Carter Niemeyer

Return of the Wolves:The Next Chapter

Carter Niemeyer transcript
Wolves2/KUED
 
Interviewer
Carter, can you give me your full name?
 
Carter Niemeyer
I'm Carter Niemeyer.
 
Interviewer
Why did you write Wolfer, and describe the premise behind it.
 
Carter Niemeyer
I wrote Wolfer to kind of tell my story. I think my story has been unique in the fact that I've had an outdoor career and got to do very many different things and kind of as a result of people asking me, you know how did you get to do what you did and how did you end up growing up in the Midwest and ending up in Montana and so forth, and so I just felt kind of an obligation to give my life story to the rest of the public.
 
Interviewer
Describe trapping the Alberta wolves and the early reintroduction efforts.
 
Carter Niemeyer
Well I was sent up to Alberta on a contract with the Fish and Wildlife Service to work with local trappers up there that had registered trap lines in Alberta. They refer to it as trapping, but it was actually neck snaring, so my job was to essentially go up to Alberta and accompany trappers on their snare lines--the snares had stops on them so they wouldn't kill the wolves, and when the trappers caught some I accompanied them, immobilized the wolf, and we took it back and put it in a holding compound.
 
Interviewer
Why were the early efforts so controversial?
 
Carter Niemeyer
Well early on talking about wolf reintroduction and wolf recovery, it was a controversial subject simply from the fact that livestock producers all bragged about their grandfather killing the last wolf. There was a real fear of what wolves meant to put them back on the landscape in the lower 48 states. A lot of people figured the day of the wolf was over kind of like the dinosaur, so it was very controversial I think just from the standpoint of people fearing what this meant to them--if it's going to be the end of their livestock business, and then of course you had hunters who were real concerned with, you know what are these wolves going to eat and are they going to kill all of our deer and elk?
 
Interviewer
You are one of the first to use forensic science on predator kills of livestock. What conclusion did you come to regarding how often wolves were to blame?
 
Carter Niemeyer
Well I used kind of a forensic science approach to looking at dead livestock. In the early history books sometimes it referred to a wolf slinking away from an animal carcass, but I looked at enough dead livestock over my career to know that you had to skin out this livestock and you had to go under the hide and sometimes go into the body cavity to determine you know really were predators involved or not? And more often than not predators don't kill livestock. They die of other causes. So one of the conclusions I used to come up with for livestock producers is, "I can't tell you what killed your cow or what killed your calf but I can tell you what didn't."
 
Interviewer
How would you describe Animal Control, now Wildlife Services?
 
Carter Niemeyer**
I worked for Wildlife Services under the U.S. Department of Agriculture for about 26 years, and our job was to control problem predators, and it usually resulted in a predator being confirmed to be a problem killing a sheep or a calf or a cow or whatever, and our job was to come in and remove that problem animal, and we were often referred to as the hired gun of the livestock industry.
 
Interviewer
You wrote in your book about that agency. You weren't really pleased with what was taking place. How would you describe Wildlife Services?
 
Carter Niemeyer
Well Wildlife Services is a branch of the federal government under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and I worked with them for 26 years and our task was to go out and determine if there was damage by predators on livestock. So it's an agency who I think have a significant job or task in wolf management, for instance, and it's real important that this agency get it right.
 
Interviewer
Do they get it right? You mentioned in your book that wolves would be blamed, but your investigation revealed it was either natural causes or maybe disease, or maybe that the wolves were scavenging, but they didn't actually kill the animal. How would you describe Wildlife Services?
 
Carter Niemeyer
Well in my early years with Wildlife Services many determinations on dead livestock were done with the tip of the boot; the animal is rolled over and an instant decision made. So I felt, in my role as a Wildlife Services employee, that it was more important for me to follow forensic science and look at cause of damage much closer than a lot of my colleagues did at that time.
 
Interviewer
Describe the means of lethal control and the tools used.
 
Carter Niemeyer
Well there's a lot of lethal tools used in predator control. They include foothold traps, neck snares, aerial gunning, shooting from the ground. Those are the main tools that are normally used to control predators.
 
Interviewer
Is lethal force justified on predators in the West, and why?
 
Carter Niemeyer**
There's an absolute need for lethal control of predators sometimes. Very often though I think there's other ways to deal with livestock damage. I think there's nonlethal tools available, like guard dogs for instance, and I think it's essential in this day and age that ranchers demonstrate a lot more vigilance and keep a closer eye on their livestock.
 
Interviewer
Tell the story of Alabaster that you describe in your book.
 
Carter Niemeyer
There was a white wolf called Alabaster that lived in Idaho, and she was the matriarch of a pack. We called them the White Hawk Pack, and she was notorious mostly because she was a beautiful white wolf and a lot of wolf advocates kind of put her on a pedestal because of her unique color mostly. So very often that makes wolf management difficult when a wolf has a name, and my job was ultimately to go out and remove her and her entire pack because they were involved in killing livestock.
 
Interviewer
How do you feel about that now? Do you think it was justified and why?
 
Carter Niemeyer
Well when I was involved in removing the wolf Alabaster, we had exhausted all types of nonlethal methods to keep the White Hawk Pack from killing livestock. We used fladry ribbon. We used sound devices, things called "rag boxes" to scare the wolves away, rifle fire. We used helicopters to chase the pack away with cracker shells. We literally exhausted every tool we could come up with and lethal removal was the last choice we could come up with.
 
Interviewer
About how many control killings did you participate in and how do you feel about it now?
 
Carter Niemeyer
Well I know exactly how many wolves I killed in my career; it was 14 wolves. Many control people have to do it too, close-up in traps using shooting. All of the wolves that I removed from the wild for killing livestock were shot from a helicopter, so I killed them from a distance so it wasn't as close-up and personal as catching one in a trap.
 
Interviewer
What conclusion did you come to regarding wolves in the West?
 
Carter Niemeyer
Well I've been accused of being a wolf advocate. My feeling about wolves in the West is that there's definitely a place for wolves. I think they're a native animal that lived here once upon a time and we brought them back when we've recovered wolves, and I absolutely think they have a role to fulfill in the ecology of the West.
 
Interviewer
What do you think of delisting and hunting of wolves?
 
Carter Niemeyer
Well delisting was a decision that the federal government made and state management makes hunting and trapping of wolves legal. It's the law of the land, and under those circumstances I support the legal hunting and trapping of wolves.
 
Interviewer
What are you the most proud of during your career and what would you say if you had a chance to do it again? If you had a chance to do it again, what would you do over?
 
Carter Niemeyer
Well I just felt honored and privileged to be a part of the wolf recovery effort in the West. It wasn't, of course, in my sight and my mission in life at the start, but I felt honored and privileged to be a part of the wolf recovery team, and be a part of the capture team that went to Canada and brought wolves down here, and I hope wolves are here for many many years to come.
 
Interviewer
What do you think is going to happen regarding wolves in the West?
 
Carter Niemeyer
Well wolves have awoken many sleeping dogs, I say, and by that I mean that since wolves have been reintroduced it puts a whole new eye on the livestock industry. It puts an eye on hunting and trapping as sports, and I think that humans are going to have to review all of the current conditions where wolves and livestock, for instance, have to coexist on landscape together. And I think we have a lot of problems to solve before we find resolution to all the issues going on with wolves.
 
Interviewer
What would be your advice to the environmental community?
 
Carter Niemeyer**
I know a lot of folks who are wolf advocates who are very unhappy with current conditions that were hunting and trapping and killing wolves again, and so my advice to wolf advocates is that they're going to have to become much more involved in the political process to bring about change if they don't like what's going on. But simply grumbling and complaining and talking to one another about how unhappy they are isn't going to solve their problem. I think the livestock industry really needs to be considerate of the fact that they are on public land and that I think more and more people are going to challenge public land grazing, so I hope the livestock industry and wolf advocates can try to seek some middle ground so we can all get along, or something's got to give.
 
Interviewer
Can you expand on the anecdotal evidence that the government relies on?
 
Carter Niemeyer**
I think one of the big turning points in my career was I've worked on the ground with the livestock depredation issue a lot and the damage wolves do, and it really bothered me over the years that there is so much anecdotal information, anecdotal stories that tended to determine how myself and others who worked for Wildlife Services were going to react to situations, and I found that, very often that we were making decisions based on anecdotal information instead of hard facts, and it made me much more attentive on looking at situations closer and being a good investigator. And I still see to this day that anecdotal management is going on where wolves are not as big a problem as people paint them, and that they're not destroying the livestock industry. They're not wiping out big game herds. I just think people kind of resent the federal government putting wolves back in the environment and upsetting a lot of tradition and culture.
 
Interviewer
You said before that wolves weren't really the problem, but people were the problem. What do you mean by that?
 
Carter Niemeyer**
Well I think really we do have more of a people problem than a wolf problem, and it's just simply, again, that wolves are just another animal out on the landscape doing what wolves do, like many other large carnivores do. But people are the ones who are struggling with all of this. We're talking about social carrying capacity. The hunters don't want to share with the wolves for the bounty of big game animals. The livestock industry fears having wolves in the backyard. And of course wolf advocates feel like there will never be enough wolves, and so we have this problem with people trying to set parameters on what's the right number of wolves for the landscape. And some want none, and others want them everywhere.
 
Interviewer
And what's the answer?
 
Carter Niemeyer**
Well the answer is there's places wolves can live and there's places wolves will not be able to live simply because of human occupancy, and humans grow livestock and humans like to spread out on the landscape with their developments. So I think wolves are going to have to find those niches that they fit in, but I think humans are going to have to make some room for wolves too because they're here to stay.

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