As I’ve argued for a long time, this is probably because there are few wolves to kill-

It is a political article of faith in much of Idaho that wolves are the reason for the relatively low elk numbers in the area called “the Lolo.” The belief also blames wolves for the failure of elk to increase despite killing lots of bears and cougars too.

After a big splash and radio telemetry, Idaho Fish and Game saw 5 Lolo wolves shot from the air last May after the congressional wolf delisting.  They abandoned their aerial effort quickly because it cost too much and the wolf carcasses were far too few.  They said they would rely instead mostly on outfitters who now, after years of claiming wolves are very abundant in the area, suddenly say they see very few.

Finally on June 18, an Idaho Fish and Game C.O. shot a wolf near Powell.  Now they have 6 dead wolves, 1/10 of their goal of about 60 wolves dead and 20 or 30 living in the area. I’ll say it again, as I’ve said many times in the past, there are not many wolves in the Lolo.  Their numbers probably peaked there a 6-9 years ago and have declined on their own since.  When you look closely at it, the “wolves everywhere myth” evaporated like one of those dreams after eating too much junk food.

The Idaho 2009-10 wolf hunt was far under quota in the Lolo Unit (more than any other unit).
The special outfitters only wolf hunt yielded few wolves.
The great Lolo wolf reduction that now no longer needs federal approval or any research has killed just 6 wolves.
If you read the official reports how they estimate wolf numbers in the area, you will find there are very few firm sightings. It is almost all about maybe hearing howls and giving a standarized interpretation of the number heard, seeing tracks, likely doublecounting all three, and plenty of extrapolation from these infirm observations.

The good thing for the agency is that blaming wolves makes it so that elk never need to recover in the area because there will always be plenty of ghost wolves that ate them.

Here is the latest Associated Press article on the Lolo wolf reduction. Plan to kill Northern Idaho wolves having little success. AP. The story also interestingly tell us that plans to shoot some of the huge number of wolves around Elk City, Idaho (to the SW of the Lolo) that were killing elk on folk’s doorsteps and chasing deer and elk through town have not materialized because, once again, the wolves have largely disappeared.


About The Author

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.

28 Responses to Plan to kill Lolo wolves to help elk kills few wolves

  1. william huard says:


    The mis-management of wildlife resources and heavy handed predator control action in the West is out of control. A good example (like the LOLO) is the West Fork lethal wolf control EA by Montana Fish and Game. On the WWP website there is the WildEarth Guardians brief that was presented on behalf of the Environmental groups. It is a very compelling argument. These Fish and Game Mark Gamblin types just can’t leave the predators alone!!!
    I think the 60 number they came up with in the LOLO might very well be Virgil Moore’s IQ!

    • Ralph Maughan says:

      I wouldn’t be hard on Virgil Moore. This policy was formulated well before his recent appointment as director.

      The department doesn’t not have a choice, IMO. Politicians decided long ago that wolves were a great problem in the Lolo. It is an unchanging political “fact.”

      • william huard says:

        You’re absolutely right Ralph. Politicians are a big problem. The Joe Balyeats of the world screaming for springtime wolf hunts and the Phil Hart visionary legislation comes to mind. Pathetic

  2. Salle says:

    Idaho’s getting to sound a little too much like flip-flopping politicians… “We don’t know how many wolves there are …” “There are thousands of wolves in Idaho alone and they’re eating all the elk…” “We HAVE to use helicopters in the Frank Church Wilderness so we can count all those unknown wolves out there that are eating all the elk and killing cattle…” “There are hundreds of wolves in the Lolo and we have to go kill some to save the elk…”

    For the last two comments they made of this type, it ended up being a total failure on their part and they had to call off their actions due to cost and some probable internal realization that they were wrong, not that they’d ever admit it outside their small circle of cronies. The claim about having to violate the wilderness to count those wolves was bogus and they knew it, so is this claim about the wolves of the Lolo. They are so twisted up in their fantasies about wolves, because they hate them so much, that they can’t even admit that they are blinded by this hatred that has little to no basis. Just like other psycopaths, they scream about the harm of the natural world and never give a thought about how much harm they do in order to feed their need to satisfy the hatred and bloodlust because it’s always somebody else’s fault.

  3. eloise says:

    When it came down to the finish, Obama did NOT have to sign on demolishing the ESA. After this it’s ‘pick the unpopular animal of the week’. I cannot forgive him for this.

  4. JB says:

    I worry about the long term effect of blaming wolves for Idaho’s (relatively minor) elk management woes. The risk here is further entrenchment of the idea that “wolves are bad” (i.e., wolves reduce elk populations), which is likely to cause more friction between hunters and non-hunting conservationists. The science increasingly indicates a complex relationship between elk and their predators (humans included) that some groups are working hard to oversimplify for the masses: wolves = fewer elk (or so they would have everyone believe). I worry the wolf issue is going the way of global climate change, where science cannot be heard over the din of politicians and interest groups tripping over themselves to misinform the public for their own short term benefits.

    • Salle says:

      I agree with that worry but I feel it has already come to pass, like climate change, the tipping point has already been reached and here we are with little personal power to do much about it without finding ourselves under constant surveillance and harassment – either by government or opposing organizations and their ilk.

      • Mark Gamblin (IDFG) says:

        JB –
        You concerns are understood. From my perspective a broader understanding of this issue will include a recognition that wolf predation of elk is more that a minor management woe for the state of Idaho – in several large geographic areas of the state (Lolo Zone, Sawtooth Zone). The persistent criticism/denial of wolf numbers in the Lolo Zone, as an example, is both an unfortunate impediment to a sincere, informed dialog on this public policy and resource management issue, that will persist for the forseeable future. The wolf population estimate and wolf predation impacts to elk (a high profile and highly valued public resource) is a poster-child example of politics (public debate of social values and priorities) from one side of this wildlife management conundrum. The Lolo Zone wolf population estimates are in fact sound, scietifically derived estimates (conservative estimates based on direct, verified observations of wolves) and to my knowledge are not refuted by ANY technical data or legitimate science based critiques. All stakeholders in this highly charged public resource/policy issue would benefit if the facts, as inconvenient or uncomfortable they may be to cherished notions, could be accepted and considered with objectivity and more dis-passion.

        • Salle says:

          The persistent criticism/denial of wolf numbers in the Lolo Zone, as an example, is both an unfortunate impediment to a sincere, informed dialog on this public policy and resource management issue, that will persist for the forseeable future.

          That is as long IDF&G keeps its collective head in the sand and its blow-hole spewing with nothing more than emotionally tainted hot air rather than actual science into the atmosphere.

          The Lolo Zone wolf population estimates are in fact sound, scietifically derived estimates (conservative estimates based on direct, verified observations of wolves) and to my knowledge are not refuted by ANY technical data or legitimate science based critiques. All stakeholders in this highly charged public resource/policy issue would benefit if the facts, as inconvenient or uncomfortable they may be to cherished notions, could be accepted and considered with objectivity and more dis-passion.

          Yes, we’ve already done that, now it’s your turn. Wolf advocates have been derided for and accused of emotive-value claims – while actually providing the science based info you clowns choose to ignore – and this is mostly becuse you would rather live in a FauxNews oriented
          fauxworld rather than face the facts that glaringly point out the fallacy of your claims and expose your BS factor mindset. I’m sure you’ve been assured a high position in the fascist regime of the near future in your state.

          You call emotionally charged, not confirmed actual sightings and as long as you can take it to the gov. you call that confirmed, about as scientifically as making a check-mark in a box on a piece of paper. “And to your knowledge” …what a convenient statement and how subjective.

          Got any more good ones to add there, Mark? Oh whoops, I see you’re out of time to “share” on this blog while you have urgent antiwildlife business to tend to so you can pretend to actually have more of an argument later. Like someone else said earlier, no matter how eloquent your BS, it’s still BS and it stinks far more than you might imagine… you’re too close to the source and self-gratification to actually smell it… you know, like smokers can’t tell that they stink to those who don’t partake of the self-polluting, self-destructive activity.

          • Mark Gamblin (IDFG) says:

            Thanks for making my point better than I did earlier. Your post, rich in hypberbole, devoid of a rationale criticism or argument is precisely what I’ve been referring to. Once again, criticism of the Lolo Zone wolf population estimate is clearly articulated as displeasure with the data – which doesn’t support the preferred paradigm. But your post, as one example of the persistent criticism of the science (ironic isn’t it?), offers NO insight or explanation as to why or how those estimates are inflated or otherwise incorrect or not representative of wolf numbers in the Lolo Zone.
            In point of fact, the Lolo Zone estimates (and every other wolf management area abundance estimate in the state) are the products of collaboration between the IDFG, Nez Perce Tribe and USFWS wildlife professionals. Each of those estimates are accepted by the Nez Perce Tribe and the USFWS. I’m not aware of similar criticism or doubt from Nez Perce or USFWS professionals. Can you explain or describe HOW or WHY the estimates of wolf numbers or the IDFG description of wolf predation effects on elk production, recruitment and abundance is incorrect? I do note your reference to science that has been offered – I haven’t seen it.

        • IDhiker says:


          Please let me know how your department arrived at it’s “scientifically derived” population figures for the wolves in the Lolo zone. What scientific techniques were used specifically? I am not sure how you can say “verified observations” were used when the helicopter killing program could only find five wolves to kill. As far as “sincere,informed dialog,” that is hardly what is coming out of the commission or Idaho Legislature. Your department needs to have the guts to ratchet this down to the “sincere,informed dialog” that is necessary here. You, and your department need to be more introspective and willing to also abandon “cherished notions” that are politically motivated. There were many times when the IDFG could have calmed things down, but stood silent.

          • JEFF E says:

            In addtion to what IDhiker posted, Mark, maybe you should ask Clem, Simpson,Burke, Barrett, et al to take a long look the mirror.

          • Mark Gamblin (IDFG) says:

            Same reference as for Immer below. Go to the link I posted and review the annual wolf management reports by IDFG and most recently, Nez Perce Tribe, biologists. The techniques (protocol) are described along with a specific breakdown of number of packs, pack size, births, deaths and other key information for the respective wolf management areas.

        • JB says:


          My characterization of Idaho’s wolf management woes as “minor” is based upon how few zones actually show an impact and the extent to which that impact appears to result from a combination of factors (the science here is hardly settled). Regardless, my characterization is my subjective evaluation.

          It is not surprising to me that stakeholders on both sides of the issue are questioning IDF&G’s numbers. Agency trust is the key and, as Salle’s response demonstrates, trust is currently quite low–at least among some stakeholders. The top-down, “expert-knows-best” model does not build trust, and the science it produces is questioned by those who feel their interests are not being represented.

          My advice is, rather than spending a ton of money trying to further refine your estimates and convince people that the agency’s numbers are correct, this money would be better spent involving intelligent, articulate, and vocal skeptics in the scientific process using a “shared learning” approach (e.g., collaborative learning).

          See: Daniels, S. E., and G. B. Walker. 2001. Working through environmental conflict. Praeger, Westport.

          • Mark Gamblin (IDFG) says:

            JB –
            Thanks for suggesting collaborative learning. I’ve used that approach with a number of fisheries and wildlife management challenges, beginning with the Henry’s Fork and Henry’s Lake fisheries 1995 up to the present with mule deer and OHV management. It is very effective if you can build buy in and trust to sincerly participate.
            I generally agree with your other points. Trust and credibility are essential. I admit to frustration that specific criticisms of basic wolf population data that are key to understanding a very imortant issue are persistent, yet without any credible/rational basis. For example, arguing that because a efforts to kill wolves from a helicopter were less successful than some expected – is not evidence that wolf abundance estimates are flawed.

          • SEAK Mossback says:

            I’ve seen that approach work with king crab. They are worth a lot so fishermen want to catch as many as they can and when the stock declines tend to openly dipute survey results used to set catch quotas — saying the crab are there, the surveyers just aren’t fishing right to catch them. The only way that works is to bring them in and ask how they think systematic, comparable pot surveys should be conducted — in a way that actually reflects the total number of crab. Both sides will learn from the discussion, but one of the reasons they think the surveys are biased low is because king crab are somewhat “herd animals” so fishermen get good at quickly locating and concentrating their pots on the “herds” rather than sampling the normal range of the “herds” to index overall population density. There is a distinct difference in objectives.

  5. Immer Treue says:


    What is an honest estimate, give or take, for how many wolves are actually in the Lolo zone? If Lolo is productive in terms of wolves, their removal would seem to facilitate the movement of wolves into that area from
    Adjacent areas.

    I would imagine, that if a wolf season does take place this fall/winter, that this variable would be factored into wolf harvest number per region.

  6. Immer Treue says:


    I both agree and disagree with you. I guess that’s how the politics of this whole situation has become. I agree with you, because a simple answer to how many wolves +/- existing in the Lolo zone cannot/ will not be given. Like asking a politician a simple question, and the answer never quite adresses the question.

    That said, I could have ventured to another site, and changed someone else’s name for yours, and it probably would have fit that forum’s parameters. Very politically charged, when simple biology would probably address the situation.

    I have read almost everything I can put my mitts o. In term of the Lolo zone, and what I can only conclude is, many variables have have been affecting the elk in the Lolo for some time. From
    What I can deduce, metaphorically, as rugged as the Lolo is, elk hunting was like shooting fish in a barrel. Those “happy”‘days are now gone, perhaps forever, and the wolves are so easy to blame for the collapse of this “house of cards”.

    I’ve said before, that I don’t want wolves killed, yet in the confines of some of these locales, it must be done. A hunting season in 2010 would have done two things. One defuse the situation in Lolo a bit, and provided numbers to support the biology of wolf population management where numbers might be adjusted up or down.

    I have always liked wolves, so yes, I have emotional involvement with their existence in the West, and where I live in MN. I am also sober enough to know that many folks way of living have been affected by the presence of wolves, and the stereotypes they associate with wolves is very emotionally charged.

    Blah, blah, blah…suffice it to say simple answers could probably go a long way to addressing a complex situation, that probably needs not be so complex

  7. IDhiker says:

    True, Mark Gamblin, but if only five wolves could be found from the helicopter, how were the large numbers IDFG claims discovered?

    Without answering this you appear to be guilty of cognitive bias, where percepts are distorted to fit preconceived concepts, molding the data to how you want the result to be, not the way it really is.

    • Mark Gamblin (IDFG) says:

      There weren’t only five wolves found, there were only five wolves shot. The success of an aerial wolf shooting operation for a brief period of time says nothing about the accuracy of a wolf population estimate that is the product of wolf observations that are verified over the course of a full year. That is the answer to your question. Very straight forward. Removing or capturing wolves is always a difficult task with low success for the effort expended. The wolf removal efforts this winter were conducted as winter conditions were receding, wolves were following elk to lower elevations in bare valley floors and conditions for an effective operation were generally poor. Contrast that to observations gathered over a period of months, under much more favorable conditions.
      Unless you subscribe to a conspiracy theory that government officials (IDFG professionals) are fabricating data – the reality clear. The IDFG wolf population estimates are conservative (i.e. minimum number) descriptions of the population strength of wolves in the Lolo and other zones being monitored.

      • Nota says:

        Just curious….Can wolves get chronic wasting disease (or Mad Elk Disease) from eating infected elk? Humans can get it so I’m wondering if it’s transferable to mammals in general.

      • IDhiker says:


        I don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories, and thanks for your response. We all need to be open to considering new data and observations, from both sides of the debate. I’m assuming by “observations” that your personnel actually counted the wolves that the estimates are derived from? Hopefully also, your department is strong enough to overcome pressure from the commission and state government, so that all reports are straightforward and not necessarily what they want to hear.

        My personal view of IDFG has been tainted due to a long-standing issue I had with the Salmon Region over the blockage of, and placement of traps and snares in USFS trails and pack bridges along the Salmon River and Middle Fork. I found the IDFG to be stubborn, intransigent, and IMO, unreasonable. For example, what sense does it make to allow these devices on trails that the public uses? I had dogs caught in them, and thought there should have been a setback requirement, like in Montana. I was totally brushed-off and at times treated disrespectfully. So, I suppose I have a built-in dislike of IDFG and would naturally question anything they say.

        • Mark Gamblin (IDFG) says:

          “I’m assuming by “observations” that your personnel actually counted the wolves that the estimates are derived from? Hopefully also, your department is strong enough to overcome pressure from the commission and state government, so that all reports are straightforward and not necessarily what they want to hear.”

          Well ……. yes, those/these observations were/are made in person, by IDFG personnel – with the exception of the 2010 estimates, which were made by Nez Perce Tribe wildlife biologists. Note: the 2010 estimates were more conservative than earlier estimates because a large portion of some areas, Lolo Zone included, could not be searched.

    • truthbetold says:

      IDhicker, If the Fish and Game departments did the counts from the planes this time of year for the game herds do you think they would pick up all the elk & moose in the LoLo Zone?

      I’ve done enough flying to know the difference between what you see in wildlife this time of year & what is seen after the leave have fallen & a fresh snow. The impact on the animals and there reaction to a helicopter has to be totally different this time of year also.

      • IDhiker says:

        truthbetold, that’s a good point about time of year. I, too have done a large amount of wilderness flying, especially in the Frank Church (did eight flights last year). True, winter and early spring is the best time to count animals, especially along the canyons of the Middle Fork and Salmon Rivers, where they all winter down out of the timber.

  8. Frank Renn says:

    I cant seem to get the numbers to add up on the Lolo wolf and Elk populations. According to Idaho Fish and Game there are at least 76 wolves and 2,178 Elk. I could not find any reference in their research on alternate prey species. I did find out it is marginal deer habitat. Under present conditions it does not appear to me that that area could support 76 wolves.


June 2011


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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