Gray wolves are native to the wild forests of the Clearwater Basin. No one is certain if wolves in the Clearwater survived the US Biological Survey (known today as the USDA Wildlife Services) nation-wide predator eradication program in the early 20th Century. We do know that government officials verified that wolves had occupied habitat in the Weitas Creek and Kelly Creek drainages on the Clearwater National Forest in the 1970s. It’s possible wolves were present in the Clearwater when the federal government began gray wolf recovery efforts in the mid-1990s.
The greater American public supported government wolf recovery in Yellowstone National Park and in the wilds of central Idaho near the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. Recovery contained a caveat, though. Wolves released into Idaho would be managed as a “non-essential experimental population”, meaning that the concerns of the state, and those opposed to wolf recovery, would be addressed through the killing of “problem” wolves.
To make things worse, the non-essential status (also known as the 10-J Rule) lumped all gray wolves together, regardless if they had always been here, or were part of federal recovery efforts. Hence, if wolves were in the Clearwater, they were now part of the recovery program and considered “non-essential.”
Gray wolf populations soon prospered in the northern Rockies following initial recovery efforts due to excellent habitat and abundant prey base. Things changed in the early 2000s, however, and soon FOC and allies were forced to litigate attempts by the US Fish & Wildlife Service to prematurely delist wolves from the endangered species list. A federal court ruled in multiple cases that the science did not justify delisting wolves.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Sen. Mike Simpson (R-ID) successfully attached a rider to a must-pass spending bill in 2011, officially delisting wolves in Montana, Idaho and eastern Oregon and eastern Washington. The rider also contained language that prevented juducial redress of delisting. FOC and Alliance for the Wild Rockies filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the rider and lost. This non-scientific and undemocratic maneuver marked the first time that Congress had intervened and delisted a species on their accord since the passage of the Endangered Species Act 1973.
Approximately 2000 wolves have been slaughtered across the northern Rockies since federal protections were wrongfully removed. Wolves can be hunted for 10-months in certain parts of Idaho, with lengthy trapping and snaring seasons across much of the state. The Idaho Wolf Control Board (spearheaded by Idaho Governor Butch Otter) kills additional wolves each year too. Most recently the Idaho Department Fish & Game, in conjunction with the USDA Wildlife Services) aerial gunned twenty gray wolves from a helicopter on the Clearwater National Forest.
Friends of the Clearwater maintains gray wolves should be allowed to fulfill their ecological role across the landscape. As keystone predators, wolves play a crucial role in ecosystem function and resiliency, often times leading to an increase in biodiversity. Wolves are highly intelligent and social creatures as well. State agencies like the Idaho Department Fish & Game are currently incapable of managing gray wolves due to political interference.
Read about the aerial gunning of wolves on the Clearwater National Forest.