The wolf control efforts in the Frank Church River Of No Return Wilderness and other actions at the nearby town of Salmon Idaho have garnered some press lately and I thought it might be worth a mention to foster understanding of what the state of Idaho is up to and why this area is receiving the attention. In a sense Idaho could be the stand in for most other states as they are all following the same blueprint. The general concepts of predator management were laid out by Aldo Leopold 3/4 of a century ago, (and 15 years after his green fire moment).
I should state right off the bat I've never been to Salmon, nor have I set foot in the Wilderness next to it. I've been a lot of places but unfortunately not there.
The other day though I was talking on a retired school marm who did come from that valley. To give you some idea of the cultural context she said wages for many had dropped from five times minimum to minimum or below. She said it's impossible to describe what the closing of the lumber mills was like. In a word, devastating. 35% of Salmon lives below poverty level.
When the logging left they still had their elk to eat. Some made cash money from guiding the people who came in to hunt the elk, now that income is gone. The retired primary school teacher said her "younguns" usually get her an elk but this winter they came up empty handed, as did many in town. Hunting is not only a sport for the wealthy but actually for some it's a good way to stretch the food budget and to eat good clean meat. One elk equals the yearly beef consumption of four Americans. One Kossack recently described growing up in elk country like this.
There were a lot of poor people, my family included, who scrimped and saved to purchase a hunting license to get an animal to feed their family during the winter. In my family, no animal meant no eating meat all winter, because we couldn't afford to buy it at the store.I'd say that like most working class people in America the folks around Salmon have gotten the bad end of things. In places like Central Idaho there aren't many alternatives when the major industry leaves. You can't just drive to another job.
Before Christmas the Idaho Department of Fish and Game flew a trapper in to a couple of the air strips in that wilderness and he took some pack horses up to a forest service cabin to try to eliminate the Golden and Monumental wolf packs. Because it's Wilderness the Idaho Fish and Game (IDFG) couldn't fly helicopters and this is how they do it. They've had pretty good luck with eliminating entire packs previously. Eventually other wolves will fill in the empty space but in the meantime it gives the elk a chance to get re established.
Above is the trapper, with dogs for company and supplies for as long as it takes. The trapper is also a wildlife biologist for Idaho Fish and Game, and rodeo rider. Probably a resourceful and knowledgeable person to take off alone for a long period into the middle of such a wilderness area in the winter.
All of this is fairly non controversial to anyone who has been paying attention. Sport hunting of wolves is just not very efficient for population management purposes. To reduce populations you need to take out 50% to 75% of the wolves or more over a few years. Bear in mind wolf packs roughly double every spring when the pups are born, not all pups live to adulthood, but the species is one that reproduces quickly. Wolves under the final EIS for wolves, the 10j rule and common practice are managed by the states in all areas except National Parks and Wildlife refuges. Some question the use of a cabin in the middle of Wilderness but it is maintained and used by mutual agreement by both the USFS and the IDFG.
Aerial surveys tell us that in the Frank Church Wilderness, elk populations have dropped 43 percent since 2002 and wolf populations are too high in relation to elk numbers. Our research in other backcountry areas indicates that wolf predation is a major factor preventing elk populations from recovering. We know there are at least six documented packs in the Middle Fork Salmon zone and several more packs throughout the wilderness area. Recent backcountry wildfires have increased elk forage but may take a few years for habitat to fully recover.Below is a map showing wolf packs in the area. The Golden and Monumental packs are in the center, just above where it says "Middle Fork". Notice the overlap on most packs? With so many wolves I'd think there is a lot of intraspecies predation, often a very significant mortality source.
Wolf hunting and trapping by sportsmen in the Middle Fork zones have not been sufficiently effective in reducing elk predation. Even if successful, this action will in no way come near to eliminating wolves. That is not, and never will be, our goal.
I read some discussion as to why target that specific place, there are so many other packs around. I guess that particular area is winter range for many elk of the surrounding mountains, and winter is when they are most vulnerable. The wolves can easily kill all they want, especially late winter when the cows become heavy with calves and the snow is deep. Cow/calf predation is why the lines on that population graph stay low.
And the coyote/wolf hunting derby? (the one that instigated the "Hate" op ed in the NYT and here) I know it might seem strange to outsiders. Hunting coyotes is a long and very common pastime in the intermountain west and out onto the plains. Humans hunt coyotes for the same reason wolves do, and for the same reason coyotes hunt fox. Food competition. Recreationally there isn't much else to do, there are no open seasons on anything except squirrel and rabbit until turkey season in the spring, and usually if you have a lot of coyotes you don't have many squirrels or rabbits. Ecologically it's impossible to make a long term dent in the coyote population, it's been tried. Temporarily, hunting will depress the spring population which gives a bigger chance for deer, elk, and moose calves to survive the crucial first two weeks.
Derbies are more about hotels and restaurants than they are about coyotes or wolves. Since the elk thinned out the main street businesses are struggling to keep the lights on. Full hotels and busy restaurants put change in people's pockets right at the darkest coldest time of the year. Salmon got some negative press but after the logging and the elk you can imagine how much they care about what someone from thousands of miles away thinks. The worst that could happen would be some more hotels booked for journalists.
The death threats were original if uninspiring. The best was an offer to hang all the members of the family of a local business. Law enforcement came out to look at message machines and to be around just incase the crazies showed up. More coffee sold and restaurants busy. No wolves were killed.
Wolves elicit a reaction. Some make death threats, others sport bumper stickers offering to "smoke a pack a day". I too used to comment to cause a reaction. (stirring) More recently I've joined the vast middle. Wolves are here, they always will be, populations will be managed as with all other large species of mammals. I do know something of the history, the law, and the science, so I write.
Since beginning to write this post, a few of the more radical environmental groups have filed in court to stop the trapper from doing his thing in the Frank Church Wilderness. Technically I think they are angling against the use of the Forest Service cabin. More broadly for the public they are saying that one, trapping for population control is an un wildernessy type use, and two, how about some donations.
I'm not sure how successful they will be on either count. A couple weeks ago I outraged someone by telling them all the wildlife in a state belongs jointly to the people of the state for their use. That's just how our laws work, I'm from the reality based community. Also state divisions of wildlife are the people who manage the wildlife in all but a few very special instances. The feds manage their own wildlife in National Wildlife Refuges and National Parks but less so of late. Often state agencies assist in regulated hunts within those two entities. States have tons more experience, and lots of enforcement assets.
In just about every Wilderness Area that was formed out of National Forest or BLM lands states have sole responsibility and jurisdiction to manage the wildlife within that Wilderness. It's written right into Wilderness bills so that there is no mistake. Without that language written into bills we wouldn't have Wilderness areas.
As provided in Section 4(d)(8)[of the Wilderness Act] nothing in this Act shall be construed as affecting the jurisdiction and responsibilities of the State of Idaho with respect to wildlife and fish within the national forest.As of midweek that wildlife biologist trapping up in the Frank Church River of no Return Wilderness had gotten a very quick 7 wolves. He only contacts the outside world sporadically so to save batteries on his satellite phone. I wish him continued good luck.
I've no idea where I got this photo, it was on my monitor for a while without a chance to use it. Good light and a nice photo I thought, early winter sky. Someone critiqued my posts saying every diary had a gun in it, I might as well be consistent. Notice the extra ammo on the side of the stock?