Return of the Wolves:The Next Chapter

Suzanne Stone

Suzanne Stone transcript
Wolves2/KUED
 
Interviewer
Would you give me your full name and title?
 
Suzanne Stone
Suzanne Stone, and my title is Northern Rockies Representative for Defenders of Wildlife.
 
Interviewer
Explain Fladry, and why it's successful with wolves.
 
Suzanne Stone
Fladry came to us from Europe actually. They started using it generations ago, and the villagers used it as a means to try and kill wolves, so they would take pieces of their clothing and set it up in a V-shape, and at the end of the "v" the hunters would wait for the wolves and the villagers would chase the wolves into the wider end, and the wolves were afraid of it so they would funnel down and that was how villagers in places like Poland would kill wolves. Well one of the researchers from the University of Calgary saw this idea and thought, "Gosh, we could turn this into a nonlethal tool." So we started testing it with him in Idaho, and we were able to use it around ranches where there had been chronic depredations of wolves killing livestock on those ranches, and it was extremely successful. But basically it's flagging on a (?) sounds like vinyl line and we've been able to electrify it now so that it has a little bit more of a permanent type of effect--a deterrent for wolves. Wolves use their mouths to test things, so if they do become habituated to it, the first thing they'll do is come up and try to grab it with their mouth, and because it's electrified it bites back.
 
Interviewer
Explain other nonlethal methods to control wolves.
 
Suzanne Stone
There is a wide range of different types of deterrents to keep wolves away from livestock. It can be as simple as lighting, and there have been times where I've chased wolves off just using a pot and a wooden spoon, you know just making noise so they know that there are humans present. We've also used the air pistols that you hear like at the racetracks. Those make a pretty loud sound. In the past we've had a tool called "cracker shells" that has a little bit of an explosive that goes up in the air like a firecracker and explodes. There's a number of different types of tools. One of the tools that came to us from the ranchers was a thing we call the Radio Activated Guard, which is a device that's triggered by radio collared wolves, and if they come into the area it sets off all these alarms and sirens and different lights and stuff. So anything that can increase a wolf's sense of risk is a deterrent.
 
Interviewer
Should wolves be hunted?
 
Suzanne Stone
Defenders of Wildlife is not opposed to hunting of wolves. We represent hunters as well as other conservationists and animal rights people. We have a very wide spectrum of people that are our members, but we've never been opposed to hunting. As long as it's hunting done in a manner that other species are hunted, so that it's not to exterminate the species, but actually to only take surplus from that population. And right now the wolf population in the Northern Rockies is still pretty small. For example, in Idaho we have somewhere around five or six hundred adult wolves, and if you compare that with things like mountain lions, we have over 3,000 mountain lions. We have 20,000 black bears, and more than 100,000 elk. And so if you're putting a lot of pressure on a wolf population when they're at such a low number, you're managing them very differently than you're managing these other species, which are managed to be in greater populations and more abundant.
 
Interviewer
How do you address the rancher's point of view?
 
Suzanne Stone
The main focus of my work is working with ranchers directly, and so I spend most of my time with the ranching community learning about animal husbandry methods on their end, and then helping them understand wolf behavior from our side, and because of that we've been able to create a real partnership in addressing some of the conflicts and resolving some of those conflicts using some of these nonlethal tools. The ranchers have been here for a long time, and you know they feel a real threat to their way of life when there's something that they perceive might force them out of business, might change their practices so they no longer have as much control over the management of their practices as what they had in the past. You know, I understand that. I come from a very long line of farmers and ranchers in my family, and I know that there are people that really love the land, and they want to be here because of their relationship with the land for the large part. So we have a lot in common with them, and it's really a shame that the wolf issue has become so divisive that it split apart people that had so much in common, and I think the environmental community and the ranching community really do.
 
Interviewer
Why are wolves so controversial and is there any common ground?
 
Suzanne Stone
If I could answer the question as to why wolves are so controversial, I think we'd be done. You know if you look at people's response to wolves, it is so far and beyond what are the economic impacts of wolves. Wolves account for less than one percent of livestock losses, and if you look at the other types of losses, things like other types of predators, disease, bad weather, even we still have cattle rustling out here, you know. And nothing's considered to be as controversial as wolves are, so it's almost like we grew up with a real negative image of wolves. I think most of us had our first exposure to wolves through stories like Little Red Riding Hood, and The Three Little Pigs. That relationship is formed at a very young age for most people, and it's always very negative. There's very few positive stories about wolves, so I guess we've lived with this imaginary wolf for a long time. We haven't lived with real wolves, and having wolves back on the ground, I think you know people are starting to realize that they're pretty much like mountain lions and black bears, coyotes, that we've been living with these kinds of critters for a very long time, and they're not much different than living with wolves.
 
Interviewer
Is there any common ground between environmentalists and ranchers and hunters?
 
Suzanne Stone
There should be a lot of common ground between ranchers and hunters and environmentalists, because the common thing that we have is the land. We live in a place here in the West where we have some of the most amazing wild places left in the country, and all of us deeply love those places. So I think the controversy is more perceived than it is real--that we really have a lot more in common, and that those commonalities are what help us form these relationships with the ranchers we're working with on the ground, that we're not here to put them out of business. We're here to help them co-exist with wolves, like they're doing with mountain lions and black bears and coyotes, and all the other wildlife that we have here now, and to recognize that wolves are a very important native species to our ecosystem here, and I think they get that.
 
Interviewer
Has the public spoken regarding wolves in the West? Is their will being done?
 
Suzanne Stone
The public is the reason we have wolves in the West. We had millions of people that supported the reintroduction of wolves to Central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park. In fact, the second year congress stripped out the budget for re-introducing wolves in 1996, and we thought that we'd be left with just the few wolves that we had brought to the Park and to Idaho in 1995. It really wasn't enough wolves to be able to secure recovery, and we needed that second year, and so without the funding, the whole reintroduction was in jeopardy, and we did an alert out to people asking for help, and literally within a few days I'd go to the post office box, and open the door and letters would just pour on the ground. And we had boxes in the back of envelopes of people sending checks to help support the reintroduction of wolves. It was amazing. People themselves paid for--the helicopters. They paid for the medical supplies. They paid for transportation of the wolves. They rallied, and it was really because the American people love Yellowstone. This is one of the more premiere parks in the country, and to have an animal as important as wolves missing from the puzzle, I think they really understood why bringing the wolf back was a form of righting and wrong, and helping correct something that should have never happened. The wolf should never have been eradicated from the West. And people went so far overboard that eliminating the last wolves was just a serious mistake. It was a great chance to be able to correct that and bring this animal back. It was amazing that the people spoke out the way they did.
 
Interviewer
What do wolves mean to wilderness?
 
Suzanne Stone
It's almost what wilderness means to wolves really. I mean we have a place here in the West where we still have one of the largest wilderness areas left in the entire 48 states, and having wolves back into that ecosystem is amazing because we're getting to see recovery of things like aspen and willow and cottonwood trees that didn't grow above, pretty much browsing height for elk and deer. We used to have thousands of elk that just stayed in these valley bottoms and they pretty much acted like cattle. I mean they just didn't move off of these sensitive meadows and wetlands areas, and because of that we really didn't see a regrowth of those generations of cottonwood and willow after wolves were eradicated in the 1930's. But so quickly within only less than 20 years now we've seen wolves move these elk out of there. They're definitely more dispersed across the landscape than they were before, and we're seeing regrowth of these amazing willow stands and aspen and now cottonwood trees coming back, and because of that you're seeing the return of things like beaver. We're seeing songbirds coming back that weren't here in the valley before. We're really starting to see what an important role that the wolves filled, and it's still so new. We're just now seeing the real ripple affects occurring, so 50 years from now we'll be able to answer that question much better, but just the fact that we're being able to see this kind of impact now, and the positive benefits of having wolves back is amazing.
 
Interviewer
Do you think that wolves symbolize wilderness to people?
 
Suzanne Stone
I think to many of the hunters that I've met with that wolves symbolize wilderness, that they know that when they're standing somewhere in the back country and they hear wolves howling that the place that they're in is truly wild, and that you don't have that experience in most of the rest of the country. So having wolves back adds a dimension that really makes our wilderness whole.
 
Interviewer
What was the reaction to losing wolves in the cottonwood pack to hunting?
 
Suzanne Stone**
The cottonwood pack was very important in terms of research here in Yellowstone, so the first year of the hunt we were all very concerned for that pack because they are on the border of the park. I mean wolves don't know boundaries for the park. So they were doing what they normally do, which is following the elk migration out of the park, and when they did we lost members of that pack and it was very tough. I mean there was years of research that had gone into studying that pack that really didn't have a conclusion because of the loss of those pack members. And the hunt itself--wolves are a different types of species in terms of, they're not solo animals. They're so dependent on a community or their family, which is the pack of wolves, that when you have disruption from losing like key members of the pack, whether it's the alpha pair or the nanny for the pack--there's usually a babysitter--any kind of disruption in that regard can effect the entire pack, and so hunting wolves is very different than hunting the solo species like black bears or mountain lions, for example. If you hunt certain animals within the pack you can actually end up destroying the whole pack rather than just one or two animals taken from the pack. It can have a much greater impact for wolves.
 
Interviewer
What are the goals of Defenders regarding wolves?
 
Suzanne Stone
Defenders goal in restoring wolves is to see wolves returned into an ecological function in the landscape. We don't think that there should just be a token population of wolves here. We believe that the wolves should be in a healthy enough number that they're playing their significant role here in the landscape, that they're allowed to do that. So our concern with the wolf reintroduction plan is that states like Idaho have taken that plan and they want to cap the wolf population at very low levels. In fact, our State Wolf Management Plan only calls for 150 wolves in the state, and that's all they're obligated to maintain. At 150 wolves there would not be a strong or healthy population of wolves. It would just be a remnant population. Most animals that occur at that low number are considered endangered. We want to see wolves recovered and not capped at that threshold of endangered forever.
 
Interviewer
Are guard dogs effective?
 
Suzanne Stone
Guard dogs are very effective, except in the springtime. To wolves guard dogs are strange looking wolves, and in a wolf's way of sensing the dogs if there are multiple guard dogs they think it's another pack of wolves out there, and because of wolves being very territorial, they'll defend their territory in the springtime when they're protecting their pups, but at other times of the year they're more concerned about being injured by this other pack, or the guard dogs. So with the guard dogs we've had great success in keeping wolves away from livestock because they respect the other pack's territory. But it remains keeping at least three or four or five, sometimes even six dogs with bands of sheep or with cattle in order for wolves to perceive them as actually being a strong pack.
 
Interviewer
What do you see for the future?
 
Suzanne Stone
I'm hopeful for the future of wolves because of projects like the Wood River Wolf Project. If wolves can be accepted in places like Central Idaho where ranchers are learning how to live with them, and adjusting their practices so that they can co-exist with wolves, the wolves have a good future. But we need to see that expand out beyond just Blaine County and into other areas where there's an interface between wolves and the ranching community, and we're hoping that that project will help be a model for these other areas to help them learn how to adapt to living with wolves. It just doesn't make sense for people to try to kill wolves as their only response to these conflicts. What happens then is that if you kill the wolves that within a few years there will be more wolves moving in, and if you haven't addressed the underlying problem that caused the livestock loss to begin with, then you're going to see a complete repeat of what happened. You'll lose livestock. Then we'll lose wolves, and this whole cycle repeats itself, and it never gets better. By bringing these nonlethal tools to the table and using those it breaks that cycle. It makes it so that you don't lose livestock, and we don't lose wolves, and that keeps the wolf population more stable, and it also protects the area from unknown wolves moving in, because wolves are territorial and they'll defend that territory. So if they're not bothering livestock, you want to keep those wolves present, and allowing them to be killed randomly undermines that long-term goal.
 
Interviewer
Are there too many wolves?
 
Suzanne Stone
To some people here in the West, one wolf is too many wolfs, but right now we have a wolf population of probably around 1,000 wolves in the region. If you compare that to elk, we have more than a quarter million elk. We have thousands of mountain lions, probably 50,000 black bears across the region. We don't have too many wolves. We actually have a very small population of wolves in relation to other types of wildlife, so no there's not too many wolves, but in people's minds… In the minds of a lot of people here in the region, any wolf is too many, and that's something that we're still having to address, and hope that people that adjust to having wolves back on the landscape by recognizing that their worst fears are not coming true. Wolves have not wiped out the elk populations across the region. In fact, we're having some of the best hunting success in areas like Montana and Idaho, certainly in Wyoming. Elk populations are way over objectives in most of the areas on those states. So the fear of wolves is much greater than the reality of wolves, and I think once people realize that, that they'll accept that having wolves on the landscape isn't such a bad thing.
 
Interviewer
Can you tell the story of the lost pup?
 
Suzanne Stone
This spring we were alerted by the Blaine County Sheriff's Department that there was a pup that was found that looked unusual for a domestic dog, and it was brought into the local veterinarian office. I went in and looked at it. It was a little wolf pup, and unfortunately some tours had been out on one of our backcountry roads. It was the first weekend after the roads had opened, so they were out camping, and they came around a corner and I think what they did was disrupt the entire pack, that the mother had been moving all of the pups, and they didn't see the others, but this one little pup zigged with the rest of the pack, had zagged, and it got separated from the rest of it's family. They thought it was a lost little dog, and so they ended up chasing it down, capturing it, and bringing it back to town. But unfortunately it was a wild wolf, and it ended up being shipped out to Bush Gardens in the eastern part of the United States, so it's going to live the rest of it's life in captivity, hopefully to be an ambassador for it's species and people will learn more about wolves through this little guys, but it's a good lesson for people that when they're in the back country, no matter how cute baby animals look, you know just leaving wildlife lay is really the best way. Usually mamas around, and she was definitely around in this case, but was so afraid of the people that she wasn't able to retrieve her pup.
 
Interviewer
Can you talk about the trapper in the YouTube video?
 
Suzanne Stone
Idaho is one of the first states, in fact I think it is THE first state that has allowed trapping of wolves since wolves have been delisted, and it's something that we really fought against. I mean hunting is kind of one thing, but trapping, especially in Idaho where the trappers don't have to check the traps very often--I think they have a 72 hour trap check, and they're allowed to put out as many traps as they want--it can lead to animals being in traps for a very long time, and it's very concerning. One of the trappers in Northern Idaho had trapped a wolf, and had been in the trap for obviously a long long time because there was blood on the ground for probably ten feet around the trap, just a whole circle of it, and this animal had been trying to get out of this trap for a long time, and when the trapper came, whether than putting the animal out of its misery, he ended up using the animal to take pictures with it and then posting it on the internet, and I think people here horrified, and probably rightfully so. It was legal for him to do that under Idaho law, but it certainly raised the question of how ethical that is to do something like that to an animal.
 
Interviewer
What do wolves mean to you?
 
Suzanne Stone
I've been working to restore wolves for over 25 years now. It's a… you know when I firs started I really thought that I would be a great grandmother and eventually some, some day we'd have wolves on the ground. It was just kind of a dream that we'd have them back. We had no wolves in Idaho, no wolves in Yellowstone, and to be able to see in my lifetime, you know be able to participate, to go to Canada, to help capture wolves there, to help care for those wolves, to bring them back, open the cage doors and see them go, and then now we're five generations out since those first wolves, and the wolf population has done so well. I mean the wolves have just done exactly what we wanted them to do, and they've really kept up their end of the bargain here, and they've dispersed out. They're created a healthy population of wolves in the region. They're pretty much avoided livestock for the most part, and now they're dispersing to other places like Oregon and Washington, even California now, so it's amazing to see that occur. To me I look at wolves as being an animal that our society persecuted. I mean we drove them to complete eradication in the region. People were so aggressive with wolves that they would take pups out of dens, wrap them in barbed wire, use the pups distress to be able to call in the adults and use that to kill them. People were hanging wolves. You know they would have public hangings of them. We treated wolves differently than we've treated any other species. It's almost like we have an animosity that goes beyond the physical--that it's just this cultural hate of wolves, and getting past that and seeing people adjust to having wolves back on the landscape, people that grew up with that cultural bias against then, and that they're accepting wolves, and then they're starting to readjust now. Their relationship with them is changing to the point where they're getting past this imaginary wolf, and they're starting to treat them like mountain lions, black bears--a valued wildlife species, one that's native to our region. And we get there, we've had success, so that's what I'm hoping.
 
Interviewer
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
 
Suzanne Stone
Do you want a fun story? So my introduction to wolves almost 25 years ago was going out with the Fish and Wildlife Service and learning how to howl for wolves. We didn't have any known wolves in Idaho that we were aware of at the time. We had a few disperses that came through that were poisoned, but no population of wolves in the state. My first time, I was a college intern, and it was to go out and learn how to do howling. Wolves respond to howling of humans, just like they do other wolves. So that's one of the ways to detect wolves when you don't know if any are present. It was my first time. I started howling. I had the head of the Fish and Wildlife Service Wolf Project with me. He just taught me how to do it, and as soon as I started howling we had rifle bullets just zing, whistle right over the top of our heads. We were just amazed. I mean just socked. We were in the backcountry and people were shooting blindly through the woods. So we ran and jumped in the vehicle and we're hauling back down the road and Steve Fretz, who was head of the program at the time, looked at me and he goes, "I think I taught you how to howl too well."
 
 Interviewer
That's great. Thank you.