Wildhorse Face-off

The Challis (Idaho) wild horse herd is the largest in Idaho, occasionally growing to 400 or so animals. It maintains very distinct boundaries — on its north the Salmon River, on the south Road Creek, on the east U.S. Highway 93, and on the west the East Fork Salmon Road.

Every 2-3 years the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) thins the herd which consists of a number of stallion-led bands of 5 to 15 horses. It was thinned in 2010 and current numbers are about 160. This time the mares were released with a contraceptive injection that lasts a couple years, so presently the foals are few to none.

One or two bands use part of the Greenfire Preserve near the mouth of the East Fork of the Salmon as a portion of their range. Visitors can usually see the horses in the near distance all day long, because they keep just to the east of the East Fork of the Salmon River. During our recent visit to the preserve (no it is not a preserve for horses) we decided to take a walk through past and up a small canyon into the colorful Challis volcanic cliffs just to their east. This is our story.

– – – – –

By Jackie Johnson Maughan

We spent Friday through Tuesday May 2011 at the Greenfire Preserve on the East Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho.

The most remarkable event of the weekend is that we were chased by wild horses, six of them. It was scarey as the devil since we were on foot in the middle of an open meadow with nowhere to hide and, of course, nowhere to run. The stallion was furious with us, just furious, and kept snorting and grumbling and showing his teeth.

I have to write about this since I cannot contain myself about this extraordinary event. I am so glad not to have been trampled to death or disfigurement.

We were just out hiking and went up Horse Canyon. The band of wild horses was in two groups, one in the upper meadow, the other in the lower meadow. As we came back down the canyon the big gray mare with a blaze on her face in the upper meadow was approaching us. She did not look friendly or curious. Her head was down like she meant trouble. We stopped and yelled at her and threw rocks. This brought the stallion racing over from the band in the lower meadow. He sidelined us as he got within about 100-150 feet and was positioning himself to bite and kick us.

There was one point when it looked like the stallion was going to attack. Ralph and I bunched up together and held our arms and hiking sticks and big rocks up to make ourselves look big. This seemed to make him change his mind about taking us on. Then he went back to gather up the rest of his mares. For a long time, well 30 seconds, they galloped straight at us and it seemed as if he had formed a posse to come after us. We were way too far from the river bridge or any kind of protection to try to make a run for it. Instead, we had to keep walking like we were not scared and hope they would decide a fight was not needed. Then they began to curve a bit towards the base of the mountain and sidelined gradually away from us.

I don’t think I’ve ever come this close to being hurt by a wild animal in all our years of outdoors stuff. I’ve been scared of grizzlies plenty of times but never directly challenged. It’s interesting how very fast these horses changed from “landscape art” to a threat. It is not something I expected at all.

Jackie Johnson Maughan

Wild horses with foal on The Greenfire. Photo autumn 2010. Copyright Ralph Maughan



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  1. Jon Way Avatar

    Great story! Maybe Idaho will also declare wild horses a natural disaster and in need of getting rid of by any means necessary?

  2. Nancy Avatar

    Thanks for sharing the story Jackie! Do you think the past round-ups and cullings (and the human smell associated with them) might of had anything to do with their aggresive actions towards you and Ralph?

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Hi Nancy,

      Jackie is still asleep 😉 These are intereting questions, but probably can’t be answered.

      We recognized the big gray mare from years past. The stallion was a new leader of the band, but I learned he was an old boy, so both had gone through a round-up. When they had a foal the year before (see the photo), they were very protective of it even from long range photography. A mare would stand in front of it, keeping it out of sight. My pic is through a strong telephoto lens.

      In the past, observers said, the few wolves who challenged the band barely escaped.

  3. mikarooni Avatar

    I regularly feed my longhorns by hand; they’re relatively docile cattle. However, when they have a new calf or when a favored cow or especially a favored heifer is calving, the bull and the senior herd cows can surprise me with their “show” (I always hope it’s just a show) of protective ferocity. My herd bull is large for practically any breed of cattle, extremely large by longhorn standards, and usually a very amiable friend; but, when agitated by either the calving process or from chasing a cow in season, he gets up close and personal to convey his concerns. I can’t hold it against them. It’s natural. If I held it against them, I’d be switching out animals every month.

    I’ve also learned that they live in a strange sensory world overwhelmingly dominated by a direct connection between emotions and the odors in the environment. For example, I was once persuaded, by a chaco wearing friend of my daughter, to spray a smelly “organic” oil made from spices around my water troughs and feeding pens. It was being sold as a nontoxic way to repel some of the summer flies. The whole herd went nuts. Some of the mist blew over onto a few of the animals; they then seemed unable to recognize each other; and they all went to fighting each other as if everyone was a strange invader. I’m now a very satisfied user of nontoxic “organic” pest control; but, it’s a collection of products developed and sold by biologists from Tucson and not a chaco wearing friend of my daughter.

  4. Ryan Avatar

    This happens alot more than one would think..


    How did the range look?

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      The horse part of range doesn’t look very good, but then the Greenfire was an old cattle ranch. This area was beaten out before the horses came in. I’m sure their presence has prevented improvement.

      The cows have been gone a decade and things are much improved overall, although native vegetation did not come back. When the cows or something else ruins it in these semi-arid lands, native forbs and grasses are very hard to restore.

      Nevertheless, there are a lot of non-native grasses and in spring and winter the preserve is full of wildlife in the twilight hours.

      I should add that the most important thing is the East Fork of the Salmon River. Its streambanks have made a tremendous recovery.

  5. Ted Chu (a chaco wearer) Avatar
    Ted Chu (a chaco wearer)

    I find it curious that we romanticize these animals in much the same way some people romanticize the cow boy and the rancher way of life. If these were pigs, cattle, goats or crested wheatgrass we would appropriately label them feral. But because horses are loved and burros are cute we use the softer term wild, in describing them. They are causing every bit as much damage to the land as other domestic animals, more per head actually since controlled cows and sheep are pulled off the range in most cases for at least part of the year while feral horses are out there trampling and munching 24-7-365. These are not descendants of the Spanish mustang, a representative population of which is protected on the Pyror Mt Wild Horse Range on the Wyoming – Montana border. It’s sounds like these animals are habituated and therefore aggressive towards humans. The feral horse of my youth in the west desert of Utah put as much distance between themselves and humans as they could the minute they spotted us, foals and all.

    1. Nancy Avatar

      Ted- we’ve certainly discussed this topic before here and there’s little doubt in some minds that feral horses do not belong on the landscape but you have to admit a half million head of cattle & sheep are gonna do far more damage to the range (if only for 6 months out of the year) vs a couple 100 head of horses. And yes, I would think they would be “habituated” if hazed, rounded up, handled and culled, is an annual part of their life in the wild.

      1. Ted Chu (a chaco wearer) Avatar
        Ted Chu (a chaco wearer)

        Nancy, I do agree (I don’t think an admisssion is required since I’m NOT arguing for cows and sheep.) cattle and sheep do more total damage range wide, but there certainly are specific places where feral horses are doing serious damage. There are strong indications that removal of the feral burros in Grand Canyon spurred a dramatic increase in bighorn in the canyon. But compared to the half million head of cows and sheep out there, burros were only causing a tiny percentage of the total damage in the west. But it looks like it was a percentage important to bighorn.

        I can’t recall ever hearing of wild animals becoming habituated as a result of unpleasant experiences. Horses may be different.

        Sorry for having missed the earlier discussions on this topic. I sense it’s now a sore subject.

        1. Nancy Avatar

          Ted- its not so much a sore subject, as it is a complex one and this country is not the only one trying to deal with wild horses:


          1. Ted Chu (a chaco wearer) Avatar
            Ted Chu (a chaco wearer)

            Yes I think they estimate there are 700,000 feral horses in Australia. So it may be too late there. We should get control of ours while we’re at a somewhat manageable 10% or so of that. To let our feral horse population grow would be tragically irresponsible.

          2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
            Ralph Maughan

            Well, if you read the introduction to Jackie’s story, the Challis herd is certainly well controlled. It’s rounded up every 3 or so years and now the mares have birth control.

            Perhaps the wild horse abundance problem in Idaho is not a problem.

  6. Harley Avatar

    That picture shows some very healthy looking animals! I found their aggression surprising and fascinating at the same time. It’s been pointed out to me that seemingly ‘docile’ animals such as deer and elk and moose can be pretty dangerous in their own right. Being comfortable around horses, thinking that I know them well enough, I think I would have been in the same boat as Jackie! Wow… glad she is ok!
    I found it interesting that there is the use of contraceptives to help with the population.
    Thank you for sharing this story! It leaves a lot of food for thought!

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan


      The photo was taken a year before the big roundup, but yes the horses released and back on the Greenfire (and adjacent BLM land) look just fine.

  7. Jay Avatar

    These must’ve been Canadian wild horses…much larger and more agressive than the ‘native’ Idaho wild horses.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      I doubt any anyone has done much research on the history of Idaho’s wild horses.

      Of course, as Ted Chu reminds us, they are all feral in a sense, but I think after maybe 5 or so generations horses in an area begin to change.

      In other places, more and more abandoned horses are showing up (due to the economy), Most die, but a few will form new bands.

  8. Connie Avatar

    What a surprising story! Surprising, because I had a very different experience in the Pryors. Not knowing enough (had I read this I would have) to be fearful, I sat on a rock in a meadow for a long time just watching the wild horses. So long, in fact, that a foal finally wandered over to me, no doubt out of curiosity, and I briefly touched his muzzle. I’m glad you two are safe and sound and I now know not to ever try this again.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      I’ve been thinking about this and other human-wildlife encounters. I have a hypothesis that there is a tendency for wild grazing animals to become less fearful of people as they see them up close frequently. Predatory animals become more fearful.

      If it’s true, the reasons are not hard to understand.

      1. Ted Chu (a chaco wearer) Avatar
        Ted Chu (a chaco wearer)

        I don’t think it’s a universal truth. Hunted gazing animals are usually quite wary, and unhunted predators become unwary even if they see people up close frequently. I think it all depends on the threat level represented by the humans under different circumstances. I’ve got a sassy robin around that comes quite close. The other day however he managed to get trapped in the greenhouse where he was terrified of me.

        1. JimT Avatar

          Environment specific learning at its best…

  9. wolfsong Avatar

    A very interesting article on the Wild Horses and whether they are native or not.


    1. JB Avatar

      Using their [plaintiffs’] logic, domestic dogs are the same as wolves and since wolves are native, domestic dogs are an “integral part” of the ecosystem. What a bunch of nonsense!

    2. Ted Chu (a chaco wearer) Avatar
      Ted Chu (a chaco wearer)

      Anyone interested in protecting and restoring arid western ecosystems better jump in on this case on the side of BLM because if the feral horse supporters win here all your efforts could very well become futile. Do you hear me Advocates for the West, WWP, etc.?

      1. WM Avatar

        Another approach would be to support a legal decision that concludes horses are native, thus making them wildlife and create the argument that states should manage them as they do other native species.

        Of course (not having thought this through), that would probably also require another look at the Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971, and maybe Kleppe v. NM. BLM could get kicked out of a management role and no federal tax dollars would be expended for round-ups.

        Anybody know whether a burro can also claim native genetic status in North America?

        Ultimately, what a can of worms this could open with horses/burros determined to be native to NA – and revisiting federal law which may apply!

        It would be interesting to see the legal briefing for the current suit before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

    3. Nancy Avatar

      +”Most of these folks, maybe their father slapped them or their mother didn’t love them, so now they are in love with these wild horses that aren’t really wild,” he said+

      Must be referring to the greenies or the enviros with that statement because we all know that out here in the west, many, if not most kids build an appreciation for the horse and are tossed up on horses at a tender, young age (they are also tossed on to the backs of sheep and calves for entertainment at local rodeos) And I’d be willing to bet, when that kid out grew that gentle, patient old saddle horse, it was off to the canners, unless there was another kid waiting in the wings……..

      I might be way off base here but in the good ole days out west, when working cattle ranches stretched for miles and miles and miles, some taking up whole counties, wild horses (or ranch/stock horses gone wild) were an excellent source for any rancher who wanted to take the time to round them up, sort the good ones out and break them for work.

      Those days are long gone but could this be some sort of sad aftermath that is only coming to light (within the last 50 years or so) because wild horses now compete for grazing lands, with the ancestors of some of those same ranchers who were responsible for putting a lot of them out there in the first place?

      Not a stretch to come to that possible conclusion – with the exception of one ranch in my area – the others have been passed down to family for atleast 3 generations. Roughly 100 years.

      1. Harley Avatar

        “And I’d be willing to bet, when that kid out grew that gentle, patient old saddle horse, it was off to the canners, unless there was another kid waiting in the wings……..”

        Nancy, just wondering where you base this statement on? Is this based on factual information or is it born out of your distaste for ranchers in general? We’ve had ranchers in the family, one in Texas, the other in Colorado. I can’t remember any saddle horse being shipped off the ‘the canners’. Now, I could be way off base here and maybe this is a general practice? It’s just not one I’ve heard of based on my experiences with family. So, my experience might be totally biased!

        1. Nancy Avatar

          A bit of a play on words there Harley and I wasn’t referring to just any ole saddle horse, although it sounds like you are familiar with the term “canner” and how it applies to horses and their worth, in the ranching community…….

          1. Harley Avatar

            Actually, I’m familiar with the word from books that I’ve read, both fiction and factual concerning the events that led up to the Wild Horse and Burro act in 1971.

    4. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      I’m very skeptical that these horses have any tie to the horses that did roam the area that would become America before they disappeared quite recently, geologically speaking. However, with the advance of genetic information, the origin and current genetic makeup of wild, feral, naturalized, or whatever you call these horses, can be determined.

      I also wonder where the ancient horses lived. Was it the semi-arid West or the tall grasslands? It seems like an open question to me whether horses might damage semi-arid Western lands, but fit in nicely with various prairie preserves.

      1. Harley Avatar

        If there had been horses here so very long before Europeans came, why were they such surprise to the Native Americans? I don’t even think they are mentioned in their stories, most of which have been handed down for generations. The Comanches became one of the most talented riders in history, far surpassing the skill of the Europeans in what they could do on a horse. I don’t know, maybe their ancestors never thought to ride them and only used them for a meal?

        1. jon Avatar

          Hey Harley, you guys over there in Illinois have been getting some extremely warm weather?

          1. Harley Avatar

            oh man! Very hot today. I hope this isn’t a sign of what the rest of the summer is going to be like! I’m not a warm weather person really. I prefer the dry heat and I actually don’t mind the snow. This hot humid stuff is blechy.

        2. Linda Horn Avatar
          Linda Horn

          Maybe all the Indians weren’t surprised.


          “Pictographs found in the Four Corners area of the United States show the Native American’s knew about horses three centuries before the arrival of Columbus or Cortes.

          “In the National Geographic Magazine, Volume 189, No 4; dated April 1996, has an article on the Anasazi Indians. On page 99 is a picture of two horses chiseled into a rock face, dated from the twelfth or thirteenth century AD. This is three centuries before Columbus, let alone when Cortes arrived, on these American shores. These pictographs indicate that the Native American’s knew about horses long before Columbus.

          “Also shown on PBS Television was a special program on the Anasazi Indians where they showed horses in a pictograph. The importance of those horse pictograph was not noted. The four corners area, mentioned in the National Geographic article, is a very remote area. It is full of pictograph’s that have yet to be recorded.

          “The above mentioned pictures of the horses shown in the pictograph in National Geographic, are identical pictures of horses shown painted on a deer skin by an Indian artist from a South Dakota Indian tribe. This art work is photographed and shown on page 47 of the book HORSES IN THE WEST by Bradley Smith. It is published by The World Publishing Company, dated 1972.

          This is a very important verification of the above mention pictographs as to type and style of how ancient Native American inhabitants depicted the horse in art.

          It has been reported in the book “The Native Americans” published by Turner Publishing, Inc. in 1993, that there are at least four Indian tribes that claim to have had horses before the white man arrived, and any horse person that has seen and studied the conformation of the original Mustang and Appaloosa type horse in detail, could realize, by conformation and looks that they were not necessarily anatomically the same as Coronado’s horses.

          The original Appaloosa type, raised by the Nez Perce Indians had different tail and mane hair structure, along with coloring. Some had jug heads and mulish type feet and legs. Were these traits a carry over from pre-Columbus horses?

          Because the Aztec’s, Mayas and Incas and some Indian tribes did not appear to know about horses does not mean that other Native American tribes did not know and have the horse! Yet that is exactly what has been entrenched in American horse history in regards to the background of the horse called a Mustang.

          Has enough research has been done to determine that Herman or Hernando Cortes (1485-1547) and their Spanish horses were the only DNA background of the Mustang? Or did they interbreed with native stock already here America?”

          Questions lead to more questions.

          1. Harley Avatar

            Whoa, nice info! Thank you for sharing!

          2. Harley Avatar

            I can’t site my sources as well as you, I’ve been reading ‘horse’ stuff since I could read! But I thought I read somewhere that some mustangs could be traced back to the Spanish horses brought over by Cortes? I’m gonna have to go through my books in more detail to find what I want. Very cool info though Linda, thank you again!

    1. Harley Avatar

      Yeah, someone else put that link up. That is a real interesting story! I don’t know, I tend to think that maybe they aren’t for the reasons I put above. I’ve been doing some reading on the Comanches. Talk about a horse culture!

    2. jon Avatar

      thanks Salle

      “BLM maintains the horse advocates are perpetuating a myth and many ranchers claim it’s part of a ploy to push livestock off public lands.”

      And ranchers are perpetuating the myth that wild horses are non native just to keep them off of public lands so ranchers can put their livestock on public lands. it works both ways BLM. Wild horses are non native according to blm, ranchers, etc, but what about livestock?

      1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
        Ralph Maughan

        Yes, they are both non-native, but livestock operators like to claim that cows mimic the beneficial ecological conditions maintained by bison, elk and other grazing animals now greatly reduced or extinct. There’s not a word about horses doing that.

        If fact, neither mimics ancient conditions, especially in arid areas like Nevada which prehistorically had almost no large grazing animals in the basins (the valleys).

      2. Ted Chu Avatar
        Ted Chu

        I’ve never heard BLM or ranchers claim that any of the species we currently call livestock, including horses, are native, so they have a leg up on some of us there. And this argument that two wrongs makes a right for one of the wrongs but not the other can get you into trouble. Wanting lots of or unlimited feral horses on the range (or too many elk for that matter), but not cows or sheep or even ranch horses plays directly into rancher’s claims that we’re really not interested in the land or the native wildlife but rather just in putting them out of business.

        There is no empirical evidence that horses persisted in N. America past late Pleistocene. It is widely theorized that pronghorn evolved speed enough to easily outrun any of our native predators to escape an extinct cheetah. Does that make cheetahs native to N. America?

        For the record I grew up around horses and had a couple for a number of years when I lived in Ketchum. None of ours ever went to the “canner”, which was a new term for me.

        1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
          Ralph Maughan

          I don’t think these horses have any tie to ancient horses either, but as I wrote above, it would be interesting to see some genetic analysis of them. Rationally speaking, that should settle this issue. Realistically speaking, of course, it won’t.

          This is one of the most interesting fields (to me at least) of contemporary biology.

  10. Linda Horn Avatar
    Linda Horn

    This is the most recent version of a report presented to Congress in 2009. It’s a pretty complete analysis of equine genetics, but, IMO, isn’t totally definitive regarding the status of wild horses in North America.


    It’s been proven that horses originated in North America, and no where else on the planet. They evolved here to a point. The question is, “What point?”

    From the report:

    “The last North American extinction probably occurred between 13,000 and 11,000 years ago (Fazio 1995), although more recent extinctions for horses have been suggested. Dr. Ross MacPhee, Curator of Mammalogy at the
    American Museum of Natural History, and colleagues, have dated the existence of woolly mammoths and horses in North America to as recent as 7,600 years ago.”

    Some scientists contend that the Earth warmed earlier than originally thought, causing the ice to recede and the Bering land bridge to flood earlier. 7,600 years ago would put horses in North America beyond the point of the flooding of the land bridge, and beyond the extinction event.

    When North America warmed, the forests receded and replaced by grasslands that were populated by wild horses, but for how long? According to this scientist, increasing silica levels in grasses may have contributed tooth-wear, leading to shorter lifespans, decreased reproduction, and possible extinction.


    Then there’s the human predator component. Clovis Man dined on horseflesh, but there’s no evidence of Clovis Man beyond 13,000 years ago (Late Pleistocene), the same time their main food source (Megafauna, especially the Wooly Mammoth) disappeared. This report poses the question of disease, but, if smaller bison, antelope, deer, moose, caribou, and other grazing animals survived, why not wild horses? And the 7,600 date would bring North American wild horses through the Mesolithic, into the Neolithic (New Stone Age), and perhaps beyond.


    Since it’s been ASSUMED for so many years that wild horses migrated over the Bering land bridge, and became extinct in North America soon afterward, has anyone been truly dedicated to finding evidence that they survived longer than previously thought? Maybe this will give some scientists a reason to dig deeper. Or, in this case, shallower!

  11. Ted Chu Avatar
    Ted Chu

    Ralph, I think most experts agree the modern domestic horse was selectively bred from the descendants of the original North American native horse that crossed the land bridge into Asia – the Przewalski’s horse. I expect that genetically they will be very similar. I’m not sure what that would prove. The horses in question are still feral domestics. If a remnant population of Przewlaski horses was found hiding in the great north woods somewhere that would be a different situation.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Ted, I imagine Przewalski’s horse was the original horse, although there might have been variations of that horse at one time around EurAsia and North America.

      That doesn’t mean that genetic analysis of “feral horses” would not be interesting. Some may be recent. Some might go back many generations.

  12. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    Ted and all,

    Quoting from the Wikipedia, “In the wild, Przewalski’s Horses live in social groups consisting of a dominant stallion, a dominant lead mare, other mares, and their offspring. The patterns of their daily lives exhibit horse behavior similar to that of feral horse herds. Each group has a well-defined home range; within the range, the herd travels between three and six miles a day, spending time grazing, drinking, using salt licks and dozing. At night, the herd clusters and sleeps for about four hours. Ranges of different herds may overlap without conflict, as the stallions are more protective of their mares than their territory.

    Stallions practice a form of scent marking and will establish piles of dung at intervals along routes they normally travel to warn other males of their presence. In addition, when a female in the herd urinates, the stallion will frequently urinate in the same place, to signal her membership in the herd to other males. The stallions can frequently be seen sniffing dung piles to confirm scent markings.”

    Anyone with acquaintance with wild or feral horses knows that their behavior is very similar to this.

    In fact, our trouble with the horses of the Greenfire began when we were investigating the stallion stacks or stud piles, as I have heard them called. The big gray mare came 1/4 mile to investigate this.

    Now as to the matter of functional equivalency of an animal (or plant). If an animal fills the same ecological niche as as a previous variation, from a larger standpoint does that make a difference to the ecology? If it doesn’t a make a difference, then the question becomes one of the proper population size where there are no predatory or other limits on population growth.

  13. Ted Chu Avatar
    Ted Chu

    I’m guessing our domestic cattle and sheep would behave like their ancestors in some ways given the freedom to do so. Maybe someone should put some time in observing the feral cattle found in a few places in the west. We know that feral dogs and cats and pigs revert rather quickly.

    You are correct that DNA analysis would be interesting from a basic curiosity standpoint much like some of the backtracking that has been done with our own species. Actually I’m surprised it hasn’t been done.

    Relative to the functional equivalent discussion: Our habitats have now gone through approx 10K years of evolution without horses. Does the same ecological niche they previously occupied even still exist..here? In terms of predators, dire wolves, saber toothed cats, no. I don’t know how much change may have occurred during that time period. And we’ve usurped most of the prime forage production areas in the west for our own purposes making it largely unavailable to wildlife and horses. How do these things play into the idea of re-introducing a species that has been absent for 10K years or so? Would we contemplate doing so with any other species? So why horses? In an earlier post you mentioned arid habitats in Nevada which might not have been so arid back when there were native horses here. Maybe then they were more like the prairies you also mentioned. There is some belief the Anasazi disappeared because the climate became drier.

    I still think this has more to do with our different perceptions of these species than the reality of their impacts or origins. We think favorably of horses because we have such a close relationship with them – not so much with cows and sheep with the exception of individual 4H projects and then only for a few months because we still generally sell them to the highest bidder for slaughter. Many people are very uncomfortable with the “cruelty” of natural predation but have no problem with their beloved house cat torturing a mouse. They love the cat but not the wolf, love at least the idea of the deer but not the mouse.

    1. Harley Avatar

      Ted, I think you are right. I think perception of a given animal has a great deal to do with many issues.
      My gut reaction to pictures of a horse killed by wolves is different than my reaction to pictures of a cow that has met the same fate. I think many people on both sides of the fence actively use those perceptions to gain sympathetic followers to their cause.
      ‘look at the beautiful horse that wolves killed.’
      ‘look at the beautiful wolf that the hunter killed.’
      The skill in the manipulation predicts the success. Knowledge of the audience plays in with that.

      1. Phil Avatar

        I think that perception does more harm to wildlife then good. That perception is what is used, and has been used against wolves in the wolf issue. The perception that supporters of wolves use rarely ever works compared to that perception anti-wolfers use. When the wolf receives protection, it is science based, but when the wolf is taken off, then it is a combination of perception with small significants of science based. I would like to get the opinions of all the scientists and biologists in the NRM region on the grizzly bear, wolf and mountain lion issues. I understand wolves and mountain lions are now huntable, but what is the percentage of scientists and biologists who agree compared to ones who disagree with the hunts? I am not speaking of never allowing hunting seasons on them, but at this point in time.

        1. Ted Chu Avatar
          Ted Chu

          Phil – I think we’ve seen a time before and during the early years of the re-introduction when the perception of wolves was overwhelmingly in their favor and it probably still is by actual count, but the pendulum among hunters and a number of other people who were largely neutral about wolves has clearly swung to the other side. There certainly has been an increase in the anti-wolf ranks and the volume of their rhetoric as population goals were met and then greatly exceeded and the wolves were still not de-listed. The court case re-listing wolves was the greatest recruiting tool they ever could have ever hoped for. It even got congress on their side. When wolf recovery goals were established they were supposed to be science based and adequate to maintain a sustainable population so when they were delisted after those goals had been exceeded three to five fold that should have been safe science and I think it was.

          I am a wildlife biologist and a hunter and I do prefer to eat wild game from both a health and flavor standpoint. That is in part why I prefer there be elk rather than herefords on the land. I suspect you will get as many different answers to your question about hunting predators equal to the number of biologists you ask. I have no concerns about the overall status of populations of these predators under managed hunting. I believe the NRM currently has more of the three species you mentioned than has been here in a long time.

          I don’t know if you were also asking about the ethics of hunting them but I will ramble here a bit on that topic. I personally don’t kill anything I don’t want to eat myself. I would kill exotics that are having a negative affect on natives – feral cats for example, although I’ve never actually done that. The only predator I’ve ever killed was a badly wounded coyote. I love bear meat but can’t kill one having handled too many live ones. Mtn lion is also very good but I won’t kill one and I have no interest in killing a wolf. I only kill the few species of ducks that I consider most palatable and fortunately one of them is the ubiquitous mallard. I tell you all this to illustrate that each hunter has his or her own peculiar set of hunting ethics hopefully falling within the sideboards of legality. I would never kill an animal solely for its pelt but I’m not so convinced of my own righteousness that I’m ready to outright condemn someone who shoots a wolf or bear and has its skin tanned and displayed somewhat tastefully.(It drives me nuts when people hang xmas decorations or put sunglasses or hats and scarves etc. on the head mount of say an elk.) Individual grizzly bears, wolves and lions occasionally need to be removed from the population and I would prefer a hunter do it as opposed to a paid government trapper. That’s probably more than you or anyone else wanted to know I’m sure and it mostly just proves that I am a mass of contradictions, but I’m not alone in that regard.

          1. Harley Avatar

            I think maybe there needs to be a distinction here between ‘anit-wolf’ and someone who merely wants to see things ‘managed’.(I know, ‘managed’ is all a matter of perspective!) I know very well there are many anti-wolfers out there who would be very happy not to see another wolf as long as they live. I also think there are those who feel they were lied to when numbers increased and there was no delisting as promised. At the same time as predator numbers soared, elk numbers in some places have dropped. There has also been an overall observation of a change in behavior in elk coming closer and closer to humans, some speculate in order to find more protection against predators, wolves in general. In all honesty, the recovery of wolves has been pretty stinkin good! They’ve carved out a place for themselves.

          2. Harley Avatar

            And let me make a clarification. Elk numbers have dropped but it may not necessarily be because of predators. However, increased numbers of predators will still play with the population over all, that only makes sense. In those areas, there is a fear, I feel legitimate, as to what will happen if the prey base is compromised enough. I don’t live in those areas, this is merely an observation on my part after reading links and gathering other opinions and first hand facts.


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