David Langhorst Interview
David Langhorst was involved in wolf recovery as the executive director of the Wolf Education and Research Center. Later, as a state legislator, he co-sponsored legislation that formally recognized Idaho's wolf management plan. This interview was conducted in the summer of 2009.
What role did you play in wolf re-introduction?
Shortly after I became a legislator, I worked with Representative Bert Stevens, who is a rancher and a strong advocate for the Farm Bureau, and the two of us worked together to sponsor the bill which finally formally recognized Idaho’s wolf management plan and put wolf management back into the hands of Idahoans, which I saw as a victory. We were headed toward recovery. Since those days, we’ve reached and surpassed recovery, and I believe it’s time to manage wolves.
I mean, people have compared wolves to toxic waste, they’ve tried to pass bills to outlaw wolf recovery. They’ve tried to outlaw any federal agent from bringing wildlife into the state, any effort that they could to try to obfuscate or obstruct wolf recovery.
Which is why the federal government looked to the Nez Perce Indians for help.
What exactly did your legislation do for Idaho and this issue?
To know that there’s a new species around that hasn’t been in the mountains, in the woods, for 50 years is a pretty satisfying feeling.
I mean, it’s a classic case where we as a state, we did have our heads in the sand, and that bill represented Idaho pulling its head out of the sand, and getting to the table.
You had an interest in this issue not only as a legislator, but also as a sportsman.
You’re not worried that wolves are going to make your job harder as a hunter?
I have heard wolves howl while I was looking through my binoculars at elk, and seen the elk appear not to even notice. But I have also noticed that elk are more dispersed. They seem to be a little warier, and I would admit maybe a little harder to hunt. It still hasn’t kept me from harvesting elk during the bow season, and having lots of close encounters. So, to me, the hunting experience is enhanced. I didn’t become a hunter because I wanted to easily go get meat every year.
So you watched the whole process evolve as they brought the wolves into Idaho.
We have other species that are struggling. And to go back on our word, those who supported wolf recovery, I think can endanger the potential recovery of salmon or steelhead or other threatened or endangered species.
My own involvement in the wolf recovery effort as the executive director of the Wolf Education and Research Center was twofold. We advocated for the experimental reintroduction, and we also raised money to help pay for the actual movement of the wolves because of some political events that had stopped the funding halfway between moving the wolves from Canada to Idaho and to Yellowstone.
I was there for the first release of four wolves in Idaho. And I saw that as a sigh of relief, not because it was a victory over anyone, but because I saw it as the beginning of the end of this very intractable issue that we’ve been fighting for years.
Seeing the wolves when they were captured, and how docile they were, was interesting. And when we released them, there had been an ice storm, and I don’t know, if you look at some of the footage, you’ll see these guys falling down trying to open up the… and my point in saying that is that it was dramatic to see wolves going, but there were no real events, no snarling, it was just some animals running loose.
One thing I like to point out to folks about wolf recovery is that it was ahead of schedule and under budget. If we had not gone with experimental reintroduction, it would have taken many, many more years for natural re-colonization to occur, and it would have cost a lot more money. And folks that were not happy under the federal control and full listing would be still dealing with that kind of what they would consider to be onerous regulation, whereas now, we’re looking at delisting.
Why were wolves brought in over two years, in 1995 and 1996?
So one of the reasons why it’s time that we manage wolves is that they are having impact on the game populations. It was always an implicit part of the experimental reintroduction agreement, good faith on both sides, that management, including hunting, would be a part of the equation.
It does seem to be a question of numbers.
Promises were made very clearly in the record that our recovery goal was 100 or 10 packs. That may not be enough, but certainly 1,000 is plenty and I think it’s time to declare victory, manage wolves, de-list them, and move on.
The other concern I have is that we have other species that are struggling. And to go back on our word, those who supported wolf recovery, I think can endanger the potential recovery of, say, salmon or steelhead or other threatened or endangered species; because I think it becomes harder to get folks to come to the table or take your word for it when you’re saying we’ll do this to get this species recovered. That scares me.
I will buy a wolf tag this year. I don’t know if I’ll use it, if I’m faced with a wolf. If I get that close, I’ll feel really happy.
What’s your opinion on a wolf hunt?
I’ll bet there’ll be a few shot right off the bat. I think that there’ll be some wolves shot and we’ll see news stories about that. And the reason is because they haven’t been hunted. Their presence is well known to local folks, and so on opening day, it will probably be easy for some people to go out with a rifle and shoot a wolf. After that, it’ll be incidental to other hunting that goes on. I think it’s going to be very hard to get a wolf in someone’s sights.
Some doubt this issue will be resolved in a year.
If I do shoot one, it would be for me, closing a circle. It would be the ultimate degree of success to say that wolves are a normal part of our environment, and we are managing them like we do other species. Good for us. You know, we did it. And if a certain number have to be controlled, it doesn’t matter whether it’s me or somebody else, I suppose, in the big picture if that’s what makes for successful recovery.
So, you’re thinking wolf reintroduction is a success.