Lynne Stone Interview

Lynne Stone is the director of the Boulder-White Clouds Council and is an ardent advocate for wolves. This interview was conducted in September of 2009.

What do you know about the social structure of wolves?
Wolves are different from our other wildlife in Idaho in that they are pack animals. They have a very tight family structure. The pack is run by the breeding pair – also called the Alpha female and the Alpha male – and then the other members of the pack, say, the two and three year olds, help take care of the pups that are born in April. Also the yearlings help.

Lynne Stone

Either the males or the females that are the leaders make the decisions about going out on a hunt and which prey to go after; and the rest of the pack follows in line. If one of the pack members ends up being injured, the pack will gather around and they will howl. They will bring them food. I have been around when there has been trapping and collaring going on, and I’ve heard the other pack members up in the timber just a little ways away howling for the wolf that is caught in the trap. And when the wolf is killed, there is a tremendous sorrow, and the howling that takes place then is really a howl of remorse and loss.

So, a lot different from black bears, a lot different from mountain lions, where the male in both of those animals is very much of a threat to the young. The wolves love the puppies, and they all like taking care of them and playing with them.

So, they are intelligent?
Wolves are so smart and intelligent and charismatic. You can’t help – I can’t help – but apply human traits to wolves, whether they are looking sad or curious. They are very curious about the world that is going on around them, and they might be attracted if you are hiking and you have your dog; they might come and sit and try and figure out what this very strange looking wolf is with this human.

And they are attracted to sounds. Sometimes we see wolves just sitting along highway 75 watching the traffic, just looking one way, looking the other way, and they have no idea what stir they cause in the world. They just want to have a life and live in this beautiful place where we have all this room for them and all this wildlife for them.

You are pretty passionate about wolves.
I am. I’m passionate about a lot of wildlife, but wolves right now are the ones that need the most help, the most outreach through education to the public, to help dismiss some of the myths around wolves. I’ve been around wolves a lot in the last four years living around Stanley. I mostly hike by myself and camp by myself. My dog is always with me. I respect the wolves. I try not to intrude where they have a den,or what is called a rendezvous site, where they are raising their pups. But sometimes I have just walked right in on them or – a couple of times they’ve walked right in on me – and we’re both just, ‘Whoa, and I usually go, who are you?’ If it’s like a Phantom Hill or Basin Butte pack, I’m familiar enough with those that I can try to figure out which one it is in the pack.

But shouldn’t you fear wolves?
I have absolutely no fear at all of wolves. If I see a black bear, that gets my attention. If I’m hiking in somewhere, and I see a bear, I might weigh on whether I want to keep going; the same way if I see mountain lion tracks. But with wolves, it doesn’t deter me from hiking. If I do hear a lot of howling, or I hear the pups howling with them, I’d like to give them a wide berth. I don’t want to disturb them at that time. But if wolves are on a kill, and you have your dog with you, it probably would be a good idea to not let your dog run out towards the wolves.

If you are in wolf country, which is becoming almost everywhere in Idaho or anywhere there is wildlife, your dog should be under voice control; and if you can’t keep him or her under control, then they should be on a leash, or you should go somewhere else and hike. But dogs are a problem chasing fawns and elk calves and birds. You should be aware when you are in the back country with your dog.

I have absolutely no fear at all of wolves. If I see a black bear, that gets my attention... But with wolves, it doesn’t deter me from hiking.

There have been a few cases where dogs have been killed by wolves. Usually those are hounds that are pursuing either mountain lions or black bears; and nine times out of ten the people who have those hounds know full well they are going into where the wolves are, and that is a risk you take when the pursuer becomes pursued and killed.

People used to complain about trying to save chinook salmon and sockeye salmon; and there were rallies against trying to do that. Well, now nobody talks about salmon anymore, because the wolves came in, in ’95 and ’96, and all the focus is on these big bad wolves. So, if we had grizzly bears, I think the wolves would just get off the hook immediately. So bring in the bears! Tell them to come on over.

What are your thoughts on a hunt?
I think it’s very poorly planned, and it’s all based on politics and not on science. Minnesota has over 3,000 wolves and has no plans to have a wolf hunt for at least 5 years; and when they do, there is going to be citizen input from all interests. The only people they listened to were the outfitters and the hunters.

Stone sets up her tripod to take a photo while her dog watches.They have been itching to go kill wolves, and finally they have opened up this 7 month long hunting season. We don’t hunt any big game animal in Idaho for 7 months, but that is what we’re going to do with wolves in the Sawtooth zone, which goes all the way down to the backyard of Boise, and also in the Lolo up north. We’re going to be having wolves killed clear up until March 31st, pregnant females who are almost ready to den and have puppies. And wolves congregate towards the den sites. Most of them are very well known, and there is nothing to stop entire wolf packs from being killed in late March. This is absurd.

It’s criminal and I hope that Judge Don Malloy will rule to stop delisting before we get into this winter wolf hunting season and late spring.

The wolf hunt that Fish and Game is proposing is for 255 wolves. It is likely that more will be shot and not reported. You can have one wolf tag and take one wolf, but if you read the anti-wolf blogs, it’s all over the place that you can shoot as many as you want, you can only tag one. Of course, it’s illegal to shoot more than one, but there is not a whole lot of law enforcement out in this country, it’s so big.

Right now wolves are delisted from the Endangered Species Act, and they have almost no protection. The hunt now comes on top of the fact that a government agency called Wildlife Services has shot dozens and dozens of wolves this summer for conflicts with sheep and cattle. Also ranchers are given kill-on-sight permits.

We have twelve men right in Stanley who have shoot-on-sight for the Basin Butte wolves, up to three wolves, so ranchers no longer have to do anything to protect their livestock from predators including wolves, because the rules have all been relaxed and again, it’s politics.

And actually, I’m more concerned about Wildlife Services which has telemetry for the radio collared wolves, has airplanes and also has access to helicopters. They are much more efficient at killing wolves, including entire packs, than hunters will ever be. And then ranchers, because they don’t have to do anything to protect their animals – sheep are especially vulnerable and sheep are all over the mountains of Idaho, and when sheep get killed, then wolves die.

Shooting a wolf has got to be like shooting a dog, and they look about the same when they are lying there dead.

So we have these three things. We’ve got Wildlife Services killing wolves and ranchers and then hunters. Most of the wolves are going to be killed in the upcoming rifle season for deer and elk, and then wolves will be extremely vulnerable in the winter months when there is snow. A lot of wolves, if the hunt keeps going and isn’t stopped, will be shot off of snowmobiles, right like where we’re standing right here. I see a lot of wolves right in these mountains, and there is a lot of snowmobiling, and it might be illegal but that’s not going to stop it from happening.

I thought the number was 220.
It’s 220 plus 35 for the tribe, so the total number is 255; and Wildlife Services will probably kill 150 wolves this summer and fall. They are well on their way to that; plus another 100 will die of other causes, being poached, run over on the highway. So we well could lose over half of the wolves in Idaho by next spring.

Stone writes I Love Wolves! in the dust on her back window.If that happens, we’re not going to have sustainability, we’re not going to have the genetic diversity. We need this genetic diversity. Right now there is a kill order out for the Steel Mountain pack and that Alpha male is from Yellowstone. He is one of the few wolves that made it from Wyoming to come clear over into the Smokey Mountains and because of sheep operations that have not been responsible for taking care of their sheep in the rugged mountains, we’re going to lose a whole pack including this male that is very valuable to the genetic diversity of Idaho wolves.

Is there any good that will come from the hunt?
I think there are two things. The wolves will become much more afraid of people. A lot of them will die before they ever get that chance to become afraid, especially the pups and the yearlings, because they’re not very smart. And number two, maybe it will satisfy this blood lust that these hunters – they just can’t wait to go out and get themselves a wolf. Maybe once they go out and they hunt, and they have a chance to maybe even shoot at one, even if it’s a pup, maybe sometime in the bar talk they can go, yeah I went wolf hunting and I shot at a wolf.

It’s like people I know who have gone and shot a moose. They said I never want to do that again. It’s like shooting a horse. Shooting a wolf has got to be like shooting a dog and they look about the same when they are lying there dead. And to shoot a young one and have the rest of the pack howling and upset, I just think most people, it’s going to be an experience that stays with them, and they could be sorry.

We’re not going to be overrun by wolves in Idaho. They are territorial. They live short, hard lives. In Yellowstone in the first ten years of all the collared wolves, the average age they lived was 3.4 years. The Basin Butte wolves – of the five pups that were born in 2006, four out of those five are now dead, and all of them have been shot.

No other species in the state is being managed as intensely and with such violence, killing and trapping them and shooting them from airplanes and helicopters.

So, here we’re living next to Stanley. Sawtooth National Recreation Area; it’s supposed to be a recreation area where wildlife has precedence over grazing. What a joke. What a joke. Cattle are king here, in case you haven’t noticed, and that will cause these wolves like Basin Butte to keep getting killed over and over and over again. They’ve already shot two over in Iron Creek this summer. They killed eight last year, Wildlife Services did, because ranchers just refused to try and learn to live with wolves.

So, for me, the bigger problem for wolves is not the hunting season. It’s Wildlife Services and it’s the livestock industry. They are much more efficient at killing wolves than hunters are going to be.

Why does Idaho need wolves? Why do people in Idaho need to see wolves?
They are the most interesting, intelligent, charismatic animal on the planet as far as I’m concerned, and we have 66% of the state that is public land. It belongs to all of us. We have record numbers of Rocky Mountain elk. We’ve got plenty of mule deer. Our wolves tend to eat mostly elk. In fact, right now there are depredation hunts going on in Idaho around ranches because the elk are eating the livestock feed and in the fields. So we’ve got plenty of country, we’ve got lots of wildlife.

Wolves are territorial. There’s only going to be one wolf pack around Stanley, there’s going to be one in the Sawtooth valley, there’s going to be one over in the Big Wood River valley around Ketchum, which is right now the Phantom Hill wolf. They are going to keep their numbers in check and through injury and being hit and being poached and getting sick – these are all things that canines in the wild have to deal with. We just lost all six pups of the Soldier Mountain pack. There are only three wolves left in that pack.

We’re just not going to be overrun. Most of the wolves that I have tracked through being a volunteer in the last four years are dead. In four years, they are all gone. I only have one left, the alpha female of the Basin Butte pack. Four of her daughters and sons have been killed, and I’ve seen that happen, and it is really hard, and it is because of the cattle grazing here.

If other animals are managed, why shouldn’t wolves be managed as well?
Wolves are definitely being managed, and they are being managed in a very heavy handed manner right now by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. There are kill orders out all over Idaho for entire packs right here where we are standing. Basin Butte wolves and Sawtooth National Recreation area, they’ve killed two of them this summer. Three more are going to go down if Fish and Game has their way. No other species in the state is being managed as intensely and with such violence, killing and trapping them and shooting them from airplanes and helicopters. And when they do this, they don’t even know if it’s the wolf that ate the lamb. It doesn’t matter. They just go out and start shooting. So they are already being managed.

In Minnesota, 3,000 wolves. No hunting season. In Idaho, maybe 1,000 wolves, and the number is every day diminishing because of this heavy control we have, because of the poaching that is going on. And now we have this hunting season that is completely not based on science at all. And Fish and Game is going, suddenly there are not as many elk in the Sawtooth zone as we thought there were. Yesterday morning I saw 30 elk right by lower Stanley, and there were 12 calves with those elk. I saw a 5-point bull out highway 21 yesterday morning with several cows and calves.

Why are we killing these beautiful animals when we could be making money on them?

There are elk everywhere I go. There are 100 head out by Cape Horn, but yet they are using this as an excuse that our numbers are down. Yet Fish and Game has said for years, we don’t have winter range for elk. We don’t want elk wintering in the Sawtooth valley and Stanley. It’s one of the coldest places on earth. Elk shouldn’t be here in the winter. So now the wolves and the long hunting seasons have trimmed out the elk around Stanley, and now we’re going to trim out the wolves. Doesn’t make sense to me. It’s based on politics. It’s the Fish and Game commissioners, it’s the legislature, it’s Governor Otter. It’s not based on science at all.

Do you think there’s an economic advantage to having wolves in Idaho?
We’re sitting here in central Idaho with a lot of small towns that are struggling. Around Yellowstone, small towns are thriving, because people come to the Lamar Valley to see the wolves, the famous wolves. People come from all over the world to see the wolves. We could have that in Stanley and in Challis and Salmon and Ketchum. When the Phantom Hill wolves came into Sun Valley in March, hundreds of people got to see them. I spent all day talking to people about the wolves, answering questions and recruited other people to come and do that.

If the Phantoms can survive the hunting season – which will start October 1st and go to the end of the year – if they come down into Elkhorn and Sun Valley again like they did last winter, we can have people from all over the world come to see these beautiful black wolves - and to educate people. We should be capitalizing on the fact that we have these wolves in little places like Lowman and Banks and Idaho City.

But instead, people like me have to go out and make the wolves afraid of people so that they won’t get shot. And it hurts me when I do that, when I see beautiful wolves, and they are just playing or they are hunting a squirrel as they often do, and I take out my .243, and I start blasting and screaming at them to get them to run, because the next person who comes along could shoot them. And now they legally can shoot them.

We’re doing this so backwards. If this was I think almost any place else – if it was Oregon, or it was Washington, some place with a different idea of how we manage wildlife. Why are we killing these beautiful animals when we could be making money on them? And selling T-Shirts and coffee cups and putting bumper stickers on. And now, if you do that, you are likely to get your car vandalized. Or you are likely to get beaten up, if you have a wolf t-shirt on. Boy, we took a wrong turn somewhere here!

Wolves are great. They belong here. We just have to keep working to try to change the attitude. It’s probably not going to happen in my lifetime. It might happen in my son’s or my grandson’s lifetime, that people finally appreciate predators, including wolves.