Wolf lovers give Idaho sheriff a piece of their mind

  • Wolf watercolor

    Diane Sylvain

SALMON, Idaho - Linda Borton of Tucson, Ariz., was furious when she heard that one of the Canadian wolves released in central Idaho had been shot, and that Lemhi County Sheriff Brett Barsalou said he didn't "give a damn who shot it."

That same night she fired off a letter to Barsalou.

"I'm very much against all violence, but if you can't get your trigger-happy bozos under control, I might be convinced of the efficacy of setting leg-traps in the parking lot of your local Dunkin' Donuts," she wrote.

"It would be nice if you took your job seriously and protected the right species (i.e., the wolf) this time. Or is the only way to protect nature from man to make open season on cattle, ranchers, and maybe even the law if it seems unable to fulfill its responsibilities?"

Borton, a sweater-knitting grandmother who loves pets and doesn't eat meat, isn't the only one to write or call to let Barsalou and others in Lemhi County know what they think of the wolf shooting.

Barsalou said since the shooting, he's heard from about 50 angry callers - all of them nonresidents.

"I've had phone calls from Florida to Chicago, Nebraska to Texas," he said.

One of 15 wolves released into central Idaho was found shot Jan. 28 on the Gene Hussey ranch 25 miles south of Salmon (HCN, 2/20/95). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the wolf had eaten but not killed a calf. Nobody knows who shot the wolf. Even though Fish and Wildlife is calling the shooting an "illegal take under the Endangered Species Act," Barsalou said whoever shot the wolf was justified in doing so. He said callers took his statement to mean that he didn't like wolves.

During a recent meeting in Boise, Barsalou was accosted by a woman who accused him of being "the sheriff who shot the wolf."

"I told her I didn't shoot the wolf," Barsalou said. "I tried to explain to her what happened, but she didn't want to listen to me."

Barsalou said he has spent hours trying to explain the geography, economics, and culture of Lemhi County to angry callers. But, it's hard for people in Florida to understand why residents of Lemhi County, who depend on the land - both public and private - for a living, would shoot wolves to protect their livestock.

It might be even more difficult for them to comprehend why some in Lemhi County are sporting bumper stickers and hats that display a drawing of a wolf and the slogan, "Hussey for President."

Hussey, who has no telephone, has gotten a few letters himself, all of them from supporters. One letter from Spokane, Wash., addressed to "Gene Hussey, Iron Creek, 25 miles south of Salmon," advised him to ask $500 compensation for the calf, and $100,000 from U.S. Fish and Wildlife as compensation for "malicious mischief." Others offered money in case he needed a lawyer, and one woman sent him $10 to help pay his phone bill.

"I received quite a swell of community support for this situation," said Hussey, who bought an ad in Salmon's Recorder-Herald thanking the people of the community for their support.

Rick Hussey, the only Hussey listed in the phone book, is Gene Hussey's third cousin. He is an outfitter and rodeo announcer and doesn't run cattle. He said he has had lots of phone calls, all but one supporting the wolf shooting. He says the anonymous caller threatened to shoot five of Gene Hussey's cows.

The reporter lives in Salmon, Idaho.