Still Howling Wolf

Will Westerners finally learn how to live with Canis lupus?

  • CAT URBIKIT, SHEEP RANCHER "Right as darkness started setting in, the wolves started howling on the hill behind the house. So we knew we were about to have problems. It's kind of nerve-wracking to live with wolves. I certainly don't want wolves on our ranch here. Wolves are absolutely not welcome here on our ranch."

    Ted Wood
  • ALBERT SOMMERS, CATTLE RANCHER "Too often natural resource-based decisions are made by judges who don't know siccum about the issues. The difference between grizzly bears and wolves is that bears sleep six months out of the year, and the wolf doesn't. ... I do recognize that he's here now. I recognize that things do change, and that you have to go on forward."

    Ted Wood
  • Rod Merrill, an investigator with the Wildlife Services division of APHIS, inspects a calf belonging to Albert Sommers that was killed by a wolf in the Upper Green River area of Wyoming.

    Ted Wood
  • B.J. HILL, OUTFITTER "I have no use for the critter. At all. Zero. Get it out of here. I feel like we've been lied to. One minute it's 10 packs; now it's 15 packs. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Game and Fish knows that these (elk) calf numbers are plummeting. They know it."

    Ted Wood
  • FREDDIE BOTUR, CATTLE RANCHER "When that steer was taken down, the economic impact to my operation wasn't that I just lost a 950-pound steer. That's all I got compensated for. But the problem comes with the 1,000 other steers that were in with that steer when they were being harassed and predated on by a pack of wolves. Typically a steer will gain 2.1 pounds a day in the time and the season they were at. When they got stressed out like that, they probably didn't gain anything. So I lost two pounds a day for probably two and a half days on a thousand steers. I didn't lose one steer. I lost a hell of a lot more money than that."

    Ted Wood
  • JASON AND RICHARD BALDES, SHOSHONE TRIBE: Richard: "I admire the wolf for a number of reasons. The primary reason is because wolves take care of their own, and I think the tribes will learn from that. If wolves should disappear from other parts of the country, they will always be here. They're going to be protected by the Shoshone and Arapahoe tribes. Because they're part of the culture. They're part of the system. The Creator put them here for a reason."

    Ted Wood
 

Page 5

Many observers are excited by the ecological response to the return of this top predator. Franz Camenzind, a wildlife biologist and executive director of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, says that researchers have documented important changes, from a decline in coyote populations to an increase in willows, beavers and songbirds. "We take this one large animal, this significant predator in the ecosystem, put it back, and all of a sudden the impacts trickle down," he says.

Camenzind's group was party to the lawsuit, and he understands that people like B.J. Hill, whom he knows and has worked with, are not happy with the turn of events. "We get accused of moving the goal line or lifting the bar," he says. Still, Camenzind defends the decision to force the states to deal with the question of genetic viability, not just the numbers of wolves above minimum recovery goals. "That's written right in the recovery plan, and that never got the headlines," he says. "The numbers did."

But now it was Camenzind's turn to surprise me. "I guess the reality that we all have to face — and certainly people of my mindset — is that there will be wolf control," he says. "There will be wolves that will be hunted, they'll be trapped, they'll be shot. Because there's going to be a place where wolves will not be welcome."

That kind of middle-ground approach — allowing wolves to successfully repopulate some parts of the rural West but lethally evicting them from others — appears to be the only path through this biological and legal wrangling. With a little more commitment from their respective governors, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana ought to be able to redo their wolf plans in a way that appeases their agricultural constituencies and still ensures the continued health of wolf populations. The feds, in turn, have an abiding need to prove that the Endangered Species Act actually works — and will do whatever they can to convince the states to act in good faith. Ultimately, the goal is to delist the wolf again — and make it stick. 

Camenzind hopes that the judge's ruling and its consequences don't permanently sour the relationship between environmentalists, local sportsmen and ranchers. There are too many issues where everybody needs to stand together, he says, from creating migration corridors to regulating energy development. "One of the things I've learned is that you find the issues that you agree on and you trust to agree on that. If a segment of the ranching community feels that greens have betrayed them, I would hope that all of us would step back and say, maybe there's an issue that we don't agree on, but there's a larger context that we do."

The last leg of my journey takes me to the Wind River Indian Reservation, where the Shoshone and Arapahoe tribes have created their own wolf-management plan, one that actually welcomes wolves. I sit down with Richard Baldes, a Shoshone and former Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, to see what the tribes have to say about the wolves' southern march.

The tribes' management plans are pretty simple. "The Wind River Reservation is somewhat of a sanctuary," Baldes tells me from his porch at the foot of the Wind River Mountains. Much as they do with the Nez Perce Tribe in Idaho, which was instrumental in the original reintroduction, wolves play an important role in the lore and religion of Shoshone and Arapahoe people. Wolves represent a social role model, for starters: "They take care of the family," Baldes says. "The aunts and uncles take care of the young, and they also take care of the old."

The obvious parallels between government efforts to eradicate wolves and past efforts to eradicate Indians aren't lost on Baldes. In fact, the resurgence of wolves is a powerful metaphor on the rez. "The Creator put them here for a reason," Baldes says. He chuckles to himself about the raging controversy. "People have made the issue with wolves much more complicated than it needs to be," he says. "It's just a nice feeling to know that these animals are back and that they're going to be here to stay. I don't see any reason why they won't be here forever."

High Country News Classifieds
  • ELLIE SAYS IT'S SAFE! A GUIDE DOG'S JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
    by Don Hagedorn. A story of how lives of the visually impaired are improved through the love and courage of guide dogs. Available on Amazon.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY
    All positions available: Sales Representative, Accountant and Administrative Assistant. As part of our expansion program, our University is looking for part time work from home...
  • COMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Position Title: Communications Associate Director Location: Flexible within the Western U.S., Durango, CO preferred Position reports to: Senior Communications Director The Conservation Lands Foundation (CLF)...
  • HISTORIC HOTEL & CAFE
    For Sale, 600k, Centennial Wyoming, 6 suites plus 2 bed, 2 bath apartment. www.themountainviewhotel.com Make this your home or buy a turn key hotel [email protected]
  • MAJOR GIFTS OFFICER
    High Country News, an award-winning news organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Major Gifts Officer to join our...
  • RUBY, ARIZONA CARETAKER
    S. Az ghost town seeking full-time caretaker. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • VICE PRESIDENT, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION
    Basic Summary: The Vice President for Landscape Conservation is based in the Washington, D.C., headquarters and oversees Defenders' work to promote landscape-scale wildlife conservation, focusing...
  • BRISTOL BAY PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Seeking a program director responsible for developing and implementing all aspects of the Alaska Chapter's priority strategy for conservation in the Bristol Bay region of...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The National Bighorn Sheep Center is looking for an Executive Director to take us forward into the new decade with continued strong leadership and vision:...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Powder Basin Watershed Council, based in Baker City, Oregon, seeks a new Executive Director with a passion for rural communities, water, and working lands....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • ADOBE HOME
    Passive solar adobe home in high desert of central New Mexico. Located on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition, based in Ely, Nevada is looking for a new executive director to replace the long-time executive director who is retiring at...
  • STEVE HARRIS, EXPERIENCED PUBLIC LANDS/ENVIRONMENTAL ATTORNEY
    Comment Letters - Admin Appeals - Federal & State Litigation - FOIA -
  • LISA MACKEY PHOTOGRAPHY
    Fine Art Gicle Printing. Photo papers, fine art papers, canvas. Widths up to 44". Art printing by an artist.
  • LOG HOME IN THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Beautiful hand built log home in the heart of the Gila Wilderness on five acres. Please email for PDF of pictures and a full description.
  • CARETAKER
    2.0 acre homestead needing year-round caretaker in NE Oregon. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • SEEKING PROPERTY FOR BISON HERD
    Seeking additional properties for a herd of 1,000 AUM minimum. Interested in partnering with landowners looking to engage in commercial and/or conservation bison ranching. Location...
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.