SPECIAL BULLETIN                           Year End, 2009
In This Issue
The Thanksgiving Wolf Massacre
How Many Dead Wolves Are Enough?
Living With Wolves Reacts To The Massacre
Wolf Policy Should Be Based On Science
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While most of us were enjoying Thanksgiving with friends and family, Wildlife Service agents of the U.S. Department of Agriculture descended upon the Stanley Basin of Idaho on a furtive mission. Armed with semiautomatic 12-gauge shotguns, from a helicopter and a fixed-wing aircraft, federal agents executed the famous and often visited Basin Butte Pack.

The members of this once tightly knit wolf pack now lay strewn about their range, separated during two terrifying days of aerial assault.  Their territory was the majestic Sawtooth Mountains, the former home of our own Sawtooth Pack, a pack whose existence in part was to be ambassadors for wolves who would follow in their steps. 

In this bulletin you will learn about,
  • the tragedy of the Thanksgiving Wolf Massacre
  • the mismanagement of wolves
  • how Living with Wolves reacts to the massacre
  • how the scientific community views state wolf management policy
The dead wolf in this image was the alpha female, the mother of the Basin Butte Pack. The following is the story of her death in the Thanksgiving Wolf Massacre.

 Jim's Signature
         Jamie's Signature
   Jim Dutcher                 Jamie Dutcher

The Thanksgiving Wolf Massacre

She was found at the edge of an alpine meadow, dead in the silent snow oAF FBf winter. Frozen and lifeless, her virility lives on only in the three members of her pack that escaped the massacre.

The Basin Butte Pack was together in an open field when the first shots were fired from the airplane. The two pups were killed first as the rest of the pack fled for the shelter of the forest. The alpha female had already been hit by the wide spray of buckshot and badly injured. Pursued by the helicopter, she ran to save her life, traveling through thick timber for two miles, leaving a trail of her blood in the snow, followed by the sharpshooter, betrayed by her radio collar. She did not stand a chance.

Her pack lived in the heart of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Idaho's scenic and recreational centerpiece.  Much of the public is outraged by what transpired.

"Surely all livestock had been moved to winter quarters elsewhere by late October. To me, this smacks of an excuse to slaughter wolves. Remember, much of your tourist dollars come from people such as ourselves who come to Idaho for the wildlife, wolves included, and the scenery." -comment thread, Feds Kill 7 Wolves in Stanley Basin, Magic Valley Times-News

"We were at home when it started, the gunfire and the helicopters, right outside the city limits. Everyone here in Stanley was calling their neighbors, making sure everyone was safely inside their homes. We had no idea what was going on. People with school kids were frantic, trying to locate their children and make sure they were safe. All we could think of was what would happen if any of our friends were out snowshoeing or crosAF FBs-country skiing. No one in this community that I know had the slightest bit of advance warning. I'm sure the tourists were frightened and won't be back. What a fiasco for our local economy. Who authorized this?" -A Stanley resident who is afraid to be named

These wolves were killed within an area set aside to protect the wild nature of this extraordinary land for the enjoyment of visitors and Idaho residents. Within these boundaries, is it appropriate or ethical to shoot wildlife from helicopters, where residents, tourists and school children are unwilling witnesses?

How Many Dead Wolves Are Enough?

Idaho's wolves are the objects of a brand new hunting season, just extended to an unheard-of seven months. It was extended for no other reason but that hunters were not managing to kill the 220-wolf quota predetermined by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. In this public hunt only the dead reported wolves are counted against the "harvest" quota, while hunting blogs and bumper stickers spread slogans encouraging hunters to kill as many wolves as possible without reporting the kills. AF FB

The alpha female of the Basin Butte Pack is only one of 1,000 Idaho wolves targeted in a multi-pronged campaign designed to cut the population in half to 500 wolves. So far in 2009, 284 wolves in Idaho are dead.
  • 127 "harvested," as they say, by hunters holding wolf killing permits
  • 103 killed by federal Wildlife Services agents in "depredation control"
  • 54 killed from other causes, by ranchers, by automobiles, or found dead
The limit of 220 wolves designated to be killed by the State of Idaho in the hunting season is just part of the story. Surprisingly, the 103 wolves killed by Wildlife Services are not considered part of that total.

Why are these wolves killed by our government not counted against the quota?  Wildlife Services says it better than anyone,

"A combination of much more aggressive depredation control actions and liberal public hunting and trapping seasons will likely be needed to realistically achieve the Idaho Fish and Game Commission goal of managing for a population of around 500 wolves."  -Wildlife Services, fiscal year 2008 Wolf Report

This is the science of "predator control," the art of "thinning the pack" under the guise of "wolf management." The clearly stated goal is to reduce wolf numbers in Idaho to 500 individuals, in effect killing 50% of the population in one year.

True wildlife management would take pack hierarchy into account if wolves need to be controlled to protect livestock. Random aerial shooting of wolves without regard to which animals are being targeted is guaranteed to result in disoriented and desperate pack members left behind, without leadership. More "problem wolves" and more killing will result.

With each day that passes, the need to protect wolves from this misconceived "management" grows more urgent. Wildlife Services (formerly Animal Damage Control) conducted this raid based on questionable reports that the Basin Butte Pack had been preying on sheep and cattle over the last two years, and targeted them for elimination.

Who paid for the Thanksgiving Wolf Massacre? In a monetary sense, you did. All American taxpayers did, for the aircraft, for the sharpshooter, for the pilots, for the fuel, for the tracking devices that honed in on the alpha female's collar, and for the shotguns and shells. In another way, we all pay. We pay for the mismanagement of wildlife, we pay for the elimination of this keystone predator, and for leaving our ecosystems out of balance.

Living With Wolves Reacts To The Massacre

Pushing through deep snow in frigid 22-below mountain air, a team of volunteers and staff recovered the dead alpha wolf and pieced together her final moments. Her radio collar had already been removed by those who killed her and left her body behind.  Having researched Idaho's hunting regulations, our team previously purchased aAF FB wolf-hunting permit, knowing that it is legal to use a permit to recover dead animals that are in season.  Rather than letting her death be meaningless, we intended to use the permit to deduct her from the hunting quota, allowing one less wolf to be killed.

Idaho Fish and Game saw it differently and claimed possession of her, citing that because Wildlife Services had killed her, she was the property of the government.  She will now join the 102 other wolves that Wildlife Services has exterminated this year.  The other wolves that died in the Thanksgiving Wolf Massacre, also property of the government, will remain where they died.

We are more than ready and committed to continue to fight for the right of wolves to live in America's wilderness, on our public lands, your public lands. These wolves were reintroduced with your tax dollars, and resumed their critical role as ecosystem managers, captivating tourists in Yellowstone Park and other Western locations with their wild beauty. We continue to believe that education and public pressure are the key to changing minds, and will redouble our efforts to stop this slaughter.

And as we and our many supporters continue our work, the three wolves of Basin Butte Pack who escaped the Thanksgiving Wolf Massacre flee into the sanctuary of the Sawtooth Wilderness, trying to outlast the winter, carrying with them, the legacy of their ancestors.

Wolf Policy Should Be Based On Science

The primary concern of the scientific community is that wolves had not yet reached a genetically viable population in regions where they were reintroduced. Premature delisting could jeopardize all the efforts of reintroduction.

In a hard-hitting article in BioScience: The Journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences, December 2009 issue, a group of distinguished academic biologists contrast the precarious status of the wolf population with other, more completely recovered species that have been removed from the Endangered Species list.  According to the authors, the gray wolf plays an important role as top predator, preventing overpopulation and overbrowsing by elk, which has devastated ecosystems in many areas of the Rocky Mountains. The wolves' recovery had already begun to dramatically reverseAF FB the negative effects caused by overpopulation of elk in and around Yellowstone National Park. The paper summarizes existing science regarding wolf reintroduction, showing that the three subpopulations in Central Idaho, Montana and the Yellowstone area are not yet large enough to sustain a healthy wolf population in the region. The authors assert that further protection is needed to restore balance to Western ecosystems. One of the authors of the article, Valdosta State University Professor of Biology Dr. Brad Bergstrom said, "We are fighting myth, prejudice, and even a visceral hatred of wolves among some parts of society to convince people of the value of this 'keystone predator' to the health of its native ecosystems."

Article Title: The Northern Rocky Mountain Gray Wolf Is Not Yet Recovered
Authors: Sacha Vignieri of Harvard University, Steven Sheffield of Virginia Institute of Technology et al.

P.S.  For the most part, wolves live on federal lands. It was a national effort to bring them back.  Everyone can have a say about their future. To make a contribution to Living with Wolves, click here.