A Modest Proposal For A Solution To Idaho’s Wolf Problem

(With apologies to Jonathon Swift, the author of “Gulliver’s Travels,” whose satiric essay, “A Modest Proposal, ”suggested that England could solve the Irish famine by skimming off surplus babies and using them for food.)

Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

         Next spring, Idaho Fish & Game (IDF&G) will continue their program to remove wolf pups from dens, equip them with radio collars, and replace them in dens. IDF&G says that this will enable them to track wolf movements throughout the life cycle of the pups and will give them valuable information on a vexing problem that has preoccupied the Idaho state government.

Wolf advocates however, suspect that IDF&G has other, clandestine motives in continuing this program. They assume that radio-collaring pups will enable agents to more easily track and find wolves in order to kill enough of them to drive Idaho’s wolf population down, close to the minimum legal number of 100 wolves allowed by their agreement with the US Fish & Wildlife (USFW) agency. Keeping tabs on wolf numbers through use of these collars can facilitate IDF&G’s ability to do this without inadvertently dropping the wolf population below that number which is something that Idaho officials want at all costs to avoid. This would trigger a mandated review by USFW and possible relisting of these animals as an endangered species, again putting them under federal control.

Some people consider this conclusion to be a paranoid idea on the part of pro-wolf people.  I suggest however that not only could the present program be continued, but that it might be expanded to provide a solution to Idaho’s perceived problems with wolves. In fact, the technology might already exist for enabling Idaho officials to accomplish this task in a more efficient and expedient manner.

The lowering of the Idaho wolf population to a relict, unimportant, and almost invisible number of animals could be accomplished by equipping wolf pups, with permanent radio collars (expandable so as not to choke them to death as they grow because that could be considered animal cruelty in some circles). These collars would be furnished with remote scent detectors and strychnine self-injection devices, which could be adjusted in such a manner that if wolves were to approach domestic livestock within a certain distance, (let us say fifty feet), the strychnine injector could be automatically triggered to deliver a lethal dose to the wolf that would kill it within seconds. Thus these devices could prevent any possibility of wolves killing animals that ranchers value.

One of the problems with present wolf management in Idaho is that there is no sure way to know which of the many wolves that are now being killed in retaliation for livestock deaths are actually responsible for them or just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Equipping wolf collars in the foregoing manner would make it virtually certain that that only wolves that are likely to predate livestock would be killed, not in retribution for prior deaths as is the present practice, but in a preventive way. Such methodology would not only be more efficient than sending agents out with rifles or traps, or shooting the wolves from aircraft ( L.A.Times, Dec. 14, 2011) but it is less likely that IDF&G would be accused of unethical behavior toward these animals, as they have been in the past. It would “make the punishment fit the crime”.

Alteration of such scent detectors might also make it possible for them to be used to prevent the killing of elk that hunters most value, such as bucks with big racks.  This could be done if bucks are found to have an odor, distinctive from those of does and calves.

Anti-wolf people say that wolves are impacting Idaho’s wildlife. Elk scent detectors in these collars could perhaps be turned on and off from a distance in certain areas so that only wolves residing in or occasionally wandering through places where hunters success rates were below the historical 21% would be targeted. The CIA is now routinely doing long distance killing with radio-directed drones. Perhaps Idaho officials can persuade the Federal Government to share this technology with them for such a crucial task.

These devices could be activated on wolves found in the Lolo National Forest where hunters have long claimed that they have reduced the elk there despite the fact that in some areas where wolf numbers are high, elk populations have actually increased. Doing this would enable ID F&G to definitively show for the first time that such wolf killing was justified, in their eyes at least, because it had a beneficial effect on elk populations.

There are other situations in which these collars might prove valuable. Despite wolves having never killed even a single sheep or cow in the Idaho Panhandle, they have been targeted there for elimination. There was no official limit placed on wolf killing in the Panhandle during the 2013-14 hunting season. This resulted in the killing of 85 wolves in that region. There will not be a limit this coming year either. With sufficient technological advances, cattle and sheep sensors could be used in southern Idaho, but remotely turned off in the Idaho Panhandle. Doing so might persuade the rest of the country that Idahoans are not the bloodthirsty psychotics that many of them believe us to be.

One drawback in this program may be that the initial cost of such collars is liable to be high.  When that amount is added to the cost of sending personnel into remote areas to do the initial collaring and subsequent retrieval of collars from dead wolves, it will exceed the present cost of wolf eradication. Although the program is not likely to be cost-effective in terms of the value of livestock and elk effected, the past few years’ experience has shown that this is not a major concern of the Idaho Legislature and Governor Otter in their efforts to rid Idaho of these animals. For example, the recent addition of a Wolf Depredation Control Board recommended by the governor, which was given an initial budget of $500,000, was passed by both state houses with almost the unanimous vote of Republican legislators. (Most Democrats voted against the bill).

The Depredation Board reported (Spokesman Review, 2/3/15) that it had recently cost them $43,000 to kill 31 wolves. That is a cost of $4,600 per wolf. That this was accomplished despite the Idaho government’s present short-fall in educational funds for the state, (many school districts have had to fire teachers and/or cut back to a four day school week), clearly shows where the priorities of our state legislators lie. Given their staunch support for wolf eradication, they will probably be quite willing to bankroll this final solution to Idaho’s problems with wolves.

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