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Wildhorse wolf pack in Copper Basin, Idaho largely eliminated by the government July 26, 2005 6:27 PM

Hi folks,

This happened last weekend, and there have been a few media stories about it, and I have received a number of calls and email.

It's one of those less than pleasant stories, but then wolf advocates and supporters of wildlife in general need more than nice stories from Yellowstone Park.  The number of livestock killed by wolves in Idaho so far this year is low and so has the amount of wolf "control."

Ralph Maughan
The pups and a sub-adult wolf were spared.

By Ralph Maughan


I have not looked forward to writing this article, given the disappointment and controversy likely to follow. The federal government has largely terminated the Wildhorse wolf pack which ranged in Copper Basin, the Pioneer Mountains, and White Knob Mountains of east central Idaho.

On the bright side, the 2 pups were spared and a wolf was left to care for them (which may or may not happen). This leaves the possibility that the pack may yet regenerate.

This pack, the second to inhabit this scenic, yet livestock degraded mountain valley, was discovered last September. From the start they has been political pressure (apparently almost all of it out of sight) to kill it off.

Copper Basin is dear to my heart and to almost every Idaho outdoorsperson who has been there, so the continued dominance of the basin by livestock hurts all the more than the wolves.

I wrote a long story about the discovery of the pack, Copper Basin itself, trends in grazing, etc. last year, but from email and phone calls, I think the article has been forgotten. I urge everyone to read "New wolf pack of nine in Copper Basin, Idaho. The Wildhorse Pack. 9-30-2004," before continuing.

Last weekend, July 20, after a minor (depends on your viewpoint) confirmed depredation, Wildlife Services shot 5 of the 6 adult members of the pack from a fixed wing airplane near Cooper Basin Guard Station. Shot were both the alpha male and alpha female (B224M). Ranchers had argued for some time that the pack had killed other unconfirmed cattle. Four last year were confirmed wolf kills. That there were unconfirmed kills is also probably true, but from reading ten years of reports of wolf depredations, it is clear to me that cows in wolf country die of many other causes as well and are often found dead and scavenged. At this time of year Copper Basin has about 6000 head of cattle, so a wolf pack has to be very well behaved not to undergo "control."

One member of the Wildhorse Pack was killed earlier this year by a rancher near Mackay, Idaho. Under the new rules for Idaho and Montana, he shot the wolf when it was chasing his cattle. We had hoped that the new rules would largely eliminate the need for Wildlife Services to add their firepower, and, indeed, so far this year has been very good in Idaho in terms of wolf "depredations," especially compared to relatively wolf-sparse Wyoming, where control action after control action has been authorized. Read!

B227F, a yearling, was left to care for the 2 pups. There are plenty of deer and elk at higher elevations for wolves to eat, but if they kill any cattle, the last 3 will be killed. Unfortunately, the Pioneer Mountain range, the second highest in Idaho, has cattle roaming all the way to timberline and past, right up to the rocks, so it isn't a situation where the wolves can go uphill and find a cattle free zone.

I understand that the dead 300 pound calf the was the "last straw" for the pack was in the Boone Creek grazing allotment.

I received some information this morning -- the annual operating instructions for the Boone Creek allotment. I thought it would be interesting to post. The public rarely sees these things. In a time when more and more is being stamped "secret" and hidden from us, we should read those documents still available. Notice that all of the Boone Creek grazing is by one permittee this year.

The growth in allotment grazing non-use (see below) is encouraging, but the livestock lobby is working furiously to stem this -- to "beef up" the requirement of NOT allowing conservation non-use, but rather promoting, a "graze-it-or-lose-your-allotment" policy. In fact the new BLM grazing regulations only allow one year of non-use and no non-use for beneficial conservation purposes. These regulations are being litigated.

There is a good op/ed article in the New York Times about this backwards, anti-market, anti-conservation policy.

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