Friday, October 2, 2009

Requiem for the Phantoms

Near Ketchum, ID, a unique project has been taking place. The Wood River Wolf Project brought together livestock producers and environmentalists in an attempt to keep an iconic wolf pack safe.

The Phantom Hill Wolves, an all-black pack, share the landscape of the Sawtooth Hill National Recreation area and surrounding lands with thousands of sheep, most grazing on public lands. Unlike in many areas of Idaho, where the wolves are scapegoats for all that is loathsome and cruel, the Phantoms were viewed by many residents (including many in the resort town of Sun Valley) as a valued addition to the wild landscape. When the pack denned and had pups in the hills near Ketchum, they became local celebrities.

The Phantoms nearly became statistics win 2007, when they killed 9 sheep and Wildlife Services and IDFG supported killing them if depredations recurred. In a unique collaborative project, the three biggest lamb producers in the area teamed with Defenders of Wildlife to form a coalition to prevent wolf depredation on sheep. Defenders volunteers worked to help make safe night pens for the sheep, and to teach sheepherders to use methods such as fladry and sound devices to scare off wolves. In all of 2008 and most of 2009, only one sheep was lost to the Phantoms.

In August of 2009, a local rancher who was not part of the project turned loose his sheep band without notifying the volunteers who were doing sheep protection duty, and 12 sheep were killed. Unsurprisingly, IDFG immediately issued permits for the Phantoms to be killed. Never mind the project, never mind the wolf tourism this pack created- killing was the prescribed answer. Only with the protests of the rancher himself, who joined the project, was the kill order lifted- although IDFG was quick to state that they would be back with guns blazing if another sheep were to fall.

It is now October 2. Yesterday, hunting season opened throughout the state of Idaho for wolves, and the territory of the Phantoms was not exempted. Despite the pleas of those who have worked so long and diligently to create a balance between the needs of ranchers and the needs of wolves, despite the importance of continuing the study of what works to keep the wolves away from sheep, despite the residents who value wolves more as live participants in the local ecosystem than as trophies for the wall, IDFG refused to make even this tiny portion of the wolf range in Idaho a protected area.

The reports yesterday were that camo-clad hunters were streaming into the Wood River Valley, all eager to get shots at those famous black wolves whose presence is so widely known. After all, if you want to hunt a wolf, you go where the wolves are known to be...

So thus, in all likelihood, will the project end. The Phantoms will be gunned down, the IDFG will get their $11.25 blood money for the wolf license, the hunter will get the "unique" trophy of a rare black wolf pelt.

When questioned about why the entire state was open to wolf hunting, and why not even a tiny portion of the state was devoted to wolf conservation, IDFG employee Mark Gamblin stated, "The suggestion that only by closing areas to wolf hunting can the public be properly served, I believe is a narrow view that would not serve the greater Idaho public well."

Yet, somehow, allowing the tiny proportion of Idaho residents who bought a wolf tag to overrun the entire state serves the public. Yet, somehow, denying the most well-known pack in Idaho protection serves the public. Yet, somehow, killing the Phantoms is a sacrifice for the greater good.

I, for one, do not believe him.

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