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How Alberta wolves came to Central Idaho

The Alberta Plains Wolf introduction program was one of the most ill planned and poorly executed fiascos carried forward for the sake of touchy feely politics that most people in Idaho's backcountry have ever seen.

In the dead of a hard winter with ice storms coming in fast and furious, the USFWS leader, one heck of a bulltrout specialist with little or no knowledge of the requirements of grey wolf, had wolves trapped and prepared for transport to Lemhi County.

First, he decided to dis-include the tribal unit that actually had tribal rights in the area and to make the deal a Nez Perce action. The Lemhi’s with their fellow Sho-Bann’s slowed the movement of the convoy down on Lost Trail with threats that they would attack any Nez Perce medicine man who attempted to do a TV show prayer on Lemhi Tribal ground. The convoy of Shoshone protesters surrounded the BLM building below S Hill in Salmon and made reference to the fact that it was the site of the last Nez Perce incursion into their territory and that Nez Perce bones still rotted in the soil from that occurrence.

So at the Idaho Border in the snow, the Nez Perce prayer was said and their contingent beat feet home to Lapwai. The day lost to this piece of brilliance was the only day on which weather breaks that would have allowed helicopter transport happened.

USFWS was in active consultation with Lemhi County on sites for introduction and on the requirements that the local government had for their plans. They had agreed to drop points on the West Bank of the Middle Fork, well inside of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area. But to hit the media window for the hype of the ‘efforts’ of the agency to see a ‘comeback’ for wolves, they were stuck with a period when they could not use air transport.

There was absolutely no snow plowing of the roads that lead to the edges of the Wilderness in Lemhi County. The contingency that ground transportation would be required in the dead of winter was not even considered in the plan. For two days, the poor wolves were kept drugged in their tiny aluminum cages in a warehouse attachment to the BLM buildings while USFWS tried to figure out what to do.

Heber Stokes, Chairman of the Lemhi County Commission, was called in, as was the County Sheriff and those of us on the Land Use Planning Committee to try to come up with some sort of a way to get the wolves to a release point. The only real option was the Road down the Main Stem and USFWS proposed that they try to use the Shoup Bridge across the Salmon River, a foot bridge that leads into the mouth of the Middle Fork. The County Road Crews were dispatched and the road along the middle fork was cleared and sanded, all the way down to Road’s End at the put in at Corn Creek.

That next morning Commissioner Stokes, Sheriff Barslou and I lead the convoy to the designated bridge site, a place where not one person from USFWS had ever been before. We had suggested to them the night before that the site was not likely to be suitable but by that time the wolves had been under extreme sedation for so long that another day would be likely to kill them. One look at the site and the wolf handlers informed the leaders of the Introduction Team that there was no way they could get the cages across the bridge. Heber suggested that they take the convoy, which by that time had a long tail of environmental activists and TV news crews, further down river to Corn Creek for the release, since there was absolutely no way that a turn around and wait for better planning could be accomplished.

The road crews had not planned for this massive a group and had not plowed out the parking lot at the Forest Service rafting site. There was no place to release the wolves that was not under heavy snow, so the large contingent of greens were told to park a little further down the road and the idea was generated to push the released wolves over the edge of the embanked roadway into the trees beside the outhouses and near the A frame housing for the camp area. Corn Creek looks like your average resort, heavily built up for the high tourist traffic it receives during the summer and autumn rafting seasons.

The first few wolf cages were pulled from trucks and carried to the road margin, the gates lifted and a sharp stick inserted on the closed side and the contained animals jabbed out into the deep snow. As each wolf got unsteadily to its feet, the green crowd would howl with a hundred voices, the wolf would stare and begin trying to get through the deep snow to get as far away from the crazy humans as he could possibly get.

That is until the very last wolf’s cage was unslung. The female B15 was not interested in being released. The handler jabbed her with the sharp prod, but all the howling frightened her, so she turned and attacked it in her cage. The handler removed the back piece to the cage and jabbed her some more, but still she hunkered down and refused to exit. Finally they shook her out of her cage and tried to attach a loop over her head to drag her to the edge and over into the trees, but in a surprise move, she attacked the USFWS prod man, who ended up throwing her over the bank into a tree to get her away from him.

She stood up and glared up the embankment at the assembled people, the howling group in the background, shook the snow from her fur, turned her bloody rear flanks wounded by the prod to the crowd. Then she trotted off leaving bloody paw prints in the snow by the Forest Service outhouses.

The bottom of her cage was covered in dry blood, where she had attempted to dig her way through the aluminum and as one USFWS biologist hauled it back to the trucks, the Sheriff worked on binding up the bitten wolf handler, as the excited environmentalists headed for their cars and the TV crews loaded their gear and got going to send out the exciting news of the day.

Not one of the news reports showed pictures of what I can only describe as animal torture. Instead they all waxed poetic on the release of wolves into what they described as Pristine Wilderness. They were all very careful to suggest that the release was done ‘despite dangerous local opposition’. No mention was made of the County’s work to clear the road or of the hours of assistance given to the USFWS to get the job done. No mention was made of the Lemhi Tribe. No mention was made of the release occurring in a built up tourist area.

The ground release at Yellowjacket, where the County road crews were required to plow a route into avalanche country to a release site and the coordination of the Commission and County Planning for the air drop release were never covered. The disappearance of the Hat Creek pack of native wolves following the introduction was never mentioned. The later fights between the tribes over the large funding for the program handed to a tribe without rights in the area were never even brought up in the media.

And that is how Alberta wolves came to Central Idaho.

As you complain of the State taking management and the ‘concerns’ of wolf advocates, I can only shake my head.




Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM  Pacific

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