Frustrated hunters lead anti-wolf movement
Sportsmen say predators are decimating elk herds, but views on fixing issue differ
The Idaho Statesman | Edition Date: 06-20-2004
The hair stands up on the back of Warren Johns' neck when he
hears a bull elk bugle.
So far, there is scant biological evidence that wolves threaten
the state elk herd or even its harvest. But hunters who say they are
seeing and hearing fewer elk are skeptical. Many are flocking to
support a growing anti-wolf movement in Idaho that is pressuring
state and federal officials to act now to reduce or eliminate
The movement has three faces:
The third segment is shadowy and not as organized. It
includes hunters who are taking matters into their own hands.
He carved his stick bow from a serviceberry bush. He spends days
scouting the area he has hunted since his father passed down the
sport to him.
His major criticism is directed to wolf advocates, especially
those in Eastern cities.
Research supports Johns' view. A 2003 study by University of
Wisconsin researchers found that people who live closer to wolves
tend to tolerate them less than people far away. Hunters were more
likely than even livestock owners to support reducing wolf
populations. But both groups had stronger feelings than other rural
"What bothers me is the way they have raised the wolf to
some kind of deity," Johns said. "It's not a deity, it's a
predator, no better than a coyote. They ought to manage it like a
Ron Gillett, chairman of the Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition, believes
that no less than elimination of wolves can save the state's big
game and the hunting and wildlife viewing so important to many
Idahoans' way of life.
The Stanley outfitter is the alpha male of the Idaho anti-wolf
movement. He grew up in Hailey, the son of a cattle and sheep
rancher. He built his outfitting and lodging business from scratch.
"We don't want wolves."
From the 1980s through the 1990s, opposition to wolf
reintroduction had been primarily a ranching movement. After an
American Farm Bureau lawsuit failed to keep wolves out of the state,
and after it was clear the carnivores were here to stay, the Idaho
Cattle Association and others shifted their attention to removing
wolves from federal protection.
Fast-forward to 2004. Gillett and the coalition are attracting
big fund-raising crowds and big money. An Idaho Falls banquet
brought 500 people and raised $35,000 for the non-profit, but not
tax-exempt, group, he said. The coalition raised $120,000 in March.
A supporter offered to build a house and sell it for the cause,
"I've always heard that Ron Gillett is stuffing his pockets
with the money," Gillett said. "We're really conservative
with the money. Only the last year and a half has the coalition paid
for gas and hotels. We don't eat steaks."
Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife: wants state control
Now it hopes to attract 10,000 members in Idaho, bringing
together the diverse sporting groups of the state into one voice.
"The reality is we'd love to see that lawsuit win and see
the federal government be tasked with eliminating wolves from
Idaho," said Nate Helm, the former staffer for Sen. Larry
Craig, R-Idaho, who serves as Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife's
Idaho executive director. "We just don't see that
Elk numbers have been stable for nearly a decade at about 125,000
in Idaho, according to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
Biologists say the major factor has been the loss of habitat, as
forests that burned in the 1920s and 1930s have grown up, reducing
the food available. The mature shrubs and trees also allow predators
to get closer to elk calves, increasing the number lost to
Idaho's Department of Fish and Game reluctantly increased the
harvest of bear and cougars in the late 1990s in the Clearwater
area. Today biologists are seeing Clearwater elk numbers rebounding
slightly in some units, and biologist Steve Nadeau, Fish and Game's
large carnivore coordinator, said increased bear and cougar harvest
is likely one of the factors. But in Unit 10 in the Lolo Pass area,
elk sightings dropped by more than half from 1998 to 2003 and
biologists are attributing the difference to wolves.
"There are so many factors affecting elk populations and
wolves are only one of them and likely not the most important
one," Nadeau said.
He is convinced the wolves are having an impact on the herd and
he wants to see the wolf population thinned. But his client's
success rate for elk remains high.
Habitat protection and restoration became the foundation of
wildlife management. In the last decade, an increasing number of
game biologists encouraged the reduction of predator numbers through
hunting and trapping along with habitat improvement, as a way to
help struggling big game numbers rebound.
"We had only seen big game populations under expanding
conditions," Geist said.
"You need to manage them," he said.
Elk are more wary with wolves around, he said. They don't spend
as much time in the open and are more careful about making their
"We are not going to run off and start shooting wolves just
because we can," Nadeau said.
Jerry Corts, of Boise, who hunts elk near Ketchum, has heard the
biologists' reports but remains skeptical. He hunts in an area where
he has seen and killed elk for years. Last season, he went days
before he saw any elk.
Wolf killers: want the predators dead or gone
The only public face for this radical arm of the anti-wolf
movement is Tim Sundles. In 2001, he testified in a Senate hearing
in Salmon that he had shot and killed a radio-collared wolf to
protect his wife. The ammunition maker from Carmen publishes a Web
site that tells how to poison wolves.
Idaho Fish and Game officers searched Sundles' home in March
under the authority of a search warrant, seizing his computer and
other items. The search warrant was issued in its investigation of
the dog poisoning at Wagonhammer Springs.
Yet in a letter to the Challis Messenger, Gillett castigated
state and federal law enforcement officials for searching Sundles'
home, calling it a "Gestapo-style raid."
If the coalition loses its case in court, Gillett said he expects
many of his supporters to take matters in their own hands.
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