Twenty-five years ago this week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park and Central Idaho. Fifteen wolves were brought to Idaho in 1995 and 20 more were released one year later.
Suzanne Stone, the co-founder of the Wood River Wolf Project, which promotes the coexistence of wolves and livestock, was in Salmon when wolves were released in the area. She said Nez Perce elders blessed four wolves before letting them free.
About a week after the ceremony, a wolf killed a calf on a Salmon ranch. Since then, the animals have been at the center of political debates about public lands, wildlife management, federal versus state control, and urban versus rural interests.
Disputes came to a head between 2007 and 2011 when lawsuits debated the delisting of wolves as an endangered species.
“The biggest concern from the pro-wolf side was that wolves would lose so much protection and that the states would turn around and really hurt their populations,” Stone said on Idaho Matters Monday.
Wolves were officially removed from the Endangered Species Act in Montana and Idaho in 2011.
Steve Stuebner, who produced a five-part film series on wolf issues in Idaho, sponsored by the Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission, said by the time wolves were delisted, the state’s population had surged beyond the initial target. According to Idaho Fish and Game, the federal recovery level was 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs.
A 2018 estimate of wolf packs in the state by Idaho Fish and Game put total wolf numbers between 540 and 810. Fish and Game’s last head count took place in 2015, when officials estimated there were 786 wolves in the state.
In talking to people all over Idaho for the video series, Stuebner said the effects of wolves are still evident.
“Overall what we heard from talking with sportsmen, landowners, ranchers, county commissioners, so forth, [is] there’s a pretty strong consensus to reduce wolf numbers in Idaho.”
In addition to losing cattle and sheep to attacks, ranchers noticed livestock would shed weight and behave differently after encountering wolves.
Stuebner said, to ranchers, the state’s current management system under Idaho Fish and Game, which includes hunting and trapping, is not working well enough. Questions about how to best manage wolves, and where they should reside, are still being debated, he said.
Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen
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