From freedom to FedEx: Wolf B13 killed

  • Lemhi County Sheriff Brett Barsalou examines dead wolf and calf/Candace Burns

 

SALMON, Idaho - Just nine days after her release into the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, a Canadian wolf found her way out of central Idaho's maze of steep snow-covered mountains.

Sixty air miles from where she had been set free, the wolf trotted straight into Gene Hussey's cattle herd about 25 miles south of here.

She killed a calf, then someone killed her. No one has yet admitted the shooting.

Now, Hank Fischer, Northern Rockies representative for Defenders of Wildlife in Missoula, Mont., says his organization will compensate Hussey for the calf, despite protests from some members.

"The whole bargain for trying to get cooperation on wolf reintroduction is dependent on controlling wolves that cause problems," he said. "The ranchers' bargain with us is that they won't kill wolves that aren't bothering livestock."

Hussey discovered the wolf about 11 a.m., Jan. 28, while checking cattle in a pasture about three miles from his house. Wearing the blue U.S. Fish and Wildlife radio collar numbered 13, the wolf was lying dead in a pool of blood, its nose just inches from the dead calf next to it.

Ted Koch, who heads the federal wolf recovery team for Idaho, arrived in Salmon a day after the killing. Before notifying authorities, rancher Hussey had videotaped his investigation by a local veterinarian. Using Hussey's videotape, a walk over the kill site, the vet's written statement and an examination of the calf, Koch and Layne Bangerter, who works for the federal Animal Damage Control program, reconstructed the deaths.

Inflated lungs, slightly roughened hooves and mother's milk in the intestines told Bangerter that the calf had been born alive. Black bovine hair in the wolf's stomach, along with bones from the calf, told them the wolf had eaten parts of the calf. Still, said investigators, even though the evidence was damning, they had no proof that the wolf had actually killed the calf. Another predator might have done that.

Once the calf was skinned, though, the story of its death was written in toothmarks. Bangerter determined that the wolf had bitten the calf in three of its four legs, chomped into its throat, then ripped into its stomach while the calf was still alive. Tracks in the snow indicated that the wolf disabled the 66-pound calf before picking it up and carrying it about 100 yards.

Then someone shot the wolf from the road, about 130 yards away.

"Whoever shot it probably thought it was a coyote, and when he saw that it was a wolf, he probably took off," Hussey said. "I think anybody who killed it would be a damn fool to admit it."

If Hussey or one of his "agents' had killed the wolf in the act of wounding or killing his calf on private property, it would have been considered a "legal take" under the Endangered Species Act, as long as authorities were notified within 24 hours.

Koch said he was disappointed the wolf was shot illegally because he wanted an opportunity to show that his agency would honor the rules that allow livestock owners to shoot marauding wolves on their property.

Hussey believes the act's "experimental" regulations aren't as generous as they appear. If a later autopsy had proven that the wolf was only eating his calf and hadn't killed it, then the shooting would have been illegal and the penalty as much as one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Both ranchers and biologists are surprised at having to deal with the deaths - and each other - so soon. But as long as wolves are roaming the mountains and valleys of central Idaho, both groups can see they're going to have to work more closely together. Ranchers say they want to be notified when wolves are in the area. Lemhi County commissioners want better communications with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Koch says he wants invitations to speak to people in Salmon. He says he'll begin writing a weekly column about the wolves for the Salmon Recorder Herald.

David Langhorst, executive director of the nonprofit Wolf Education and Research Center in Ketchum, says that, in this case, his group will not offer a $1,000 reward to anyone turning in the wolf-killer.

"We're more interested in seeing that wolf reintroduction continue and that ranchers' interests are protected, than prosecuting someone on a technicality," he said. However, Steve Magone, a Fish and Wildlife Service enforcement officer, said he will continue to investigate the shooting.

During his visits with locals, Koch told skeptical ranchers that livestock depredation by wolves is rare. He said that in 10 years of Canadian wolf recolonization in Montana only 19 cattle and 12 sheep were killed by wolves. Just after their release, when wolves are disoriented and stressed, is a common time for them to get into trouble, Koch said.

As Koch and ranchers hashed over plans for wolf management, wolf B13 was tucked into a freezer in preparation for her next adventure - a Federal Express ride to a forensic laboratory in Ashland, Ore., where she will undergo one last round of testing.

Candace Burns free-lances from Salmon, Idaho.

A sidebar article, Freed wolves roam up to 20 miles a day, accompanies this news story.

High Country News Classifieds
  • PHILANTHROPY COORDINATOR
    Wyoming Wildlife Federation - collaborates with the Executive Director and staff to ensure the effective implementation of all philanthropic activities. https://wyomingwildlife.org/hiring-philanthropy-coordinator/.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    HawkWatch International is hiring an Executive Director to lead the organization. The next leader of this growing organization must have: 1. Enthusiasm for conservation, birds...
  • EVERLAND MOUNTAIN RETREAT
    Everland Mountain Retreat includes 318 mountaintop acres with a 3,200 square foot lodge and two smaller homes. Endless vistas of the Appalachian mountains, open skies,...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Home Resource is a non-profit community sustainability center. We work with, in, and for the community to reduce waste and build a more vibrant and...
  • COUNTRY ESTATE NEAR KINGS CANYON AND SEQUOIA PARKS
    Spectacular views of snowcapped Sierras. 15 miles from Kings Canyon/Sequoia Parks. 47 acres with 2 homes/75' pool/gym/patios/gardens. 1670 sq.ft. main home has 3 bdrm/1 bath....
  • BRN DEVELOPMENT & COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR
    Borderlands Restoration Network 501c3 is hiring a full-time Development Director. Description and job details can be found at https://www.borderlandsrestoration.org/job-opportunities.html
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST NEW MEXICO
    Beautiful off-the-grid passive solar near the CDT. 9.4 acres, north of Silver City. Sam, 575.388.1921
  • ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING MANAGER
    The City of Fort Collins is seeking an Environmental Planning Manager in the Natural Areas Department. The Department has an annual budget of approximately $13...
  • WEB DESIGN AND CONTENT MANAGER
    We are seeking an experienced designer to be the team lead for web development and digital media. Part creator and part planner, this person should...
  • CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER
    at RCAC. See the full description at https://bit.ly/2WJ3HvY Apply at [email protected]
  • GRASSROOTS ORGANIZER
    The Utah Rivers Council is looking for an energetic individual with strong communication and organizing skills. The Grassroots Organizer works to ensure our campaigns are...
  • JOHN DEERE SNOW BLOWER 24"
    Newly refurbished and tuned. Older model, great condition. Gasoline engine. Chains on tires. Heavy duty for mountain snow. Call cellphone and leave message or email.
  • CARPENTER RANCH MANAGER
    Hiring a part-time ranch manager to live on The Nature Conservancy's Carpenter Ranch property in Hayden, CO. Responsibilities include: facility maintenance of historic ranch house,...
  • STRAW BALE, ADOBE, TIMBER FRAME, HEALTHY HOME, NEAR LA VETA PASS, CO
    unique custom home in Sangre de Cristo Mountains of CO near La Veta Pass, 3 bed, 2 1/2 bath, private gated park, two hours from...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, KANIKSU LAND TRUST
    Kaniksu Land Trust, a community-supported non-profit land trust serving north Idaho and northwest Montana, is in search of a new executive director. The ideal candidate...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Flathead Lakers are seeking a dynamic, self-motivated and proven leader to be our next Executive Director (ED).
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Blackfoot Challenge, a renowned collaborative conservation org in MT, seeks our next ED.
  • COPPER CANYON MEXICO CAMPING & BACKPACKING
    10-day tour from Los Mochis airport, 2/nyts El Fuerte, train, 2/nyts canyon rim hotel, 5/nyts camping. 520-324-0209, www.coppercanyontrails.org.
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, ALASKA
    Earthjustice is hiring for a Staff Attorney
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    to lead an organization that funds projects in National Parks. Major gift fundraising and public lands experience critical. PD and app details @ peopleinparks.org.