Wolf, © James Brandenburg / National Geographic Stock

I Was There

It was a bitterly cold winter morning when the convoy departed down the remote Forest Service road near Salmon, Idaho.  Decades after scientists first called for the restoration of wolves in the region, the first four wolves arrived in Idaho on January 14, 1995, thanks to the Endangered Species Act.

wolf blessing, © Suzanne Stone

Nez Perce elders bless the wolves before the release.

After stopping at the Idaho border for a blessing ceremony from Nez Perce tribal elders, the wolves arrived in a moving van and spent the night under armed guard in an airplane hangar on the outskirts of town amid threats of violence. The next morning we set out in a caravan of heavy duty trucks following behind a large snowplow that cleared our road to the edge of the Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness, the largest forested wilderness area in the continental USA.

The journey into “the Frank” that day was perilous.  The road was covered in a thick sheet of ice as it edged above the ice-choked but deep Salmon River.  We removed our seat belts to reduce the time it would take to swim out of the river if any of our vehicles slid into its freezing waters. The slow crawl down the road took hours of white knuckle driving before we reached our destination: the campground at Corn Creek.

It was peacefully quiet as we got out of the truck. Surprisingly, walking on the road turned out to be harder than driving on it.  We all slipped around in walk-skate fashion trying to lift and unload the crates with the four frightened wolves cowering inside their shipping kennels. Before we knew it, it was time to open the doors to history.

Wolf collars, © Suzanne Stone

Wolf collars

In minutes, the first wolf — with her radio collar vividly decorated with the name “Moonstar Shadow” by the students in Idaho’s Blaine County — was bounding her way through the snow. I still remember the look in her eyes as she stopped and turned back to stare at us before disappearing into the woods.

The next wolf, a large silver male, ran about 15 yards before stopping to make his mark on his new world.  The students at Lapwai Nez Perce School had decorated his collar with the name “Chat Chaht” meaning “older brother” in their native language.

Then I heard my name called out by the lead biologists on the team.  “Suzanne, this one is yours…” he said.  I was surprised and then choked up that they were granting me the honor of releasing the third wolf.  Her name was spelled out in a colorful design on her radio collar: Akiata.  She was a young, black wolf with green eyes, and very reluctant to leave the safety of her travel kennel.  But after a few fleeting moments she descended from her kennel and gracefully sprinted through the snow without once looking back.   The students of McCall Donnelly junior high had chosen her name and would track her wide roaming adventures through our Track-A-Wolf program.

The last wolf released that day was simply named Kelly, as dubbed by the students of St. Marie’s School in northern Idaho; named after the Kelly Creek area.

Wolf release, © Suzanne Stone

One of the wolves takes its first step into the wild.

After the release we finally had a moment for reflection. Wolves were back in Idaho after being absent for most of the last century. The Frank Church Wilderness was wild again and the forests would soon echo with their ancient, soulful song.  It was a very profound and emotional moment, one I will always be grateful to have witnessed. We cried, hugged each other, opened champagne and gave our toasts to the wolves.

Of these four released wolves, three would survive to mate and begin new packs.  One would die in a fight with a mountain lion, and one would become the oldest known wolf to live in Idaho, beating the average life span of a wild wolf by almost a decade.

But this release wouldn’t be the last.

There were two more releases over the next year, totaling a founding population of 35 wolves; packs formed and by the first spring, pups were born in Idaho’s mountain regions. Wolf reintroduction in the Frank was an overwhelming success. Over the next decade, the population grew and expanded their range.

But while tourists flooded to neighboring Yellowstone to see wolves, increasing revenue to local economies by millions annually, in Idaho anti-wolf sentiment grew like a popular new hobby in rural communities.  Soon, this sentiment was being reinforced by local media as news channels began to broadcast every single known wolf/ livestock conflict.  And instead of putting these conflicts into perspective (more livestock are killed by disease, bad weather and even domestic dogs than by wolves), these reports became the basis for publicly damning wolves, undermining their recovery. Sadly, this anti-wolf sentiment began breeding like a virus. It wasn’t long after that the state legislature declared that all wolves should be removed from Idaho “by any means necessary,” even though statewide polling repeatedly demonstrated that most Idahoans wanted wolves restored here.

Yellowstone wolves, © Doug McLaughlin

Yellowstone wolves, including the famous “06″ (left) that was killed in late 2012.

More than a decade later, despite this animosity toward wolves, the USFWS proposed to remove federal protection from the species and allow Idaho and other states to take over their management. This deal also enabled Idaho to green light the first hunting of wolves in the continental U.S.  In 2009, when Idaho Governor “Butch” Otter stated that he wanted to be the first person to legally shoot a wolf in Idaho, the writing was on the wall.  The state of Idaho was not willing to manage wolves based on science, and they were not committed to wolf recovery. They wanted to kill them, not manage them.

And kill them they did.  Since Congress delisted wolves in Idaho in 2011, more than 1,000 wolves have been hunted, trapped, snared and even gunned down from helicopters. And it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop any time soon. Idaho is determined to drive the wolf population as low as possible.

Just recently, Governor Otter signed a new anti-wolf bill that green-lights unsustainable wolf killing throughout the state.   The law establishes a new wolf control board—funded annually by $400,000 from the taxpayers with the sole purpose of killing as many wolves as possible. It is part of a broader effort to reduce Idaho’s wolf population to 150 animals, thrusting the species perilously close to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s threshold for consideration of relisting under the Endangered Species Act.  No other species has been purposefully driven down so unsustainably low after delisting.  Only wolves.

I’m filled with such deep sadness that these beautiful animals are going to be persecuted to near eradication once again, but I refuse to give into these crippling emotions. It’s not just wolf advocates that have grown increasingly concerned with Idaho’s mismanagement of wolves. Hunters, farmers, and ranchers are coming forward and speaking out on this issue in record numbers. A few weeks ago, I witnessed a young hunter tell the Idaho Fish and Game Commission that he did not support the state’s increasingly aggressive attacks on wolves.  A fifth-generation rancher is sending me messages of encouragement and working behind the scenes to create new pressure on ranchers to rethink the stigma placed on wolves and build tolerance for the species.  Another woman flew all the way from California, traveling for hours to testify at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s recent hearing to make state officials aware that people across the country won’t stand by and watch this population of wolves be destroyed again.  And, just a few weeks ago, I met with the Nez Perce tribal leaders who pledged they would stand beside the wolves and seek to regain protection for a healthy population statewide.

Idaho plans to kill 60 percent of the wolves living in the heart of the Frank Church Wilderness, an area designated by Congress to be set aside as a sanctuary for nature to be “untrammeled by man.” Defenders is in court to try to stop this plan from moving forward, and to make sure that this sort of outrageous abuse never happens again. We are also asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to do an immediate status review on the wolf to analyze the threats to the population.

Suzanne StoneAs I write these words, I know others will step forward and help us find a way to stop this madness – to save these wolves from the ignorance, fear and hatred that the state of Idaho has so deeply embraced.  And I am reminded of the words from the wonderful writer Terry Tempest Williams: “We can try to kill all that is native, string it by its hind legs for all to see, but spirit howls and wildness endures.”

– Suzanne Stone, Northern Rockies Representative 

43 Responses to “I Was There”

  1. ernie meyer

    seems like governor otter has some anti wolf people who contribute to his campaign fund and they have a lot more money than the rest of the populace of Idaho. Those rich boys from the rocky mountain elk foundation should stay out of politics and do what they are supposed to do.

    Reply
  2. Rochelle Willis

    I often wonder, was this a good thing or not – to bring the wolves back to be within reach of man once again to kill, maim, torture and bring them back to extinction. It seems humans will not be satisfied until all is gone.

    Reply
  3. kathleen

    This is elegant, Suzanne. I have already sent it to various reader sites, but also e-mailed it to many contacts on e-mail. We must be alert to so many things these days. Killing has come into fashion among the haters; a way to be macho, a leader of haters, or maybe just a means of showing strength, when the opposite is the case. We must always beware of these, especially, and educate, write, talk, stand, connect and use all means peaceful. I’m with you, as are many and more all the time.

    Reply
  4. Suzanne Stone

    I understand what you’re saying, Rochelle but the wolves were not in a safe place where they were either. They were being poisoned, trapped and shot there as well. The first wolves were bought from trappers who would have killed them for their pelts if not for the reintroduction effort. There are few places in the world where wolves are safe. Thankfully, inside Yellowstone is one. Another safe place should be Frank Church—River of No Return Wilderness. We won’t give up until the wolf population in the Rockies has a secure future.

    Reply
  5. Claudia Gibson

    Wolves will persevere. This governor will be voted out. Sally Jewell will get replaced. We just have to keep fighting. They save the wilderness, we must save the wolf! I believe in hope. And I hope saner minds prevail.

    Reply
  6. Judy Gordy-Avis

    What a goal for the governor! Maybe the skeptics in Idaho could learn by watching/hearing about the success of the Yellowstone wolf reintroduction and how the cycle of life has been restored with the top predators’ return. The elk herds are healthier, the trees have been allowed to recuperate from the over browsing by the too numerous elk which has given other animals a chance to return to Yellowstone – the beavers creating ponds where fish, etc attract birds of prey. The wolves are an important part of nature’s cycle and that’s bigger than the egos of the politicians in Idaho. It worked in Yellowstone and it can work in Idaho. Little by little, education does work!

    Reply
  7. Dianne Woni Lea

    Thank you once again for your clear words. The memory of the releases, the first pups, the beginning, brought tears. The truth of the fear based myth that puts the wolf back in the bullseye of hatred and demonization also brings tears. I know what I must do,your words and leadership again reminds me. I will never give up, or be silent. Truth, education, and courage will be my touchstone….. never ever will I stop…

    Reply
  8. Holly

    Wolves are awesome animals and help maintain the natural food chain. They have miss judged for decades They deserve to survive I love wolves they are beautiful animals

    Reply
  9. Carmen Harm

    Count me in . . . I too believe wolves should be protected in the Frank Church — River of No Return Wilderness. Thank you for all of your hard work Suzanne Stone! Your article was beautifully written, and will garner more support than you can imagine.

    Reply
  10. Laura goeg

    I’m glad to hear that there’s many people standing against wolf extinction

    Reply
  11. Gary Ostergaard

    I have hunted all my life and I welcome the Wolf reintroduction. I would be so thrilled to hear the howl of a wolf or to even see one in the wild. It makes me upset when others so aggressively attack Wolves. They have their place in nature just like any other native animal. I really hope to see some in Utah someday, I know they’re here but I haven’t seen or heard any yet. Maybe someday!

    Reply
  12. Sondra Faggion

    Humans in general are loving and kind. It only takes one with the killing mind to make others join in. If the world has to de populate because of overcrowding – why not take the baby killers, child rapists, murderers and hunt them down. Seems like we would really be doing the world a favor. There is no reason these wolves have to be killed. No reason at all!

    Reply
  13. Eva Kiefer-Ferrara

    Suzanne this cause from the very beginning has never been easy but over the years your skills as an advocate and guardian have been honed and now you are a rock that will out last these politicians, naysayers and haters. You have an army of wolf warriors behind you that lend their voices, time and hearts for this noble and worthy cause. And I for one stand on the mountain top and scream foul! Stay the course and wolf preservation will prevail, Nature may take a beating but it will not be defeated. For the wild….

    Reply
  14. Sharon

    We must not vote for people that will allow our land, & wildlife to be destroyed.
    Gov. Otter has been trying to eradicate wolves for years. Please research the candidates in your state, & vote for animal friendly people. Pay attention to which judges give harsh sentences to those who harm animals, & vote for them to stay in office. Hopefully, there are more kind people than there are cruel people, & we need to stand up for the helpless animals. Good will overpower evil.

    Reply
  15. redshakti

    I remember watching their release on television and being so thankful to all human beings who worked to make this glory come about. Thank you for sharing your story. I will always do my best to financially support wolf recovery in the U.S.A. Thanking all wolf recovery organizations and individuals for their love of wolves, and their challenging work on behalf of wolves.

    Reply
  16. Randy Haugen

    We Can put a end to this slaughter but its going to take money and our voices must be raised constantly,The Politicians will listen but people who want to Stop this must speak up and give money to the cause,Lawsuits are not cheap.

    So lets do it!

    Reply
  17. Bob Ferris

    It is hard to believe that this is edging up on 20 years ago. It was a grand and important adventure. I hope at some point someone takes time to interview all the players involved in this second translocation during the government shutdown and write the larger story. It is as much about the wolves as it is about human spirit and the drama of getting something truly spectacular done under extremely trying conditions. We were all touched by the experience and still are.

    Bob Ferris

    Reply
  18. gregory cleary

    There are evil people every where. Especially in politics just for money. They really don’t care. Defenders needs to tie up the governors plan in court to keep it from happening. The people need to vote out the governor and his allies out of their position in Idaho. Defender’s need some big celebrity to speak out for the wolves, that might help too. It is sad that much of the damage has been already done, meaning the killing of so many wolves. Many wolves are already dead. the F.W.S. is also crooked. This is a big fight, for such a magnificent animal.

    Reply
  19. Wendy Brown

    I have 4 children and 10 grand children so far. Where will they visit to see all of the animals when they’ve all been killed? God entrusted the care of these animals and this planet to us and people are destroying it as fast as they can. There won’t be anything left for our grand children to discover and see. Please stop killing everything.

    Reply
  20. Rita Peterson

    Stop gunning down the helpless wolves. What a travesty that they should die with
    the butt of a gun ! Stop the killing fields ! IMMEDIATELY …..

    Reply
  21. SolarManJD

    I to gave a wolf in the original 35…he was a big red and his name was Buck

    Reply
  22. Charles Etheridge

    I had no idea that Idahoans were so primitive. Of course wolves should be given full opportunities for successful survival even if the damned humans come to forfeit theirs. what a horrible state!

    Reply
  23. Beth

    Keep up the good work. One day mankind will deeply regret his abuse of this earth and the animals.

    Reply
  24. Libby Jones

    There are dogs who are bred specifically for the purpose of guarding livestock from wolves and other predators!!!!

    Reply
  25. Maggie

    Such a great story and the picture (in your mind) of these wonderful animals actually being able to live free makes such a good feeling. How can it be that some humans cannot stand to see a species do well & survive without man’s management? And its the animals that were here BEFORE us. The wolves, bison and wild horses & burros! All of them were here & living wild & free – hurting no one! But when greed & power become more important than the environment – then something has to go & its the ones who have no voice – other than us! We need to keep plugging…

    Reply
  26. IMOGENE MARTYN

    IM FROM UK, BUT I SPEAK OUT LOUD WITH YOU ALL,ITS TIME TO GET RID OF THESE EVIL BASTARDS , WHO ARE KILLING OUR LOVERLY ANIMALS..WE MUST KEEP ON ,& ON .& ON.

    Reply
  27. Evelyn

    It makes me sad that these beautiful creatures (wolves) were released in 1995 only to be slaughtered in 2013/14. Rounded up and killed. Why were wolves ever released into the wild only to be murdered???? So many animals are being killed for what? for nothing. Just so humans can kill? Humans will not be happy until every last animal is dead it seems. Believe it or not, wolves keep nature in a healthy state. The sick or weakest animals are taken for food. Not for a trophy or a head to be mounted on a wall. I find that all these killings of these wolves was so wrong and propagated by well to do ranchers and others that have no respect for animals. That is just my own opinion. The ranchers could bring their animals in at night from pastures and not leave them out for predators. But, no, livestock these days are outside night and day in all kinds of weather. I think the wolves were so betrayed and mistreated by humans. Shameful and terrible. Many of these wolves still had tracking collars on and were named or numbered. I call it – wolves murdered. They are magnificent. Why could wolves not be given birth control to keep population down?? It was not necessary to kill them all. It was so disgusting. Shameful!!!! When will the animal killing STOP???

    Reply
  28. Marcella Crane

    Our governor in AZ vetoed several anti wolf bills recently, thank God! We have a hostile and narrow minded republican legislature, especially those have ties to rural and ranching communities. Of the 80something Mexican Gray Wolf in AZ and NM, less than 40 are in AZ. Our game/fish dept. won’t put politics aside to help put rules in place to fully restore the Mexican Gray Wolf. There is a lot of misinformation that is spread by this crazy and stupid people, even claiming that will hunt and kill children. it’s beyond ridiculous, so those of us that believe in the science, the value of all Apex predators and restoring wilderness- we must continue to fight on, at every level.

    Reply
  29. Sheila Johnson

    In spite of all the scientific facts that wolves bring life to forests and wildlife. They keep coyotes and jackals in check, they keep the elk and moose population healthy by getting rid of the sick and diseased animals. They only attack people in movies. Dogs kill more people than wolves do. But some people seem to get off on seeing them killed, starving to death, being set in steel traps and it is just heart breaking. Why would anybody in their right mind want to see them killed? Let’s these people out of office who are not protecting our wildlife and our wild lands who are put here for the wild animals and not for the ranchers who are using public land to raise cattle and want all the wolves dead.

    Reply
  30. Lynda

    The earth and it’ wildlife is so full of beauty, it takes my breathe away. Every living creature has a right to life and a purpose that keeps our planet in balance. This is so evil and inhumane that I cannot understand who does these things?

    Reply
  31. Lynda

    Our earth and it’s wildlife is so beautiful that it takes my breathe away. Every living creature has a right to a full life and natural life. Every life helps keep our planet in balance. These acts of planned violence against nature is so evil and inhumane, that I cannot understand what kind of person does this.

    Reply
  32. Romola Newport

    Can the residents of Idaho who support the Wolf restoration vote the evil governor otter out and elect someone who cares about their state;

    Reply
  33. Rebecca Lindsey

    Thank you so much for releasing them. I am proud every time I sign another petition. Its all I can do. But I will continue to fight anyway I can. Having lived around captive wolves and wolf-hybrids I can say they are noble and loving creatures. They are wild and deserve to live wild and free. Only starving or sick wolves attack people. I have had a wild wolf come through my camp and had no fear. I have been attacked by a pack of feral dogs and was scared. I defended myself and thwacked the leader a good blow with my hiking staff and they decided to go find easy prey. Feral dogs are dangerous wolves are not! Great Pyrenees are the dogs mentioned above and ranchers can also employ donkeys and llamas to guard the livestock as well. Prevention of livestock losses is cheap and better for the wolves as then they eat their natural prey and don’t get into conflict with humans. Maybe the ranchers could rescue some of the BLM burros that need homes and two species would benefit.

    Reply
  34. Joseph Yannuzzi Jr.

    In order to stop this senseless cruelty and killing, we must expose these wildlife agencies for what they really are and who they solely support. It is well known that these agencies and their board members are exclusively composed of hunters, trappers and commercial biologists and their goal is to satisfy the needs of these special interest groups at any cost.
    We need to gain equal representation by replacing these people and their outdated theories and cruel management programs with non commercial biologists, responsible wildlife ecologists and scientists that practice real wildlife conservation based on non lethal methods and the best available science to manage our wolves and wildlife
    Until we can replace or gain equal representation, the hunters that make up these board members will never stop imposing their outdated, non nonsensical arguments that violate every sound principle of ecology and continue their killing under the guise of “sport and conservation.”

    Reply
  35. ravinder singh

    thank god it always bring tears in the eyes to hear a wonderful news.let them live their life happily ever after in the freedom.

    Reply
  36. XD

    First of all, can anybody here give me a good reason for killing wolves!? There is no reason! The killing of animals should only be for food, but who would eat a wolf!? I am fighting for these wolves, not only because they are living beings and should be treated equally, but because if you think about it…. If all the wolves were killed, there will be less predators for deer and other prey. So then the deer population will keep growing and eat up lots of vegetation other animals need. Then predators who eat deer, their population will keep growing and eventually, eat up all the deer because the deer have no more vegetation to eat and the predator population is off the charts!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! THE WHOLE ECOSYSTEM IS DESTROYED!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  37. Antonia Vassila

    Please dont stop your kind efforts to protect wolves, the majestic animal, I readed your article, which touched me deeply, I am fascinated by your way of describing feeling and scenes, during setting free the adorable wolves in Franks place, I almost felt I were there with you all, during that sacred moments and I am quite shure that God, who is very present in Nature, was watching you.

    Reply
    • Buapa

      I am literally crynig you don’t know how much these releases mean to me. Thank you so much, without you I would never know what they are saying. Thanks again and us fans continue to look forward to your work.

  38. CHRISTA ROMPPANEN

    The wolf is a noble animal who survives under the harshest of circumstances by cooperation with its members. It provides for its family they way we admire in humans, Wilderness belongs to ALL of us, not just ranchers, hunters and polititians who work solely for their overblown lobby. Ranchers claim to be “stewards of the land” and in most cases that is a fable. They tolerate no other living things except their cows while they make use of lands that belong to US. Hunters will suffer a very bad reputation for killing their “competition” After all, wolves can’t get their food at the supermarket and none of them (wolves) are overweight from overeating. I say MAYBE WE SHOULD BOYCOTT TRAVEL TO IDAHO UNTIL THAT TERRIBLE GOVERNOR IS REPLACED.

    Reply
  39. Cathy Ream

    Idaho”s mismanagement of wolves is a disgrace and embarrassment to the US.

    Reply
  40. Judith

    Yes,yes, yes, I agree with all of you! Get these terrible people out of office! We need animal lovers, not murderers of God’s beautiful creatures. Wolves have the same right to live as any other animal. Makes me wonder tho, whose the animal and whose the responsible human being here. We are only the caretakers of this earth and God entrusted this responsibility to us. Look around, and see how it’s all being destroyed by greed. What a sad legacy to leave to our children. Shameful!

    Reply
  41. Don Lipmanson

    Suzanne’s piece sure depicts the highs and lows of our struggle. Bravo.

    Having gone through years of similar struggles aimed at protecting forest habitat in CA (Forests Forever, EarthFirst!), which involved a LOT of grass-roots activism, I’d like to offer some strategic suggestions (in no particular order) for wolf restoration:

    1. Devote considerable energy to convincing pro-wildlife Congresspeople to pressure DOI to reverse its grossly premature ESA delisting in the northern Rockies, or at least they would demand DOI impose a moratorium on killing of wolves on any federal land until scientific evidences shows a sustainable and genetically diverse number of wolf packs on suitable tracts. Agencies listen to the politicians who determine their annual budgets.
    2. Keep up our presence at every federal and state wildlife commission hearing involving the status of wolves, gray or red, in every northern and western state. I feel it’s up to us who live in states where wolves might thrive to do the “heavy lifting:” driving to sometimes infuriating public meetings, truly listening to people who push our buttons, dialoging with open-minded ranchers and other rational opponents. Don’t waste time arguing with the lawyer/lobbyists who are making hundreds per hour to parrot their employers’ beliefs.
    3. Support and encourage good-faith efforts by certain state wildlife agency efforts (e.g. OR and WA) to develop and implement rules aimed at developing sustainable wolf populations in appropriate wild areas.
    4. In CA, either the Fish and Game Commission or the legislature must devise rules that impose strong protections for the packs which the head of CA’s Fish and Wildlife Agency expects to self-establish in “1-to-10 years.” Otherwise, we should develop and sponsor a ballot initiative along the lines of the voter-approved mountain lion measure that critics claim has opened suburbia to lions. While I’m not advocating wolves in Sacramento or LA (even as a means of protecting birds by controlling cat populations), fear of such an initiative among farmers and ranchers is a strong bargaining chip for administrative measures that would supports wolf re-population of remote areas, like the NE quadrant of CA where OR-7 has been roaming.
    5. Support market-value compensation from government funds for anyone who proves loss of livestock or domestic animals to wolves after having made appropriate on-going and non-lethal efforts to avoid such predation.
    6. Pursue every opportunity to talk to school-age kids about wolves’ importance in our world. Mindsets can change in a generation – think gay marriage, marijuana legalization, etc. – after which the politics follows.

    We wolf advocates muster just as much passion as would-be wolf killers, we have ecological science our side, and our way of thinking about wild predators seems to resonate more with the “silent majority” than the anger of hunters or the economic fears of ranchers. Our persistence in this cause, a few workable strategies, support for one another in the face of considerable hostility, plus lots of communication and cooperation between the big pro-wolf organizations and the countless individuals who embrace the cause of wolves, we CAN bring and keep them back in the lower 48.

    Reply
  42. Suzanne Stone

    Great comments and suggestions. Thank you all. It is an honor to be part of such a passionate and noble hearted community.

    Reply

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