Report on Idf&G Commissioner's Coeur D'alene Meeting, Nov 2009

“The Best Of Times, The Worst Of Times”

by Ken Fischman, Ph.D.
Vice Chair & Spokesman
Northern Idaho Wolf Alliance

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” (first sentence in Charles Dickens’ novel, “A Tale of Two Cities.”)

It was the “best of times” because NIWA and other wolf advocates accomplished all their objectives at the Idaho Fish & Game (IDF&G) meeting in Coeur d’Alene, in November. It was the “worst of times” because due to the Commissioners’ actions there, Idaho wolves are now in greater danger than ever.

When I learned that IDF&G Commissioners were holding their quarterly meeting at the Coeur d’Alene Resort, I thought it presented an excellent opportunity for the Northern Idaho Wolf Alliance (NIWA) to present their views on the Idaho wolf hunt face to face with the Commissioners and to learn more about how IDF&G functions. The other NIWA members were enthusiastic about the idea & we gathered allies from Defenders of Wildlife, The Kootenai Environmental Alliance(KEA), and other groups. We made arrangements that we thought would be helpful in making our case for the wolves. As it turned out, we accomplished all of our goals, but learned more about the inner workings of IDF&G than we perhaps wanted to know.

We approached our task in a stealthy manner. Unlike our September demonstrations in Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint against the wolf hunt, we did not advertise our intentions in the media.  By operating in this way, we hoped that we would have the advantage of surprise, and also to avoid a counter-demonstration similar to the one put on by a hunter group in September.

We succeeded in both efforts beyond our expectations. We notified media only 24 hours prior to the meeting, thus gaining a virtual monopoly of both print & TV for a few precious hours (However, we made one big miscalculation, which we will avoid in the future).

I was interviewed by KREM TV(CBS, Spokane) on the Sandpoint Long Bridge on my way to the meeting. Forty Five seconds of the ten minute interview (par for the course) and appeared on the 6 and 11 O’clock news shows that evening. Stephen Augustine, also of NIWA, was interviewed at the meeting that evening, and he appeared twice during the next day on KREM. I was also interviewed by Becky Kramer of the Spokesman Review and Kevin Taylor of the Pacific Northwest Inlander. I got the message across about our concerns over the hunt reducing the wolves’ genetic connectivity, increasing inbreeding, and damaging vital migration corridors such as McCall-Weiser.

The first session of the Commissioner’s meeting on Wednesday night was advertised as an open meeting for public comments. NIWA brought eleven people to the meeting, most of whom made comments, and two of whom additionally read comments from others who could not attend. Rich Hurry of NIWA provided one of the highlights when he accused the Commissioners of being a “death panel.” It visibly shook them up. At the time, we did not dream of how prescient Rich’s remarks would prove to be.

Cathleen O’Conner from Coeur d’Alene reminded the Commissioners that the hunting season in some zones extended into the time when wolves are probably denning, thus putting newly-born pups at risk. However, two of the anti-wolf commentators urged the Commissioners to be “extremely aggressive” and  “use all the tools in their toolbox” to kill more wolves.

The Commissioners sat around a horseshoe-shaped table and listened, without comment. They struck me as looking quite human, and seemed to be rational, respectful adults. Perhaps they were not as bad as their reputation indicated, I thought. The audience consisted of about 85 people, and 17 of them testified on the wolves. By my count, 13 comments favored the wolves. As far as I know, this was the first IDF&G meeting since the announcement of the wolf hunt, in which wolf advocates were in the majority. We felt elated. We had done what we set out to do. We did not know what was to come.

After the meeting ended, IDF&G Director, Cal Groen suggested that IDF&G game had an image in the public’s eye that was at odds with what they really do, and they needed to do a better “education” job. Stephen and Bill Howell sat down and talked with two of the Commissioners at the hotel bar. Commissioner Tony Mc Dermott, from Bonner County, suggested that he and a staff biologist meet with NIWA members soon to discuss their differences about how IDF&G treated wolves. I do not know how many drinks they had, but apparently they all had a jolly time.

The next day, Thursday, reports were scheduled on IDF&G’s ungulate project by Peter Zager, a staff biologist, and on the progress of the wolf hunt, by Deputy Director, Jim Unsworth. Rich Hurry, my wife, Lanie Johnson, and I, returned to the meeting to hear these reports.

At the beginning of the session, several Commissioners voiced concern at the shrinking hunter base and wondered what to do about it.

Zager’s report, centered mostly on the Clearwater NF elk, with particular focus on the herd in the Lolo zone. There, a change in cow/calf ratios had previously been blamed on the presence of wolves. His presentation was filled with figures, charts, graphs, and tables, some of which were at variance with those I have seen on the IDF&G and US Fish & Wildlife websites. To be fair to Zager, perhaps this was new information, that had not yet been entered. Much of it seemed to show that wolves had played an important, but not the only part, in the diminishing the herds. Zager said that elk in the state are in decline and so is the elk  “harvest”, although cow survival in the Lolo had increased.

He also said that IDF&G had a goal of 90% survival rates for elk (but did not explain the rationale for choosing this figure.  The wolf survival rate is supposedly 60 – 65 %). It is important to note that Zager also said that the lowest elk survival rate in the state was in Island Park, but that “wolves did not play an important role” there.

I thought to myself, well, perhaps they do have a case. Whatever it is, it is. ( I will try to get the report from him, so that I can examine it more carefully). I could not however, help but notice that their experimental design was faulty. They included two zones in which wolf density was heavy and moderate respectively, but none in which density was light. How can they come to any firm conclusions, when they had nothing to compare with their study regions? Was this a mistake, an oversight, or was it deliberate? Unsworth’s report on the wolf hunt followed. It did not reveal any information that was not already public. Unsworth then stated that wolves would increase in numbers 20% a year without hunting. He has made this claim in the media several times this year (please note: wolf population increase was 8.8% in 2007 and 15.6% in 2008, the last year IDF&G posted figures).

At the end of the presentation, Unsworth said that the scientific staff recommended that the hunting season be extended to March 31, 2010 in three more zones that were not close to the quota originally assigned by IDF&G. Since a March 31 date had been assigned to the Lolo and Sawtooth zones in the original announcement for the wolf hunt, this would extend the season for five out of the 12 zones.

As unsavory and mean-spirited as this wolf season prolongation appeared to us, coming from an organization which insisted that it adhered to science-based policies, we had been prepared for it by previous public remarks made by Unsworth.  We were however, not prepared for what happened next.

Two of the Commissioners then asked several Idaho outfitters, who were seated at the table with them, for their comments. The outfitters said that they should kill a lot more wolves. I approached the podium, hoping to read an editorial that had appeared that morning in the conservative Idaho Falls Times-News, deploring the possible season extension. I was physically blocked from the podium by a staff member, who told me that no comments from the audience were allowed. Fruitlessly, I tried to explain that the Commissioners probably were not aware of the editorial.

At that point, I walked out of the meeting room. Other members of our group filled me in on the details of what happened next. Commissioner Randy Budge of Pocatello, son of a cattle rancher, immediately stated that the season should be extended in all zones. There was no discussion, no second (if this was indeed a motion), and Commission members unanimously said “aye.” Thus, ended the meeting segment on wolves.

This extension makes the wolf hunt seven months long, an unprecedented time frame for a big game hunt in Idaho. What makes it worse, is that it overlaps wolf denning season. According to Dr. L. David Mech’s authoritative book, The Wolf (Mech, 1970), breeding seasons for wolves vary with latitude. Although altitude also plays a role, wolves in highest latitudes generally have the latest breeding seasons. Breeding begins in February at Latitude 45 degrees in Minnesota and at Lat. 47 degrees on Isle Royale  NP. (Mech, 1970)) Most of Idaho’s wolf population ranges between 43 and 47 degrees.  The good news is that Jesse Timberlake of Defenders of Wildlife believes that the majority of whelping in Idaho takes place in April (Timberlake, personal communication, 2009).

Wolf pups are born blind and deaf, with little if any sense of smell, poor ability to regulate their body temperatures, and with motor capacity limited to crawling. Their behavior is also very limited, mainly to seek contact with their mothers. They remain in this helpless neonatal condition for two weeks before they even can open their eyes. (Mech. 1970, & Montana Government Field Guide).

At the very least, pregnant females will be among those wolves killed.  IDF&G will therefore condemn many wolf pups to slow starvation brought about by the deaths of their mothers & other key pack members.

The idea of leaving them to starve is one of uncaring cruelty, and would be considered unethical by hunters if it were inflicted on elk. That is why the elk hunting season is in the fall, not the spring.

I exited the building, feeling physically nauseated. The psychologist Hannah Arendt’s 1963 book about the trial of Adolph Eichmann, had famously spoken of “the banality of evil.” I could almost smell the odor of hate in that room, and I had seen the face of evil.






  1. jdubya Avatar

    “I could almost smell the odor of hate in that room, and I had seen the face of evil.”

    I completely disagree with the decision to extend the hunt and hope that the federal judiciary will step in and close it down, but I am not sure drawing such polar opposites as “hate” or “evil” does much to extend the conversation. These are people with a set agenda and a set of goals that are at odds with many of us, and we have to thwart them at every opportunity. But until they are voted out and/or are replaced with people with a more open mind, they still have to be dealt with. And calling them “evil” ain’t gonna open many doors.

  2. gline Avatar

    The idea of leaving them to starve is one of uncaring cruelty, and would be considered unethical by hunters if it were inflicted on elk. That is why the elk hunting season is in the fall, not the spring.


    Wow. I am losing hope in Molloy – and MT governor Schweitzer told Molloy not to issue an injunction… WTF?

  3. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    Judge Molloy set the date for oral arguments Jan. 28. He deliberately let the wolf hunts go ahead. Now, if in addition, Wildlife Service is going to be shooting “wolves in a barrel”, as Ken Cole just posted, he might be open to a new request for an injunction.

    Otherwise, there will be a trial on Jan. 28 and he will issue his decision sometime, thereafter.

  4. JB Avatar

    “Unsworth then stated that wolves would increase in numbers 20% a year without hunting.”

    I’d like to hear Mark Gambling’s comments on this statement. Last I heard, wolves were a density dependent species. Even suggesting that they could increase by 20% a year indefinitely is irresponsible–at best–and a downright lie at worst.

  5. JimT Avatar

    The article is, tragically, what I would expect from the state..sell out of the wolves and cubs to satisfy grazers and hunting industry reps. There isn’t any way for Mark Gambling to spin anything. It is about money interests in the ears of the state decision makers, and unreasoned hatred for a single species.

    Let’s hope for some quick and strong arguments by the lawyers to Malloy, and let’s hope he listens.

  6. Phil Maker Avatar
    Phil Maker

    No newborn wolf pups would be left orphaned by a hunting season extended to the end of March. In ID, the bulk of pups aren’t born until at least the second week of April. Certainly pregnant females could be killed (wolves in ID breed in mid-Feb.).
    The 20% growth rate, as pointed out in the story, has been slowing over the past 2 years, so IDFG is disingenuous to keep on parroting this figure. If the wolves were left alone the rate would approach 0 growth in the next few years. However, the increased killing by WS, coupled with hunting, may reduce the wolf pop. enough to stimulate reproduction; by fragmenting packs’ social structure, eliminating packs (whose territories might then be occupied by more than 1 pack).
    In this case wolf “management” (to reduce pop. size) might end up leading to a spike in reproduction.

  7. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Phil Maker,

    I have suggested this and a lot of other things they need to be monitoring as a result of the hunt, such as do fragmented packs kill more or fewer livestock? They just assume that 10 or 20% per cent fewer wolves will kill that proportion fewer livestock.

    Do you think they are monitoring these things or will?

  8. Valerie Bittner Avatar

    “I exited the building, feeling physically nauseated. The psychologist Hannah Arendt’s 1963 book about the trial of Adolph Eichmann, had famously spoken of “the banality of evil.” I could almost smell the odor of hate in that room, and I had seen the face of evil.”

    I agree with Dr. Fischman’s insightful perception. He echoes not only HAnnah Arendt’s words but also Elie Wiesel who famously said that evil exists in the context of ignorance.

    The dictionary says that to ignore is “to refrain from noticing or recognizing”. The face of evil and the banality of evil go hand in hand in that evil exists when those with the power to decide life and death (e.g. IF&G Regional Supervisors, IF & G Commissioners) purposefully choose (perhaps for political expediency, self-preservation, maintenance of “custom and culture”) to refrain from recognizing the truth of scientific consensus.

    As such they refrain from recognizing the consequential suffering of the animals under their “care” as well as the humans who experience (whether directly or indirectly) the animal’s demise.

  9. Ken Fischman, Ph.D. Avatar

    And calling them “evil” ain’t gonna open many doors.

    jdubya: Until recently I would have agreed with your point of view. My experience at the Commissioners meeting changed my mind on this. Many people have tried to open these doors. My experience is one not of open doors, but of closed minds. It reminds me of the old story about getting a mule’s attention. Sometimes a two-by-four may be the “most effective tool in the tool box.”

  10. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears

    Dr. Fischman,

    I can assure you after spending part of my life working for a state game agency, a “2×4” upside the head, is probably the least desirable approach to take!

    The most effective tool in the tool box now a days is, education, and yes, it takes a long time for education to take effect, but that is why you target younger generations..

  11. Valerie Bittner Avatar

    Save Bears,

    What kind of education did you have in mind? Conservation science which incorporates ethical considerations?

    Also the wolves of today given projected to changes to come to the last remaining ecosystems from global warming, human population pressure, division of the West by conglomerates, cannot wait for future wild life managers to become conservation managers.

  12. Phil Maker Avatar
    Phil Maker

    I wouldn’t expect to see any substantial science coming from IDFG regarding the issue of pack fragmentation on livestock depredation rates (or anything else for that matter). I expect that what money the agency derives from wolf license sales (which may go into a general IDFG fund as opposed to being dedicated to wolf program) and receives from FWS is barely enough to operate what tasks are conducted now. The IDFG Research branch has a couple of ongoing wolf/elk studies underway, but those are aimed at determining whether wolves negatively impact herds.

  13. Dusty Roads Avatar
    Dusty Roads

    Merely for those interested, here’s some background on Randy Budge:

  14. Mark Gamblin (IDFG) Avatar
    Mark Gamblin (IDFG)

    All who are following this thread –
    First, all should understand that Fish and Game Commission meetings are conducted in two parts to ensure transparency and public access to the Commission and Commission deliberations and decisions. The first part is the public hearing that precedes the formal administrative hearing held the following day. The public hearing is reserved solely for public testimony on any matter relating to Idaho wildlife management. This is the opportunity for the public to speak to the Commission on the record. Commission meetings are always advertised well in advance to ensure broad public attendance. Dr. Fischman and the NIWA attendance was as welcome as was any other constituents the Commission and Department serve. The second day is always devoted to formal Commission business, with no opportunity for open public testimony. Dr. Fischman should understand that he was highly out of order to approach the podium while the Commission was in formal session. Doing so, he was interupting a staff presentation to the Commission and was simply escorted calmly from the meeting room by Deputy Director Virgil Moore. Deputy Director Moore was fulfilling his responsibility to maintain order in a formal administrative meeting. Some may misconstrue from Dr. Fischman’s account that he was somehow improperly deprived of his lawful access to a public governmental meeting. That is not the case.
    The Commission decision to extend the wolf season was made after comprehensive staff briefings before and during the Coeur d’Alene meeting. The Commission’s decision was based on the knowledge that this wolf hunting season would not accomplish wolf population management objectives in most of the wolf hunting zones, if the season were closed for those zones with harvest/kill limits unfulfilled on December 31. There will be addititional wolves taken by hunters between January 1 and March 31 in those zones that remain open. The extended hunting season and wolf harvest/kill poses NO threat to wolf population integrity, genetic viability and most certainly will not put new born wolf pups or lactating females at risk. Dr. Fischman quotes a very general wolf whelping time scale that does not apply to Idaho. This was corroborated by Dr. Fischman with the quote from DOW biologist Justin Timberlake – contradicting his earlier emphatic mischaracterization. Because the hunting season will conclude before whelping begins – newly born wolf pups will not be orphaned of their mothers. Newly bor “helpless” wolf pups will not starve because of the extended hunting season. Pregnant female wolves are subject to hunting mortality throughout this hunting season, just as pregnant elk, deer, moose, antelope, rabbits….. and other game animals are every year, sometimes late into their gestation period. The Southeast Region has several cow elk depredation hunts that extend to the end of January.

    The elk mortality research summarized by Dr. Pete Zager, and referred to by Dr. James Unsworth, is the product of a strong experimental design. As I have explained several times in the pst several months – those cow and calf elk mortality data are direct measures (rather than statistical estimates) of wolf predation mortality elk management zones. Radio collaring of cow and calf elk allows us to follow the fate of each collared animal. Knowing which elk die and how they die gives us a direct, total measure of the mortality rate of cow and calf elk in those zones – caused by wolf predation. This experimental design is in fact a stronger design than one that relies on experimental and control groups to statistically estimate wolf predation.

    I hope that Dr. Fischman and other NIWA members accept the offer by Commissioner McDermott to sit down with Commissioners and Department staff to better understand the Idaho Management Plan and basic wolf population biology. Helping the public understand wildlife management and wildlife population biology and is one of our important responsibilities.

  15. Jay Barr Avatar
    Jay Barr

    Just who, and how, are these “direct measures” obtained? A collared elk dies and someone from IDFG (a “trained” technician) goes in 1-2 weeks later to investigate and determine cause of death?

  16. Mark Gamblin (IDFG) Avatar
    Mark Gamblin (IDFG)

    Jay Barr –
    The fate of each collared elk is verified by members of the research team.

  17. gline Avatar

    Thanks, Dusty Roads, for the info on Randy Budge.


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