New book probes the seamy underbelly of Idaho wildlife agency


There’s a new tome on Idaho’s wildlife, and it goes beyond the field guide approach to include in-depth historical research and a digest of archival material that might otherwise have been lost. Authored by former Idaho Game and Fish Regional Supervisor Jerry Theissen, the book Idaho Wildlife: History, Exploitation, Politics, & Management spans more than a century of wildlife conservation achievements and failures. It recounts political interference in wildlife management by the extractive industries that have a vested interest in foiling wildlife conservation efforts, and also provides insightful commentary on efforts past and present to conserve the state’s wildlife.

At one time, I was among a few dozen actively publishing moose scientists in the world, and I’ve read much of the scientific literature on moose, the topic, so I went straight to the chapter on Shiras moose. The biological account of the species is quite accurate, and the accompanying historical accounts of the original extent of moose range, near-extirpations due to overhunting, and subsequent expansion throughout the Rocky Mountains, were enlightening. I learned a lot.

One of the interesting historical aspects highlighted by the book are the pitched battles between the sheep and cattle industry and sportsmen groups that happened during the first half of the 20th Century. Today’s issues of access privileges and private land habitats prevailed then as well, but hunting and fishing groups fought against livestock producers back then to bring back native species in the face of political crosswinds. Today, the sportsmen’s lobby is all but invisible in Idaho (except for the NASCAR sportsmen bent on driving native carnivores extinct), and wouldn’t dream of taking on the agriculture industry, even to advance the interests of hunted or fished species. It makes one wonder: What happened?

The book explores the massive die-offs of bighorn sheep in the 1880s and 1890s as a result of diseases spread by domestic sheep, efforts to wipe out wolves using bounties from the 1920s, and politicians’ efforts to use the power of the purse-strings to strangle wildlife management agencies during the 1930s. Past is prologue, and a lot of the past battles highlighted in these historical accounts mirror the struggles today in Idaho between conservationists and anti-conservation forces, with eerie similarity. It just goes to show how far Idaho hasn’t come – it’s a state still mired in the Dark Ages of anti-conservation politics.

While one could argue that the overwhelming focus of this book is on game species (like state conservation efforts themselves), and the writing can be rough-hewn, Idaho Wildlife is a valuable compilation of historical facts and anecdotes that sheds significant light and perspective on today’s struggles to protect and restore native species in Idaho. This book provides a worthy perspective on wildlife issues, and is a useful reference on state history that will add to the reader’s knowledge and understanding of wildlife conservation in the state, and by extension, in the American West.

The book is available on the internet at by typing in Thiessen, Jerry as the author or the ISBN 9780578661490.

Erik Molvar is a wildlife biologist and is Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project, a nonprofit conservation group dedicated to protecting and restoring wildlife and watersheds throughout the West.






  1. Maggie Frazier Avatar
    Maggie Frazier

    And it continues on! The onward destruction of our native wildlife species & their habitats is nothing new – we know this. The Bighorn sheep who are dying now? Still? Because livestock producers still have the upper hand!
    I know this is leaping to another subject: election day! But if anyone needs some comfort – try reading “Letters from an American” – by an actual historian. Her blog is a really good one & the community of people in it(commenters) are like-minded!
    That said, the above book sounds full of lots of information – depressing, but interesting. The question is, WHEN or ARE humans EVER going to smarten up?????

  2. SANDY LEE Avatar

    Never will humans smarten up, they want what they want and others be dammed. It is sad as Idaho is particularly lethal to wolves and other predator species who significantly contribute to a balanced ecosystem.

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      Yes. When we see that solid block of red in the West on the election map, it really is discouraging. 🙁

  3. Helen McGinnis Avatar
    Helen McGinnis

    Where can I get a copy?

    1. Maggie Frazier Avatar
      Maggie Frazier

      Helen, Jerry T commented on this blog in Sept & mentioned this book:

      George, thank you. I largely agree with you about forest fires in the west. There is little evidence that historic forest fires in high precipitation areas burned in intervals less than several hundred years. However, in precip zones at about 30-20 inches – the ponderosa pine zone – fires were frequent and very often attributed to cultural burning. Between 25 and 12 nches of precip, cultural burning was frequent and kept grass ecology in early seral stages to benefit bison, pronghorn and bighorns. Below 12 inches of precip conditions were ripe for range fires rarely. Sparse vegetation was not conducive for wild fires. Until, of course, cheat grass became the ecological driver.
      Thanks for your work.
      You may be interested in a book I have recently published on Idaho wildlife. It is available at ISBN 9780578661490.
      All the best.

    2. Helen McGinnis Avatar
      Helen McGinnis

      Can’t find it in Alibris or Amazon.

      1. Ted Chu Avatar
        Ted Chu

        If you are interested, it is available on the internet at Just type in my name (Thiessen, Jerry) or ISBN 978-0-578-66149-0. ( I received this email from Jerry a couple months ago. IO just tried the ISBN # and it worked.

        1. Helen McGinnis Avatar
          Helen McGinnis

          The link works. I tried it and purchased a copy of the book. Thanks.

  4. Beeline Avatar

    People subvert written law for the most powerful unwritten law in this culture. The law of economic self interest. A significant portion of the population has become convinced that government regulation is bad- but bad for who. Mostly the wealthy corporate people. So they get richer and we get environmental pollution, ill health and have more of our liberties curtailed. So the rich spend their millions on propaganda to convince the populous that economic self interest is a good thing and a necessary thing and that government regulation is taking away their life and then the rich folks smile on the way to their banks.

    There are many examples. The great Sioux Treaty of 1868 is just one.. The Lakota were promised the Black Hills and that no encroachment would be allowed on their lands. For a time the U.S. Army did their job and removed potential settlers.

    Then gold was discovered and president Grant caved in to economic interests and ordered the Army not to interfere with trespasses on Lakota land any more which was in violation of the treaty. So what followed was human genocide for the Indians and species genocide for the bison and passenger pigeons etc.. I guess this kind of stuff was supposed to have made American a great county. But how is hypocrisy and moral depravity great? And if the president cannot be trusted- then who can?

    So it continues……….. .

    1. Maggie Frazier Avatar
      Maggie Frazier

      Yes, who can? Decency & empathy & caring about wildlife & nature, caring about populations that are less fortunate & more all appears to be unimportant – not profitable – and we all know profit & the economy is what counts – as much or more than ever – right? Discouraging, isnt it.


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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