"Wolf watching areas" in Idaho wolf plan are meaningless tokens

Those who are promoting Idaho’s wolf population management plan as some kind of compromise like to point to its provision for “wolf watching areas” as proof that it is a true compromise and a balanced plan.

The reality is these areas are what students of politics term “symbolic rewards,” more commonly called “tokens” or even “chump change.”

The plan really does provide for wolf watching areas. However, none are designated by the plan, and no permanent wolf watch areas will be. Here are the actual criteria for the watching areas (direct quote from the draft plan) :

1. Primarily public land, or private land where landowners agree to low or no wolf harvest.
2. No, or heavily controlled livestock grazing or agreements with landowners and producers that allow viewing and acknowledge a high risk of wolf predation.
3. Any livestock conflicts will be addressed through an incremental approach of proactive nonlethal management, lethal removal and compensation for livestock losses.
4. Provisions exist to protect domestic dogs from wolf attacks.
5. Provisions exist for harvest or lethal removal of wolves if conflicts with ungulates or livestock become excessive.
6. Outfitters in the area agree to the strategy and are eligible for financial compensation, through non-government organizations, to offset differential losses between hunting opportunity and wolf viewing revenue.
7. Viewing areas will not be considered permanent and may be moved around the state as needed to address biological and social issues. [emphasis mine]

As someone who has viewed wolves many times in Yellowstone Park and have successfully tracked wolves in Wyoming (outside Yellowstone Park) and in Idaho too, I am convinced there is only one possible place where people have a reasonable chance of seeing wolves in Idaho for viewing purposes, wolf hunt or not. That place is the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and its near environs. This is the upper reaches of the Wood River, north of Ketchum, Stanley Basin, the Sawtooth Valley, Capehorn Meadows and the low mountains to its east on north to Bear Valley Creek. The rest of the state is too mountainous, forested or roadless.

Once wolves are seriously hunted in an area under the provisions of Idaho’s plan, even if most of the wolves remain alive, the chances of seeing them will become mere chance for all but the most experienced observers.

– – – – –

For those who have seen wolves in Yellowstone Park, consider this. What if Yellowstone’s northern range was managed the way Idaho proposes wolf management?

Yellowstone Park wolves would be hunted from October through March. Then every once and a while a sign would erected here or there, saying “wolf watching area,” and the hunt would not be held in some corner of the Park for a year or so.

Would all the wolves be dead? Likely not. Would you visit Yellowstone with expectation of seeing any wolves?

– – – – –

I have a general distaste for 100%er’s. Those people who don’t know that “half a loaf” is usually better than none at all. There seems to be a growing number of these kind of folks in American politics.

Much more common, however, are those who are satisfied by mere symbols — gestures, reassurances, speeches, and being stroked a bit in public, while in the backroom those who really won grin and slap each other on the back.

If you comment on Idaho’s plan, I urge consideration of this.



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  1. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    “symbolic rewards, tokens and chump change” translates to “You should be happy we took time to include you”. It gives new meaning to the phrase “it’s the thought that counts”. It is a gesture that really means -”
    ”Screw you. We got what we wanted.” Is that the politically correct way to convey that they are thinking of us??? My answer is YES! And that annoying ‘campaign catch phrase’ “Your vote counts”; what a load of crap!
    It is so infuriating that it’s no wonder that so many people don’t bother to speak up!

  2. be Avatar

    “wolf watching areas” ? so does that make the rest of the accessible area “livestock smelling areas” or just “big docile game production areas” ?

    FEDERAL PUBLIC lands ought be “wolf watching areas” “fox watching areas” “singing bird watching areas” etc. etc. etc.

    this “token” “chump change” is a politically charged “kiss-off !!” ~


    “Outfitters in the area agree to the strategy and are eligible for financial compensation, through non-government organizations, to offset differential losses between hunting opportunity and wolf viewing revenue”

    illustrates perfectly the entitlement based-world view. “Outfitters in the area agree to the strategy” …? “Strategy” for what ?!? … giving the general public a public place to non-consumptively enjoy wildlife ?

    I guess they figure that our public land is their private property…

  3. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    What am I missing here? What is a “wolf watching area” designated by the state of Idaho? I must be a real dumb ass, because it seems to me that if you think there’s wolves on ANY public lands, state or federal, you head out and and try to find them.

    4. Provisions exist to protect domestic dogs from wolf attacks.

    Solution: don’t let your dogs run at large because they could harrass wildlife. They could also be shot by humans or killed by wolves or coyotes. Keep your dogs fenced in or in the house or barn. In other words, be responsible for your animals.


    6. Outfitters in the area agree to the strategy and are eligible for financial compensation, through non-government organizations, to offset differential losses between hunting opportunity and wolf viewing revenue.

    Please DO NOT let this slip through; it’s outfitters realizing they’re in trouble so they getting their foot in the door of future income streams they have NOTHING to do with. What NGO would ever agree to this? AH. I know: Sportsmen for (some) Fish and (some) Wildlife.

    Change to: Wildlife watchers and/or wildlife watching guides in the area agree to the stragety and are eligible for financial compensation, through non-government organizations, to offset differential losses between wolf viewing opportunities and wolves that are killed by hunters thereby removed from any possible viewing opportunity.

    See how THAT flies in Idaho.

    Mack P. Bray
    My opinions are my own


  4. kt Avatar

    Back east, they used to have “Viewings” before funerals. Where you got your last glimpse of the corpse …. Maybe that is the meaning …

    But just the concept – and that anyone would think it was a great big concession by IDFG/SFW or something to consider this. It is like some fantasyland idea of nature. Will they end up feeding the wolves to be sure they Show for the cameras.? Think of the revenue for Feds under the new Pay for Photos proposal. Will some poor FG seasonal have to be out scrounging for road kills to drag to the “Viewing Area” to make sure wolves show …???

    Mack – I suspect that the NGO bit is aimed at Outfitters trying to get Defenders or ICL to pay them for their “tolerance” …

    Now Idaho has Welfare Outfitters- all – what – 25 of them in the entire state? They have learned well from the public lands rancher whiners.

  5. Lynne Stone Avatar
    Lynne Stone

    BE – what it means, is that outside any token “wolf watching area(s)” (should big game outfitters agree and be compensated) is that the rest of Idaho would be a “wolf killing area”.

    Token wolf watching areas = knick knack paddy whack, give the dog a bone … .

  6. Buffaloed Avatar

    The only sure place to see a wolf after the plan goes into effect will be the big walk-in freezers owned by the IDFG.

  7. Lynne Stone Avatar
    Lynne Stone

    KT – I believe there are about 100-125 big game outfitters scattered all over the state including a fair concentration in the knick knack areas, I mean, token wolf viewing areas. Their organization has written and spoken out bitterly toward wolves.

  8. Chuck Avatar

    I am a little confused here, I am looking at the draft handout right now concerning wolf viewing areas and it says”Provisions exist for harvest or lethal removal of wolves if conflicts wiht ungulates or livestock become excessive”. We know wolves eat elk, I would not have a problem watching a pack of wolves take down an elk in a viewing area, they have to eat to survive. Also any rancher is going to tell you that any cow or sheep killed is excessive. So yes it appears that this wolf viewing idea proposed by IDFG is a token idea to keep one group quiet or should I say to try and appeize one group.???

  9. kt Avatar

    Chuck -The Wolf Viewing areas were proposed by the Steakholder ENVIROS!

    That is the ‘Bone” they got for being used by Otter et al. to “legitimize” the Steakholder group and the Wolf Killing Plan. Why would anyone do this? Well in the case of at least one of those orgz’ns it’s called sucking up to the Repub Powers that be in the hopes that you will have “accesss” to them, and because you have thrown wolves under the bus – that the the Repubs. will throw you a BIGGER bone. Being Meek and Mild on wolf killing is one chit in the game to pass one of the awful quid pro quo land disposal/Wilderness Bills, and other games that are being played out.

  10. mikarooni Avatar

    If Idaho really wanted to be creative and hip, they would be proposing a Larry Craig watching area.

  11. Buffaloed Avatar

    The Larry Craig viewing area would have to be in Minneapolis though.

  12. Buffaloed Avatar

    I agree with Ralph that the only place that you could likely see a wolf would be the areas from Bear Valley to the Sawtooth Valley and down the Salmon River Canyon. Any other areas would be pointless since they are rugged or forested and the only wolf sightings I have ever had in those areas have been just by chance.

  13. Chuck Avatar

    Ya the only problem with Bear Valley is right now there is too much snow for people to get back in there, unless they have snowmobiles. So I guess thats where the guides would come in???? At least in Lamar valley you can get to it all the time.

  14. kt Avatar

    Better yet would be Larry Craig Environmental Legacy Viewing areas: The cow-burned and cheatgrass fire Hells of the Jarbidge, clearcuts in the Payette, and ALL the Wolf Killing areas (DAUs -or DEAD animal Units) of the Idaho Fish and Game Wolf Plan … all twisted, all sick, all built on a Policy of Lies for Industry.

  15. Lynne Stone Avatar
    Lynne Stone

    I don’t think the wolves would appreciate having anything to do with Senator Larry Craig. He’s never been their friend.

    Chuck – I would think that the Bear Valley Pack (15 wolves and seen by lots of folks this past summer in that most beautiful of Idaho meadowlands) does not stay in Bear Valley in winter. Snow is too deep. Elk leave and go into the Middle Fork Salmon River canyon or SFK Payette River.

    Maybe someone reading this blog knows where the Bear Valley Pack goes in winter, or rather, which elk they follow! Maybe next summer we wolf huggers should get together in Bear Valley and have a hoe down! Splendid place. No longer grazed by cattle. Cheers! Keep the faith. Onward!

  16. Chuck Avatar

    didn’t the rainbow people have a gathering there a few years back????? ok lets make it official-Wolfbow 2008

  17. kt Avatar

    if I recall, the Bear Valley Rainbow Gathering prompted Larry Craig to suddenly take a firm stance on the detrimental effects of trampling to streambanks and fish habitat.

    Larry’s concern, of course, was not trampling by hundreds of half ton cows, mind you, but by the Rainbow folks … he was afraid they impair habitat for offspring of any fish that had survived his beloved lower Snake Dams.

  18. Lynne Stone Avatar
    Lynne Stone

    Chuck – the Rainbows were not in Bear Valley meadows proper. Rather in Cache Ck, I recall. They left in time for the cattle to come in. Now the cattle permit has been bought out and retired (thanks to Bonneville Power’s compensation fund for damage done to salmon by those dams KT speaks of).

    Maybe once Larry retires, he might enjoy hanging out with the Rainbows, do you suppose? He could teach wide stance and foot tapping. No offense to the Rainbows. Oh, this is a wolf thread. We’re getting off track.

    Wolfbow? Maybe rather “Dances of Wolves in Bear Valley?” Let’s start talking about a date. Ideas anyone? Everyone? Bear Valley is about 35 miles west of Stanley on the Boise Forest, accessed by Hwy 21 and then 10 miles or so of gravel road. Bear Valley is about two plus hours from Boise (help me out on that Chuck and KT). Our little wolf pow wow needs to be informal.

  19. catbestland Avatar

    Would it be possible to coordinate the wolf pow wow with the before mentioned gathering at Chico Hot Springs? I love the idea. How about “Dances for Wolves”? I could bring a group from Colorado.

  20. be Avatar

    the bear valley pack is the first i’ve experienced ~

  21. Chuck Avatar

    The Bear Valley turn off is just past the Bull Trout lake turn off, But it usually has snow quite late into the spring. Could be worse if this year does prove to be a La Nina year????? It would be neat to get together in an area where we might possibly get to watch wolves. If this were yellowstone I could take you right to the wolves. But as I have yet to see any Idaho wolves….guess we will have to discuss this one further.

  22. jerry b Avatar
    jerry b

    “Wolfbow 2008″…like the sound of it.
    Maybe we can bring together Mack’s “WildlifeWatchers” concept with Wolfbow and actually have a “RainbowFamily” type of outdoor festival. Carole King, and other musicians, speakers on wolf ecology and other predator experts. Doesn’t Western Watershed own some property in that area?
    I’ll bring a caravan of pro-wolfers from Montana.
    More ideas, dates etc…………….?

  23. Chuck Avatar

    Maybe even invite Doug Smith from Yellowstone.

  24. Lynne Stone Avatar
    Lynne Stone

    Bear Valley is usually snowed in until after Memorial Day. Be best to plan something for mid-July I think. Or late June. Would avoid the 4th of July weekend.

    Am not sure Carole King would be interested as she asked to stop receiving wolf related emails. Maybe Walkin Jim? He’s terrific.

    WWP no longer owns the Greenfire Preserve, which is located about 80 miles east of Bear Valley.

    Cat – would your group coming to Chico consider going to central idaho after that? I know it’s a long ways (but isn’t everywhere in the West?) April is a good time to see wolves as they are staying close to den sights and the elk are still down on winter range. But one never knows for sure if wolves will appear.

  25. Charles Newton Avatar

    What about the area up around 4th july road??? never been up there……..or just meet in Lamar Valley….ya i know its not quite idaho.

  26. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    P A R T Y ! ! ! P A R T Y ! ! ! P A R T Y ! ! ! P A R T Y ! ! ! P A R T Y ! ! ! P A R T Y ! ! ! P A R T Y ! ! ! P A R T Y ! ! ! P A R T Y ! ! ! P A R T Y ! ! ! P A R T Y ! ! ! P A R T Y ! ! ! P A R T Y ! ! ! P A R T Y ! ! ! P A R T Y ! ! ! P A R T Y ! ! ! P A R T Y ! ! ! P A R T Y ! ! ! P A R T Y ! ! ! P A R T Y ! ! ! P A R T Y ! ! ! P A R T Y ! ! ! P A R T Y ! ! ! P A R T Y ! ! ! P A R T Y ! ! ! P A R T Y ! ! ! P A R T Y

  27. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    end of June would be better as bear valley was pretty much shut down the last two years by mid-late July by fires.

  28. catbestland Avatar

    April sounds great. I was planning a trip to Yellowstone around then anyway. I’ll just extend it for the Wolfbow Incident 2008.

  29. Lynne Stone Avatar
    Lynne Stone

    Mack – I like your spirit! Joy is good for this wolf-warrior’s soul!

    Jeff – am trying to remember when the fires started, seems like it was later July. The 2006 Red Mountain Fire put a huge “firebreak” around Bruce Meadow along Bear Valley Ck, which is as large as some rivers. And other blazes cleared out the underbrush and trees near Ayers and Poker Meadow.

    Am thinking the weekend after Fourth of July.

    Chuck – what Fourth of July do you mean? In the Sawtooth Valley? It’s hard to see wolves up there.

    Also, I’d like to go over to Yellowstone and see all them famous wulfs you all are talking about — anyone got some time to “guide” me in January for a day or two. I don’t mind the cold. I live in Stanley, icebox of the lower 48.

  30. Charles Newton Avatar

    Yes Lynne thats the place I was refering too, was not sure if there were any packs up there, still have not seen an idaho wolf. The only problem with going to yellowstone in January, besides the cold, you are limited to lamar valley, if you waited till may to go over then most of the park is open and you would get to see more. So I guess the place for now would be bear valley.

  31. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    Lynne Stone asks
    “Maybe someone reading this blog knows where the Bear Valley Pack goes in winter, or rather, which elk they follow!”
    I know somthing of these wolves but rather not discuss in public.

  32. Lynne Stone Avatar
    Lynne Stone

    Jeff – wise idea. The less said about where wolves are except in very general terms is best. One can say there are wolves in Bear Valley but it’s a huge place with much of it being Wilderness.

    Chuck – the Galena Pack are the wolves in the Sawtooth Valley. They are more visible in winter, but still hard to see. Wildlife Services shot and wounded a large male wolf on Oct 2nd that likely was the pack’s alpha. The crime was killing a couple of unattended sheep. Even on the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, which is supposed to protect wildlife over livestock, wolves are not safe. It’s probably only going to get worse.

    Big storm hitting central Idaho. The only way into Bear Valley now is on a snowmobile or skis.

  33. JB Avatar

    Back to the plan; it is tempting to tell IDF&G that the plan, or at least some elements of the plan, are ridiculous. However I think it will be much harder for them to dismiss comments that are based on logic–especially those that address the ease and cost of implementation. With that in mind, I offer the following comments and encourage anyone who wishes to adapt these and submit to IDF&G.

    My comments and specific wolf-viewing criteria:

    2. No, or heavily controlled livestock grazing or agreements with landowners and producers that allow viewing and acknowledge a high risk of wolf predation.

    -How do you define “high risk.” How will risk of wolf predation be measured? Will landowners only need to “acknowledge” the risk of wolf predation, or actually agree to subject their livestock to potential predation? Will risk assessments be done on a yearly basis? If so, who will pay?

    4. Provisions exist to protect domestic dogs from wolf attacks.

    -What types of provisions? Will signage (i.e., don’t let your dog off leash or it could become wolf food) be sufficient? Will IDFG contact all local landowners, or will they simply focus on visitors to the viewing area?

    5. Provisions exist for harvest or lethal removal of wolves if conflicts with ungulates or livestock become excessive.

    -This absolutely kills any chance at successfully implementing wolf viewing. Who will determine when conflicts become excessive? What will be considered a “conflict?” Since the areas proposed were supposed to be low or no livestock areas, are we to presume that the conflict with livestock mentioned herein is with livestock in adjacent areas?

    6. Outfitters in the area agree to the strategy and are eligible for financial compensation, through non-government organizations, to offset differential losses between hunting opportunity and wolf viewing revenue.

    -Now this IS absurd. How will outfitters demonstrate that they have been negatively impacted by wolves. I would challenge IDFG to find an economist that believes they can successfully parse out the negative effect of wolves from all other potential factors that could impact individual outfitters. Moreover, even if you could find one, you would need to conduct this type of analysis every year. And what about the potential positive impacts of wolves on outfitters (tourism, etc)? Will outfitters be required to payback $$ if the economic analysis indicates they gained more than they lost?

    7. Viewing areas will not be considered permanent and may be moved around the state as needed to address biological and social issues. [emphasis mine]

    -The priority of a wolf-viewing area should be WOLF VIEWING–not elk hunting, coyote trapping, ranching, or ATV riding. Since wolf-viewing at minimum requires (1) wolves, (2) easy accessibility for viewers, and (3) lack of livestock, it should be relatively easy to narrow down suitable sites. Moreover, since it also (based on the above criteria) will require consultation with landowners, livestock producers, and outfitters, as well as some signage for dog owners, it would be quite costly to change the area in which wolf-viewing takes place. Thus, it makes sense to designate a few sites as permanent wolf-viewing areas and not attempt to move sites around.

    Thanks, JB. Maybe the critique can be summed up as a failure to provide an operational definition of any of their decision-making criteria. You have to trust them, a bad basis for any policy. Ralph

  34. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    Simple truth of the mater is that the state is setting up wolves to fail every litmus test for survival under the states reduction in numbers plan . To say otherwise is a bald faced unmitigated lie.(Clement) And in my opinion, no one knows this better than the water carrier’s for the livestock industry, IFG board of directors.

  35. Charles Newton Avatar

    But the one thing that I am curious about, Jon Rachael said that if the IDFG fails to keep the breeding pairs above 10 then the state loses control and it goes back into the feds hands and the wolves are relisted. The state is suppose to keep a bare minium of 15 breeding pairs. Do we trust them to keep an honest count of the breeding pairs.

  36. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    No, I don’t trust them.

    It takes a quite a bit of on the ground effort to identify a breeding pair. At the very minimum, you need to hear more than one pup howl or see more than one pup track. Breeding pairs are a lot more difficult to determine than that a group of wolves are present (a group not necessarily equaling a pack, and certainly not a breeding pair).

    If they could show 40 or 50 groups of wolves, it is reasonable to infer 10 breeding pairs, but if they manage the numbers lower, then a lot of work has to be done to see if 10 breeding pairs are present. This is expensive . . . just another irrationality in their wolf tag-for-less-than-$10-plan and their complaint about the cost of wolf management.

  37. Chuck Avatar

    Oh and a breeding pair is-A male and female that have two pups that survive the year….or least I believe thats what was said.

  38. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Yes, survive until the end of the calendar year when the official count is determined.

  39. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    Lets look at some facts:
    Idaho covers 83,570 sq mi. Of that ~ 64% is federal land of one type or another, that equals ~ 53,484sq. mi. If only half of that would be suitable wolf habitat that would equal~ 26,750 sq. mi. or seventeen million one hundred twenty thousand acres. (take a minuet and get your mind around that number), now think about 15 breeding pairs with pups(about 60 wolves give or take)…….. in seventeen million + acres.

  40. JB Avatar

    My argument is that the minimum number of wolves should be based on a biological estimate–the maximum number should be based on the social tolerance. This ensures long-term survival of the species (in this portion of its range) without compromising other groups (i.e. ranching) interests. To my knowledge, we don’t yet have a good estimate of the number of wolves needed to ensure adequate exchange of genetic material? Is that right?

  41. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    Yes sir, exactly. And a significant component of sound biological based science would be the amount of suitable habitat available. This was addressed by the language in the ESA that said a species would need to be restored to a significant % of it’s historical range.

  42. be Avatar

    i trust the IDFG to slaughter wolves.

    the volition of the plan is clear. “control” measures are vaguely applied under the guise of “adaptive management” – that is to say, all of the criteria regarding definitions, numbers, and “science” the department considers to be actionable will change all of the time ~ the problem is, this vague “adaptive management” that we’ve been seeing all over public lands issues, is not fertile ground for the application of sound science, it is fertile ground for the application of politicalization and for special interest pressures (SFW).

    however, as you can see in the plan, the general public’s interest (well, what IDFG considers to be) – wolf viewing areas – is managed specifically. livestock producers have a veto ~ outfitters to a certain extent, and specifically outfitters are to be compensated via NGO’s (it’s a grab for a piece of Defenders good faith of the past).

    The general public/non-consumptive interest is illustrated within very particular and a well-defined confinement. this signals assurances to livestock & big game. that’s who IDFG feels they need to demonstrate assurances to.

    The kill is exceptionally “adaptive” and vague ~ as mentioned from the political science perspective, fertile grounds for political incursion. no assurance for proper application of science nor public interest. no need demonstrate assurances here apparently.

    the plan provides us with a thinly veiled volition that we can trust. we can trust that should politicians or SFW want more dead animals, there is room for adapting to that. we can trust that should wolf viewing thrive, there is not room for that.

  43. sal Avatar

    Mission Statement

    The mission statement for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game is found within the State of Idaho Wildlife Policy, which reads:
    “All wildlife, including all wild animals, wild birds, and fish, within the state of Idaho, is hereby declared to be the property of the state of Idaho. It shall be preserved, protected, perpetuated, and managed. It shall be only captured or taken at such times or places, under such conditions, or by such means, or in such manner, as will preserve, protect, and perpetuate such wildlife, and provide for the citizens of this state and, as by law permitted to others, continued supplies of such wildlife for hunting, fishing and trapping.”

    Fish and Game on Video

    The sights and sounds of Idaho’s wildlife bring to life the irreplaceable value of the natural world found in Idaho’s mountains, valleys and deserts.

    The Idaho Department of Fish and Game is dedicated to protecting our wildlife heritage. We accept the challenge, responsibility and obligation to preserve this legacy for future generations and for all who value a wild Idaho.

    See and hear for yourself what this means by watching the following videos: Go to the web site for those.

    be and sal, see my recent post on how compensation to outfitters suggests they are being given ownership of Idaho wildlife. It’s worse than you thought. Ralph Maughan


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