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.