Talk about crying ‘wolf!' The Missoulian opines on the frightened Forest Service workers

The story about the Forest Service employees from Utah, who were airlifted out of Idaho’s Sawtooth Wilderness because they heard wolves howling nearby, has prompted an editorial in the Missoulian.

10-17. Read Missoulian editorial.

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It turns out the Idaho Statesman also had an editorial on Oct. 17, although it was much shorter.

Statesman Editorial. 







  1. Lisa Thomaschek Avatar
    Lisa Thomaschek

    I would pay money to be able to hear wolves in the wild.

  2. John Avatar

    One fact the Missoulian sorely missed is the story of Kenton Carnegie, March 2006 Outdoor Life Magazine, killed and partially consumed by four wolves near Points North Landing Saskatchewan.
    Let the flaming commence – but facts are facts

  3. Kalanu Avatar

    It’s unfortunate that the Missoulian left that out. Otherwise, it’s a good piece. We’re still more likely of falling and breaking our neck in the shower.

  4. John Avatar

    Unfortunate? That wolves don’t hurt people is the heart of their argument. It’s shameful for newspaper editors, who are supposed to be professionals, to mislead their readers.

  5. matt bullard Avatar
    matt bullard

    Here is the paragraph in question from the editorial:

    “Simply stated, instances of wolves attacking humans are extremely rare – not just recently, but throughout much of recorded history. According to “The Fear of Wolves: A Review of Wolf Attacks on Humans,” edited by John Linnell, no human in all of North America has been killed by a wolf since 1900. Over the past 400 years worldwide, attacks on humans were rare and mostly attributed to rabies. There is no recorded instance of a predatory wolf killing anyone in North America. Aside from rabid wolves – a modern rarity – most instances of wolves biting people documented worldwide over the past four centuries involved wolves unnaturally habituated to humans, wolves trapped or captured by people and wolves persisting in areas where the natural habitat had been greatly altered by humans.”

    Looks to me like the editors did their research, since they attribute their information to an article written in 2002. The instance mentioned was, I believe, attributed to habituated and food conditioned wolves, which are not considered healthy or wild by most acceptable standards.

  6. John Avatar

    The editors did a hatchet job on the Forest Service and there is a similar editorial in today’s Idaho Statesman. Justify their “research” in any way you like, but the indisputable facts are first that the Forest Service officials believed their field staff were in grave danger and second that Kenton Carnegie is dead. How can anyone sitting behind a desk legitamately second guess the FS decision? Regarding the argument that the Saskatchewan wolves were human habituated, are we to infer then that Idaho wolves aren’t? This logic is getting squishier by the minute. In my opinion, it’s only a matter of time before another trajedy happens.

  7. dcookie Avatar

    One gets the feeling that some people just can’t wait for someone to get hurt by a wolf. Just can’t wait..

    If/when it happens..then what? You’ll have your excuse for whatever it is you’re planning. So what are you planning?

  8. Karl Moore Avatar
    Karl Moore

    I don’t fault the FS their response, when an agency recieves a report of someone in “distress” you go. No questions asked. I have made a career working for an agency who’s primary mission is to do just that. You don’t second guess the call from the field, because next time they might not make it and it might be legitimate. Pardon the pun, but the is no “Crying Wolf” on distress calls, you just re-educate the personl after they are out of any suspected danger.

    I do however call into question the FS’s highering practices and training program. If I was looking for someone to do back country research, I’m not real sure these two employees would have been at the top of my list. If they were, I would have ensured they were trained a little better in the understanding of wildlife behavior.

    And John, I’m not going to say that an attack on a human is never going to happen, because stranger things have, and some of the positions that less knowledgeable people put themselves into normally result in stranger things happening (how many tourists have to be trampled by bison in the park before they learn not to approach them?). I just think the probability of an attack is extremely remote.

  9. John Avatar

    dcookie – I’m not planning anything, I’m just tired of reading that wolves don’t and won’t hurt people. It misleads people into believing they are safe when that may not be the case.

  10. Tim Z. Avatar
    Tim Z.

    “It misleads people into believing they are safe when that may not be the case.”

    Going into the wilderness is never completely safe and anyone that can be mislead into thinking otherwise should stay home. (where most accidents happen).

  11. Kim Avatar

    DOnt think the articles stated wolves wont hurt people, just an unlkely event,,,are they sure they were wolves and not coyotes,,,,if the Gov Empl were so quick to call for help,, maybe they didnt have the experience to know the diff betweent he two,,that wasnt pointed out,,and were the emplyees a couple of clerical staff on a field trip,,, who knows,,,i doubt seriously that an experienced forester working the IDAHO woods would exhibit that sort of fear,,and,,,if you dont want to get bitten by something wild, my suggestion would be to sit in front of the tv and watch pacman or something,, otherwise,,,things happen in the wild,,,its a fact that no one disputes,, snakes bite, spiders bite, fish use there fins to protect themselves, stink bugs stink,,,,just the voracity at which some try to point out that is detrimental to specific species,,,

  12. matt bullard Avatar
    matt bullard

    John – habituated means they have lost their fear of humans, which the wolves in Saskatchewan clearly did. What makes you think that the wolves in Idaho have lost fear of humans? Is it the treatment that Idaho Fish and Game and Wildlife Services gives them (regular trapping, harassing, collaring, control, etc)? I don’t see how that behavior, part of which is supposed to instill a healthy FEAR of humans, could be considered to even remotely habituate even the dumbest wolf. I’m not saying that ALL Idaho wolves have a fear of humans, I am simply saying that, from what I have read, the wolves that killed that person in Canada had lost their fear of people, likely because of habituation and food conditioning. Incidentally, habituation alone does not make a wild animal a danger to people, rather the combination of habituation and food conditioning. In other words, an animal can loose its fear of people, but as long as it does not associate people with food, the animal will (generally) not be a threat to human safety (of course people crossing the line and approaching something like a bison or an elk in Yellowstone would be a good contrary example). I believe this is the case with most “wild” animals in Yellowstone, which are subjected to much more close human contact than the wildlife in Idaho and the reason for such aggressive education programs to not feed wildlife.

    Karl, you make a very good point about not faulting the forest service about the decision. I agree that they need to do a better job of educating their folks prior to sending them into wolf country in the future.

  13. Erin Miller Avatar

    And………………..the excuse. Also, pretty sure coyotes don’t make a habit of chasing down healthy bull elk in the hills. Anyone ever considered that relatively few wolf attacks on humans in the 20th century may be because they were, as you environmentalists say, nearly extinct??? There are a lot of documented cases from before bounties dramatically reduced wolves. I’ll tell ya, what makes me beleive ID wolves have little fear of humans is having seen their reactions to people, or lack thereof. Look at other recent encounters where wolves hardly cared about the prescence of humans. And here comes more excuses:

  14. Tim Z. Avatar
    Tim Z.

    “What makes you think that the wolves in Idaho have lost fear of humans?”

    Based on several encounters I have had I can tell you they have not. They did not even hang around long enough for me to get my camera up for a shot. Even the photos I have of wolves in Yellowstone are from a distance. I stumbled within 20 yards of four of them and they were off and running before my heart started beating again.

    Rolf Peterson wrote in one of his books that while doing research one summer he hiked every square mile of Isle Royale National Park, which had the densest population of wolves per square mile, and in that three months caught a short glimpse of one wolf. They are shy and elusive creatures and seeing them in the wild is special.

  15. John Avatar

    I disagree with the generalization that it’s dangerous to go out to the woods regardless of whether wolves are present or not. I could get into a car wreck and die this afternoon but that’s beside the point. What I am writing about here is a federally reintroduced species and whether or not it presents danger to residents. I’m not writing about bison or rockslides or forest fires.

    Regarding the Forest Service employees, once again, they were not inexperienced. Both have worked extensively in the backcountry and both have had wolf encounters before. That information came from the USFS Public Information officer in Fort Collins.

    Regarding habituation, Idaho wolves don’t have any reason to fear people and until we have wolf hunting that won’t change. There are several instances detailed on the USFWS website westerngraywolf.fws/gov that prove this point. Your point about associating humans with food is well taken. My point is do we know this isn’t happening in Idaho? The Outdoor Life article stated that the north Saskatchewan woods are devoid of game and that’s why the wolves were scavenging at a garbage dump. If that’s true and that association is what led to the attack there is a very good chance the same thing could happen here. There are certainly plenty of opportunities for Idaho wolves to eat garbage.
    All of these peripheral excuses don’t alter the fact that Kenton Carnegie is dead or justify his killing. The FS officials in charge believed their people were in grave danger and that’s their call.

  16. Alan S Avatar
    Alan S

    Just got back from an early morning hike in Yellowstone with a friend. As we topped a rise this morning we were priviledged to see three black wolves and one gray in the fresh snow about 150 yards away. Unfortunately they saw us at the same instant and disappeared into the trees before we could get a camera up. As we continued our hike, as steady chorus of howls seemed to “follow” us in the trees to our left. We never thought about getting on the ol’ cell and calling for an evac, we enjoyed every moment and wished that it would last much longer than it did. Now if they had been bison we would have given them a really wide birth…..them suckers are dangerous!

  17. Tim Z. Avatar
    Tim Z.

    “I disagree with the generalization that it’s dangerous to go out to the woods regardless of whether wolves are present or not.”

    There is an inherent danger in going anywhere wildlife are present. One of my daughters best friends is a grad student doing moose research. On day while walking a trail she came upon a moose calf and before she could turn and walk away mother came from nowhere and kicked her in the leg snapping her femur in two. She had to be life flighted out. She considers herself lucky it wasn’t worse.

    “Regarding the Forest Service employees, once again, they were not inexperienced. Both have worked extensively in the backcountry and both have had wolf encounters before. That information came from the USFS Public Information officer in Fort Collins. ”

    This is interesting, I have never heard of a public information officer saying whatever to cover their behinds 😉

  18. matt bullard Avatar
    matt bullard

    I (for one) am not trying to minimize the fact that wolves killed Kenton Carnegie. But I don’t honestly think there is a valid connection between the events that killed him and the events that lead to the helicopter evacuation here in Idaho. We have the benefit of hindsight in both cases, and I just see them as being totally different. Just because there is a threat of something happening, whether the threat is Idaho wolves becoming food conditioned or a couple of Forest Service people feeling like they were threatened by wolves, does not mean that there is a high probability of either scenario leading to some definiate outcome (food condictioned Idaho wolves or an attack on some forest service employees). But I guess that is the basis of fear, because without knowing (and from knowing, I mean studying, in a scientific sense), there is no way to disprove those scenarios either. Of course the vast majority of scientific evidence does suggest that healthy, wild wolves are not a significant threat to human safety.

  19. John Avatar

    Matt – thank you. I have appreciated this exchange and I have learned from it.

    Tim Z – try to follow the thread. What happened to your daughter’s best friend’s femur is of no consequence here. There is no argument from anyone that the backcountry can be a dangerous place. But thanks for the story.

    Regarding public information officers, I agree, let’s stereotype anyone with a public relations title.

  20. Tim Z. Avatar
    Tim Z.

    John, your the one that said going into the woods was not dangerous. The point of the story was not the story itself but that you never know what to expect from nature. Sorry if that was over your head. BTW I spent 13 years working in the Federal Government, several with the Forest Service I know first hand how their public relations departments work and it’s gullible folks like you that allow them to sell their stories to the public.

  21. John Avatar

    Tim Z – I’m sure you are the smartest guy who ever drew a breath. Could you please post your complete resume so all us gullible folks can appreciate you even more?

  22. matt bullard Avatar
    matt bullard

    John – me too. Thanks…

  23. Tim Z. Avatar
    Tim Z.

    I wouldn’t say I’m THE smartest, but I’m in the top 20 😉

  24. Alan Avatar

    OK. So one death is attributable to a wolf attack. But keep it in perspective.
    I did some Googling, and here are some interesting stats:
    In 2005, 195 people were murdered in the District of Columbia.
    In 2001, a total of 42,900 people died in highway crashes.
    Each year, between 15 and 20 people die from dog bites.
    Most media outlets let out a collective snooze when these numbers appear on editors’ computer screens.

  25. Bob caesar Avatar
    Bob caesar

    Holy smoke! I’d rather eaten by wolves than …oh, never mind.

    Would you be so kind as to look at Ralph’s post and mine Re. the Bridger Teton NF Northern Travel Plan & the South Fork of Ditch Creek Even if you don’t live anywhere near Jackson Hole trhey will count your comment! Not everyone riodes an ATV – yet!

    If you’d just send one email, never mind how short, it would be so, so very helpful! No big deal, just tell them to keep OHVs out of the area THEY have set aside for education. Please, We have wolves, bears and all that around here incluiding really nice kids who care about the environment.Let’s keep this great place for them to learn more.

    This is one time your vote will COUNT if you send it!
    God bless Wyoming and Keep it Wild”!

    Thanks gang!


  26. Pronghorn Avatar

    I did some googling, too, because I suspected that — just perhaps — Outdoor Life might have an anti-wolf/predator agenda. I’m unfamiliar with the magazine, but was not surprised to see that it’s a hook & bullet deal featuring photos of “big men” displaying big “trophy” animals. Aren’t these the same geniuses who believe that they are “competing” with wolves for prey? That it is wolves killing off deer and elk rather than disappearing habitat?

    The article about the wolf kill is extremely sensational, along with a snarling wolf photo designed to strike primal fear into the heart of the ignorant. Another article featured is titled, “From Wolves to Dogs: How some of the enemy became our best friends.” I think that makes their position pretty clear. This is not to deny that this one wolf kill has occurred, but from reading as much of the article as one cares to read, it’s clear that the dead man made some bad choices and had even been warned.

    Hearing a wolf howl in the wilderness is a sublime experience. I guess I can appreciate that the FS employees were frightened, but surely they’ll never live this one down. And with a helicopter encroachment into a designated Wilderness at taxpayer expense, I’m not so sure they deserve to!

  27. be Avatar

    my fiance and i heard many howls last year while up on banner ridge. i’ll never forget that, we were somewhat startled but mostly enchanted. i agree with the “sublime experience” assesment. i’ve got no real qualm with the FS folk getting out of there if they were that scared. my qualm is with the folk who would use that to stir the anti-wolf sentiment. it’s baffling.

    i’ve got a friend who has a dog that growls and howls too.

  28. John Avatar

    This discussion is about a federally reintroduced species and whether or not it presents a danger to Idaho residents. How many people get killed in automobile accidents or murdered in Washington D.C., your friend’s dog or what a moose did to your daughter’s friends femur couldn’t be more irrelevant.

    I don’t think so. It is about the restoration of a native species, a matter required by the Endangered  Species Act. The wolf was also a species slowly returning to the area on its own. At the time of the first reintroductions in 1995, the wolf had  naturally migrated into NW Montana and about 80 wolves were already present.

    Idaho Senator James McClure and others supported the experimental wolf reintroduction because it would be under terms less onerous to the livestock industry that the regulations governing a naturally recovering endangered species.

    Predictions were immediately made that the wolves would snap up someone within a year (Senator Conrad Burns of Montana, for example). If some folks keep predicting this, one day they will be right. However eleven years have passed and no one has been killed or even bitten.

    Ralph Maughan

  29. Rick Hammel Avatar
    Rick Hammel

    Good comment, Ralph. I think that I would have to fault the FS for not prpoerly training their personnel before going into wolf country. It certainly would not have taken long nor cost much money.

    Rick Hammel

  30. Tim Z. Avatar
    Tim Z.

    Ralph, speaking of wolves returning on their own I have had several locals in the Warm Lake area (near Cascade) tell me there was a pack there long before reintroduction. One fellow told me he saw nine of them crossing the frozen lake in the early 90’s. Ever heard anything about this.

    Yes, I have. Wolves began to infiltrate down into Idaho before the reintroduction. There never was conclusive evidence that a pack had formed, but there were clearly lone wolves, and Warm Lake was one of those places. There were confirmed wolf reports near Warm Lake in the early 1990s.

    As of this year there were at least 2 packs in the vicinity of Warm Lake, although they were displaced by the various fires that burned in the area. In July I went looking for them, but no luck. I picked that incredible late July heat wave by chance and most wildlife found as cool shade as possible.


    Ralph M. 

  31. Jean Ossorio Avatar
    Jean Ossorio

    After reading the Idaho Statesman editorial, one has a little more sympathy for the Forest Service employees. They may actually have been in danger–though not from the howling wolves. According to the newspaper:

    “And the employees — cold from crossing a creek and in danger of hypothermia — were frightened because they could hear the wolves growl and snap their teeth. “They quite frankly were scared to death,” Waldapfel said.”

    Hypothermia is potentially life threatening. Not only that, it can affect judgment. So perhaps they may be excused for hitting the panic button. Maybe it’s time for the Forest Service to review not only their briefings on wild animals to be encountered in the wilderness, but on how to stay dry and avoid hypothermia, as well.

    Jean, that’s a good point. One time, we were in the Lemhi Mountains during a cold period in the summer, and one of our party got hypothermic. The first evidence something was wrong was sudden fear on her part that we were lost. In fact we were just 1/4 mile from the trailhead and on the trail.  Ralph Maughan

  32. Linda Hunter Avatar
    Linda Hunter

    I agree with Jean as well. . it isn’t very often in a situationn like this that the press gets the facts straight. . as a matter of fact if the wolves were mentioned in passing as just another thing that happened, it is quite possible that the press could make a judgement that taking a little artistic license would creat a conversation just like this one as sell more papers . . as a past searcher on many rescues I have never seen an incident reported completely accurately. The bear maulings I have been too, for instance, were nothing at all like the press coverage of the same. Many important factors were left out as being uninteresting. Maybe someday we will hear the WHOLE story. . but maybe not.

  33. Bob caesar Avatar
    Bob caesar

    Ralph – Do you mean predictions were made that wolves would snatch up Senator Conrad Burns of Montana? I though they shied away from old, rancid meat? On the other hand, they are very smart critters.

    I certainly don’t wish the ole boy any harm, but if that’s what it takes to get ride of him then so be it!

    Now wouldn’t THAT make a story!?

  34. Pronghorn Avatar

    Bob caesar: Wolves may shy away from old, rancid meat, but I’ll bet they love fresh pork. To hear Burns tell it, he’s all about the pork and bringing it to MT. So maybe if they catch a whiff of “the other white meat,” our election year drama will take a turn for the better?

  35. Alan Gregory Avatar

    Another brief, but interesting story about wolves, from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, at:

  36. Shahram Avatar

    There are many stories indicating that wolves here in Sweden are getting increasingly fearless of man. And yet there are only a little more than 100 wolves in the whole country. I myself had a close encounter when I had just moved here some 4 years ago. I was staying with my brother who lives in a suburb some 20 minutes subway ride from the city (Stockholm). I went out to jog in the nearby park around two lakes situaded surrounded by dense woods. It was around 12:20 midnight when I decided to take a rest on a bench by the lake. Suddenly I saw what I thought was a huge dog. But it wasn’t running like dogs do, and it had no owner. I dissappeared behind the woods, and I didn’t think more about it until I heard something come towards me through the dark woods. First I saw two huge yellow eyes shining from within the woods – and that’s when I thought “Wolf!” for the first time. Then it came towards me and stood about 7-8 feet away. My heart was beating like crazy, and my adrenalin was pumping like never before in my life. And there we were – He or she was just looking at me as if examining me. I didn’t sence any aggressiveness – it appeared more curious. But I knew that things could change within an instance, so I had to figure out what to do. I knew that running would be the same thing as inviting for trouble, and showing aggressive behaviour could also trigger very bad results. And I was in no mood to stay there and continue having the wolve examine me. After all, I didn’t know what he/she was thinking. So I decided to take the chance or risk and just slowly turn around and walk away as if nothing ever happened. So I did, and it worked. I walked for about 20 yards and my legs have never felt heavier. Then I looked behind me to see if I was being stalked. But the wolf was gone. The next day it was all over the news about this same lone wolf having been seen around the subway station of the suburb where my brother lives, and the day after that it had been running through the busy streets of Stockholm in the early morning rush hour, with a police escort who were there to make sure that nothing happened. They followed the lone wolf until it headed towards the woods to the north of the capital. Although it’s not common to see wolves in the vicinity of Stockholm, it has happened several times before and has become more common in the last couple years.

    Since I had this wolf encounter I started looking up different wolf related stories in Swedish on the internet and came to realize that wolves are far from the shy animals that many people would like to portray them as. There are many stories about people here meeting wolves who are anything from curious like the one I met to showing some kind of aggressive behaviour. So far though there have been no reports of any serious incidents in more than 100 years.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan