Wyoming & Idaho Wolf Update
The proposals for wolf hunting and trapping season 2014-15 should be online in the next week to ten days so wolf advocates can comment. Please return to this page near the end of Febuary 2014.
Wolves of the Rockies will provide talking points and contact information to assist you in contacting Idaho Fish & Game. Please take the time to let Idaho Fish & Game know how you feel about killing wolves in Idaho!
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"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." (Edmund Burke)
Thoughts from Howard about Wilderness and Wolves!
“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”
Thus reads the 1964 US Wilderness Act. Through this legislation, the values and experiences particular to this conception were deeded in perpetuity to the American people. Whether this idea is worth the paper it’s written on will be tested in the coming months in Maughan et al. vs. Vilsack, et. al. (many plaintiffs and defendants covered by the “el als”), a case that will go before a 9th Circuit Court over whether the state of Idaho hiring professional trappers to wipe out wolf packs on public Wilderness lands violates this trust.
One would imagine that if there was any place in which wild things could live wild, by the ebbs and flows of nature’s own incomprehensible pulses, and where people could enter to connect with feeling those pulses, the vast 2,366,907 square acres Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness in central Idaho and possibly the furthest distance from a road anywhere in the Lower 48 States, would be it. Perhaps that it why the recent revelation that Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter and Idaho Game & Fish secretly hired a professional trapper to wipe out entire wolf packs in the Frank Church is so shockingly egregious. Idaho’s intolerance for wolves is nothing new, it began the moment the ink dried on the 2011 federal order delisting the wolf as endangered in Idaho and turning wolf management over to the state, but the wholesale slaughter of wolves in one of the nation’s greatest Wilderness areas is a step beyond. That the Frank Church Wilderness, the very site in which wolves were first reintroduced into Idaho in 1995 after having been long annihilated, the site chosen for its incomparable wildness, should be the site of revival of systematic persecution of wolves less than five years after endangered species delisting is a particularly cruel twist of the knife.
The betrayal of public trust manifests not only in the gross violation of the very concepts put forth in the Wilderness Act, but in their secret nature. Nobody knew that the state of Idaho had hired a wolf trapper to completely wipe out at least two packs in the Wilderness until last month, when a part time worker for Idaho Game & Fish unexpectedly discovered, photographed, and reported the activities of Gus Thorsen, a professional trapper from Salmon, Idaho. The state of Idaho never called for public comments or even made this known to the public. Instead, the state clandestinely flew Thorsen into the wilderness via light aircraft into a Forest Service primitive airstrip and gave him use of Forest Service cabins, from which he has been hired to annihilate two wolf packs that live entirely within the Frank Church Wilderness and have never been involved in livestock depredations. As of this writing, at least nine wolves have been killed. Secret state sanctioned and tax payer funded wildlife slaughter on public wilderness lands received an angry response in Idaho; at a subsequent Game & Fish public meeting in Boise, opponents of the wolf killing in the Frank Church outnumbered supporters by 3-1. Yet Thorsen is still out there killing wolves, and the Idaho Game & Fish have given no indication of recalling the plan. Given the secrecy of this program, it is also prudent to note that Thorsen may very well not be the only state-hired trapper quietly killing wolves in the Idaho wilderness, but only the one whose existence is now known.
The rationale behind the Frank Church wolf slaughter is to boost elk populations in the region, which are below state objectives. Elk are still common in the Frank Church, but not at the densities sought by the state for maximum hunter success rates, and the complaints of certain well connected outfitters and sportsman’s groups seem to be the impetus for this particular policy, although given the secrecy involved, “favor” may not be an inappropriate term. Intense cultural hatred for wolves lingers in the Rocky Mountain States within many in the livestock industry and certain big game hunting interests which are among the region’s most powerful lobby groups. Attitudes about wolves and many other land use issues are starting to change in the New West, but well-heeled special interest groups that maintain strangleholds on the state wildlife and land use agencies have opted to make wolf hatred a cornerstone of preserving their hegemony.
Hunting in Wilderness is not at all contradictory to the purpose of such areas; humans have hunted for thousands of years, and many hunters view hunting as a way to connect and interact with the natural world, and obtain food from natural sources. The issue is not about hunting but about gross violation of the very principles of Wilderness through state sanctioned targeted slaughter of a natural predator in order to manipulate what is supposed to be a wild system preserved for all Americans. From a human standpoint, the wolf killing in the Frank Church demonstrates a complete disregard for wilderness users who come to want to experience wolves; it is also complete disregard to wilderness loving elk hunters who choose to chase elk in the rugged road-less mountains and forests of the Frank Church, in the company of the natural predators that helped shaped elk into the wild and wary creatures that make their pursuit true exercises in hunter skill, tenacity, and knowledge of the wild.
This is not only about wolves or a specific wilderness in Idaho, but about the whether the concept of wilderness in the public trust is to be preserved. Most Americans support the existence of wilderness, and its erosion into something entirely different undermines public consent.
Given nationwide public opinion polls showing overwhelming support for wolf recovery, the specific targeting of wolves shows particular contempt for public lands.
Idaho happens to have more combined Wilderness acreage than any state except Alaska, and the state’s unwillingness to treat wolves as wildlife has been evident from the moment it took control of wolf management in 2011. Immediately, the state recalled its 2009 US Fish and Wildlife accepted wolf management plan, which agreed to manage for a viable population of at least 500 wolves statewide, and replaced it with the 2002 state management plan that promises to maintain only 150 wolves or 15 breeding pairs, statewide. Since then, Idaho Governor Otter, the Idaho State Legislature, and the Idaho Department of Fish & Game have gone to ludicrous lengths to make it clear that wolves are varmints, to be tolerated at the lowest possible population that will prevent federal re-listing, and are not to be treated as “real” wildlife. Such measures include no quotas to limit the number of wolves killed throughout most of the state, 7-11 month open seasons on wolves (depending on locality), and calls by the governor to appropriate $2 million for yet more wolf control. Idaho’s last reliable wolf population count was 2012—mid-wolf hunting season—and despite lack of scientific data, continues to assert that there are over 600 wolves in Idaho regardless of yearly killings in the 300-400s range from hunting, trapping, and government sponsored kills (this does not even factor in illegal killings and natural mortality).
Even government sanctioned mass wolf killing in a Wilderness is not new; certain hunting outfitters that operate in the Selway Wilderness of north central Idaho have been deputized by Idaho F&G as “wolf control agents” with authority to kill wolves on sight in that wilderness area, and in the adjacent and largely road-less Lolo region. This is in response to the crash in the region’s once large elk herd. The fact that virtually all biologists that have investigated, including Idaho G&F own scientists, have stated that the elk decline is due to natural ecological succession making this region no longer good elk habitat, and is not due to wolf predation, is of course irrelevant.
If wolves cannot be allowed to live in the largest and most remote Wilderness in the Lower 48, there cannot be much hope for the future of either wolves or wilderness in the West.
The successful reintroduction of the gray wolf to the Western landscape from which it has been totally and systematically eradicated was rightly heralded a remarkable success story, but the long term future of this success is compromised if wolves cannot be tolerated by state management policies even in designated tracts of vast wilderness. And a wilderness made depauperate of wolves or any wild creature through intentional heavy handed government manipulation for the benefit of a well- connected few isn’t much of a wilderness. The Frank Church is a national wilderness area that has been specifically preserved as a wild system for the benefit of all Americans. Upon signing the Act into in to law, President Lyndon Johnson remarked, "If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it." Johnson’s comment belies a fundamental truth about the purpose of preserving wilderness: it is not about keeping people wholly divorced from lands set aside on some abstract principle of contempt for humankind, rather, it is about maintaining for humanity some of the unparalleled completeness of the pristine natural world, and the vital spiritual, social, and philosophical experiences that come from humble immersion.
The outcome of Maughan et al. vs. Vilsack et al, and the reaction of the American public to wildlife slaughter on their public lands, will set a strong precedent for whether it will be gratitude or contempt with which future generations remember us for what we left them.