Carter Niemeyer on the ongoing persecution of a public lands wolf pack

This is a heart-wrenching story from Carter Niemeyer about the on-going persecution of wolves in Idaho at the hands of the state and federal government.

Niemeyer retired in 2006 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service where he was the wolf recovery coordinator for Idaho. In 2010 he wrote his first memoir, Wolfer. He published his second collection of stories, Wolf Land, in March 2016. – mk

I’m providing a Facebook story of ongoing persecution of a public lands wolf pack called the Timberline wolves in Idaho. This is a true account beginning in August of 2003, when I trapped and radio collared an adult female wolf and ear tagged a pup north of Idaho City, Idaho, an hour drive north of Boise.

The pack was new and I had just discovered them. I watched two adult wolves cross the road in front of my truck one evening and howled up pups that night nearby. I set traps and camped, catching the adult female alongside a Forest Service Road. The male pup was too young to radio collar so I just clipped a tag in his ear and released him.

I reported the discovery to the US Fish and Wildlife Service where I worked and also communicated with Suzanne Stone, the regional representative for Defenders of Wildlife in Boise. Suzanne had a working relationship with Dick Jordan, who taught science at Timberline High School in Boise and was an advocate for wolves and gray wolf recovery. The two contacted me to see if the new pack could be named the Timberline Pack since the school mascot was the wolf – no problem!

The Timberline wolves have always lived on public lands – part of the Boise National Forest. They primarily survive by eating elk. Life for the wolves was good with the exception of one major problem – domestic sheep graze annually on Boise National Forest and wolves, along with other predators, sometimes kill sheep. A federal agency known as Wildlife Services are notified by livestock producers whenever predators killed sheep or cattle.

It wasn’t uncommon for some Timberline wolves to be killed by Wildlife Services to pay the price of preying on sheep. Wolves were removed from protection under the Endangered Species Act in Idaho and Montana in 2011. That opened the door to wolf hunting which added to the mortality of additional Timberline wolves. Then foothold trapping was permitted too. The Timberline pack has persisted for 18 years though constantly persecuted – native wolves killed for eating non-native domestic sheep on a public lands national forest.
I’ve kept track of the pack, more or less, over the years due to my personal connection to the founding members back in 2003. The wolves have been able to outsmart people and persist from one year to the next but life isn’t easy staying out of the gunsights, foothold traps and neck snares. In recent years the breeding female of the pack raised several litters of pups although she was missing one of her legs – she obviously survived a bullet, trap or snare.

Last year, she and her pack lived in the Grimes Creek area not far from Garden Valley, Idaho but were invaded by domestic sheep. Wildlife Services set traps, caught and radio collared one of the adult wolves – the capture wasn’t very professional since other wolf researchers in the area found the collared wolf along a trail laying in the hot sun on a 90 degree day – researchers saw to its welfare and it did survive.

Coincidentally, my wife Jenny and I were in the same area with out-of-town guests, the Bureau Chief for the LA Times and his fiancée, who had never heard wolves howl in the wild. The same day the wolf was trapped we unknowingly camped nearby and howled up the Timberline wolves and their puppies that night. Any night that a person can hear wolves is an experience of immense pleasure and a unique opportunity shared by few. Though the sky and forest were thick with smoke from nearby fires and the temperature unbearable, the wolves provided relief and a distraction from the discomforts of climate change. We indulged and recorded the howls with a parabolic cone.

I was distressed to know that Wildlife Services were out to destroy this pack on public land. but not surprised. I made some calls and complained – killing predators is a tradition and culture in Idaho and the institutions that promote predator control don’t respond to criticism and carry on with the support of the governor, legislature, Idaho Fish and Game and those that decry wolves eating wild prey like deer, elk and moose or killing the occasional domestic sheep or calf – business as usual.

Winter came and the Timberline wolves continued to live on the national forest lands but hunters and trappers continued to harass them even after Wildlife Services went home. The old three-legged female who led the pack for several years through all of the dangerous, human dominated terrain finally miscalculated and walked into a trappers snare – she died either by strangulation or a gunshot. The pack was at risk once more, as they have been for nearly two decades.

But Timberline rallied this spring and had another litter of pups. One big problem is that the new breeding pair were wearing at least one radio collar that revealed their whereabouts to Wildlife Services and Idaho Fish and Game. For wolf packs like Timberline who have a track record of killing livestock – those agencies mark them with collars – not for study – but for lethal removal whenever the agencies decide they want to…….

Fast forward to the spring of 2021, the wolves gave birth to at least four puppies on public land going about their business of being wolves. BUT the rules in Idaho have changed or become lax when it comes to wolves – wolves are vermin now. The state of Idaho wants wolf numbers dramatically reduced – from 1500 to, perhaps, 450……… No more quotas on the numbers a hunter or trapper can kill with traps, snares, guns, and even hound dogs or night scopes on their rifles…….. just about anything goes these days.

In fact, beginning around May 18, 2021, the powers-that-be decided the Timberline wolf pups should die at their den. A pre-emptive strike – kill the wolf pups before the adult wolves kill the sheep. Yes, Idaho has moved on from wolf recovery efforts to wolf removal – maybe the late 1800s and early 1900s all over again……. eliminate as many as possible!

At least four Timberline puppies were killed before their lives even began. They weren’t permitted to live because domestic livestock prevails in Idaho – even on public lands. These aren’t the first pups to die. Wildlife Services has been killing wolf pups in the past. And private individuals too – a litter of at least 8 pups died in their den in the Idaho Pandhandle this spring when only a few days old.

Did you know that bounties are being offered and paid for dead wolves in Idaho? Wolves can be killed year round and the wolf killers can collect from $650-$1000. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Idaho Fish and Game Commission are contributing to the bounty fund (but they call it an “incentive”)….. The bounty payments could certainly be extended to wolf pups too……. no exceptions that I am aware of………. all you need to be is callous enough to crawl in the den and kill them by bludgeoning or gunshot………

The two adult wolves have lost their pups but the mother wolf still revisits her den…….. wondering where her pups have gone….. her instincts telling her she needs to feed and nurse them but only the smell of something horrible lingers at the den site…….. the stench of humans……… the kind that even kill pups that haven’t experienced life….. I’ve seen and heard it all in my career.

16 thoughts on “Carter Niemeyer on the ongoing persecution of a public lands wolf pack”

  1. Boo hoo. What a bunch of sanctimony from yet another spoiled former federal employee. One has to wonder if Niemeyer’s bigotry applies to everyone else who’s different than him, or just rural, white people.

    We’ve vastly exceeded all wolf recovery goals in the western U.S. even with the animal rights corporations constantly lying about what population levels satisfy their purported “needs” and incessant litigation whenever they don’t get everything they want (or even when they do but it’s not what they truly wanted).

    Of course it’s really not about wolves but about controlling how everyone not-like-them (or at least everyone but their major donors) chooses to live their lives, but particularly anyone who doesn’t fit the stand-up philosophy and anti-consumptive resource use ideology of the woke eco-_____________ (fill in the blank). Normalizing the prejudice of people whose lives have been satisfied from the sweat of someone else’s labor just because they believe they are more enlightened, doesn’t mean that it’s still not plain prejudice.

    • Boo hoo? What a heartless diatribe and childish at that. When you’ve turned callous to the killing of puppies in their den, you betray that all these romantic notions of “fair chase” are complete bunk and this is nothing more than hatred for another species. Not sure why the ad hominem attacks. Carter is white and rural? And spoiled? How so?

      Shaun, I’d direct you to the Yellowstone Environmental Impact Study in 1994 which is the origin of the “150” number. Review that document, please. You’ll find 150 was set as a minimum population goal to achieve genetic self sustainability. It is not, nor has it ever been, a cap. You’re repeating a dishonest talking point that environmentalists moved the goal posts. Not so. The 150 number states use is a political cap set by state legislators, not biologists. The biologist recognized that number was a floor, not a cieling. This got political when the state legislators got involved. The lawsuits that followed were a result of politicians overriding the recommendations of biologists.

      • Bob, I don’t care how much CBD or EJ, or anyone else, were compensated for enforcing the law. I’m just grateful that they did so. Signed: A law-abiding American.

  2. After being eradicated earlier in the 20th century, wolves were reintroduced to Idaho in 1995. Initially protected by the federal government under the Endangered Species Act, the state legislature worked to establish political control over management of the species. The Idaho Wolf Conservation and Management Plan was passed in 2002, creating a blueprint for the state’s Fish and Game department to take over management of the species upon delisting from the ESA, which took place across the northern Rocky Mountains in 2011.
    That original plan, written by the legislature, not Fish and Game, called for a minimum population level of 15 packs. Given that wolf packs in this part of the world average about ten members, that roughs out to a population of about 150 wolves. That number was determined by the legislature to be the population size that would allow the species to remain sustainable in the state—without creating conflict with ranchers and hunters. Wildlife biologists, in contrast, argue that wolves must return to the entire portion of their historic range that’s currently able to support the species before their population can be considered sustainable.

    Bottom Line: 150 authorized; 1500 actual animals in the state. Domestic animals and wild game suffered greatly as these massive predators decimated them. It was only natural that ranchers, guides, and hunters would revolt against this. Recall that they were eradicated earlier for a good reason.

  3. I’m still stuck on a philosophical problem.. it’s OK for wolves to kill ungulate fawns and calves and lambs. But humans shouldn’t kill wolves or wolf pups. Wolves killing is natural… of course, they’re predators. But our ancestors raised domestic cattle for 10,500 years according to this genetic study.
    So could it also be argued that it is natural for humans to kill predators that eat livestock? Or perhaps it is less natural than hunting ungulates because domestication occurred later in our evolutionary history?

    I just don’t get why predator lives seem more valuable than prey lives.
    In the article it says “the wolves provided relief and a distraction from the discomforts of climate change.” Would that be more relief than, say coyotes yipping?

    I guess it’s a special feeling that some people have about wolves and others do not.

    • Jeez, what comments. Good, lord.

      Sharon, does your “philosophical problem” have anything reaction to a new law in Idaho that allows the slaughter of up to 90% of the wolves in the state? Including slaughter by paid contractors? The new wolf laws in Idaho also allows hunters to pursue wolves from ATVs, snowmobiles and other motorized vehicles and use any method, including baiting and aerial gunning, at any time of day. What would Jesus do? Talk about a “philosophical problem.” Where do you draw the line Sharon, if not right here? If not on federal public lands? Do you think the U.S. Forest Service has a role to play, or a responsibility?

      Also, according to this fact-check: In 2018 there were 113 confirmed wolf kills of cows and sheep. In 2019 that number was 156, and in 2020 it was 84. That gives us a three-year average of 113 wolf kills per year in the state. There are currently 2.73 million head of cows and sheep in Idaho. That means confirmed wolf-caused losses amount to 0.00428 percent of the state’s livestock….Idaho loses about 40,000 cattle each year to non-predator causes like disease, birthing complications, and inclement weather.

    • I don’t think the issue is that predator lives supersede prey lives necessarily but instead that the eradication of a species is being prioritized.
      What really scares me is that some individuals are of the mindset that it’s ethical to seek the elimination of an endangered species.
      I have lost goats/cattle to mountain lions. Never once have I considered going out and killing that same or any predator in order to prevent that. It’s illogical. I hate when I find spiders indoors but you don’t see me outside killing every one of them because they co-exist nearby. I recognize my dominion and intellectual advantage as a human and choose to protect my dwelling better.
      If wolves populations were out of control as in livestock herds and livelihoods being severely impacted, public areas being unsafe, people unable to go about daily life safely etc then of course I support responsibly culling the species in those areas.
      I also support people’s right to lethally protect any perceived threat on their own property how they see fit. I carry a gun on hikes for protection and would kill any predator that threatens mine or another’s safety, I support that right for all as well.
      However there is no reason that we as humanity cannot exist beside predators without pursuing their eradication. We can maintain an ethical balance between allowing predators to exist whilst simultaneously protecting our own livelihoods. This is a duty we have as the intellectually superior species. We must all agree upon pursuing that ethical balance is the priority and accept some sort of compromise is needed of us all in order to achieve that.

  4. My philosophical problem is if it’s OK to kill some wild animals under some conditions, (e.g. elk hunting) why it is not OK to kill other wild animals under other conditions? Is it the species? Or the conditions (ATV’s or not?) ? Or the reason (to kill them for food, or stop them killing your livestock, or just reducing the population)?

    I don’t know what Jesus would do, but he was raised in a culture of pastoralists.. and if you look at mentions of wolves in the Bible via search engine, they’re not particularly supportive of wolves.

    I do think of Isaiah 11:6 and 7, but I think we would all agree that we’re not there yet.

    I’m agnostic on the role the FS should play.. seems like USFWS and APHIS should be enough federal agencies to work on this.

    • Here’s a couple of thoughts.

      It’s OK to kill abundant game species. It’s less OK to kill species that may or not be recently recovered from being threatened or endangered.

      It’s OK to kill individuals on private lands that are threatening private property. It’s less OK to kill species owned by the public on lands owned by the public (especially when a lot of those owners oppose it).

    • So now we are back to Jesus. Interesting, l never thought that Jesus could be used like this. But then again, Jesus has been used as an exuse for the killers and the abusers throughout the centuries.

    • Please get off this religious stuff as it applies or doesn’t apply to animals, wild or otherwise. The 1492 Doctrine of Discovery gave christians the horrible right to kill and dominate anything not-christian. This has been going on ever since in terms of indigenous people all over the planet, and dominion of land and animals. It is the root of how our society treats “others” including wolves.

  5. As a Bighorn NF district ranger in the late 1970s, I recall Sherman Patrick, the “govt trapper”, leading me into the room where they were preparing for the annual Big Auction to sell predator pelts. And there they were, stacked like cord wood – hundreds of hides. Coyote mostly, bobcat, badger, and other “vermin”. My revulsion instantaneous, I pondered the predator wealth that Patrick had single-handedly depleted in a year. The conversation led to him speaking about winter-time gunning of coyotes aerially in our Cloud Peak Wilderness, among other places, to ensure the highest quality pelts. I discussed my being unaware of permissions, agreements, etc. Turned out this was all legit and not a thing I could do about. It made me sick, and I still get riled thinking about it. Parenthetically, dare I mention that most human killing of animals is predicated on consumption and sustenance needs. Never ate wolf and
    don’t intend to.

  6. I feel like some folks who should know better don’t understand the very basics of wildlife management in the USA.

    All the wildlife in Idaho belongs to the people of Idaho, the state holds them in trust for the people. All the wildlife, doesn’t matter if the wildlife wanders onto private land or National Forest or Wilderness. As a matter of fact the state management of wildlife is written into the establishment of every Wilderness Area just as a reminder for those who might have forgotten over a lifetime.

    Wolves have never been biologically endangered. Our Endangered Species Act is as much a personal construct as a biological one. Scientists use the IUCN listing. I know the IUCN (international body that lists endangerment of all species on earth) might be a hard read for some, just go to Wiki, and on the right side of every page about a species like the wolf or the wolverine or whatever huggable puppy you might care to look up, is the IUCN listing. They even have a cute map of the species range. If you go to the listing of the wolf you will see it’s listed as “least concern” the lowest listing. The map shows the circumglobal distribution in the northern hemisphere.

    Wolves are not endangered, nor are they threatened, nor vulnerable nor even near threatened. So if you are a citizen of Idaho, you can vote or call your state representative or whatever. The rest of us really don’t have a say in the matter.

    Philosophically what I (or you) think is irrelevant. People around the world kill predators, it’s a very natural and instinctive thing to do imprinted in our lizard brains over millenia uncounted. Wolves, coyotes, bear, mountain lions, all kill and eat the domestic animals people raise. “confirmed kills” are a laugh. Besides all that though I have to wonder where people get off telling others what to do, or assigning moral values to others actions. When I don’t want to do something because of my own ethical concerns, I don’t do it. Others are welcome to do as they please without me passing judgement even in my own mind.

    Is it legal? Does it serve a conservation purpose? There are many many aspects of hunting I don’t care to do myself, especially those concerning travel and CO2, but being accepting of others different than myself is what makes one broad minded. Right?

  7. I don’t think I can write a comment without breaking the rules of the site!
    Suffice it to say that the level of thinking, by some people here, is very disappointing.
    I suggest they read the Rise of Wolf 8, one of the alpha males, who grew in Yellowstone NP after the reintroduction.
    Time for us to get out of the dark ages!

  8. ESA is clearly a political construct with regard to national boundaries. What that means is that you are legally incorrect in saying that IUCN listing is necessarily relevant to the status of the wolf in the U. S. It may qualify for listing as threatened or endangered regardless.

    I agree there was some ambiguity in my reference to “ownership” of wildlife and lands. Wildlife is owned by the state, and managed in trust for its people. However, owners (through managers) of federal lands can override a state’s management, particularly for at-risk species.


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