Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Nature in the raw drama awes Stanley

Streamside wolf kill draws rapt audience; rifle-toting, anti-wolf activist defies advocates


By STEVE BENSON
Express Staff Writer

A male wolf eats a yearling elk it killed in a pasture across the Salmon River from Stanley, near the intersection of State Highways 75 and 21. Photo by Lynne Stone

Imagine watching a wolf give chase to a herd of elk, single out a yearling, take it down by the throat and devour it in broad daylight along the banks of the Salmon River in Stanley.

Then imagine that Ron Gillette, president of the Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition, shows up on the scene with a rifle.

Sounds like a tall tale. But it isn't.

Last Thursday morning, Stanley resident Jane Somerville was driving in Stanley close to the junction of state Highways 75 and 21 when she noticed a herd of elk running faster than usual through a field east of the Salmon River.

"I saw a wolf chasing, and I saw him pick the elk he wanted and separate it from the herd," said Somerville, the librarian of the Stanley Library. "He pretty much went right for the neck and got it down on the ground ... it was over very quickly."

Somerville was in awe over what she witnessed, but she still managed to catch it on film.

"I was standing there and (for a moment) I couldn't remember how my camera worked," she laughed. "The whole thing just boggled my mind. It was an amazing thing to see.

"After watching that I can see why people are afraid of wolves—he was so big and so strong."

Lynn Stone, a longtime wolf advocate and leader of the pro-wilderness Boulder-White Clouds Council, was among a growing crowd of people observing the event from the banks of the Salmon River.

"Cell phone calls (started to) go out to wolf supporters and wolf-antis from those at the scene," Stone said. "Then Ron Gillette showed up with a .22 rifle."

A Stanley outfitter, Gillette wants to rid Idaho of wolves, and has spent the last few months gathering signatures to put his initiative on the November 2006 election ballot. He needed 47,881 signatures by 5 p.m. Monday. The signature count won't be officially completed until the end of June.

After Gillette arrived, Stone said he crossed a bridge over the Salmon River with his rifle in hand and headed toward the elk carcass and the wolf.

Stone said the wolf ran off when Gillette entered the field, which is when she called Brian Reeves, a conservation officer with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Reeves declined to comment on the issue.

Stone said she took pictures of Gillette and his gun, "then he got in my face."

She said she asked Gillette why he was carrying a rifle and he "says he has it for his protection against the wolf."

The wolf returned to the elk carcass at about noon, and so did Gillette, who again approached the animal with his gun, Stone said.

"The wolf once again runs up the sage hillside, carrying a chunk of elk leg," Stone said. "It made me wonder if he may have a mate up on the hillside."

When Gillette returned, Stone said he confronted her again.

"(He's) yelling at me to get out of my pickup," she said. "Since he has a gun as well as a camera in hand, I'm not anxious to get out and don't."

At around 6 p.m., she said, the wolf returned, dragged the carcass out of sight, and eventually trotted off through Jay Neider's ranch property. Stone claims Neider is the father-in-law of Matt Helm, who's the head of the anti-predator group Idaho Sportsmen for Wildlife and Fish.

Neither Neider nor Gillette could be reached for comment.

Stone said Gillette gave chase across Neider's property and was gone for quite awhile, which "worried some folks because we had two poisoning incidents two years ago."

Stone said she's not accusing Gillette of poisoning the wolf "but he's said repeatedly that wolves have to go, by any means possible."

But the wolf returned unharmed Friday morning to polish off the elk carcass.

"He pretty much ate everything that was left," Stone said. "Earlier, a coyote had entered the scene, but ran fast away when it saw the wolf. After two hours of feeding, the wolf (left)."

Wolves were reintroduced to Idaho, Wyoming and Montana in 1995 and 1996. While their numbers have soared in the past 10 years, they're still listed as an endangered species, which means they're federally protected. Idaho and Montana have taken over wolf management from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but the agency won't accept Wyoming's management proposal in its present form.




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