Dr. Jeremy Bruskotter Offers Some Very Good Insight Into the Implications of Idaho’s Wolf Management

Dr. Jeremy Bruskotter has published a very insightful article about wolf perceptions in Idaho and how the Idaho Department of Fish and Game may be alienating the very people who they will one day have to turn to for funding. As the number of hunters and fishers declines so does revenue for state wildlife agencies. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game is not immune to this and has been courting non-consumptive wildlife users such as bird and wildlife watchers who don’t buy hunting and fishing licenses. At the same time, they are quickly alienating these same people by declaring an all out war on wolves in Idaho in an attempt to reduce their population to numbers where they become ecologically meaningless. Idaho only seems to be willing to maintain a token population that is just large enough to keep them from being relisted under the Endangered Species Act.

When they come knocking for funding will you be there?

Wolf Perceptions in Idaho and Beyond – The Blue Review
Dr. Jeremy Bruskotter



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  1. Nancy Avatar

    Good article JB.

    Leaning more and more towards tourism in my state. Be nice if we could find a way to focus on a healthly balance between wildlife and agriculture instead of “managing wildlife to death”


  2. Mareks Vilkins Avatar
    Mareks Vilkins

    But accruing the ecological “benefits” associated with wolves will require people to allow them to reach densities where they can provide that function.

    what exactly are those minimal wolf densities? ~16..18 wolves/1000 sq.km? and how much then wolves should be in MT,ID,WY?

    1. JB Avatar

      Great question, Mareks. The science is not clear on that question. I suspect there are a couple graduate students out there right now trying to find answers to your question.

    2. Montana Boy Avatar
      Montana Boy

      People like to look to Yellowstone for answers, where currently it’s around 1 wolf/ 43 square miles. Which is close to what many parts of Idaho and Montana are currently.
      Even the peak wolf population in Yellowstone was 1 wolf / 19 square miles.
      I have yet to see anyone compare densities of wolves other than on a entire state.
      Depends on who’s drawing the lines.

      1. Mark L Avatar
        Mark L

        You are right, states are a horrible (and subjective) way to measure wolf densities. Hell, we are the only animal that sees any state boundary.
        Oh wait, we can’t really see it either…(with a few exceptions). Hmmm.

      2. JB Avatar


        Idaho just estimated the wolf population at 600; the state is ~83,500 sq. miles. If half that is occupied by wolves, the density would be 1 wolf / 70 sq. miles, roughly 1/2 of what YNP densities currently are and less than 1/3 of what they were at their peak. And let’s not forget that Idaho is gearing up to take those numbers down lower.

        1. Montana Boy Avatar
          Montana Boy

          Have you looked at a wolf pack map of the area? Studied the spacing. Lets not forget humans live in that area also.

          1. JB Avatar

            “Have you looked at a wolf pack map of the area?”


            “Studied the spacing.”

            Not sure what there is to study? I’m not a movement ecologist, if that’s what you mean?

            “Lets not forget humans live in that area also.”

            Certainly not. While we’re at it, let’s also not forget that Yellowstone National Park has an average elevation of around 8,000 feet, while the rest of Idaho has an average elevation of around 5,000 feet–therefore, it is more productive. We should expect higher wolf densities (not lower) in areas of higher productivity (all things being equal).

  3. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    When they come knocking for funding will you be there?


  4. Wilderness Guy Avatar
    Wilderness Guy

    I say let the IDFG sink into oblivion and obscurity. Better to promote National Monuments in the Caldera, the SNRA, etc and get the IDFG kicked out of those places altogether.

  5. Fishing_Idaho Avatar

    Without alternative funding sources, how can anyone expect these state agencies’ approaches to wildlife management to change? Unless non-consumptive users (even if they do feel alienated) begin to contribute to these organizations then their voices will carry little to no weight. I’m not saying this is right or wrong, but it is the way the system works right now.

    1. Ken Cole Avatar

      There is the catch-22. If they aren’t going to listen to us now then why would they listen to us when they start making us pay? They aren’t going to get funding from non-consumptive users if they keep this kind of behavior up. The only way they will get funding from non-consumptive users is if they forcibly take it or if they start listening to our concerns now, before the alienation becomes to entrenched. It may already be too late if you consider that one of the new appointees to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game commission said he would be fine if all wolves disappeared from Idaho.

      They obviously wasted their money putting on the huge Wildlife Summit in 2012. They dismissed all of the concerns out of hand before the summit was even finished.

      1. Eric T. Avatar
        Eric T.

        IDFG directed each region to form citizen focus groups to address and come up with funding alternatives for the wildlife diversity program in winter/spring 2013. This was a result of the info gleaned from t he Summit. At least that is how it was explained.

        I was on the SW region focus group. If you would like more info or my perspective and ideas presented IDFG please contact me via email.

      2. ramses09 Avatar

        And to that – whenever they (IF&G) have a decision to make – they have already made it. What I mean by that is – they pretend to hear others concerns & opinions about the wolf, they don’t give a rats ass one way or the other ……they want ALL wolves gone. Just look @ the idiot Gov. Otter.

    2. alf Avatar

      I moved back to Idaho in 1988. At the time, I fancied myself a wily hunter, but haven’t bought either a hunting or fishing license in over 20 years, largely because of the attitude and philosophy of the IDFG and its commissioners, and that’s precisely the reason I won’t buy a wildlife license plate or contribute in any other way to this state’s F&G department. Maybe I’m cutting off my nose to spite may face, but so be it. That’s how strongly I feel.

    3. Randy Avatar

      Since 2012, the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife has sold Habitat Conservation Stamps which “feature fish and wildlife species identified in the Oregon Conservation Strategy as species in need of help – Western Meadowlarks, Oregon Spotted Frogs, Northwestern Pond Turtles, Pygmy Rabbits, Gray Whales and many more. Revenue is used for restoration of habitats vital to our declining species, including wetlands, grasslands, oak woodlands and ponderosa pine forests.”


      We will not see a wolf on the conservation stamp, however, because the gray wolf is not included in the Conservation Strategy. ODFW says “they are addressed through a separate planning effort”, the Oregon Gray Wolf Conservation and Management Plan.

    4. Maska Avatar

      While I agree in principle with the idea of providing alternate funding sources for state game and fish agencies, my experience in New Mexico has been that only a major revamping of funding is likely to give non-consumptive users like me any real clout.

      New Mexico has had a “Share with Wildlife” program with both a special license plate and an income tax refund check-off, for some time. My husband and I have checked off increasing amounts over the years, culminating in a $500 check-off each of the past several years. However, any perceptible influence on Game Commission decision making has for the most part been non-existent. Only for a brief period during the administration of Gov. Bill Richardson did the NMDGF support the Mexican gray wolf reintroduction program, and even then, the agency contributed only a couple of employees to the Interagency Field Team. Non-game and T & E species in general get pretty tepid support. Absent some form of funding from the general state revenue, I doubt things will change very much.

  6. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    Recently, Idaho Fish and Game (IDFG) commissioner Virgil Moore observed that the department’s decision to kill two packs of wolves in the Frank Church wilderness was “more a philosophical and social issue” as opposed to a biological issue.

    I can’t believe I’m reading this. Taking the life of an animal in wilderness ought to be based on something more concrete than a philosophy and social stance of ‘we don’t want ’em’.

    I want to be damn sure that my money is going to support wilderness and wildlife, not destroy it. There was a time in WI for example where the money from endangered species license plates and tax form contributions was going to hounders to replace their hunting dogs!

    1. WM Avatar

      ++Recently, Idaho Fish and Game (IDFG) commissioner Virgil Moore observed …++

      Moore is not a commissioner. He is the Director of IDFG (which means he and his department take their marching orders from the Commission/Governor/Legislature, but not necessarily in that order).

      1. JB Avatar

        Thank you for catching that error, WM. I’ve asked them to correct it.

    2. ramses09 Avatar

      NO WAY … OMG – how evil.
      “There was a time in WI for example where the money from endangered species license plates and tax form contributions was going to hounders to replace their hunting dogs!”

  7. Immer Treue Avatar
    Immer Treue


    As usual, good thought provoking report. I’d like to reply in a different sort of way, and it deals with the non-consumptive users of wildlife, and how their numbers will more than probably increase. It deals with the camera. In a recent conversation with an associate of Jim Brandenburg, she said the competition in professional photography is intense due to digital photography. Anyone with a good digital camera is capable of hitting that “homerun”. The problem is the patience, and the getting to where the wildlife is. Heck, there’s even a competition for Iphone photos!

    A portion of an email from the Ely Naturalists follows,“I bought my first 35mm camera when I was 20 years old. I had been interested in birds for eight years at that point, but I rarely took photos of them. The necessary telephoto lens was out of my price range. Second, and this applied even when I could afford such lenses, the return on investment when using film cameras was low.
    My experience with photos was one good shot per roll of film. I was fussy. (Still am.)
    Buying a roll of 35mm film and paying for processing was expensive if you were going to keep only one or two exposures. Development and printing could take days. Second chances rarely wait days.
    Digital solved all of those issues. The quality and choice of photo equipment today is far better. Value for investment is amazing. Perhaps most important of all, the critique is instant: Click and the image is in your hand. You can smile with pleasure, reshoot, adjust or delete.
    There is almost no cost beyond purchase of the camera/lens and, if one chooses, a computer for photo display and manipulation.
    I love digital photography. It set me free of all film restrictions.”

    The “love affair’ with all wildlife in general and large predators in particular will, in my opinion, only increase due to digital photography. Some alternative funding, non-consumptive wolf/elk/deer licenses will become necessary, as the % of non-consumptive users increase in comparison to consumptive users. Habitat must continue to be procured and saved. We have talked about the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation frequently, and as times change, the model needs to be revisited. Something as simple as the digital camera could be the driver for this as more folks get into photography, and others get over the shock of replacing their old film cameras and equipment with digital equipment.

    In addition, one can draw from your logic, that tolerance for large predators such as wolves has not increased now that they can be legally trapped, and hunted.

    1. JB Avatar

      Thanks, Immer. I agree that photo equipment is one route for funding conservation, though I suspect the industry would “scream” if any excise tax was proposed. One problem with finding new sources for conservation is Congress itself. I have trouble believing that a tax (on any kind) could pass in the USHoR. And that’s not likely to change in the coming election, IMO.

      No, I do not think tolerance for large predators has been increased now that they can be hunted and trapped. However, I do think that tolerance for state agencies has increased–at least among their most vocal critics.

      1. Immer Treue Avatar
        Immer Treue


        Not suggesting a tax on camera equipment at all. Merely suggesting something along the line of non-consumptive licenses, conservation licenses etc as an avenue to increase DNR funding, and perhaps DNR’s, IDFG, etc may begin to listen with their good ear.

        1. rork Avatar

          I don’t see how to make it work yet. That’s not a criticism of anyone but myself.
          In MI we have state parks passports (stickers for cars) but they all go to the Parks+Rec division. Even if we supplied the wildlife division with 50% of their funding from general fund or by park users, the effects on wildlife practice is hard to predict (as others here are saying various ways).
          I’d still want to be more heavily taxed: 10$/car/year mandatory would do it, out-of-staters free, you’re welcome. Do restoration, research, buy out critical parcels, fight invasives, kid outreach, private land management and game management advice, precision game licensing, remove dams – not an exhaustive list, just showing it’s not like we have no idea what to do with money. Maybe obtain greater eminence of green world concerns by this mechanism. Trouble is the final goal needs to be true to get the ball rolling. Can’t catch my tail.

  8. Brian Ertz Avatar
    Brian Ertz

    Non-consumptive wildlife appreciators handing money to the IDFG Commission = recipe for disaster. The idea relies on the rationality of the IDFG, an assumption that is wholly without merit.

    Bring a regime of mechanisms of political insulation, fiduciary accountability, public oversight and rationality *before* adding resource – do not assume that adding fuel to the existing flames will somehow change the nature of this fire relying on a theory that assumes a level of rational decision-making that this Commission has demonstrated it is not subject to.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      You are right Brian.

      Folks will remember that the Department of Fish and Game spent 15 or so years publicly complaining that the wolves had greatly harmed Idaho elk hunting. Finally they ratcheted their complaints down to say it was only 3 or 4 hunting units, but by then the financial damage was done to them.

      That too is probably their own fault because the units that are under the elk population goal are in central Idaho on the Idaho Batholith which is well known to produce infertile soil. Granitics decay into coarse sand. I suggest that they have not taken this into account and expect there can be more elk than the land can produce.

      1. Larry Thorngren Avatar

        There should not be any so called IDF&G elk population goals. There should be USFS vegetation transects set up on all elk wintering ranges to determine range health and they should be monitored continually. It doesn’t matter how many elk the outfitters want, or how many elk tags the IDF&G wants to sell,the health of the winter range vegetation should be the first priority.
        Any elk popuation goal is meaningless if the range is over run with Rush Skeleton Weed or Spotted Knapweed. If you drive along the Payette River above Garden Valley, Idaho, you will find the elk winter range almost completely covered with inedible Rush Skeleton Weed. It doesn’t matter how many wolves you kill, the elk population is going to decline in that area due to these invasive weeds.
        The USFS should be the agency determining how many elk an area can support based on range health.

        1. Larry Thorngren Avatar

          I think the Idaho constitution claiming that all wildlife found within the boundaries of the state belong TO the state, should be challenged in a U.S. court. The state of Idaho is showing itself incapable of, or unwilling to use the best science available, to manage wildlife populations on USFS Wilderness property.

          1. ramses09 Avatar

            Larry, IDF&G does not think in rational or scientific terms (which you have said) … to me that is obvious. I have heard that saying “all wildlife found within the boundaries of the state belong to the state.” Boy they must really think big of themselves.I think that is a great idea to challenge that in a court of law. Wildlife belongs to no one. Animals/Wildlife have been here way before man.
            You would think that your point about the elk population & certain range’s being over run with a certain weed would be as clear as day – but that’s not ID.’s way of thinking. DUH! Thanks for your good points on the issue!

        2. IDhiker Avatar

          Larry T,

          Speaking of changing vegetation and weeds…hike through the Selway-Bitterroot along the Selway River and take note of the knapweed infestation.

          Back around 1970, when I first hiked along the river, knapweed was hardly noticeable, but today has spread all through the winter range. In addition, much of the brushland, due to past fires, has been succeeded by coniferous forest which is not the best for wintering elk.

        3. WM Avatar

          ++The USFS should be the agency determining how many elk an area can support based on range health.++

          Good idea, but if they can’t figure out how many cows on public grazing the land can sustain, how the hell are they going to figure out how many elk? They already kind of get what’s left over on some lower elevation winter range, which makes a rancher’s hay stack or an orchard all the more tempting.

            1. Jeff N. Avatar
              Jeff N.

              Is there any data available that would support IF&GD’s claim that wolves are one of the causes that are driving thousands of elk down into the crop land?

              1. Jeff N. Avatar
                Jeff N.

                Edit…should read “range land” not “crop land”

            2. ramses09 Avatar

              OMG (again) geez your right – they complain about everything. I thought that the reason they had that idiot out there hunting those poor wolves in the Frank Church – that there aren’t enough elk, now there are to many. That sounds like the folks in WI. & Michigan, not enough deer – yeah right. If it weren’t for man – nature does take care of itself.

              1. Logan Avatar

                Human hunters are a part of nature and have been for over 10,000 years in North America.

        4. Logan Avatar

          Perhaps the Forest Service could stop spending 43% of their 5.5 billion dollar budget on fighting fires and use it to eradicat invasive weed species.

  9. Montana Boy Avatar
    Montana Boy

    So if the wolf viewers are so committed to having a voice and they believe their money will open doors. Perhaps they should follow programs already out there. Groups like RMEF purchase easements every year to protect habitat. Form a very large group, raise massive amounts of money and start buying up easements based on your desires, money and membership talks. Prove to yourself and everyone else that you have power or sit around whining about how it’s so unfair waiting for help. Then the non-consumptive control their own money.

    1. Jay Avatar

      Ever heard of a little organization called The Nature Coservancy? 119 million acres conserved worldwide, and I’d venture to guess significantly more than rmef in North America.

      1. WM Avatar

        The Nature Conservancy is world-wide, which means they can tap a lot of really deep pockets, and have been in existence for a very long time, if I recall correctly, to get their 119M acres.

        RMEF which has only been around since 1984 or so, has secured easements or purchased and turned over to public agencies like the FS in excess of 6M acres. Much of that comes from their $35 annual membership and a bunch of good hearted ranchers who have given over or burdened their land with conservation easements (yes there are some good ranchers out there who do value wildlife).

    2. JB Avatar


      In addition to the Nature Conservancy, both the Audubon Society and the Sierra Club do land conservation, and their are literally dozens of smaller land conservancies as well. I suspect most of the “wolf lovers” you so despise give to these types of organizations because, well, they’re not just interested in looking at wolves, but in preserving ecosystems in general.

      Also, consider that every year many of us non-hunters actually purchase hunting and/or fishing licenses to support state agency conservation.

      The us-against-them attitude so often on display here IS the fundamental problem.

      1. Yvette Avatar

        Spot on, and I think we need to tap as many people, organizations and groups as possible. Some may be more obscure, like tribal nations, who can add an entirely different dimension given our sovereign legal status.

      2. WM Avatar


        How are folks like MB supposed to view some of the larger and smaller “conservancy” groups who seek to deter or stop hunting and stock grazing, and in some cases general public access, on the lands they purchase?

        How are folks like MB supposed to view those who seek to have greater say in wildlife policy by scooting up to the table (with their dollars of course) and affecting the way some currently make their living and/or participate in wildlife consumptive sustainance or recreation activities (hunting or fishing)?

        It is fine to have collaboration to achieve common goals, but to ignore that such areas of divergence, and changing alliances creates other problems. It is evident from the posts of some here – an objective to stop hunting, period. Why would those who do hunt want to sit at the same table with those folks – ever- and potentially loose power and influence they have enjoyed? It’s complicated, unless you are in the group that does not have political/economic power. Then, it’s not.

        1. WM Avatar

          Sorry: It is fine to have collaboration to achieve common goals, but NOT to ignore that such areas of divergence, and changing alliances creates other problems.

        2. Ken Cole Avatar

          I honestly don’t know of any groups who are trying to stop “general public access”. If you are talking about access via the back of an atv or snowmobile, yes, there are some but that isn’t the same as trying to stop “general public access”.

        3. JB Avatar

          “It is evident from the posts of some here – an objective to stop hunting, period. Why would those who do hunt want to sit at the same table with those folks…”

          WM: You’re relying on the exact same argument that you (and I) chastise others for using–namely picking out a few people/groups who are on the fringe and holding them up as representative of the majority. I don’t think that there are very many people who want all hunting to stop, just as I don’t think there are many hunters who out hunting for the ‘joy of killing things’ (or some such non-sense). Pointing to the extremes and calling labeling them as representative is simply a tool to try and gain sympathy for a position. In this case, I think most of us–hunters and non-hunters alike, are interested in having more and better habitat. Where we disagree (sometimes) is what should be done with that habitat.

        4. Immer Treue Avatar
          Immer Treue


          “It is evident from the posts of some here – an objective to stop hunting, period.”

          I have read the posts on this thread, and I do not see anything remotely hinting at putting a stop to hunting. What I do see is a dialogue of the pros and cons of alternative conservation hunting, something that has been discussed many times on TWN.

          Forgive my naivety, but I also look at alternative funding, created by predator/ nature advocates as a conduit to address concerns by those like MB, not just a trough to belly up to as Defender’s old compensation fund.

          1. Immer Treue Avatar
            Immer Treue

            sorry, should read: conservation funding

      3. Maska Avatar

        Members of the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Sky Island Alliance, and several other Southwest groups I’m familiar with do numerous habitat improvement projects on public land including closures of unauthorized roads, removal of unused fencing, wetland restoration, and plenty of other projects that improve habitat for all kinds of critters including game birds, game mammals, and fish, not just non-game species. Some members and supporters of those groups actually hunt and/or fish, by the way.

    3. Montana Boy Avatar
      Montana Boy

      Nice list of groups who buy easements. How many of those acres are protecting the wolf? I hunt wolves on TNC easement land regularly.
      The wolf people want places that the wolf is protected. They claim to represent a major part of the population. They claim to be willing to use their dollars for areas with little to no wolf hunting. Have they taken the bull by the horns and done anything for themselves?
      So if less than 6% of the population can protect land for the animals they want to hunt, why can’t wolf people protect areas for the animals they don’t want hunted?
      It’s not a us against them issue it’s not about my opinion, it’s about a lot of talk and no action.

      1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
        Ralph Maughan

        Montana Boy,

        The idea that easements or fee simple lands for wolves would work is wrong even if those who like wolves had billions of dollars to do it.

        Wolves are wide ranging predators and wolf habitat is where the deer and elk and similar animals live, and so their habitat is all over the place.

        If land was bought specifically to help wolves, it would seem like the best thing the land manager could do is try to increase the land’s ability to grow deer or elk. That sounds like land bought by RMEF 😉

        Land for deer to be eaten by wolves is a bad idea though. A high density of wolves results in disease outbreaks among wolves, such as mange. Now that the Yellowstone wolf population has declined so has wolf disease there. I think that over a large area wolves self regulate their own population (are they smarter than people?). Wolf management in the form of reducing their populations outside of developed areas and intensive agriculture is not needed.

        1. ramses09 Avatar

          Yes Ralph I agree with you.

      2. JB Avatar

        “It’s not a us against them issue it’s not about my opinion, it’s about a lot of talk and no action.”

        Hmm…that’s not what you were saying when this issue was in the courts? The wolf-lovers certainly are capable of raising a lot of money, it just gets spent trying to protect wolves on existing land (which wouldn’t be needed if states were not so aggressively trying to minimize them).

        6% of the population don’t pay to protect they animals they hunt–they pay to augment existing habitat. Recall that ~70% of Idaho is public land–that land was not purchased by hunters.

        Personally, I wish these groups would spend more money on habitat preservation. Perhaps if RMEF, SCI, SFW, et al. weren’t so aggressively lobbying against wolves, the two sides could team up and work on habitat?

        It cuts both ways, RB.

        1. Montana Boy Avatar
          Montana Boy

          “6% of the population don’t pay to protect they animals they hunt–they pay to augment existing habitat.”

          Something were not going to see from the welfare wolf people are we.

          “Hmm…that’s not what you were saying when this issue was in the courts? The wolf-lovers certainly are capable of raising a lot of money, it just gets spent trying to protect wolves on existing land (which wouldn’t be needed if states were not so aggressively trying to minimize them).”

          No, when the issue was in the courts I joined a group with others we pooled our money work with our congressmen and delisted the wolf.
          Personally I doubt the wolf people will help protect habitat they believe it’s already all theirs. Entitled comes to mind.

          1. Ken Cole Avatar

            Your comments are getting more troll like every day.

          2. JB Avatar

            MB: Doesn’t seem like you’re really interested in having a productive conversation–just doing your best to keep the conflict high by insulting people on the other side. So be it. Good day.

          3. Nancie Mccormish Avatar
            Nancie Mccormish

            MB, there is no entitlement, we stole our public lands fair and square for ALL our citizens. Last I checked none of it was intended to be a private pantry or playground for any single specific interest group.

  10. Nancy Avatar

    WM – honestly (and this isn’t a shameless plug for Western Watershed Project) but I’d rather give when I can afford it, to organizations that are fighting for and trying to protect, the land and wildlife that we ALREADY own -public lands/forests etc. What 260 million acres?

    Does anyone know, Brian? Whether this bill still has a chance?


    1. WM Avatar


      I think there is a role for each- those who seek to acquire and protect, and those who seek to protect what we already have. Both are important.

      Adam Smith, sponsor of this grazing permit retirement bill is in the Congressional district to the south of me. I support his bill.

  11. Yvette Avatar

    This was a great article.I think the thesis with the research on public perception and attitudes toward wolves is important and should be referenced by federal and state wildlife agencies as they develop policy and write laws. Those policies and laws affect all of us, human and non-human, so we should strive for balance.


Ken Cole is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He is the interim Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project.

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