two "other" (guard dog) losses.
"We hate it when wolves get killed, too," Fischer says. "But we don't expect ranchers to take repeated losses without action being taken."
Declaring war on ranchers
What added salt to the wound in the case of the White Cloud pack is that federal control agents accidentally killed the pack's alpha male.
The alpha male and alpha female, along with three other wolves, were darted from a helicopter and trucked to the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness - some 160 air miles away - in late March. There was no evidence the alpha male had feasted on cattle, Heberger said. Unbeknownst to control agents, the alpha male had returned to the White Cloud pack when they shot and killed three wolves from a helicopter on April 20-21.
That means the alpha female, which may still reside in the Selway country, will be left raising 5-6 newborn pups on her own.
Stone is concerned that the alpha female and her pups will die without a mate to bring them food. Fischer said the mother may survive, based on information about an alpha female that faced the same circumstances in Yellowstone National Park in 1996.
"Single moms do make it sometimes," he says.
But Stone is not just attacking the federal Fish and Wildlife Service over the wolf-killing episode; she's attacking the ranchers who requested the lethal control, Eddie and Wayne Baker. She contends the ranchers in the East Fork area have a poor record of stewardship during summer grazing operations on public lands, and their cows have been caught trespassing in fragile alpine lake meadows.
Sawtooth National Recreation Area officials confirmed that environmental damage has happened to riparian areas, and trespass has occurred in high lake basins. "It's been a recurrent problem," said Seth Phalen, range conservationist for the Sawtooth NRA. "We're going to step up monitoring efforts this year."
Monitoring will also be stepped up by environmentalists, announced Jon Marvel, head of the nonprofit Idaho Watersheds Project, in e-mails to staffers at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "While I am fully aware of the rule which mandates control actions on predating wolves by your agencies," Marvel wrote, "I want you to know that our group will redouble our efforts to put the Bakers and some of their neighbors out of the ranching business permanently because of this killing of wolves. We hope to have that legally accomplished within the next three years. Your control efforts will only accelerate the end of ranching on public lands in the East Fork of the Salmon River."
Both Bakers were contacted by telephone and refused to comment on the story.
Stone admits that by declaring war on White Cloud ranchers, she may ruin any chance of winning their support for a White Clouds wilderness. In addition, her call for a cease-fire on wolves drives a wedge between environmental purists and groups like Defenders, who support control as being politically required.
"To change the rules for one pack opens up a whole can of worms," says John McCarthy, public-lands coordinator for the Idaho Conservation League, which supports a 500,000-acre White Clouds Wilderness. "I think Heberger followed the rules."
"In my experience, what really hurts the wolf program is polarization," adds Fischer.
Stone says she doesn't care. "ICL can try to build bridges with ranchers, but I want a safe haven for the wolves," she says. "The ranchers have ruled this country for 100 years, but a lot of people around here are saying, 'who needs the cows?' "
In the meantime, coordinator Heberger sees no change in the wolf-recovery program: Lethal control will continue, while wolf populations continue to mushroom.
"Our scientists say we can lose 25 percent of the population and not affect the recovery objective (10 packs)," he said. "If I've had one failing, it's that we haven't done a very good job of educating the public about the realities of this program. I think some people have false expectations."
The author writes from Boise, Idaho.
Copyright © 2000 HCN and Steve Stuebner
YOU CAN CONTACT ...
- Lynne Stone, Boulder-White Clouds Council, 208-726-1065, or firstname.lastname@example.org;
- Roy Heberger, Idaho Wolf Recovery Coordinator, 208-378-5243, or Roy_Heberger@fws.gov;
- Defenders of Wildlife has a Web site with extensive information about wolf-recovery efforts across the nation, http://www.defenders.org.