Statesman environmental reporter writes confusing story about Wood River Valley and the wolf pack that lives there-
Barker: Death of celebrity wolf may be an omen. Idaho Statesman
Rocky Barker, who was written numerous books and articles about conservation, seems to have let some kind of barely suppressed animosity toward Idaho’s Wood River Valley motivate him to write what must be a clever article about the local wolf pack. Those who don’t know the area, however, might need some background.
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The Wood River Valley of south central Idaho is narrow stream valley beginning in the Boulder Mountains and widening out onto the Snake River Plain. Like most similar Idaho valleys it has a lot of wildlife. In this case even though parts of it are densely populated (by central Idaho standards) by people.
There are four towns. Bellvue, Hailey, Ketchum, and Sun Valley. The upper reaches of the valley have few permanent residences because in the early 1970s, Idaho conservationists and green senators like Frank Church had set aside the headwaters of the Wood River as part of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area to be managed for recreation, scenery, open space, wildlife, and where compatible the grazing of livestock. Wildlife have the clear legal priority over livestock, and the Western Watersheds Project has won several lawsuits on the issue against the government who seemed to get confused about the law’s priorities.
The valley is well known because it is a destination and corridor for the outdoors oriented, and the development of Sun Valley Resort in the late 1940s began the building of amenities that attracted wealthy folks to the scenic valley. A number of famous, or celebrated people now visit or live in the valley part time. Others are just wealthy. Many people with more modest incomes also live in the valley, although real estate prices make it increasingly difficult like similar towns in the West.
Because urban developments directly abut undeveloped public land, much of it steep, wildlife has always been common in these towns, especially in the winter. You can hit a deer anywhere in these valley or maybe an elk. The well landscaped and leafy valley bottom is an attraction to wildlife despite the population, but then so is my neighborhood in much larger Pocatello, Idaho. The sighting of bears and cougar in these towns is not uncommon.
They find plenty to eat. Like Pocatello, local cougar and coyotes dine on pets as well as the deer and elk in the winter. In fact local folks feed the elk, guaranteeing that predators of the elk and deer will be nearby.
The Phantom Hill wolf pack inhabited the upper reaches of the valley beginning about 3 years ago. Their territory has always been adjacent to both sides of very well traveled State Highway 75, which bisects the upper as well as the lower parts of the valley. Many animals are hit on this highway, just like along every mountain road in Idaho. The wolf pack gets a fair amount of its food not by killing, but by eating road kill. So do other Idaho wolf packs. This means, of course, that wolves get hit too. Because one of the Phantom wolves getting run over was highly likely, I can’t see it as some kind of omen except it will happen again.
The Phantom Hill Pack was soon seen by many travelers and became a local attraction, something conservationists in Idaho have long hoped for (why should this just be reserved for Yellowstone Park?). Among these are Barker’s favorite conservation group, the Idaho Conservation League, whose proposals for some modest wolf watching areas in Idaho were rudely rejected by the Idaho Fish and Game Commission.
Because this wolf pack has become a celebrity, Defenders of Wildlife (the environmental group he mentions) has spearheaded a summertime program to keep apart the resident wolves and domestic sheep that are trucked in from miles away and released into the the wolves’ habitat. The Wolf Recovery Foundation, of which I’m President, has also given some financial aide to this effort. The project has been costly, and I find it irritating because these sheep graze our public lands essentially for free while our native wildlife are destroyed by loss of habitat, the bullet from government agents, and sheep diseases to maintain a few big sheep outfits which should accept the cost of predation as a business cost related to free grazing on these public lands. I will partially exempt one outfit — the Lava Lake Land & Livestock — which is quite progressive, from part of my criticism.
So yes, Rocky, as you write, “An environmental group is spending thousands of dollars to keep the wolves and the sheep separated. Imagine the costs to provide that service statewide to ranchers whose herds and flocks are not threatened by celebrity wolves.”
What you don’t say is this should be an unnessary “service.” But then too many in Idaho get used to paying livestock outfits twice while they harm the wildlife on our public lands. It’s so easy to get along, if you don’t challenge the powers that be.