Wolf Watchers

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    By Robb Hicken

    MOUNTAIN HOME, Idaho ? During the spring of 2004, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Management officials killed three wolves here, according to reports. A fourth wolf was believed dead after attacking a group of cattle and sheep.

    ?This may be the extent of human interaction with wolves,? said Jim Holyan, a wildlife biologist working with the Nez Perce Wildlife Management Program. ?In this instance, [it?s] Wolves 4 — human?s none.?

    Holyan has been involved in the wolf management plan in the remote and roadless Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area for 10 years. Even with more than 900 wolves spread through the wilderness area, humans have never been attacked there, he said.

    Just look at the contrasting situation 600 miles southeast in Yellowstone National Park, where wolves also live. A booming tourism has grayed the lines between wolf territory and human amusement. This story is a bit different. Instead of a wilderness area void of public roads, Yellowstone has more than 370 miles of roadway, increasing possible human/wolf contact.

    Across the continent, wolf attacks on humans numbered 20 during the last century. Fortunately, none of the people died.

    But as the wolf?s territory expands, the instances of wolf attacks could increase. Either way, the fascination of wolves continues to draw humans closer, but what a safe distance is remains uncertain.

    Doug Smith, wildlife biologist with the Yellowstone National Park?s Wolf Project, said, ?None of the people died. Five of those people were young kids. I think all but one or two of those 20 attacks were done by habituated wolves.?

    Additionally, he said, the complaints that are filed about wolves are attacks on livestock, made by ranchers, and complaints of attacks on deer and elk, made by hunters.

    Steve Nadeau, statewide large carnivore program coordinator for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said Idaho has seen an increase in the number of livestock killed by wolves.

    “We anticipate an increase in headaches as the population continues to increase,” Nadeau told the Associated Press. “Currently, the situation is manageable.”

    Holyan said the resolution of the wolf-livestock conflict is one of the defining social challenges of wolf recovery.

    ?It all boils down to what price are we willing to pay to have the wolves in the wilderness,? he said. ?The cost of management control and depredation of livestock may determine what that price will be.?

    Jeremy Hest, wolf handler at the Wolf Education Resource Center in Winchester, Idaho, said many people visit the center because they can gain an understanding of what the wolves are like. He said there is such a misunderstanding, and that the myths are larger than the reality.

    ?They?ve said ? ?We don?t have a problem with them being in the wild. We don?t have a problem with that, but if they are getting into the rancher?s herds, we?re going to kill them. If they get into the populated areas, we?re going to kill them,?? he said.

    The call of the wolf is mesmerizing to most who hear it. Tourists have flocked to places like Yellowstone National Park.

    Known by many as ?wolfers,? these people track endlessly into the wilderness areas. For some, to only hear the lonesome, moans of the packs are enough. For most, this is all they will find of the wolves.

    Smith tells the story of a summer morning where there were 200-plus people assembled in the Lamar Valley on the eastern side of the park. Scopes, binoculars and everything pointed in the same direction.

    Each day, biologists and technicians work together to analyze the recovery of the gray wolf, a keystone predator, and its effect on other species within the park?s ecosystem. They can be found just off the road scanning the surrounding area with spotting scopes and radio detectors for signs of wolf activity. This group, however, is not the only one interested in watching wolves.

    ?If you?re on the road watching wolves, you?re gonna draw a crowd, just when you set up a spotting scope people want to know what you?re looking at, and we?re happy to show them,? said Matt Metz works on the Yellowstone National Park?s wolf management team as a field technician. ?We want people to see wolves.?

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