Wolves staking claims
in White Clouds
New packs prompt old questions
about land use
By GREGORY FOLEY
Express Staff Writer
After a one-year hiatus, gray wolves have
returned to the White Cloud Mountains, renewing a debate in central Idaho over
how huge tracts of federal land in and around the region are managed.
Ketchum resident Jack Corrock
measures his right hand against one of hundreds of wolf prints set in a muddy
pond bed adjacent to Squaw Creek, in Custer County. The prints were left by
members of the Buffalo Ridge Pack, which was seen repeatedly last spring near
Clayton before moving into the highlands. Express photo by Willy Cook
Wolf advocates have applauded a federal
ruling this year that prohibits federal officials from killing wolves that prey
on livestock in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, which includes the White
Clouds. At the same time, many object to grazing permits that allow thousands of
sheep and cattle to be placed in proximity of known wolf dens in the
Meanwhile, opponents of wolf
reintroduction in Idaho have asserted that Idaho’s wolves are negatively
impacting livestock and elk populations, threatening the valued institutions of
ranching and hunting.
Two new wolf packs moved into the White
Clouds this year, filling a void left in 2002 by the erstwhile Wildhorse Pack,
which disbanded, and the Whitehawk Pack, which was killed by federal officials
after it was implicated in attacks on livestock.
The recently named "Galena Pack"—which
resides in the western foothills of the White Clouds, near the Champion Creek
drainage—was deemed a viable pack last spring after a litter of five pups was
born to two adults.
In July, officials confirmed the viability
of a second new pack in the northeastern White Clouds, named the "Castle Peak
Pack." That pack comprises two adults—including the former alpha male of the
Wildhorse Pack—and four pups.
Carter Niemeyer, Idaho wolf recovery
coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency currently charged
with managing reintroduced wolf populations in Idaho, Montana, and Yellowstone
National Park, said the new packs bring to 20 the number of wolf packs with
litters in Idaho. An additional 20 known groups of wolves without a breeding
pair reside in the state.
Niemeyer said the USFWS has seen ample
evidence to believe that wolves are also residing near the Bench Lakes in the
The region around the White Cloud
Mountains is considered by biologists to be excellent wolf habitat, offering the
far-ranging canines room to roam and abundant big game to feed on.
"It is very good wolf habitat," said Robin
Garwood, wildlife biologist for the SNRA.
The SNRA wolves currently have an extra
measure of protection over that provided by its status as a "threatened" species
under the Endangered Species Act. In April, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill
renewed a 2002 injunction that prohibits killing wolves in the SNRA—even those
that prey on livestock.
Still, wolf advocates have opposed permits
that allowed approximately 4,500 sheep and 2,500 cattle to graze in the SNRA
this summer—some in pastures immediately adjacent to the den of the Champion
A third wolf pack residing just outside
the SNRA boundaries is not protected by Judge Winmill’s order. The Buffalo Ridge
Pack, which in spring was established south of Clayton, has been a candidate for
federal control actions this year because of previous suspected livestock kills.
The pack, however, relocated this summer
into the mountains above Squaw Creek before any lethal control actions were
Niemeyer said only a handful of suspected
wolf predations on livestock have been reported this year. "We’ve had an
extremely quiet summer all over Idaho," he said.
Niemeyer said a key to this year’s success
in keeping wolf-livestock interactions to a minimum has been a series of
collaborative efforts by wolf managers and wolf advocates. Efforts have included
installing electric fencing in some areas and delaying the installation of cows
with calves in pastures near wolf dens.
"We certainly believe that if we can keep
wolves and livestock apart, that would be the best solution," Niemeyer said.
Despite the newfound success of wolves in
the White Clouds, their future is not certain. The wolves are scheduled to soon
lose their federally protected status, and eventually will be managed by the
state of Idaho. The state has determined it will manage wolves depending on the
number of packs in the state, with an overall goal of maintaining at least 15
wolf packs in Idaho.