February 5, 2023

The Mess Current Idaho F&G Commissioners Inherited is NOT Wildlife Conservation

*Editor’s Note* – The below is perhaps the most comprehensive, historic, and accurate account of events surrounding the introduction of wolves and Idaho wildlife management, ever presented. Readers should bookmark this page as a resource to reference facts in this regard. Thank you George Dovel.

By George Dovel – The Outdoorsman: Republished with permission, all rights reserved.

In October of 2007, Biology Letters published a research report by UCLA Professor Robert Wayne and his former PhD candidate Jennifer Leonard titled, “Native Great Lakes wolves were not restored.” It described two years of nuclear genetic testing of 68 Great Lakes area wolves, and finding that most were crossbreeds of coyotes and a Canadian subspecies of wolf.

The report said 69% of them did not have any of the same genes found in 17 wolves collected from the Great Lakes area between 1905 and 1912. Unlike the 17 100-year-old wolf samples, none of the 68 more recent wolves tested were all wolf.

The realization that protected wolf subspecies have been replaced with a Duke’s mixture of mongrel canids shocked many who read it for the first time, including the media. But when the media contacted Eastern Gray Wolf Recovery Team Leader Rolph Peterson for his comments concerning the “startling news”, he said they had known all along that the wolves were cross breeding with coyotes.

In fact both Peterson and wolf expert David Mech were members of Professor Wayne’s research team 17 years earlier when they published their conclusion that wolves in the wild often bred dogs or coyotes that produced fertile offspring. A 1970 study report by Mech was cited to help support that 1990 conclusion.

Mech Provided 24 Alleged North American Wolf Sub-species to American Society of Mammalogists in 1974

On May 2, 1974, the ASM published a list of 24 North American wolf subspecies provided by Mech, which was originally produced by Goldman from 1929-1941. Although many taxonomists argue there is only one gray wolf species, or at best a handful of gray wolf subspecies, having such a long list would have allowed more wolves to be listed as threatened or endangered in more locations.

Dr. Val Geist has often explained to hostile judges and lawyers that a different subspecies, regardless of changes in body size and/or appearance, can only exist if there is a genetic adaptation to a different environment. Temporary changes in appearance, body size, etc. occurring because of a change in environment, but not involving changes in genes, are simply adjustments that will be reversed after a few generations if the species returns to its original environment.

In a 1992 article in Great Britain’s prestigious Nature magazine, Geist warned that taxonomists’ failure to correctly identify species and subspecies would allow lawyers and judges to determine what species or subspecies are legal, and allow them to decide which listings will be protected. During the next 22 years, Geist and other senior scientists continued to publish the criteria for listing subspecies, but their expert advice has been largely ignored.

In Response to criticisms that some of the wolves on Mech’s 1974 ASM list did not qualify as separate subspecies, he agreed yet nothing changed. During the two decades before Canadian wolves were transplanted into Idaho and Yellowstone Park, Department of Interior solicitors (lawyers) changed the number of listed Gray Wolf subspecies to from five to only a single species.

Citizens often asked, “If there is only one or even a handful of grey wolf subspecies and biologists say there are up to 65,000 in North America, why are they endangered?” The vague answer was, “They create healthy ecosystems.”

Wolf/Dog Hybrids Officially Not Protected

In 1996 FWS began promoting a proposed rule to protect wolf hybrids if the hybrid’s actions and appearance resemble the parent that is being protected. But the proposal was never finalized so FWS withdrew it in February of 2001, and issued an official statement that wolf/dog hybrids would never be protected.

Throughout the West, that official position on wolf hybrids has been more or less adhered to. For example in Montana in 2006, two sheep ranchers in the Jordan, area experienced heavy adult ewe losses plus about a 60% reduction in their lamb crop.

When the predator was verified to be a wolf, they each filed claims exceeding $20,000 in losses. But a DNA test reported it was a hybrid and neither claim was paid.

Further proof of biologists’ objection to the existence of hybrid wolves in the wild was seen in the NE corner of Washington State in March of 2014.

After learning that a large sheep guard dog had climbed a seven-foot “non-climbable” orchard fence twice to be with two female wolves in heat, Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife biologists used a helicopter and a dart gun to capture the two radio-collared wolves to see if either wolf was pregnant. One pregnancy was confirmed, and WDFW Large Carnivore Manager Donny Martorello explained to the media that spaying her immediately was a better choice than trying to catch and kill all of the pups later after they were born.

But if the second female wolf was bred by the guard dog near the end of her estrous cycle, not enough time had passed for either ultrasound or blood tests to determine possible pregnancy. And what about other female wolves in heat where there are no high fences to keep them from mingling with other tame dogs?

Genetic Identification Required to Prove It’s a Wolf

X-Rays of a 97-pound wolf-like carcass found on private property and reported by a rancher in Oregon’s Grande Ronde Valley in March of 2012 did not establish the cause of death. An Oregon newspaper article later claimed that if DNA tests showed it was a wolf-dog hybrid, it was perfectly legal for an Oregon landowner or his/her agent to kill it. But if it contained only wolf genes, killing it was a “Class A” misdemeanor punishable by a maximum sentence of one year in Jail and a maximum fine of $6,250.

Six weeks later, on May 3, 2012, newspapers from Maine to Oregon carried versions of the same story. A reported necropsy (autopsy) of the carcass by IDFG at Idaho’s Wildlife Health Lab in Caldwell, Idaho determined the death was caused by a “person” committing “a criminal act.”

On July 12, 2012 the Oregon State Police issued a bulletin that University of Idaho DNA testing proved it was a gray wolf that originated from the Imnaha, Oregon Pack, and solicited information about the killing from the public.

We see other “news” stories describing incidents in the West that match one of the three examples cited above. Yet with all of the opportunities wolf biologists have to collect samples for molecular DNA analysis, none appear willing to provide that information to the citizens who pay for management.

“Distinct Population” Wolf Designation by FWS – An Attempt to Cover up Extinction and Wolf Hybrids

By 2003, it was obvious to FWS that the New England wolf subspecies it had listed as endangered no longer existed. And once the word got out concerning the listed Great Lakes wolf subspecies that was now a crossbred mixture of Canadian and U.S. wolves and western coyotes including some dog genes, the mess it had created needed a quick solution.

Although FWS had proposed to list the Great Lakes and Northeastern wolves as separate small “Distinct Population Segments” in 2000, in 2003 it decided to try to “solve” the mushrooming mess it had created by down-listing all gray wolves in most of the lower 48 states. To do this, it proposed changing “Subspecies” gray wolf designations to the following three “DPSs” in the April 1, 2003 Federal Register:

1. Eastern Gray Wolf DPS – included all states in the East and Midwest, except for all or parts of 16 southern and eastern states that gray wolves reportedly did not occupy historically.

2. Western Gray Wolf DPS – included the remaining states in the West.

3. Southwestern Gray Wolf DPS – included the endangered Wolves in Mexico and small portions of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

Wolf Activists’ Proposal Rejected by FWS

In that same Federal Register, FWS proposed that all of the gray wolves in the Eastern and Western DPSs that were still listed as “Endangered” would be downgraded to “Threatened”, with the intention to de-list them next. Wolf activists, who had been pretty much “calling the shots” in return for their support, told FWS they would not sue if it agreed to restore the separate 2000 DPS proposal to recover the Northeastern Timber Wolf.

FWS responded that the few “wolf-like” animals that were occasionally seen in the Northeast were either: dogs, coyotes, or wolf hybrids. It refused to return to its 2000 proposal so the activists sued.

Federal Courts in Oregon and Vermont Voided the FWS Scheme with Its Large DPSs

In 2005, two Federal District Court Judges, first in Oregon and eight months later in Vermont, sided with the Plaintiffs (wolf activists). They found that in 1978 FWS had used its authority to declare that gray wolves were endangered throughout their former range in at least 21 Eastern states and all or portions of 19 states in the West.

They also found that the FWS had not used sound science in creating the two large DPSs, but was using them as an excuse to illegally downlist and then delist gray wolves in most of the “Lower 48” states.
Both courts found that by claiming that gray wolf recovery in three Great Lakes states and three Northern Rocky Mountain states satisfied the FWS requirement for restoring the gray wolves in all 40 or so states where it had listed them as “Endangered,” was a willful action to ignore the ESA.

FWS argued the ESA did not require it to restore wolves where they no longer existed. Yet it had claimed just the opposite in the 1978 Federal Register when it suddenly listed nonexistent gray wolves as “Endangered” in more than two million square miles of the Lower 48.

At the risk of losing the readers I am trying to reach with an article that is too long for many to read in one sitting, it has been suggested that I cite examples of nearly 50 years of wolf research reports, Federal Registers and news releases to provide undisputed facts needed in order to understand and correct “the mess” that exists.

The Mess FWS Created – and Congress Approved

References to “The mess FWS created” began when Congress passed the Endangered Species Protection Act of 1966. In 1967 FWS decided to restore two subspecies of grey wolves that it said already existed in the Northern Rockies and the Great Lakes area.

In 1974, following passage of the new Endangered Species Act, FWS listed two wolf subspecies as endangered in five states, and as threatened in Minnesota. In 1976 it added two more subspecies, the so-called “red wolf” in the Southeast, and a gray wolf that reportedly had existed in Texas.

But in 1978 it suddenly ignored subspecies and listed the Gray Wolf as endangered in all but Minnesota in the lower 48 States. Declaring that extinct wolves have been “endangered” in the Lower 48 States for the past 37 years, yet with no chance to recover the non-hybrid wolf species that became extinct, is the mess with no solution that FWS created and Congress tacitly approved.

McClure, No Wolf Protection Outside of Core Areas

Idaho’s late U.S. Senator Jim McClure voted yes on all of the FWS wolf proposals and in 1988 he told the media, “Wolves are a natural part of an ecosystem that will function better with their presence.” But despite reports indicating there were already wolf packs and reproduction in both Idaho and Montana, FWS still had not submitted its revised plan to transplant Canadian wolves just into Yellowstone National Park.

In April 1990 McClure authored a bill to introduce a nonessential experimental population of wolves into YNP, and into core areas in Glacier National Park and the Idaho wilderness areas. It would have imported three breeding pairs in each location and removed all wolves from listing (protection) outside of those three core areas.

His legislation was strongly supported by wolf supporters in the media, and by most of the wolf activist groups, including Defenders of Wildlife. Although a few objected to the initial introduction of only three breeding pairs in each core area, they boldly publicized the fact that this could easily be increased later if it became necessary.

Ranchers, hunters and legislators in Idaho and Wyoming did not trust the McClure bill despite the fact it only protected wolves inside the boundaries of three small core wolf areas. McClure’s Wolf Bill failed to pass but it provided FWS with the incentive to introduce wolves, but without McClure’s citizen protection outside of core areas.

A New Committee with a New Federal Wolf Plan

In Nov. of 1990, Congress directed appointment of a federal Wolf Management Committee, composed of three Federal and three State members plus four members representing special interests, to develop a new FWS plan for wolf introduction in Yellowstone Park and the Central Idaho wilderness areas. Most of those Committee members, including Idaho Fish and Game Director Jerry Conley, strongly supported severe FWS penalties for anyone who even threw a rock in the direction of wolves attacking their livestock!

As with all such committees representing diverse interests, the few members who disagreed with the extreme penalties and could not be convinced to support them were simply outvoted by the carefully chosen majority. Once the FWS plan was approved, Conley hired fledgling Montana wolf biologist Jon Rachael to help him convince Idaho’s 7-member Wolf Oversight Committee to copy the new FWS wolf plan in an Idaho Wolf Plan.

Conley also hired Montana biologist Jerome Hansen, a co-author of the 1984 Kaminski-Hansen Idaho wolf-prey study, and assigned him to help Rachael provide its 10-year-old deer and elk population statistics to the FWS Wolf Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

Wolf Oversight Committee and FWS Wolf Leader Ed Bangs Refused to Correct Exaggerated Prey Claims
Massive Central Idaho mule deer and elk losses resulted from sustained over-harvesting during the 10 years following the 1984 Kaminski-Hansen research, and from IDFG refusal to use its dedicated emergency feeding fund properly during the extreme 1992-93 winter. But instead of using current 1993 and 1994 helicopter counts in the Wolf EIS, Idaho biologists used the 10-year-old information that was now grossly inaccurate.

As chairman of the Boise County Wildlife and Endangered Species Committee, I presented IDFG, FWS and the Idaho Wolf Oversight Committee (WOC) with IDFG records showing the radical decline in the average total deer and elk density by 1993. But instead of complying with our request to halt the excessive harvest, IDFG added another 2,150 bonus deer permits and 3,955 bonus elk permits to 1993 Idaho hunting seasons.
And instead of correcting the Wolf EIS, as we requested in both 1993 and 1994, FWS and the IDFG biologists continued to publish the much larger figures from the 1984 study – claiming they were from 1994.

WOC Member Clower Told Us Lying was Justified

On Feb. 17, 1994, WOC member Don Clower arranged a meeting with Vice-Chairman Sandy Donley and me an hour before we were scheduled to testify before Rep. Golden Linford’s House Resources Committee. He told us Linford had suggested he come and talk to us (not verified) and Clower asked us not to air F&G’s “dirty linen” at the hearing.

In response to our questions, he said the WOC was aware that the deer and elk populations in the EIS were highly exaggerated. But he claimed that was necessary to “support” the rapid build-up of wolves that would occur in the FWS Nonessential Experimental Recovery option.

Both Clower and retired Boise Forest Supervisor Jack Lavin were appointed to the WOC by Conley. On March 19, 1994, WOC Co-Chairman Lavin sent a letter to FWS Wolf Team Leader Ed Bangs stating, “We would prefer wolf introduction with experimental status to no wolf introduction…”

In the August 16, 1994 Federal Register Bangs wrote: “Millions of acres of public lands contain hundreds of thousands of wild ungulates (Service 1994) and currently provide more than enough habitat to support a recovered wolf population in central Idaho.”

On Sept. 27, 1994 during the final FWS hearing on its plan to transplant Canadian wolves into Idaho, I spent an intermission with Bangs asking him to explain why he wrote “…contain hundreds of thousands of wild ungulates (Service 1994)” when he had proof it had not been true for 10 years – if ever. He responded that Congress had not yet approved funding for transplanting Canadian wolves, and said if it learned there were not enough elk and deer to maintain 100+ wolves, it would not fund the transplant.

Conley’s Written Support of the Strict FWS Wolf Plan and Permit Approving Five Years of Wolf Transplants Gave FWS Permission to Release Wolves in Idaho

At the same Sept. 27, 1994 FWS hearing by Bangs, IDFG Director Conley brazenly violated I. C. Sec. 36-107 by secretly providing Bangs with a signed and dated letter stating:

“For the record I would like to take this time to acknowledge our support for the Experimental Rules on proposed establishment of nonessential, experimental populations of gray wolves in central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park. Specifically, a nonessential, experimental population area would be established in Idaho through regulation by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act. In accordance with the Experimental Rule, we will work with the FWS, to the extent allowed by Idaho law, to reintroduce wolves from British Columbia and/or Alberta into the Idaho experimental population area.

“If you have any questions regarding this matter, please don’t hesitate to call me or one of my staff working on the wolf recovery program.”

A permit addressed to Bangs on that same day, authorized the release of a maximum of 15 wolves per year for up to five years from B.C. or Alberta, Canada at jointly agreeable Idaho release sites. It was signed and dated under Conley’s typewritten name and title by F&G Wildlife Bureau Chief Tom Reinecker.

Conley Approved the Strict Plan He Helped Write

In other words, Conley signed unconditional Idaho approval of a federal wolf plan that allowed penalties of up to a $50,000 fine and/or one year in the penitentiary for ranchers who committed any one of multiple “offenses” they were not allowed to use to protect their livestock from “nonessential experimental” wolves in the act of killing them – even on their private property.

The Plan’s refusal to compensate ranchers for livestock killed by wolves, or for reduced calf production and decline in weight gains from stress caused by wolves, was an obvious “taking” without compensation. And the candid admission by FWS biologists that there were more than 60,000 gray wolves in Canada and Alaska indicate they were neither endangered nor threatened.

The FWS Wolf Plan that Conley helped draft in 1990 also ignored the rural citizen protections that were part of the previous proposal. This became obvious when official requests from Ada, Owyhee and Boise Counties for inclusion of protections in the Idaho Wolf Plan were rejected by Jon Rachael, and publicly ridiculed by Don Clower.

Boise County Got Protection for Other Animals

But our County Endangered Species Committee continued to insist that other domestic animals (e.g. fowl, swine, goats, etc.) and pets (i.e. dogs or cats) on private land receive the same degree of protection as other livestock (i.e. cattle, sheep, horses and mules).

The FWS Final Rule published in the Federal Register on Nov. 22, 1994 included statements that a wolf attack on domestic animals taking place on private property twice within a one year period, after five or six breeding pairs of wolves had been documented, would result in declaring it as a problem wolf and it would be removed from the area. Another attack by the same wolf would result in removal from the wild or killing.

Today, with wolves delisted, owners or agents of domestic animals including pets have authority to kill wolves that present a threat to their animals on private property without obtaining permission from any agency.

Idaho Citizens and Their Elected Representatives Knew That F&G Officials Strongly Supported Recovery

It was no secret to anyone involved in the wolf issue, including Idaho legislators, that every IDFG official at the state or regional level strongly supported wolf recovery. That is why the Idaho Legislature included the following language in Idaho Code Sec. 36-715 in 1988, “Duties of the department of fish and game regarding the endangered species act:

“(1) Since wolf-dog hybridizations are known to exist in Idaho—and are not protected by the U.S. endangered species act, a biological evaluation shall be required of the animal to determine priority before IDFG may take action in accordance with the United States ESA.

(2) The department of fish and game shall not be authorized to expend funds, transfer assets, or enter into a cooperative agreement with any agency, department or entity of the U.S. government concerning wolves unless expressly authorized by state statute.

“(3) If a wolf is sighted, the burden of proof concerning the reported presence of a wolf within Idaho shall rest with the observer and the IDFG shall take no action to enforce the U.S. ESA regarding wolves in the absence of that proof.” concerning the reported presence of a wolf within Idaho shall rest with the observer and the IDFG shall take no action to enforce the U.S. ESA regarding wolves in the absence of that proof.”

Although the language restricting IDFG from participating in wolf management was eventually removed to support the legislature’s 2002 Idaho Wolf Plan, creation of the Governor’s “Office of Species Conservation” in 2000 gave the authority to negotiate ESA agreements with federal agencies to OSC – not to IDFG. It also required IDFG to work with the OSC Administrator – the primary voice in endangered species management decisions.

In other words, IDFG officials have not had legal authority to do what Conley and Reinecker did without legislative or OSC approval since early 1988 – nearly seven years before they committed the illegal acts.

Bombshell by Three of Seven WOC Voting Members Was Too Late to Undo Conley Letters to FWS

Copies of Conley’s letter to Bangs were sent to the members of the Wolf Oversight Committee. After a majority of four voting members declined to challenge his illegal actions, the minority of three voting and one non-voting member sent a strongly-worded four-page letter to the Gray Wolf Reintroduction HQ in Helena, Montana.

It was signed by WOC Co-Chairman George Bennett and by members Ted Hoffman, DVM, Stan Boyd, Idaho Woolgrowers, and non-voting member Lois VanHoover from the Independent Miners Association.

The letter stated that many hunters and hunter organizations had contacted them and expressed bitter opposition to the proposed plan because it allowed a wildlife experiment with the potential to plunder Idaho ungulate herds with no certain controls on the results. No provision was made for reversal in the event of excessive wolf numbers, and the assumption was made that wolf recovery is desirable contrary to historical outcomes.

The letter also stated the four signers’ belief that the proposed rule was illegal, failing to fulfill the requirements of Sec. 6 of the ESA which required cooperation with the states to the maximum extent practicable, and Sec. 17 50 CFR which required agreement to the maximum extent practicable.

It charged that the consultation and cooperation by FWS has been inadequate or nonexistent. It listed two pages of deficiencies that must be corrected to prevent the four WOC members from recommending to Idaho legislators that they reject the FWS proposal and retain the existing language in I.C. Sec. 36-715 that prohibited the IDFG from participating in any wolf recovery activities without approval of the legislature.

Their letter said they would urge the legislature to further prohibit any state agency from any activity supporting the federal wolf recovery effort and that also happened when FWS ignored their request. At that point, FWS NRM Wolf Recovery Official Ed Bangs had the consent he needed from Idaho to introduce Canadian wolves, but the opportunity to get Congressional funding was apparently lost.

FWS whistle-blower Jim Beers, whose past duties included apportioning the Pittman-Robertson funding to the states, later testified twice to Congress that FWS stole $45-$60 million of P-R excise taxes from the states and used part of the stolen money to fund the trapping and transplanting of Canadian wolves into Idaho and YNP.

Reader Seeks Proof and Takes It to Post Falls Commission Meeting to Get Answers

When one of my Outdoorsman articles reported the restriction in Idaho Code Sec. 36-715(2) prohibiting IDFG from entering into any cooperative agreement with any federal agency concerning wolves, and discussed the illegal letter and permit written by Conley, a reader from North Idaho sent me a letter asking if I had proof of this.

I mailed him photocopies of the documents and he brought them to the next F&G Commission hearing in Post Falls, demanding an explanation of why Conley was allowed to disobey the law. When former Director Steve Mealey was hired to replace Conley who was forced to resign, he explained why Idaho would not have wolves if Conley had not authorized FWS to bring them here.

But Mealey was no longer living in Idaho so F&G Commissioner Randy Budge, a lawyer, claimed that Idaho was going to get wolves anyway “because they were forced on us by the federal government.” He had already tried that excuse in testimony before the House Resources Committee but Rep. JoAn Wood firmly corrected him.

Yet during the January 2010 Commission meeting, Budge insisted the information provided by citizens at two previous hearings was not accurate and encouraged his fellow Commissioners to have a fact sheet to distribute before each hearing “proving” the charges were inaccurate.

Commissioner Wheeler Sets the Record Straight

At that point Commissioner Cameron Wheeler said, “I’d like to shed a little light on it. There was a document signed by Conley at that time and I’ve read it and I know a couple of Commissioners that were on the Commission at that time – they did not give him the authority to do that, but it was signed and I’ve seen it – several legislators got it. So that’s where this comes from.

“You can like it or not like it, but that’s the truth. The feds had to have some agency that was willing to put their ‘John Henry’ on it, that’s what he did. It’ll never die.”

Commissioner Wheeler was asked, “Cameron, was the agreement that he signed they were going to introduce them whether we like it or not and so this was an agreement we will participate in management?” Wheeler responded: “No. The agreement that he signed was an agreement to cooperate in the introduction.”

None of the other Commissioners had any personal knowledge of the history of wolf recovery but despite Wheeler’s explanation of the facts to them, three insisted on handing out a “fact” sheet with limited information before each public meeting to stop the public from lambasting the Commission – rather than admitting what actually happened.

Another Commissioner asked Wheeler, “So you agree that perhaps more disclosure might be best – and state all the facts – put as much sunshine on it as we can – and present that and live with it as a principle rather than, as Randy said, try to not necessarily hide it but to disclose less than the whole story?”
Groen interrupted Wheeler before he could answer and proceeded to verbally attack the individuals and groups who brought the issue up and said they weren’t interested in hearing facts. Trying to prevent full disclosure which could also have incriminated him, Groen said:

“And regarding that letter that came up at Post Falls – what that letter was, it states that we did not want to get ‘em (i.e. wolves) and we stood strong there for when they were ready to be put in no matter what. It was a letter that would keep our authority and the Director at that time signed that letter – I guess you’d call it, Jim, a ‘Transport Permit’ or whatever – and it was ‘kinda’ just to try to keep our hands in it.”

A small part of Groen’s claim was partly true concerning the desire to keep “their authority” – but they had absolutely no authority for years – only responsibility to assist in preparation of an Idaho Wolf Plan. The claim that Conley’s letter stated that F&G did not want to get wolves was simply a lie.

I’m Not Real Sure We Want to Get in the Way of Truth

During the years that I attended Commission meetings, I often watched a similar scenario unfold. With the exception of Directors Greenley and Mealey, every Director or Acting Director manipulated the Commission to pass only those rules supported by IDFG, and quickly did whatever was necessary, including lying, to change the discussion if it appeared to be headed the wrong way.

Groen was brought to Idaho by Conley to organize and operate the Idaho chapter of The Nature Conservancy’s “NatureServe” international data base of Endangered and Threatened species. More than half of the total cost was paid for with license fees or excise tax dollars from hunters and the name was changed from “Natural Heritage Program” to “Natural Resource Policy Division” to make it sound more like a legitimate bureau hunters would support.

Wheeler stated, “The decision (by IDFG to help introduce wolves) really runs deep into the fiber of both the sportsmen and policy makers of this state.” He questioned use of a document on sportsmen who come to Commission meetings and said, “I’m not real sure that we want to get in the way of the truth.”

But, without bringing it up as a motion to be voted on, Commissioners Tony McDermott and Budge insisted the handout was a good idea and Chairman Wayne Wright directed Groen to prepare the handout advising they would use it with discretion.

Yet the minutes concerning consideration of the wolf testimony the following morning contained only two sentences:

1. “Comments about wolves and elk and the frustration people are feeling.”

2. “There is concern on inaccurate information from the public regarding wolves; suggestions of a fact statement regarding the history of wolves to be read at the beginning of a Commission meeting.”

In the next issue of The Outdoorsman – No. 38 – I published photocopies of Conley’s letter and permit, the appropriate Code Section prohibiting what he did, and part of the 4-page letter from the minority of Wolf Oversight Committee members citing the numerous requirements for protection of citizens that were ignored by FWS and IDFG.

F&G responded in its “Wolf Management/Status Timeline online by listing abbreviated comments regarding Idaho Code changes that confuse – rather than enlighten. Then it provided links to Conley’s Sept. 27, 1994 letter to Bangs emphasizing that IDFG will work with FWS “only” to the extent allowed by Idaho Law, to reintroduce wolves into Idaho under the experimental population rules.

Do people not realize that the entire letter violated Idaho law?

And the link to the Special Permit signed by Tom Reinecker says it was a courtesy by IDFG issued in accordance with state law and with the Idaho Wolf Plan currently being drafted by IDFG and the WOC.

In my opinion that is similar to a banker who is charged by law with protecting his depositors’ money, giving a permit to a gang of thieves to come in once a year and rob the bank.

There was no mention in the Permit of a plan “being drafted.” In fact a state wolf plan was not approved by the Idaho Legislature until 7-1/2 years later. Yet instead of admitting it violated Idaho law in its Timeline, IDFG blames the legislature and, by inference, the minority members of the Wolf Oversight Committee for the fact that it did not get to “manage” wolves sooner.

Even after Conley was forced to resign, given six months severance pay and hired as Director of the Missouri Conservation Dept., his co-conspirators in IDFG continued to sacrifice elk and deer to protect wolves and promote non-consumptive wildlife recreation. During the past nine years 11 IDFG Department heads, including Ex-Deputy Director Jim Unsworth and Sharon Kiefer, have taken a special nine-month course including two weeks at the FWS MAT training center in Shepherdstown W. Va.

They are now part of an “elite” national team of “NCLI Fellows” you will read about in The Outdoorsman.


Future of Idaho’s Wildlife

Letter to the Editor;

I have recently read articles about the Fish and Game wanting a fee increase and yet another idea about how to get some Idahoans pitted against each other so only some foot the bill. I would like to make it very clear I love the outdoors and everything it has to offer, especially for our youth. I believe every sportsman wants to pay every cent that is truly needed, and will sacrifice time, effort, and money to keep the thing they love above all else as a heritage for their children. Time after time I’ve witnessed our Fish and Game pit one group against another. To the point some of our best sportsmen no longer go to any meetings concerning matters at hand. Basically because decisions have already been made and frankly their time and personal integrity have been wasted.

The science behind what should dictate direction for wildlife has long disappeared. Money overrides science every time there is a new shortfall in the status Quo. When most Idahoans go to work and their productivity weans we have to work harder for a better or more productive product, or we suffer. We don’t just try new ways to make more profit on the same poor product! For our kids sake they have to change direction, but I fear they will never be held accountable because they are such masters at pitting the sportsman against each other. Or at least groups of people against one another. To the point I mentioned earlier, until it’s to hard for the average man to dedicate anymore time and effort going to their meetings. Because they never make any real difference for the average man to justify his sacrifice from his family and his own struggle in life.

They ( F&G) will patronize you but your opinions mean little if anything. They ( F&G) will spend all kinds of money on more studies but the results never really go anywhere or make any real change that have improved their product. Look at a 30 year window of my life during the 60’s 70’s 80’s I would without question say almost everything they managed has diminished in quality and quantity since then especially. I know some quality will change with growth by human expansion that they have no control. That said I also know if they cared there are many things they could get going at no cost at all except their time and effort. They have very poor relationships with almost every landowner I know and landowners own a big part of the playing field.

If you question my opinion I understand but I would ask two questions . 1.) If it was good science during the 60’s- 80’s (probably longer, when the Snake River had a lot more water all winter) to close fishing season during the winter why would it now be open all winter with very low water flows (like fishing in a bucket). What science decision do you believe had merit, then or now? 2.) If deer populations are historically low, as well as deer harvested by sportsmen , and deer tag sales since the 80’s, (especially low compared to that same 30 year period) what science would dictate our Fish and game to adopt 2 deer tags sales to a resident as long as he or she pays non-resident prices on the 2nd tag? I believe these decisions revolve around Money and influential people rather than Science and our children’s Heritage.

I know many believe Hunting and fishing is cruel and unneeded, that for wildlife to survive they need to get rid of the sportsmen! I beg to differ, real sportsmen would go to great lengths and sacrifice to keep all wildlife in abundance but with balance. Those who don’t see that are blinded and are probably building their new home in the middle of the last Mule deer winter range, killing more wildlife than any sportsman could in his lifetime. They may not mean to, but their destruction is far greater when they don’t take the time to find out that proper understanding, use, and management is crucial for wildlife’s future existence.

I mean it with all my heart that I would back the Idaho Fish and Game for a fee increase if only they really needed it. I Don’t believe they do! I believe they have become a huge Bureaucracy out of control for the average sportsmen of Idaho and have no real belief that accountability by the sportsmen is on its way. I beg all sportsmen to stand up and be heard, call all F&G Commissioners and Politicians, for your kids’ sake changes need to be made. If only 10% of Idaho sportsmen stood together we could move mountains with our Politicians and Commissioners. Pull together and make it happen lets hold someone accountable.

Bryan Sprague


Outdoorsman History (Cont.) – the Real Reasons State F&G Management Was, and Still Is, Failing

By George Dovel (Republished on this website with permission from the author. All rights reserved.)

In Bulletin No. 55 Part 1 of 3, I described how I provided Bighorn Sheep Biologist Jim Morgan everything he needed to observe and document the ongoing destruction of Idaho’s wild Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep population in central Idaho. For several years, Morgan had been conducting a study of the alleged impact to a small group of bighorns near Challis from domestic sheep and cattle grazing, and from abundant mule deer browsing on the shared winter range of the bighorns.

As with other graduate students conducting similar research on other species, Morgan had recorded the seasonal movement of his bighorns and measured forage utilization. But because of financial limitations and the inherit difficulty even locating and identifying predator kills, much less measuring the impact of predation, he accepted his professors’ flawed teaching that predation was always self-limiting – and thus beneficial in the long run.

On our trips into the Idaho Primitive Area in a Cessna 180 with retractable skis, I helped him discover for himself and then record the causes of the decline in Idaho’s primary Bighorn population.

General September 3/4-curl Ram Season Allowed Too Many Rams to Be Killed by Hunters on Winter Range

I told Morgan that a 2-3 inch early September snowfall in the high country during most years caused the ram bands to return to winter range prematurely. Although they traveled back to the high country once the storm was over, these rams were extremely vulnerable to hunters when they briefly showed up on the outfitter ranch pastures on lower Big Creek and the lower Middle Fork of the Salmon.

Once the bachelor bands were virtually eliminated on Big Creek and the Middle Fork by hunters, with no mature rams to lead the young rams into the high country in the spring, many remained with the ewe-lamb groups where they were born. During the early pre-rut there was little or no dominance established and the young rams were breeding their mothers and sisters.

They soon produced a population with inbred sheep that were more susceptible to diseases, including pneumonia triggered by stress that involved parasites normally found in their internal organs.

Every winter as lion hunter Rob Donley and I traveled up and down lower Big Creek and the Middle Fork of the Salmon, we observed more bighorn ewes in poor condition being harassed by coyotes and constantly coughing. They were described as having “pneumonia-lungworm complex,” a common term used by biologists, who lacked medical training and chose to ignore the evidence that their harvest of too many mature rams from a limited population had caused the cycle of destruction)

Instead of limiting the number of hunters and allowing them to kill only a trophy ram (8-1/2 year or older) as recommended by Bighorn Sheep Researcher Dwight Smith in 1952, greedy IDFG officials settled on a general open season with any 3/4-curl ram legal to harvest in 1956.

Excessive Kill Stats Increased License, Tag Income

Smith had recorded a healthy late winter average of 75 rams and 40 surviving lambs per 100 ewes in the sheep population where a few hunters had legally harvested a handful of older rams. But 16 years later, when Morgan counted the lower Big Creek and lower Middle Fork bighorns on their winter range, he recorded a ratio of only 19 mostly young rams and 13 lambs per 100 ewes.

From 1968-1971 Morgan tried to convince Game Division Chief Roger Williams to close the general sheep season and allow only 7-1/2 year-old or older rams, or those scoring at least 140 Boone & Crocket points, to be harvested by a limited number of hunters. But the extra money from increases in the number of general season bighorn tags sold, prompted Williams to ignore the advice.

Yet during a 1970 F&G Commission meeting, when I asked Williams why he didn’t follow his Bighorn Biologist’s suggestions, he lied and said he had never heard such suggestions. Then in a taped meeting with Outdoorsman staff and the two top IDFG officials, Director Dick Woodworth said Idaho bighorn sheep were declining anyway, so hunters had just as well hunt and kill them.

We reminded him and Asst. Director Robert Salter that the combination of Idaho Code Secs. 36-103 and 104 require the F&G Commission to shorten or close seasons when populations would be adversely affected by hunting. But Salter responded by insisting their job was to provide “hunting opportunity” – rather than animals to hunt.

IDFG Director Ignores “Perpetuate Wildlife” Law – Sells Increased “Hunting Opportunity” Instead

In 1968 Woodworth had published a report titled, “Progress in Game Management by Expansion of Hunting Opportunity.” The report listed nine ways he accomplished this, including dramatically increasing season lengths; killing more deer, elk, sheep, goats and pheasants; killing more female deer, elk and pheasants; and allowing from 2 to 5 mule deer to be killed in one year by a single hunter.

The report stated his first priority: “1. Expanding Information and Education work at all levels in order to gain public acceptance of this accelerated progressive program of improving the hunting opportunity.” The propaganda was necessary because concerned citizens – not F&G officials – were and still are the people who value healthy wild game and fish populations above the empire building of the people they pay to manage game and fish.

Morgan “Blew the Whistle” on F&G Mismanagement

Morgan resigned from IDFG in March of 1971 and published an article in Boise’s Intermountain Observer, soundly condemning the agency for its failure to properly manage wildlife. He wrote that Department officials had deliberately mismanaged the state’s big game animals and described IDFG as “…an organization that has become so preoccupied with rules, paperwork and its failing public image that it often loses sight of its reason for existing.”

He said the Game Division was in particular trouble and had reached a point where “good researchers resign themselves to permanent paid retirement when they realize research is done for public appearances sake and that the Department is not interested in listening to or acting on research recommendations.”

He charged Game Division Chief Roger Williams with developing an irrational obsession to bust him out of IDFG after refusing to acknowledge the need for ending the general sheep season in Idaho. He added that long after other IDFG biologists had accepted his data, the Game Chief refused any proposal for a limited controlled hunting season with the claim, “We have an obligation to provide ‘hunting opportunity’ to hunters.”

IDFG Admitted Falsifying Known Harvests for 10 yrs.

About the time Morgan resigned, a 1968-1971 Legislative Performance Audit of IDFG by James Defenbach was released. It found that Williams and his Game Division biologists had knowingly published highly exaggerated big game population and harvest statistics for the preceding 10 years in order to hide rapidly declining populations and harvests from the public.

IDFG Director Woodworth was forced to resign almost immediately by newly elected governor Cecil Andrus. He was replaced with Nevada Big Game Manager Joe Greenley, who ordered the 10 years of exaggerated phone survey hunter harvest estimates be removed from the records, and insisted his biologists publish only the actual animals reported killed by hunters.

Morgan’s Plan to Transplant B.C. Bighorns to Restore Healthy “Native” Sheep Was Halted by F&G Officials

While Sheep Biologist Morgan was still with IDFG, he cited a 1961-67 Bighorn study by Dr. Valerius Geist, which documented that mature eight-year-old rams sired the lambs in healthy wild sheep herds. Geist, the undisputed authority on North American wild sheep, emphasized the importance of maintaining bachelor bands numbering from two to several dozen rams each, and led by mature animals experienced at avoiding cougars while utilizing the lush north-slope forage in the high country.

Morgan understood the importance of importing healthy bighorns that had no recent history of pneumonia die-offs, in order to restore genetically healthy herds in the Idaho back country. Yet Morgan’s Observer article stated that IDFG officials had deliberately prevented him from keeping an appointment with British Columbia Game personnel to transplant two truckloads of 25 healthy bighorns into central Idaho.

Transplanting those healthy animals into the Middle Fork of the Salmon Population Management Unit* appeared to be biologically sound. With no roads, no livestock, and limited access by humans, the odds of creating another pneumonia die-off in that PMU appeared remote. (* the PMU that contained nearly half of the native Bighorns found in the six Idaho PMUs that still had sheep)

Biologist Ignored Transmission of Disease

But instead of culling any native Bighorns that were still coughing on the Middle Fork PMU winter range, and replacing them with genetically healthy breeding stock from a herd with no evidence of pneumonia, the biologists pretended “nature” would correct the disaster they caused.

Their obsession with restoring and protecting what they perceive are pre-Columbian plants and predators, while claiming that will achieve so-called “healthy” ecosystems, cannot be defended scientifically or logically. But even before there was any organized group of sheep hunters to advocate for bighorns, state biologists joined USFS and BLM activists to dump several dozen bighorns where they had been extinct for 25-75 years.

The Outdoorsman had emphasized that allowing unlimited killing of males when there are too few animals to allow general season hunting, had resulted in serious inbreeding. And because inbreeding caused deformities in elk transplanted near Pocatello, Idaho, biologists made sure the bighorns they transplanted came from multiple sources. Yet they ignored the increased potential of introducing diseases from the many sources.

According to BLM Technical Bulletin 97-14, state wildlife biologists from Washington, Oregon and Idaho made 35 transplants or transfers of 451 Bighorns to Hells Canyon locations from April 1971 to Feb. 1995. Specific herds in the six states and one Province where the sheep originated were listed, but there were no tests for disease.

The Bulletin lists seven reported disease die-offs in Hells Canyon from 1971-72 to 1995-96. Several of the first transplants simply disappeared without a trace, but the 1983-84 die-offs were so severe in sheep on the Idaho side of the Snake River, it prompted Idaho legislators to enact a new Code Section, 36-106, with a list of requirements to meet before transporting big game into or within the State.

Many surviving adult Idaho sheep from the 1983-84 Hells Canyon die-off were still disease carriers in 1990, and the Salmon River Panther Creek bighorns that were originally the source were also dying from pneumonia. But instead of testing and culling the disease carriers in Hells Canyon, IDFG transplanted 30 sheep from a new source in Wyoming, pretending that would somehow halt the spread of disease.

Of course it did not and most of the 30 soon became infected and died. A series of Amendments to I.C. Sec. 36-106 included the requirement for IDFG to submit a 1990 plan to protect bighorn sheep from disease.

One More Plan That Was Never Achieved

That 10-yr. plan included a proposed 10% increase in Idaho’s Rocky Mountain Bighorns from 3,850 to 4,235, and a 20% increase in Idaho’s California Bighorns from 1,185 to 1,422. But as the IDFG graph by Frances Cassirer shows, instead of the planned 10% increase in Rocky Mtn. Bighorns, there was a 55% population decrease during the next 10 years – with a 43% decline in total harvest.


From 1990-98, Idaho’s Rocky Mountain Bighorn population declined from 3,850 to 1,710 and the California Bighorns south of the Snake River increased from 1,240 to 1,460. But the 2008-2010 counts revealed only 1,873 Rocky Mtn. Bighorns and 964 California Bighorns for a total loss of 2,253 Idaho Bighorns (-44.3%) in 20 years.

The massive 1995-96 die-off of several hundred bighorns in Hells Canyon occurred in all three states (Idaho, Oregon and Washington). It followed transplanting three loads totaling 50 Bighorns from Cardinal River, Alberta to three separate locations in Oregon.

The die-off happened despite a tremendous increase in funding resulting from Idaho’s Bighorn Auction Tag approved in 1987 and the Bighorn Lottery Tag approved in 1991. Idaho’s Wildlife Health Vet. was approved in 1990, with specific instructions and funding to determine the cause(s) of ongoing Bighorn death losses.

Vet. Said Transplanted Bighorns Caused Death Loss

Former Idaho State Veterinarian Dr. Bob Hillman was the wild game/livestock disease expert who addressed what really caused that major die-off. He advised that the bighorns transplanted from Alberta had experienced a pneumonia die-off and said that one or several of the adults that survived were now immune to the disease but were still carriers of the disease.

He pointed out that these immune carriers could pass the disease to their offspring for several years, as well as to other bighorns that did not have that immunity. The failure of the Hells Canyon biologists to both check the recent history and test the animals for the disease and for antibodies made them responsible for the die-off.

But without any evidence to substantiate their claim, the biologists first insisted the bighorn die-off was caused by exposure to domestic sheep. When Dr. Hillman pointed out they had not documented the presence of bighorns and domestic sheep in the same area, a Forest Service employee said one or more feral goats seen with the bighorns had caused the die-offs.

Researchers were unable to induce pneumonia in two bighorns even when they injected disease pathogens in a goat and confined the bighorns in the same pen until the wild sheep had the same strain of bacteria. Yet the 1997 BLM Bulletin still lists the 1995-96 die-offs as probably caused by feral goats based on circumstantial evidence.

Research Results Caused Tensions

Using the latest techniques in cooperation with other states, the Caine Research facility and a University of Idaho microbiologist studied thousands of samples from wild and domestic sheep, bison, antelope, elk, moose, mountain goats and domestic goats and cattle. They learned that bighorns harbor disease-causing bacteria within their own herds and can easily be infected by bighorns introduced from other herds.

They also learned that bighorns carry many strains of the Pasteurella bacteria and one bighorn may not be affected by the same strain that is lethal to another. These tools allowed F&G biologists to check potential sheep transplants for the threat of disease transmission immediately rather than wait two weeks for cultures to identify the pathogens.

Instead of being thankful for these giant steps in preventing future die-offs, IDFG officials resented the implication that their actions may have caused some of the disease outbreaks in Hells Canyon. Yet the FY 2004 “Hells Canyon Bighorn Sheep Progress Report” by IDFG Biologist Cassirer admitted that from 1997-2003 bighorn numbers increased as high as 125 percent in herds with no transplants and declined as much as 50 percent in herds with transplants during that period.

This could also explain reports from various states where bighorns share the same range with domestic sheep for 30 or more years without disease – yet suddenly have a die-off when other bighorns are moved into the area.

Repeated Die-offs Keep Happening in the West

The annual cost of transplanting and monitoring 50 bighorns per year in the Hells Canyon area from 1997 to 2002, was estimated at $241,000-$266,000 – an average of $5,070 per sheep per year. Yet how are the cost-to-benefits calculated when more sheep are dying each year than are being saved?

With ongoing transplants, the 1990-1997 increase from 1,240 to 1,460 California Bighorns in Southern Idaho looked promising until a couple of cougars found they were an easy meal. But the current decline to ~964 reflects what is really happening throughout the Western States.

From the Pacific Coast to the Dakotas, bighorn biologists are seeing the results of their ignoring science and causing countless die-offs in bighorn populations that once appeared healthy. In 2005 I briefly complimented the Bighorn Lottery because it provided money for legitimate research to reduce the die-offs.

But instead of first culling the bighorns that were still coughing and those that were tested and found to be disease carriers, the money was used for penned quasi-studies that blamed domestic sheep or goats for every one of the pneumonia die-offs. That was like blaming inadequate winter forage for mule deer die-offs caused by excessive stress or extreme deep-snow winters – it simply provided a handy excuse rather than a solution.

Aggressive Culling – The Tool for Recovery

Earlier this month (i.e. October 2014) Idaho and Washington biologists used helicopter net gunners to capture eight infected bighorn ewes, a second generation remnant of the Black Butte herd that numbered ~215 when the 1995-96 die-off in Hells Canyon occurred. These eight Washington ewes had almost no surviving lambs for years so why were they not culled sooner?

In 2010, bighorn sheep in the Yakima River Canyon were dying of pneumonia and Wash. Biologists aggressively culled them to prevent the disease from perpetuating itself. They were successful and the herd is rebuilding itself with good lamb survival.

Regardless of whether the disease was triggered by domestic sheep, transplanted wild sheep or any of multiple stress factors, aggressive culling appears to be the only logical tool to achieve recovery.

A New Definition of a “Trophy”?

In 2007 IDFG convinced the legislature to throw out the 3/4-curl minimum horn size requirement and allow bighorn permit holders to kill “any ram”. They claimed they did this to simplify enforcement and to be uniform with Washington and Oregon regulations in Hells Canyon.


Male lambs are classified as yearlings once they are older than one month (IDFG Photo)

A 2012 photograph of the Lincoln Cliffs bachelor band in NE Washington shows 24 rams with more than half of them mature adults, yet only one permit was issued for that band through 2013. That was increased to two permits in 2014 only after the band reached an all time high and with additional human development scheduled in the area.

By comparison Idaho issued 12 permits for Middle Fork of the Salmon Unit 27-1 after counting only 14 mature rams among the bighorns in this Unit. There are four public airstrips and two private outfitter airstrips for access in this wilderness unit and outfitter/guide services are available throughout the unit.

Hunter odds of harvesting a mature ram are excellent in the Lincoln Cliffs and other NE Washington units while the odds of harvesting even a young ram average only 24% in the Idaho Wilderness unit. Idaho’s emphasis on selling maximum hunting opportunity in all but Trophy Unit 11 is designed to increase revenue rather than restore healthy Rocky Mountain Bighorn populations.

The millions of dollars that have been dumped into Hells Canyon and dozens of other Bighorn restoration projects for the past 43 years have resulted in declining diseased populations that erupt with increasing frequency. Rational people suggest it is long past time to stop subsidizing a few trophy rams for a handful of millionaires at the expense of the citizens who share ownership of the resource and are entitled to intelligent management.

The Origin of Our Game Management Failures

In 1940 the Department of Interior combined two separate bureaus into one Fish and Wildlife Service and hired Ira Gabrielson to run it. Shortly after World War II ended, Gabrielson resigned from government service and was hired as President of the nonprofit Wildlife Management Institute for the next 24 years, and served as Chairman of its Board after that.

The manufacturers of the arms, ammunition and equipment necessary to fight wars on two sides of the world suddenly found themselves without a customer. They became major contributors supporting the WMI and Gabrielson returned the favor by helping create a massive market for their merchandise and services.

He quickly conducted surveys in 31 states and two Canadian provinces and provided game commissioners with written directions on how to restructure their operation as well as insisting they must invite thousands of non-resident hunters and fishermen to harvest the trophy big game and fish that were “destroying the habitat in remote areas.”

Writers in Outdoor magazines were suddenly invited to free trophy hunting and fishing trips in return for their writing stories about “the big one that didn’t get away”. Idaho State Game Wardens who had spent 40 years carefully restoring our game species, expressed grave concerns about the pressure this massive ad campaign was going to put on the game in the road-less Primitive and Wilderness Areas.

In Idaho’s 21st Biennial Report published on June 30, 1946, the State Game Warden warned that the number of non-resident big game hunters had doubled in one year, and questioned how long the limited back country game and fish populations could meet this obviously increasing demand. But the F&G Commissioners and Biologists made no effort to limit the increases that soon exceeded 1,000%, with Gabrielson pointing out how the extra non-resident dollars would benefit the agency’s budget.

When the agency was re-organized by Idaho citizens in 1938 to meet criteria established by the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937, there were 73 employees; 11 headquarters personnel, 38 game wardens, 20 fish hatchery personnel and four technicians – the first with biological training that were hired to design projects that qualified for matching Pittman-Robertson funds.

The sole function of these four technicians, soon referred to as “biologists”, was to design programs that would enable IDFG to receive the maximum amount of matching federal excise tax dollars. Over the years the agency has used the code word “viability” to reflect the maximum revenues it can receive from each alternative that is proposed for any project.

For example, when they selected the A/B Tag System and Limited Controlled Hunts instead of the two most desirable options chosen by hunters, they deliberately ignored their direction from the Commission.

When you read the startling mandate from both the F&G Commission and the biologists’ direct boss, Virgil Moore, on the following pages, you will understand why it is so important to assist the F&G Commission by monitoring every action from these biologists to determine whether they are still violating Idaho law, or whether they are obeying the directives they received from the Commission and from Director Moore in September.

*Editor’s Note*The Outdoorsman must have funding in order to continue providing all of us with accurate and important information. Please take the time to click on “The Outdoorsman” link to the right of this page. There you can download and print out a subscription form. Your financial support is of the utmost importance. Please act now!


Idaho Allows Destruction of Game Herds, Then Discounts Tags

IDFGLogoIt is said that insanity is repeating the same process over and over and each time hoping for a different outcome. I think the Idaho Department of Fish and Game(IDFG) has gone insane.

IDFG has decided to offer discounted tag prices for second or surplus elk and deer tags. From the IDFG website, this is the reason they give for discounting the tags:

Q. Why the discount?

A. The Commission wanted to encourage more hunters to take advantage of additional hunting options that second tags provide. The sale of nonresident deer and elk tags provide significant revenue to fund the field operations of the Fish and Game Department. Reductions in nonresident tag sales since 2008 have resulted in less revenue to fund important management activities. Discounting these second tags will provide a mechanism for hunters who wish to increase their hunting options to also help recover necessary funding for important Fish and Game programs and operation.(emphasis added)

The real question of course should be why aren’t hunters buying tags? Another question would be; if IDFG has destroyed game herds by allowing for the protection and perpetuity of gray wolves, then why isn’t IDFG taking responsibility and reducing their department in numbers and size to stay in line with their failures to provide game for hunting as Idaho statute requires? Is there even ANY thought that their own department policies is what has driven hunters away and that is why they can’t sell tags?

With a seriously reduced game population and IDFG scrambling to find ways to fund their ineptitude, they have the audacity to claim that selling “unused” tags will have no affect on game herds(kind of reminds me of when these same fools claimed that 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs would have no affect on game herds):

Q. How will this affect game populations?

A. The level of harvest resulting from the issuance of unsold nonresident tags as second tags would be very similar to harvest occurring if the nonresident tag quotas were sold out to hunters prior to being made available as second tags.

In areas where population estimates or harvest rates fall below management objectives, seasons are adjusted accordingly. For example, hunting opportunity may be limited by shorter seasons, controlled hunts, or zone level tag quotas sold over the counter. These second tags cannot be used in controlled hunts and must fit within the nonresident portion of the existing tag cap levels.

Second tags may be used in hunts where there are currently no restrictions on the number of general deer or elk tags sold to Idaho residents in any given year or where their use would be included in previously established nonresident zone caps for elk. There are currently about 143,000 deer and 86,000 elk tags sold in Idaho each year.

Second tags will represent a very small proportion of the total tags available to hunters statewide and Fish and Game does not anticipate any negative effects to game populations as a result of a small level of overall increased harvest resulting from second tags.

So now it is official. IDFG manages their game populations according to the need to make payroll and fund their environmentally empowered programs of continued destruction of game herd against surplus harvest as required by law.

And where is the outrage?


Concern Over Disease on Domestic Elk Ranches

It amazes me the depth of ignorance and the breadth of bad information that easily become emotionally intoxicating talking points when discussing animals and disease and the role of government. Anyone who has read my work understands I have little good regard for government but I have less regard for environmental, non governmental groups that love to play god, while forcing some to play by different rules than others.

In a recent opinion piece found in the Idaho Statesman, “GUEST OPINION CHRONIC WASTING DISEASE Idaho is just not doing right by its wildlife,” by John Caywood, all this is brought to the surface.

Several years ago I worked with the Idaho Elk Breeders to help educate and get the word out about that industry and to thwart the efforts of some, led mostly by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) and special interest groups, to shut down the domestic elk industry because of trumped up charges of irresponsible ranchers and the threat of spreading disease. It appears some of the same players are back at it again using emotional clap trap to push their agendas in a misaligned direction.

Please understand that those claiming there is a threat about the spread of disease wrongly are telling people that the threat comes from domestic elk spreading disease from the source of the ranch out into the rest of the world. How ignorantly absurd and flat out wrong!

Domestic elk ranches in Idaho have never had one reported case of chronic wasting disease, as seems to be the biggest concern of the letter writer, and from the many elk ranchers I have met and communicated with over the years, they tell me they fear that their animals will contract diseases from infected wildlife, of which the Idaho Department of Fish and Game seems to be deaf and dumb about.

An honest look into the history of chronic wasting disease will show that it just doesn’t appear on a ranch out of the blue. The State of Idaho has restrictions on the importation of livestock from states where disease is in existence. The actual threat that exists in this case is that the government-cared-for wildlife will infect a domestic cervid industry that has for years proven themselves to be responsible, dedicated and disease free. It’s absurd to think elk behind fences are threatening the wild deer, elk and moose of the state of Idaho.

But if we look at who’s making the noise over this change in regulations, it’s the same players as always. The writer evokes the virtues of the Idaho Sportsman’s Caucus Advisory Council (ISCAC), which historically has been a mish-mish of different people with a gripe claiming the several thousands of members on their side that don’t really exist. In addition, ISCAC has always been the mouthpiece for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and, once again, historically IDFG has opposed every aspect of the Idaho elk ranching industry, especially the hunting ranches.

The domestic elk industry in Idaho has an immense task on their hands keeping their livestock protected from the diseases present in the wild ungulate and other wildlife populations. Chronic wasting disease has been in Idaho for several years unknown by most and it didn’t get there from the elk ranchers inventing the disease but was imported into the state via carcasses of wild game.

If there is so much concern about disease in wild game animals coming from the elk industry, consider a few simple facts. One, elk ranchers are not interested in allowing disease into their businesses. Why would they? It’s their livelihood. There is no reason they and the Department of Agriculture would reduce the amount of disease testing, if it would threaten the elk industry. Two, they have proven that they run a clean ship, not because they have been testing every elk killed for disease for the past 15 plus years but because they have done everything right to protect their livestock from the disease on the outside of the fences in addition to following the import regulations. In short, they know what needs to be done. Third, wolves are known carries of well over 30 diseases, many of them harmful to humans as well as livestock. It is a known fact that at least 2/3rds of all wild wolves in Idaho contain the Echinococcus granulosus tapeworm that can be fatal to humans and create Hydatid cysts in the organs of elk. There is at least one well-documented case of human hydatidosis in Idaho. Wolves also spread Neospora caninum, which can cause abortions and neonatal mortality in livestock. All of this spread from outside the elk ranches.

And with all of this, IDFG still denies that there is any risk of disease from wolves and continue to place their hypocritical focus on the elk industry.

Maybe it’s time that the State of Idaho is required to test every one of their wild animals before being allowed to get near an elk ranch.

Tom Remington
Largo, Florida and Bethel, Maine


Idaho Wolf Management a Proven Failure

It was January 21, 2009 when I wrote: “….for hunting wolves, should the day ever come to pass, will be inadequate to control wolf populations.” I was no prophet at that time. My conclusions were based on scores of studies, real life accounts, books, research and common sense.

It first must be said that many, if not all, of the problems Idaho has had and continue to have with wolf management, can be easily attributed to the fact that the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) officials, along with their partners in crime at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), ignored warnings from those who knew what the future would hold with introduced wolves. They ignored historical facts.

Aside from some far fetched dream of bringing those who introduced wolves to justice, that fact that wolves were dumped into the Northern Rockies is history and little can be done now to change that. How to manage those wolves, as predicted, is becoming a problem……well, becoming a problem to those that have to deal with the varmints. I guess the question should be asked if IDFG is in the middle of a learning curve on wolf management or are they playing wolf protection games in attempts to play both sides of the aisle?

Idaho citizens were told that wolves would be considered “recovered” as a species when the state had about 100-150 wolves, depending on the number of breeding pairs. Once that milestone was reached, another failed promise was that wolf “management” would be turned over to the state. One thousand wolves later, the state is still trying to gain authority to take over management.

It was part of my article that I wrote in 2009, that I explained that the IDFG had decided to go ahead with plans on how to conduct a wolf hunt, if and when the day ever came they could do that. In that same article I wrote in depth about efforts by George Dovel, editor of the Outdoorsman, to stop the runaway IDFG who, according to his information, had illegally devised wolf management plans, including the plans to formulate a hunting season without Idaho legislative approval as is mandated in Idaho Code.

The illegal activities have continued, unchecked, and IDFG made their plans and laid out guidelines to administer a wolf hunt. The rules of the hunt were simple: sell as many tags as they could (a money-making scheme) and then restrict hunters to a rifle, a bow or a muzzleloader, nothing else.

Anyone with any knowledge of wolves would know that such a hunt would do nothing to “manage” the overgrown wolf packs. Again, one must ask the question as to whether IDFG knew this kind of hunt would do nothing to control wolf population numbers, were they protecting the wolves in their own way by pretending to placate the sportsmen, or is IDFG ignorant of facts and are innocently in the midst of a learning experience? One in which it seems they were not willing to listen to knowledgeable people about wolves and wolf habits.

Me and many others knew this kind of wolf hunt would be a waste of time, at least as it pertained to wolf population reductions or even population maintenance.

Will N. Graves, author of Wolves in Russia: Anxiety Through the Ages, learned through his research in Russia about wolves, that every method imaginable to control wolf populations were ineffective, in part because Russian authorities refused or did not have the resources to sustain a continuous wolf control program.

C. Gordon Hewitt wrote over 100 years ago in The Conservation of Wildlife in Canada:

The most successful method of destroying coyotes, wolves and other predatory animals is by the organization of systematic hunting by paid hunters, receiving no bounties and working under government control. This policy is giving excellent results in the United States, as will be shown presently.

Any rational system of wild-life protection must take into account the control of the predatory species of mammals and birds. And while the complete extermination of such predatory species is not possible, desirable, or necessary, a degree of control must be exercised to prevent such an increase in numbers as would affect the abundance of the non-predatory species. In the treatment of predatory animals it is necessary to determine whether the species concerned are responsible for more harm than good in a particular region.

Some might argue about the effectiveness of a bounty system but that’s another debate.

During the times of this debate about effective ways to control wolf population, I spent several hours researching historic documents in hopes of finding accounts of how wolves were dealt with worldwide. When I say “dealt with” I’m referring to the need of people to reduce wolf populations for reasons of lessening livestock depredation, protecting people and property from attacks and spreading of diseases. The result of my research culminated in a multi-part series, To Catch a Wolf. For your convenience I took the time to put the parts together into one downloadable publication.

It shouldn’t take anyone very long to discover that wolves cannot be managed as a big game species. IDFG and Governor Otter, lay claim that Idaho will manage gray wolves just like any other big game species. And therein lies a huge problem. Every historic account about wolves laments the need to control wolves and they have shared their frustrations and the difficulties they encountered in order to do that. The notion that a person would have to pay the government money to help in undertaking predator control is absurd.

Initially, IDFG, sent their sportsmen into the field with a rifle, or a bow, or a muzzleloader, to control wolves. I and many others knew two things: 1.) The rules of the hunt were such that too few wolves would be taken to amount to anything that would resemble wolf control, and 2.) The first year would probably see the best results for a couple of reasons; initial excitement of killing wolves and wolves had not yet learned to stay away from humans with guns and bows. This would result in a continued growth of wolves and a reduction, over time, of wolf harvest.

In time, IDFG was willing to concede that they were not providing the sportsmen with enough tools to harvest more wolves. They loosened their grip and in time even allowed for trapping. Both hunting and trapping, still being conducted with the ignorant notion that wolves can be treated as a big game species, still were not getting the results needed.

In some areas, like the Lolo area, wolves had reduced the elk herd there from 16,000 to 2,000. Efforts to get wolf hunters and trappers into that region provided no desirable results. Believe it or not, IDFG was forced to hire aircraft to fly into that region and shoot wolves to save the elk population. Isn’t this insanity?

So, what is IDFG doing about reducing wolf numbers necessary to save elk, moose, deer and other species of prey that helps to make for a healthy ecosystem? Statistics seem to be showing that not enough is being done and the present plans, illegal or not, are not working.

Below are some graphs that show the last three seasons of wolf hunting and trapping in Idaho. The charts were sent to me by Scott Rockholm of Rockholm Media and Save Western Wildlife. What I see that is very telling is that over the last 3 wolf hunting/trapping seasons, the total take of wolves has shrunk. When it is considered that restrictions for hunting wolves have been eased and trapping added, any hope of reducing wolf populations has vanished. This is a failure of a plan and needs to be changed.


Trend chart prepared by Todd Hoffman (These numbers can be verified at the IDFG website.)

Rockholm provided this comment in his email:


The attached graphic illustrates the failed notion, that we will ever “Manage” wolf populations. This visual aid will show that not only are we paying department personnel to know this, but we are paying them in spite of their incompetence. We have calculated that successful wolf hunters/trappers have spent at least $1000.00 in expenses, and an enormous amount of time, just to hunt/trap one wolf. The current narrative, from game agencies, to hunting organizations, is that we as hunters and trappers can continue doing business as usual. We couldn’t be more opposed to this thinking. Wolf populations are growing exponentially, and at the current rate, and diminishing interests of hunters/trappers, we believe that we will never stop the decimation of our wildlife. We need to do something different, and we need to do it now. Wolf hunting and trapping need to be continuous, with open season year around for both hunting and trapping, with the addition of other measures, such as aerial gunning, bounties, and poisons specifically targeted to Canids. Canada has proven these methods to be the only means to control wolf populations.

I can add nothing to this.


Shucks! Idaho Isn’t Controlling Wolves Enough

On January 21, 2009 I wrote that when and if the gray wolf in the Northern Rocky Mountains were ever taken off the Endangered Species Act list of protected species and put in the hands of the states, the states would be clueless as how to “manage” the animal. It seems I can rest my case and say, “I told you so.”

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) believed themselves to be ahead of the curve by laying out rules and regulations that would govern a wolf hunt should there ever be one. It became clear that IDFG was more interested in seeing how much money they could make selling wolf hunting tags than managing and controlling the large predators so that other game species, i.e. elk, moose and deer, wouldn’t be destroyed from an overgrown and out of control wolf population. They failed! In addition the rules set aside for wolf hunting were so restrictive to the hunter, the odds on harvest success were reduced considerably. Essentially that first hunt provided for a man and gun and a short period of time to tag his harvest; nothing else to assist him.

Some argued that erring on the side of caution would be the prudent thing to do out of fear that too many wolves would be killed and the wolf would be put back under federal protections. This showed the real ignorance of game managers who both had no idea of how to control this creature nor did they seem interested in learning how to do it from countries that have had to deal more with savage and disease-ridden wolves than Idaho.

In my January 2009 writing I even took the time and listed out the methods that had been implemented by the Russians to control wolves, as was written down in Will Graves’ outstanding book, “Wolves in Russia: Anxiety Through the Ages.” The list includes 14 items including hunting over bait, organized drives, poison, falconry, hunting hounds, helicopters, airplanes and snowmobiles, and yet Russia could not keep the wolves under control. And Idaho knows better?

We are now just over 4 years since that writing and Idaho is just beginning to figure out that maybe the tools they are allowing to control wolves isn’t going to be enough to meet their objectives. And of course the downside of all this “erring on the side of caution” is that in those areas where wolves need thinning, elk, moose and deer populations are suffering. Time is of the essence.

IDFG has grown from man and gun to approving the use of electronic calling devices and trapping but as is being reported in the Spokesman Review, “….the overall effort has barely made a dent in a wolf population that federal and state experts agree is too large for its own good.”

All of this talk of hunting, managing and controlling wolves, also prompted me back in February of 2009 to write a five-part series on the difficulties that confronted people around the globe for centuries on just how to control these wily predators. The series is entitled, “To Catch a Wolf.”

But is the problem really about whether IDFG is allowing for the implementation of the necessary tools to reduce wolf populations? Or is it about a contrary fish and game department unwilling to abide by the laws created by the Idaho Legislature in 2002 to manage wolves to a maximum of 100? Even if one was to concur with the illegally crafted Idaho Wolf Population Management Plan of 2008, the hunting and trapping seasons aren’t getting the job done as they stand. This 2008 plan calls for 500-700 wolves. The official “low ball” estimate of wolves in Idaho stands at around 700, meaning 900-1,000 is probably closer. (This is easy to conclude as we hear every day of the discovery of wolves and wolf packs in Idaho that officials had no idea existed.)

With a fish and game department brazen enough to turn it’s back on the Idaho Legislature, it doesn’t take a genius to conclude that there’s nobody at IDFG seriously concerned with a 900-1,000 individual gray wolf population and probably there are no plans to further implement the use of necessary tools to begin cutting into that destructive population.

You see, in 2002 the Idaho Legislature approved the wolf management plan and in that plan it stated that the IDFG could not alter or create any other wolf management plan(s) without Legislative approval. The 2008 plan was not approved by the Idaho Legislature. So, when you have the anti fish and game department crafting the plan that calls for 500-700 wolves, the same anti fish and game department will post wolf populations always at 500-700 regardless of what they really are. In 2002 the Idaho Legislature understood this problem. Evidently today they do not.

Business as usual as I see it. It appears as though the rules are dictated by the one who holds the ball.

But the rubber swan is mine.”