Experts, environmentalists, hunters aren't sure if wolf tourism is doable in Idaho

From the Idaho Statesman.

Experts, environmentalists, hunters aren’t sure if wolf tourism is doable in Idaho. Some say watchers, hunters can help economy. By Heath Druzin

Idaho seems to be the Western state with the habitat that is the most congenial to wolves. Idaho has as many wolves as Wyoming and Montana combined, and Idaho has harbored the longest-lived wolves. Although the average age isn’t known, a number of the original transplants from Canada were found still alive (or just have died) years after the original reintroduced wolves were gone from the Greater Yellowstone.

Nevertheless, it it harder to see a wolf in Idaho than in Yellowstone, largely because of the topography of Idaho, and the absence of vantage points overlooking open valleys like the Lamar in Yellowstone. One exception, however, is Stanley Basin and adjacent Sawtooth Valley where the persistant can see wolves from the several packs in the area (the number of packs has varied over time. Right now I’d say there are four: Basin Butte, Phantom Hill, Galena, and Warm Springs).

A number social and political factors limit the development of wolf watching as a tourist activity in the area, such as the thousands of livestock in the summer and fall, and the perception that folks in the area don’t like wolves.

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  1. Peter Kiermeier Avatar

    Could you add a few good areas for bears and i´ll put Idaho on my (ever growing) shortlist of places to visit.

  2. Mike Wolf Avatar
    Mike Wolf

    In my mind, this is one of those problems that is solved by solving it.

    Not having wolf tourism in Idaho is the result of negative attitudes towards wolves, and more so, the result of groups like Ron’s Anti-wolf coalition. They create a false impression that many people hate wolves. This has two effects: one, it causes wolves to be killed; second, it makes people outside the state believe the hatred towards wolves is greater than it actually is; because the local press here is so loyal to their anti-wolf rhetoric, rather than the truth.

    Since we can’t change Ron’s politics, we can either wait until he dies and his attitude with him, or we can promote wolf tourism ourselves – something I try to do all the time.

    The fact of the matter is that if we get more wolf-friendly people out in the woods; killing wolves will be more difficult, and the novelty of being a wolf-hater will soon wear off in place of a more friendly attitude towards those who bring in the money.

    As to the article itself, I find it funny that Steve Nedeau of IDF&G was so gung ho about hunting wolves in the state; but has no relented that it won’t cover management cost. I still think having a lottery where in-state folks buy $25 tickets, and the winner pays $500-1000 to shoot a wolf selected by the state for “management” is the way to go. Basically have the public cover the cost. When its no longer popular; you’ll find the state shooting fewer wolves.

    Perhaps in 3 years, when the Democrats take over the state, thanks to the massive growth of Boise; such a policy will be put into place…and Nedeau will be fired, as he deserves to be.

  3. Robert Wiley Avatar
    Robert Wiley

    Thank God you are not part of the desicion process on who gets tags and what they are going to cost.

    The Wolf tag fees have been set and soon enough they will be issued.

    Sorry but there is no way the Dumbacrats will have control here in three years. Nice try.
    Nadeau is doing a fine job with the crappy hand he’s been dealt by the Feds.

  4. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    I don’t think Ron Gillett represents the view of people in or near Stanley. He represents the views of a few of them, but they do try to distance themselves because of his negative reputation. They are, however, reluctant to speak in favor of wolves because, I think they believe they are a small minority.

    This is a common political problem for many potential important groups — they incorrectly think they are in the minority and so they are careful what they say. There is an important monograph in public opinion about this — “The Spiral of Silence.”

    There are a lot of wolf friendly people in the woods. People who like wolves and spend time outdoors are the kind of people who like all kinds of wildlife, not just a few huntible species.

    They notice a lot of the things you do and they will quickly turn a poacher of an elk, etc. in if they get the info.

    I came to admire wolves through my experiences with elk, moose, deer, bears, pronghorn, etc.

    My irritation at public land ranching came much earlier, first from my experiences as an angler, looking at what should have been streams with fish (and which once were that way), and second when I realized the Western livestock associations — livestock interest groups — always seemed to line up on the anti-conservation side on issues that affect the outdoors.

  5. Mike Wolf Avatar
    Mike Wolf


    I know that Ron doesn’t represent the view of most people. But to an outsider, who reads Idaho papers, he does have more than his fair share of press. Loudmouthed sound-bite providing idiots tend to get the press more than they deserve.

    The problem here is a media bent on providing sensationalism…and wolves being wolves just isn’t sensational enough for them. They need loudmouths like Ron to provide a story people will want to buy their paper for; nevermind the fact that they have a responsibility to their subscribers.

    Perhaps if newspapers were required to run as non-profits, things would be better.

    One has only to watch “Citizen Kane” and “The Battle Over Citizen Kane” to know just how powerful the news media can be, and why people like Rupert Murdoch fight to control it. In controlling what is reported, you control public opinion. If facts about wolves were reported, rather than the blatherings of idiots like Ron; wolves wouldn’t have the negative image they have.

    As to the cattle associations; they thrive on any kind of controversy that keeps their members redirected from their real problems: developers and corporate ranchers. They have always been the real power players in the west, and while they are losing their stranglehold on the west, they fight to keep what power they have, and wolves are a convenient means of doing this, by distracting the members from the power plays. Wolves never were a huge threat to ranching, and never will be. They are among the smallest threats as we all know, and in the case of sheep production, a benefit (by reducing coyote numbers and keeping them down, thereby reducing overall predation.)

  6. Layton Avatar

    “and in the case of sheep production, a benefit (by reducing coyote numbers and keeping them down, thereby reducing overall predation.)”

    Interesting comment —- I’d REALLY like to see what Mr. Solin, and Mr. Carlson (both permitees in the Payette Nat’l Forest that run sheep) have to say about it. I KNOW for a fact that they have both been “hit” by wolf packs and lost over 50 sheep in a single night. I KNOW for sure that Carlson has had multiple occurrences with that kind of numbers. Solin got hit behind Brundage mountain three years ago (46 head) and was issued a lethal control permit, he also got hit up by No Business Lookout in 2005. Carlson was hit on Flat Creek in 2005 (96 head, three of which were partially eaten) and somewhere around French Creek in 2004. To be fair, I think – don’t know for sure – that the depredations of Carlson’s sheep were the reason for the demise of the Granite pack in 2005.

    NO, it’s not peer reviewed – as is usually required for non-favorable reports about wolves, nor is it published in a scientific journal, BUT these incidents WERE investigated and some (only some) reparation for damages was done – don’t even go there — seems like news of the big kills and depredations somehow gets quashed before it gets published.

    Did that (the BIG kills) ever happen BW?? (before wolves) ??


  7. Davej Avatar

    The perception that locals hate wolves is certainly a handicap to the development of wolf related tourism in Idaho. Perhaps the bigger issue is the perception that locals hate PEOPLE who don’t hate wolves. Who wants to have their window popped out , dog poisoned, or tire deflated while on vacation?

  8. Mike Wolf Avatar
    Mike Wolf

    Davej, excellent point.

    When travelling to Salmon, ID last summer from here, via Missoula; I lost a radiator hose just south of Missoula in a small town south of the US12/US93 junction. After getting robbed for $25 for a USED hose that didn’t even fit; I asked for a receipt. I had to do this in the bar attached to the automotive shop. When I said my last name – it was like a cliche` in a movie; everyone stopped and stared. I felt like a deer in the headlights two weeks after legal hunting season in Arkansas…

    And not two days later, I heard the story of how someone travelling into Challis on vacation, who had “WOLF” as their vanity plates; got their car keyed on all sides.

    You’re right, the hatred of people who just happen to like wolves really depicts just how ignorant and stupid these people can be. THEY themselves are their own problem. Tourism brings money and they say that they want it; but when they treat tourists this way…well, do I have to say it?

  9. TIm Z. Avatar
    TIm Z.

    I have a friend with a brother that is an outfitter here in Idaho. She says he now gets more inquiries for wolf watching trips than hunting trips. He can’t do it because people want guarantees they will see wolves and that’s hard to promise in Idaho.

  10. Mike Wolf Avatar
    Mike Wolf

    Tim Z:

    I considered this very notion many years ago. I tried to do some amateur research, to see what one could expect from doing the wolf tourism thing. The reality is, you are very unlikely to see a wolf; but just finding a kill was quite exciting for me.

    You should talk to your brother, and have him consider giving guided tours to “wolf country” without the promise of seeing wolves. Have him explain that wolves are wild animals, and just to see one is a miracle few get to enjoy. Wolves can be seen in zoos and sanctuaries. The real joy is being up here, where they are. Just knowing you’re out in the woods where wolves reside is a joyous thing, and well worth paying for, if you’re from the big city.

  11. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Mile High Outfitters in Challis, Idaho was doing “trips in wolf country” for a while.

    It was basically a trip into the Frank — a great experience; and if people saw wolves fine (and they did sometimes); and if not, it was a great trip anyway (or at least I have heard that from some customers).

    They are still doing it, see Wolf Expeditions

  12. Peter Kiermeier Avatar

    I absolutely agree with Mike. For many people “hiking in wolf (bear) country” without seeing one is perfectly ok. It is satisfying enough just to kow “They are somewhere out there”. My wife and me often noted “something is missing” when we went hiking in a place where you know it´s empty of wolves and bears. And, of course, no guide can give you a guarantee that you see something, not even in YNP. His client should understand this (and not discuss the price for the tour). I very well remember a guide we once had in Romania. We knew he was highly competent and liked him very much. He promised to show us bears in the wild (not at a bait place). Unfortunately the poor guy had no success that day and began to sweat heavily, fearing for his money (he asked only a few Dollars for a day hike) Hey, no problem, it was a great day with a lot of fun!

  13. Buffaloed Avatar

    In response to Layton,

    I can remember an instance, before the wolves, where a whole band of sheep was just left in the country north of McCall. Some people I know even went out and shot a few for their own freezer because they were on their public lands with no one the watch over them.

    Those same people you refer to don’t seem to have much respect for the wildlife of the area because they seem to think that they will have no impact on the bighorn sheep that exist there now or would exist without their diseased hooved locusts swarming the land.

    Why do you think there are so many conflicts with sheep in that country?

    I’ll answer that. There are a lot of elk there, which attracts the wolves, then they dump a bunch of stupid, defenseless sheep in the middle of the mix where anything with sharp teeth, including black bears, cougars, coyotes, bobcats, maybe even a raccoon could probably succeed in taking down one of the pitiful creatures.

    There have been instances where bears make big kills on herds of hooved locusts and scatter them to kingdom come. If I remember correctly there was an instance in the last couple of years where a single bear killed more sheep in one-fell-swoop than all of the wolves in Idaho killed in an entire year. I can also remember sheep coming out of the foothills of Boise into the north end because of a similar incident with a cougar.

    Seems to me that sheep herders need to take some responsibility here. Their actions are responsible for the deaths of a lot of wildlife. Just because it is a “traditional way of life” doesn’t make it right. Shooting “injuns” on site was traditional too. That didn’t make it right.

  14. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    While reading Michael J. Robinson’s book “Predatory Bureaucracy,” it became clear to me that most of the government actions against wildlife, and much of the research conducted at land grant universities prior to the 1970s, was based on the assumption that livestock owners should be able to turn their cattle, and even their sheep, loose in the public lands to forage by themselves all summer, and then just round them up in the fall and expect no losses to predators and minimal losses to poison plants.

    In other words, a huge research enterprise and massive predator control operations were based on the assumption that reducing the labor involved for the few who ran public land livestock was a public good worth subsidizing.


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