Crowd favors getting rid of wolves - Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition says support growing
KOOSKIA, Idaho -- A small army gathered in this town's city hall Saturday night to plan an attack against wolves, a creature many here believe has become a weapon of mass destruction against Idaho wildlife, as well as the people who make a living off the land.
Between 400 and 500 people packed the hall, and many stood at the back of the room five deep. Some waited in line 20 minutes to get into the meeting.
"Whoa! What a crowd!" said John Schurbon, mayor of Kooskia, about 200 miles south of Coeur d'Alene on the Clearwater River. "I haven't seen this many people here since the City Council tried to pass a leash law on house cats."
The meeting was aimed at raising support for an effort to rid Idaho of wolves. State and federal wolf biologists were invited, but there did not appear to be any wolf supporters in the audience.
"Is there anyone from the Idaho Fish and Game Department here?" asked Jack Oyler, who runs an elk farm near Twin Falls and is on the anti-wolf group's steering committee.
Not a hand in the crowd raised. Laughter erupted when a man in the audience shouted, "They don't dare show their face around here."
The Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition believes it can amass the support of 100,000 Idahoans to fight wolves. Support is growing, said Ron Gillett, a hunting outfitter from Stanley who leads the group. Politicians are now showing up at its fund-raisers; the last gathering drew $50,000. During Saturday's event, one rancher wrote a check for $1,000. At least two others gave $500. Many $2 bumper stickers were sold that read "Save Idaho's Wildlife, Kill Wolves."
The meeting seemed to have the energy of a tent revival. Ranchers and hunters stood up during a "wolf and tell" session and testified to their reasons for hating wolves. One man, a rancher from Riggins, said he lost 197 sheep and two guard dogs from wolves. Others brought photos of disemboweled elk.
"Finally people are wising up and learning we cannot have Canadian gray wolves in Idaho!" Gillett said. "We are entering the worst wildlife disaster in the state's history."
After being wiped out by hunting in the early 20th century, wolves were reintroduced to Idaho nearly nine years ago in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. The animals are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, but enough breeding pairs now exist that their level of protection is in the process of being lowered.
This will allow the state to develop its own plan to manage wolf populations. A coalition of 17 environmental and conservation groups sued the government in October to prevent that from happening, saying wolves need additional help in being reintroduced in other parts of the country, including Oregon and Colorado.
The Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition is planning its own lawsuit. The group is close to raising $150,000 to file a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Defenders of Wildlife, which has been one of the most powerful voices in support of wolf recovery. Just as convicted poachers must repay the state for stealing wildlife, the federal government and environmental groups should repay Idaho citizens for the lost elk and deer, Gillett said.
Wolves are eating through Idaho's elk herds, said Dan Fowler, a former outfitter who lives 12 miles east of Kooskia. Massive amounts of deer, squirrels and even songbirds are being killed. Hunters are increasingly leaving the forests without seeing an elk, Fowler said. He helped organize Saturday's meeting. In years past, Fowler would see up to three dozen elk at a salt lick near his home. Lately, the most he has seen is six.
"The wolves are just doing a tremendous amount of damage to our herds," he said. "There's not going to be any elk left. It's just a matter of time. It's going to be bad."
According to official estimates, about 275 wolves live in Idaho's forests. Each wolf eats the equivalent of one cow elk per month, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition puts the state's wolf census at between 800 and 1,000. They believe wolves eat two elk per month and kill four more.
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