There is so much to know about wolves; with some moving into Colorado and more to come, we have our work cut out. Listen up today as Mia learns from Justin Webb of the Foundation for Wildlife Management as he shares real-world experiences from wolf country.
Foundation for Wildlife Management https://mia.limited/f4wm
2009 Wolf Delisting Rule https://mia.limited/2009wolf
Colorado Parks and Wildlife Wolf Management Plan https://mia.limited/cpwwolfmanagementplan
Comment schedule and form for CPW Wolf Management Plan https://mia.limited/cpwwolfplancomment
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She’s an award-winning writer, a hunting guide, archery and rifle instructor, keynote speaker, an all around outdoors woman who encourages you to get outside, hunt, fish, shoot, and savor all that life has to offer. And now here’s your host, Mia Stein.
Well, hey. Hi. Hello you all. I’m so happy to be visiting with you again. If it’s your first time stopping by the Mac Outdoors Podcast, I’m happy that you’re here. And to those of you who’ve been here before, welcome back today. I have a wonderfully educational interview for you. Today I’m gonna be visiting with Justin Webb, who is with the Foundation for Wildlife Management, and we are going to be discussing wolves. It is a topic that I found very informational and things that we discuss. If there’s anything mentioned as far as websites and so forth, they will be linked in the show notes or you can find them on the website. That’s mia einstein.com. And I will also be available on social media. You can message me. I’m on most outlets as Mia Einstein. Or you can find Mac Outdoors on Instagram and Facebook. I hope you enjoy the show
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Hey, you all, I’m so glad that you’re here listening to the show again today. I have a great guest that I met when I was in Bozeman, Montana at the Nasc Summit. I met Justin on the first evening in Bozeman, and we went around and met some of the organizations that were at the summit and got to introduce ourselves. And immediately I was drawn to your table, Justin, because I saw your map and the numbers of wolves. And I had recently been in Montana on a tour of ranches in regard to wolves. And so I was really interested in what you had to say. Part of that was because we are preparing for a wolf and they say an introduction, but we already have wolves in Colorado, and the wolves that we’re getting are quite different from the wolves that we had long ago. So they say introduction or reintroduction, whereas we already have wolves. But I was just hoping to share you with my audience today because you had so much information and so much to say. So first of all, would you just tell us a little bit about your organization and what you all are doing?
Justin Webb (03:04):
I guess, uh, without going into great detail, um, we’ve spent the last 10 years trying to better understand wolf populations within the state of Idaho. We’ve worked really hard to build a working relationship with our state game management agency, the IDO Department of Fish and Game, and trying to better understand how we could assist the department in meeting their own wolf management objectives. One of the things that took place when wolves really exploded in population in our neck of the woods, they lived just about 50 miles south of the Canada line, I think we’ll repopulated and became far more abundant, much faster than what anyone expected. And we didn’t realize how difficult it was going to be to manage wolves. And so seeing a lot of carnage on the ground, a group of passionate sportsmen here in north Idaho got together and decided that we were going to do something productive to help make an impact.
Seeing less than one quarter of 1% harvest success rate in an area where wolves were reproducing by, you know, over a hundred percent annually, we were trying to keep up and trying to slow the devastation that was happening because of the overpopulation of wolves within our area. And we formed a sportsman base 5 0 1 [inaudible] [inaudible] organization where we operate a Wolf harvest expense reimbursement program. The thought process there is utilizing sportsmen to do the work that otherwise would cost literally millions of dollars for the state to be able to accomplish in reducing wolf populations where they’re causing issues.
This harvest reimbursement program, you’re gonna have to tell me how that works, first of all. But right away my mind went to California and I know people, there were people up at the Nest summit from California that were upset that everyone kept using California as an example. But I actually went to college in California and while I was in college or, or right around there, it was big talk, they had eliminated mountain lion or cougar hunting in California. And there were hikers that were friends of mine that were pretty upset. And over the years, now, what California does, since they eliminated the hunt, they don’t get the revenue from the hunting licenses, but they’re also paying somebody to come in and manage the mountain lions. So is the state of Idaho on board with that and how is it working?
Justin Webb (05:25):
Yeah, actually in 2011 when we first started talking about trying to do something to make a difference, wolf management in general was a lot more of a hot button topic than what I would say that it is today. I think that back then were still of the mindset that wolves would manage their own populations at a healthy, um, you know, at a healthy number that wouldn’t negatively impact the rest of the, the ecosystem. Back then it was a whole lot less acceptable to the majority of the, of the general public to even harvest wolves. Now that, you know, fast forward 11 or 12 years, and now that a lot of the general public where wolves are extremely populated, a lot of the general public now recognizes the issues that wolf populations bring to an area. And they started to recognize the need for management of wolves.
In the beginning, the I Idaho Fishing game department was very hesitant to work with us in reducing wolf numbers because they were extremely fearful of lawsuits that could come. They were fearful of wolf being re-listed. A lot of the same issues that we still face today. The biggest difference being, we’ve now proven that the state of Idaho can productively manage wolf populations without having those numbers crash or fall to a point to where they would be in need of protections. Populations. You mentioned the map that we had there at our booth, wolf populations in general, most people don’t understand that we studied suitable wolf habitat within the nr MDPs, the northern rocky Mountain distinct population segment area for 30 years before they came to a conclusion of what we had for suitable habitat, the numbers of wolves that that habitat could sustain in a healthy way without causing problems.
And those numbers still today are, are not well known. Um, and that’s the, you know, the reason that we put that map out, the management objective for the entire interim DPS area is 1100 total wolves. And we currently have documentation for, for 33 81, that was the 2021 population count. So as time’s gone on and it’s become more publicly accepted that we need to manage wolf populations, um, the air fish and game department, uh, has come on board. I’m not gonna say full circle, but they certainly have gone from being a little bit hesitant to increase Wolf harvest numbers under the concern of potentially getting to a point of needing re relisting to now they fully understand that with less than one quarter of 1% harvest rate, you know, harvest success rate, that something additional is needed. It costs the state over $9,000 per wolf on average to reduce wolf numbers where they’re causing problems.
And sportsmen are getting it done for approximately $830 per wolf through our program targeting the same areas because we don’t have to pay for wages. We don’t fund numbers of aspects that the state would have to fund. And I’d say, I don’t know, over the last five years, state of Idaho has actually supported our program with over $500,000, specifically trying to increase wolf harvest where wolves are causing the most problems. In addition to that, we, you know, I try really hard to keep in contact with our predator biologist and state game management folks just to make sure that we better understand or best understand where wolves are causing the most grief.
And so the wolves causing the grief. Is that what caused the general citizens in Idaho to recognize that the wolves needed to be managed? Or what, what was that shift in their attitudes?
Justin Webb (09:13):
This is gonna sound a little bit funny coming from my position probably, but when I first heard that wolves were coming to North Idaho, I thought it was the, the best thing that could happen. I thought that it was going to be this incredible new experience that I would get to have in the outdoors. And I, I was excited about it. Once the wolf numbers started showing up and we started seeing wolf sign in different drainages, uh, we were still pretty excited about it. We thought that was, that was pretty cool. You know, we watched National Geographic growing up just like everybody else, and we believed all of these different human characteristics that had been portrayed onto wolves. And so we really thought we knew what a wolf was. And then all of a sudden seeing a wolf track here or there turned into, there were wolf tracks in every single drainage, and all of a sudden we’d go snowmobiling a lightning creek outta Clark Fork here, and there’d be moose laying in the ditches or on the snowmobile trail with their hend ends chewed out, still alive. Their nose is chewed off, uh, laying there suffering. And
That is horrible to come across.
Justin Webb (10:15):
You know, it’s, it’s really heart-wrenching and people, unless you’ve seen it, I’ll, I’ll say it’s, it’s really difficult to imagine. I mean, um, being a, an outdoorsman, avid backcountry hunter, I, you know, it’s, it’s pretty simple to say. Harvest of an animal doesn’t necessarily have a negative emotional impact on me. When you look at a moose that’s suffering, that’s had its guts ripped out of its hand in and it’s laying there in the ditch and there’s nothing you can do about it, it’s pretty, it’s pretty sickening. It, it breaks your heart. You know, it wasn’t just that there, there were also in different areas. People were coming across huge yards of elk, you know, 20 at a time that were killed and not consumed, which went against everything I personally had believed wolves to be before they showed up here. And so I think in the beginning, the concern was, you know, why everybody wanted to know the reason that wolves were acting this way here when we’d been told that they wouldn’t, everybody said they only killed us sick in the week and they consume everything that they kill.
And, you know, only the alpha male and female breed and all these different things that we now know to be false. And what we learned is wolves are canines and they have a chase instinct that’s, you know, far surpassing that of just about any other animal. And some people would tell you that wolves are evil and they just want to kill things. And I don’t believe that some would tell you that wolves are only going to chase something down and kill it if they intend to eat it. And I don’t believe that either. If took my house dog, my chocolate labs, and I put them in a sheep yard and they had never been around livestock before and a lamb took off running, my dog would chase it without correction. Its instinct would be to run after it. And when it caught it, what’s it gonna do?
It’s gonna bite it. That’s what they do. Once it falls down on the ground and stops moving, it didn’t chase it because it was hungry. I just fed ’em. It didn’t chase it because it intended to kill it. It’s not evil, it chased it because it ran well, wolves are no different. They’re canines. So when a wolf comes over a ridge top and a moose takes off running or an elk takes off running, they give chase. When they catch it, they chew on it. The most common places that a, a wolf bites an animal is, is in the hamstrings, in the buttock, in the flank, and on the, on the end of the nose, once an animal goes down and stops moving, well, same thing. It didn’t chase it down because it was hungry. It didn’t chase it down because it intended to kill it, it chased it because it ran.
And now it’s no longer running. And so they wander off. They might come back and feed on it again when they do get hungry. But typically that, from what I’ve seen, that’s not always the case. I’ve seen seven or eight moose at a time and a drainage wiped out when the wolves pass through. You know, they, uh, in the state of Idaho, they’ve, they run a 250 square mile home range about every three to five weeks, depending on the time of year. And in one pass, I’ve seen them kill up to a dozen animals and, and not consume a single one of them
With the wolves doing what wolves do. I understand that we’ve been misled and a lot of coloradans have been misled. Our our issue is put on our ballot, and that’s how we’re in the state that we are Now. The position with this wolf introduction, you talked about a 30 year study to determine suitable habitat. Was that the Idaho, um, I don’t know if they’re called Parks and Wildlife or D N R, whatever they’re called, their biologist were doing that? Or where was the initially brought from the idea to do this?
Justin Webb (13:57):
Well, I’ll share with you. I, I’d say the best source of information that I would provide to everybody listening would be, I, I would ask that you go look up the 2009 D listing rule. And in that document it talks about, um, different studies and and that wasn’t just one study that they, that they did for 30 years, but there are studies cited dating clear back to the seventies from which they had been trying to clearly identify suitable habitat within the MDPs area. And they spent numbers of years and different biologists studying suitable habitat and wolf populations and, you know, wolf management dynamics before they ever came to the concept of a management objective for the area which they needed to identify before they could do the transplant restocking program as they, they labeled it. And so, you know, it’s not just one study. We’re we’re talking about 30 years of numerous different studies and different pieces of data that was gathered and collected by numerous different biologists and then lumped together as a whole to clearly identify the suitable habitat within the NR MD p s area.
It was the original recovery goal that was established at 300 total animals. That number alone was scrutinized and studied and restudied and peer reviewed and litigated and reviewed again over the years. And eventually, I think it was about 2006 when the last hands-on works was physically being done. Um, and then they reviewed all of those studies once again prior to them delisting wolves in the 2009 delisting agreement. And within that document, it actually goes through and it lists all of the questions or the majority of the questions that they were presented with from those in opposition of de-listing wolves and from those in opposition of the 300 being the established recovery goal. And they go through an answer all of those questions, and they provide information and, and what those, um, you know, what’s their concepts are based on. And so that one document alone is extremely profound. And I, I think anybody who has interest in learning legitimately what the basis of our wolf management plans are based on today, it’s all in there. It’s a lengthy read, but definitely well worth studying.
Well, I’ll have to give that a look. And also for our listeners, I will include a link to that in the show notes as well as a link to anything that we mentioned today. I always include that for the listeners, this 30 years of various studies, I find that priceless. We definitely need that. And it really racks my brain to think that we have voters that voted to put wolves on the ground, and it was a three year timeline. So basically our study, it has been, we had a technical working group and a stakeholder working group, and the technical working group or biologist, I do believe one was from Idaho biologists and other professionals that work in the wildlife realm and agriculture realm. But a lot of them came to voice, you know, where the habitat needed to be. However, their timeline, I believe they were maybe 14 months.
It’s been about a year to a year and a half of the study of where to put these. And then the stakeholder group, those were outfitters uh, business owners, hunters, trappers, a whole variety of people. And they came to discuss how wolves impact them and their businesses. Some were very much for receiving the wolves and some were very much against. And a lot of their timeline had a lot of conflict because many people on that group don’t ever wanna see a wolf die. They think that they don’t need to be managed, which you have already discussed about the, the production rate of them and how they reproduce and then the impact they’re having on other animals. This is the fastest introduction that Colorado has ever had. Do you have any thoughts or advice on what we can do to help with the management plan? Colorado introduced their management plan on December 9th, and in the plan there’s a compensation plan for cattle producers, which I am a cattle producer. The compensation is capped at $8,000. And that amount, it may be good for somebody if they had lost one animal because their one cow may hit that limit, or one bull may hit that limit, but if they lose more than one, is there anything that’s going on in Idaho with ag producers and their compensation, or do you have any advice of what we may ask in our compensation plan or management plan?
Justin Webb (19:09):
To be a hundred percent honest, I I wish that there was, um, one of the things that I hear commonly from our livestock producers is that when they suffer loss, they feel it’s a waste of their time to call it in. And, and here’s what happens. You know, you, you have different agencies and different entities. Branches are not always camped out on their livestock. In the state of Idaho, uh, the majority of our state is public land, and a lot of our public land is leased under livestock grazing allotments. And so when a producer suffers loss, oftentimes it’s a few days before they are able to identify that loss, and then they make a call. And wildlife services sometimes gets so stacked up with different calls from all different areas of the state. They then have to try to get an officer, uh, you know, an agent to that location, which is oftentimes off the but path out in the back country.
So let’s say a producer, you know, has a range rider that finds a degradation. It’s a day old, possibly two days old. By the time we can get an agent out there to try to clearly identify whether it was, you know, confirmed to be wolves or other, it’s another two days. Well, by then the birds have picked it apart, destroyed the, the site. Um, other stock oftentimes is, is uh, you know, trampling tracks. Um, sometimes other predators come in and, and find the kill site. And so trying to get an actual confirmation where an agent can be 100% certain without a doubt that it was wolves that actually made the kill, and not just wolves that have come and preyed on the kill after it died, is extremely difficult. And after suffering that situation, numbers of times a lot of the ranching community says they aren’t gonna bother even making the phone call anymore because it doesn’t help them. By the time the guys get out there and they go through the requirements to be able to document a confirmed kill, oftentimes they can’t get a confirmation
In essence, like you said, it’s wasting their time.
Justin Webb (21:23):
Yeah. You know, and, and they’re already frustrated. They’re already suffering loss, they’re already looking at the end result. A lot of times people think, oh, well, you know, you didn’t lose a very high percentage. I hear that argument all the time. Well, you know, it’s a very low percentage of the livestock in the state that’s actually killed. Well, that’s great, but when that’s dipping into your ability to feed your family, it’s an extremely stressful, emotional conflictual situation that, I mean, I don’t wish that on anyone would be as if, let’s just say as an example, you know, you’re going into Christmas time and all of a sudden your paycheck, that’s typically, you know, $2,000 shows up as 400 bucks. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> that producer’s bills or cost for the year doesn’t drop. That producer still has bills to pay. That producer still has kids to feed. That producer still has, you know, uh, land payments to make just like everybody else. And oftentimes it’s dismissed as if it’s not a big deal. And, and I, I think that’s horribly sad.
Yeah. And coming from the producer side, and you spoke of also from a hunting side, I’m, I’m also a hunter. Something that I’ve contemplated as a writer and in different seminars and different conventions where I’ve been in writers groups, we’ve posed this question as outdoor writers in the hunting arena, how can we look at this beautiful majestic moose or, uh, beautiful duck, and we can see a flock of geese fly by and we can look at them in awe in the sunrise, and then we can also watch the flock of geese fly by and we can shoot one. There’s something in that, as a cattle producer, I can raise cattle. I care about every single animal in our herd, yet when it comes time I actually don’t raise mine for beef. But when it comes time to go butcher an animal, we can still do that. And it’s something that to me, it’s in our innate instincts. It’s part of who we are from generations ago, but it’s difficult to explain that to somebody who’s not a hunter or not a cattle producer or a sheep or whatever livestock you happen to have. How we do care about animals. And I honestly, personally, I feel like we care about animals more than people who are disconnected from where their food comes from and disconnected from animals. But that’s kind of a side tangent. <laugh>
Justin Webb (23:56):
Well, I, I couldn’t agree more. I think that people don’t understand the passion and, and love for wildlife that most conservationists have. And and that kind of brings us back to the whole concept of managing for conservation rather than preservation. And for those that don’t know, conservation is wise use without abuse, whereas preservation is no use at all. And and people oftentimes use that argument, well, if you just leave them all alone, they’ll manage themselves and they don’t understand what conservation has accomplished over the years. The wildlife populations that we have today that everybody enjoys would not be here without conservation and preservation mentality. Sounds great. But when it comes to apex predators like wolves, you can’t allow wolf populations as an apex predator to grow and expand and outgrow their prey base and not expect the entire system to collapse. The, and the concept there being as your predator base, they de their own prey base as the prey base collapses, what happens to all those predators?
They die from disease and starvation leaving you with very little of either one. And if you go back and look, R M E F has been really great at documenting numbers and, and records. And you know, back in 1907 there was 550,000 elk and now there’s 1.1 million that happened due to Hunter conservationists caring about the wildlife and investing in wildlife. Back in 1900 there was approximately 500,000 whitetail deer. And today there’s 30 million. That’s Hunter conservationists who care about wildlife investing their own finances in supporting that wildlife resource so that we have that to enjoy. And the concept of allowing nature to balance itself certainly works. It certainly does. But I personally want my kids and the next generation to get to have wildlife in abundance that they can enjoy seeing. Our national parks are, are another great example of, of the difference in management. They’re between conservation and preservation and Yellowstone, there used to be, you know, I don’t remember what the exact number was, somewhere close to 20,000 head of elk and now there’s 3000 maybe.
And those numbers are struggling. The wolf population can only grow to such a level that the prey base can support. And one of the things that’s happening there now with wolves, in particular, something that’s unique about wolves as opposed to a lot of the other predators is wolves disperse when their pre base collapses and disease and starvation begin to take over. Wolf populations simply disperse to different areas. And when I say disperse, wolves will travel huge extravagant distances. There’s wolves that have been collared in Idaho that have gone all the way, you know, to Colorado. There’s been wolves that have been collared in Idaho that spanned the entire distance across kitty corner, across Oregon, dropped all the way into California and then came back north and set up residents there. There’s wolves that travel great, great distances. There was a wolf in southern Idaho that lived his first two years of his life in two drainages basically.
And one day he just took off and he got hit by a car in Butte, Montana. You know, within a couple of weeks there’s been two wolves from the north country that have now been shot in Texas wolves spurse, whereas lions and bears, which is the closest comparison that most people try to use when they’re talking about management practices, don’t, you know, I mean lions and bears disperse, but nowhere near to the extent that wolves do. And I, I just think, uh, not to get off on a huge side tangent there, but just, just sharing that I wish people knew and understood the passion that hunter conservationists and ranchers have for animals and wildlife as a whole in general. And, and yeah, it’s difficult for them to understand because it doesn’t affect them the, the biggest, I guess I’ll say travesty that I see on a regular basis.
I’ll give you an example. Our president at one point, custom home builder, is building beautiful place up in the mountains. People who had just moved to our area, not from here. They hear that he supports this foundation for wildlife management who works diligently to try to control wolf numbers. They go to the extent they’re so upset that he would support harvest of a wolf, that they nearly fire him from the job halfway through, they men the relationship, he completes the job. Fast forward two years, he gets a phone call. And this is an individual that he’s done work for, knows very well, is very passionate about wildlife and, and wants no predators harvested. And she’s frantic in tears. There’s a deer in her backyard, it’s been absolutely shredded. There’s blood and guts and hair everywhere and there’s wolf tracks all around it. And she says, is there something you can do?
And he says, well, I, you know, there’s not really anything that that I can do, maybe called the Fish and Game Department. And she says, well, can’t you come kill them <laugh>? It is very profound in that prior to it personally affecting her, she had huge conflict with the thought of managing that species. But as soon as it does personally affect her, all of a sudden all that goes right out the window and she understands and she gets it. And I really think that that’s what’s taken place in Colorado. The majority of people who, who support preservation of apex predators have never, and typically will never be impacted or affected by that predator.
It is interesting to see somebody who thinks something doesn’t need to be managed, but then also what kind of caught me in your story there is can’t you just come kill it? Because a lot of non hunters that I run into, they don’t understand that it’s regulated, that we don’t get to just go shoot everything we see and they don’t understand. That’s not how hunting works. So that is interesting that she would come around in that way because also if there’s not a way to manage the animals, if I see a wolf out there attacking one of my cows, and like you said, if they hamstring them when we’ve seen this with coyotes and you know, heifers, first time heifers that are calving, the coyotes will go attack their rear ends and it’s horrid. But if this was a wolf, I would just have to stand by and watch it and not be able to protect that animal that’s suffering. And I understand that it’s part of wildlife’s innate instincts and all of that, but also a human instinct is I wanna protect what’s my own. Are there any records of human and wolf conflict where you’re at?
Justin Webb (30:55):
I’ll, I’ll share with you one of the things that I think is kind of interesting, and I don’t wanna get too sidetracked here, but somewhere in the world about every two weeks a wolf attacks a person and every single human attack by a wolf hits the headlines with extremely rare occurrence attached to it. And the reason for that, I don’t understand.
Wow. And I’m like going, wow, right now, cuz I haven’t, I had not heard that.
Justin Webb (31:24):
When, when you start looking up the, actually two years ago I did a bunch of research on it because there was a wolf attack in Alaska. And I was trying to better understand, you know, how often does that occur? And yes, it’s extremely rare if you try to compare that to, let’s just say the numbers of people who get hit by lightning or the numbers of people who die in a car wreck or whatever. Yeah, it’s extremely rare, but at the same time, it’s not an extremely rare occurrence. It happens every other week somewhere in the world when you look at the overall annual wolf attack numbers in the world and compare that to the numbers of days in the year, every other week somebody gets attacked by a wolf. That being said, I’ll share with you that the biggest conflicts that we do see are with fats.
Wolves are extremely, extremely territorial. They also are the smartest animal I have ever pitted myself against or, or even attempted to study. People think that I hate wolves and I don’t, I can honestly tell you the wolves are the most amazing animal I have ever been around, and I have more respect for a wolf than I do any other species that we have here. They’re extremely smart, they learn extremely quickly, but they’re extremely territorial. And so the most common conflict that we see is either, you know, people are out hunting with dogs as an example, and the wolves hear the dogs barking and they come in and kill ’em. When they kill a dog, a house dog, it’s not pretty. They literally tear them into pieces. They are a ferocious predator. There’s been dogs in our area that have been attacked on people’s back porches by wolves.
There’s people that have been out hiking with their dog where a wolf has come and tried to attack the dog and the people try to get between them. And the wolf shows no fear and continues to follow the person and the dog as the person’s trying to drag the dog away from the area. I’m not gonna say that I’ve heard of any people actually being bitten by a wolf here locally, but I do know people who have had dogs eaten. I do know people that have had dogs attacked while they were there present with them. And that’s been our biggest conflict that I see more commonly
When we’re talking about wolves. And you said that you think wolves are wonderful animals. I actually think they’re beautiful. I think they’re, they are wonderful animals and their intelligence is quite admirable. Are there any benefits that Idaho has seen to having the wolves in the state?
Justin Webb (33:56):
So that’s a really tough question. Benefits of having wolves in the state? I I can share one with you. I, I will tell you that having wolves in our state has educated the general public on the act of trapping efforts far more than anything, any other topic. A lot of people get this real negative impression of what trapping looks like, you know, and, and they hear trapping and they’re picturing huge giant steel traps with big pointed jagged teeth that, you know, would cut your leg in half. And I would say that the one benefit that I can think of, of having wolves on the landscape here is it’s brought trapping to a different light. People don’t understand, A lot of times people are saying, you know, trappings barbaric and it all these different negative things. The wolves that we have here were trapped, put in a box and brought here they were caught in the very same traps that we use today to catch wolves and dispatch and harvest them.
The one positive that I know of, of having wolves on the landscape as it’s helped educate the public as to the positive benefits of trapping trappers have approximately 25 to 30% success rate when it comes to wolf harvest. Whereas hunters have less than one quarter of 1%. 74,000, 41 people tried to harvest wolves in Montana and Idaho last year. 411 got it done. And only 42 people out of 74,000, 41 took more than two wolves. Wolves are the most profoundly smart, uh, cagey, difficult to harvest and difficult to manage animal that we’ve ever had. And I’ll I’ll say that, that trapping certainly has its benefit and having wolves here has brought, uh, the positive attributes to trapping more to light within the public eye. People who used to be adamantly opposed to trapping are now recognizing the benefits of that. I will share that the most common argument that I hear in favor of wolves from people who don’t know better, is that wolves are going to stop cwd chronic wasting disease within areas where elk populations are over abundant. What those people fail to mention and what they refuse to recognize or refuse to talk about is the fact that wolves travel much farther and much faster than any other animal that we have. And wolves spread e wd PreOn through their feces. And so in my opinion, a lot of the areas that are now popping up with CWD that have never had them is because wolves have a 250 square mile home range and travel far greater distances Wow. Than that at times of the year.
Justin Webb (36:36):
And, and that in my opinion is how CW D is all of a sudden showing up in central Idaho where we’ve never had c w d showing up in places without high density elk and deer populations. That in my opinion, is one of the biggest travesties that’s unknown to the general public, is that these wolves that travel so far so quickly are spreading CWD and other diseases.
That’s incredible. On your old’s website, you talk about wolves place in nature. What is their place in nature? What do you think is the key use of wolves?
Justin Webb (37:12):
Well, they certainly in an environment where man doesn’t manage wildlife, wolves do mm-hmm. <affirmative>, they, uh, you know, it just kind of goes back to the whole concept of, of allowing nature to balance itself. Yeah. Wolves are, and, and do take the place of man in areas without human ability or human interest in managing wildlife populations. They keep wildlife abundance low, which in turn keeps their own populations down. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, they say that depending on which biologist you talk to, some of them will tell you that a wolf must consume 16 elk size, big game animals a year to survive. Some will tell you up to 28, we usually do the math based on 20 just to be conservative. And so basically 140 elk size, big game animals have to be consumed in a wolf’s seven year average lifetime span. Wow. Wolf populations can only grow to the density of which you have game populations to support it until which time they’re going to disperse, move and adapt and, and, you know, traveled to different expanses of ground that has a more abundant prey base.
The benefits of wolves, I will share it. I guess I’ll, I’ll, it’s difficult to, for me to, I’m trying really different, really hard here to come up with positive attributes of having wolves. They’re an amazing, beautiful animal. Um, they are challenging for a sportsman. Being an outdoorsman, being a hunter. I can tell you I’ve been very blessed in my hunting career. I grew up off the grid. I work as a hunting guide. I have spent numerous years, 200 days in the back country. Wolves are like nothing I’ve ever seen. Wolves are, are the greatest challenge for any sportsmen I think that we have in North America. I, I’ll say that’s one benefit. Um, it definitely poses a, a challenge and, and a new species for people who are interested in attempting to try to help the state meet their game management objectives. It gives, gives sportsman something else to focus on.
Yeah. And that’s a thing with the lava sportsman, really that is part of why you hunt, is you enjoy the pursuit. So something that’s more challenging is definitely like a next level type of hunting experience.
Justin Webb (39:29):
It certainly is. But uh, you know, the, the flip side of all that is, is the negativity that they bring. And I can tell you, uh, two years ago, it might have been three years ago now, in the Coeur d’Alene Mountains in north Idaho, as a kid growing up, that area was the elk hunting mecca of North America. People would come from all over the country to go elk hunt up there. The world record bull was taken off of Pax Saddle Mountain, I think it was in 1984. And it held the record for four years or 60 years. Something to that effect in an area where you used to never be able to even find a parking spot on Saturday, opening day of B tag rifle season, which is the most popular elk season that we have in the state. I drove 76 miles up there where I now trap wolves. And in an area where you used to never even be able to find a parking spot, i, I took pictures of and videoed campsite after campsite after campsite that’s all overgrown with grasses and vegetation and blow down trees across the roads. And an area that is no longer inhabited by people during the elk hunting season because the elk don’t live there anymore. Those elk have learned to stay in the valley floor.
Yeah. There’s no people cuz there’s no animals.
Justin Webb (40:41):
Yeah. So, so that whole, the tradition of going to elk camp has been lost. And to be successful at elk hunting, you now have to go hunt farmer Joe’s field or you have to go hunt in your backyard in the river bottom. And yeah, harvest success rates climb, but there’s so much loss linked to that. What about, what about learning to build fires? What about learning survival? What about learning about conservation? As a kid, one of my favorite things and one of the things we always pride ourself in was leaving the campsites cleaner and better and nicer than we found them there. There’s so many different aspects to elk hunting camp as it’s always been traditionally for 50, 60, 70 years that’s being lost because those populations of elk now live in the valley as opposed to being in the back country. And I only shared because the question was, you know, what is the positive that bring that wolves bring? And I wanna make it very clear, the negatives that come from having wolves in an area, unless you have an overabundance of game that’s causing problems, the negatives far outweigh any positive that having wolves bring.
Right. I understand what you’re saying and why I asked the question is because I was on a few focus groups for this wolf introduction in Colorado and the wolf proponents, they always cite tourism and seeing wolves in the wild and stuff like that. And oftentimes Yellowstone is used as the, the example, but we don’t live in Yellowstone and our state is quite a bit different than Wyoming. To see a wolf in the wild, I would love to see one in the wild also. I’ve seen him in front of my truck on the highway and thankfully I didn’t hit one so I wouldn’t be in trouble. It would be nice to see one in the wild. I would go to Yellowstone to see them, but I don’t foresee that the locals here will be able to capitalize on the tourism aspect as much as Yellowstone or maybe the Bozeman airport or something like that because it’s already being done there. So why do we need to come here? And the areas here where they’re proposing to drop the wolves, there’s not a town store or tourist shop right there in the area. However, I do know that the wolves are going to follow the game, as you mentioned earlier, and they will end up in areas like Durango, Colorado, they will end up in towns. And I don’t know how these shops in these towns are gonna capitalize on wolf trinkets and how that’s gonna really support Colorado’s economy as much as elk hunting did <laugh>.
Justin Webb (43:23):
Well, I’ll tell you in my opinion what those people who believe that are, are basing their whole concept on as preservation. And Colorado has a game management plan. Colorado doesn’t operate under a preservation management plan. In an area where, such as Yellowstone National Park, where we have removed ourselves from the ecosystem completely removed ourselves, aside from, I, I guess I shouldn’t even say that. We claim to have completely removed ourself. We still have highways that run through the park. We still have all of these different wildlife viewing areas. We still have beaver transplant programs, which incidentally happens to be the reason the beavers came back, has nothing to do with wolves, saving rivers. Like all of the emotional videos that try to share information about the park try to claim. But where I’m going with all this is under a preservationist mindset, should you allow all of your prey base to collapse and wolves to be abundant based on that prey base.
There may be a couple of areas where removing ourselves from the landscape and the ecosystem may allow wolves to be present and visual, you know, visible to people. But those are extremely secretive animals and they’re not going to be seen by people here in North Idaho where we have an extremely abundant wolf population. Spending as much time in the woods as I do, having harvested nearly 40 wolves myself personally, through trapping incidentally, I still have only ever visually seen three wolves that were not in a trap. Wolves are extremely secretive. People say, oh, well you know, you, you, you must not have wolves here or in abundance because I don’t see them. Well, how many mountain lions do you see? How many bobcats do you see? How many flying squirrels do you see? How many pine martin do you see? We have extremely healthy abundant populations of wildlife Yeah. That are not visible to the general public. Anywhere that the public is active and is not separated from the ecosystem, wolves are going to make themselves secret. They’re not going to be out on display for everybody to go and look at and watch. Like those people think that they’re going to be, it’s not Yellowstone National Park. You have a state game management agency that permits hunting and, and other outdoor activities on the landscape. And when humans enter the landscape, wolves make themselves scarce. Most of the time they become an nocturnal.
Were you saying that they’ve removed themselves from the ecosystem the humans have in Yellowstone in those type of areas? That’s something that we don’t have the ability to do here in Colorado. We have about 9 million people and that’s why we manage the animals. And this is for my listeners, I know that you know this Justin, but that’s why we have to manage the animals is because we live in their habitat. And it’s part of why developments have to go through a process before they start in certain areas. And I know there’s battles in my area all the time for new subdivisions and things like that. That’s why we have to manage them. A lot of people want this hands off approach, but we can’t keep our hands off because of what we’ve done in their habitat. So before we go much further, I wanted to share with our listeners, um, I told them that you were from the Foundation for Wildlife Management, but can you also tell us how they can support your program and give us a little more about that, because I really think it’d be great to see this program started in Idaho and hopefully we could maybe help it spread to other areas.
Justin Webb (47:07):
You bet. So we actually, we did start in Idaho. Um, we got our 5 0 1 [inaudible] [inaudible] status back in 2012. Started assisting the state in, in managing wolf populations At that time we utilized sportsmen to do so. I can share that we’ve removed over 1700 wolves now and should the state have been charged with removing those same wolves from the areas where they’re causing all sorts of management issues, it would’ve cost over 14 and a half million dollars for the state to have done so. We have done so to the Foundation for Wildlife Management by utilizing sportsman efforts at approximately 1.3 million is what it’s taken us to remove the 1700 wolves that we have. And those are, um, you know, being removed from areas where wolves are, are being a huge detriment to the other wildlife populations. Our website f the number four, wm.org stands for foundation for wildlife management fwm.org.
People can sign up and join there. We have recently expanded into the state of Montana. We now have five fundraising chapters in the state of Idaho, and we have two in the state of Montana. We’ve actually just started a third chapter, uh, over in the Bitterroot Valley in Montana. We’re really excited about that. People can, you know, if you’re in those areas, we can certainly get you in touch with chapter leadership and you can get involved. One of the biggest aspects of, um, what we do outside of funding wolf reduction is education. There’s so many people that don’t understand what’s taking place with wolf numbers. There’s so many people that don’t know that we actually have hard targeted management objectives for wolves for each state. State of Montana is supposed to be managing for 400 wolves and they’ve had over 1100 for nearly 10 years.
The state of Idaho is supposed to be managing for 500 wolves and we’ve been well over 1500 for at least five years. There’s so much that the public doesn’t know or understand about wolf populations and the reasons that those numbers are are established at, at where they are. So we challenge our chapters to have trade show booths at outdoor adventure shows. There’s numerous different sportsman shows and fairs and things like that that we attend. Um, and we do an annual fundraising banquet for each chapter. With banquet season coming up, our people are getting pretty busy at this time, planning fundraisers and things. I’ve actually, we’ve got, we’re gonna have a booth at the Cheap Show in Reno. We’re gonna have a booth at the Club Ovis Show in Vegas via the Western HPO this year in Salt Lake City. Just trying to help educate the public on what’s really taking place.
There’s so much misinformation presented to the public by the media and people who don’t know anything about wolf populations. We’re trying really hard to, to help people understand what wolves are and how they operate and, and the detriment that they’ve brought to the landscape in some areas. Certainly excited to have a membership. If anybody wants to sign up and join our program, I’ll say one of the least sold benefits of our program to date has been the fact that there’s so few people that have the ways and means to actually reduce wolf numbers where it’s needed a membership from somebody who doesn’t have the ability, the time that it takes to go out and run a, a trap line every 48 hours or every 72 hours. Those folks, your membership is utilized to reimburse those very few who do have the, the ways and means to manage wolf populations for their out-of-pocket expenses, to keep them in the field targeting wolves in areas where they’re causing problems.
It’s a way for sportsmen to assist with management when they don’t have the physical ability to reduce wolf numbers themselves. And it, uh, you know, the program was started by elk hunters for elk hunters and we’ve kind of expanded. We’ve built working relationships with the Idaho Farm Bureau and the Idaho Cattleman’s Association and the Wool Growers and, and with our state game management agencies trying really hard to get a handle on, uh, ever growing wolf population. We would sure love to have your support and happy to answer any questions. I’m pretty easy to reach firstname.lastname@example.org, our website, fwm.org
With the contact information and the website. If there’s somebody such as the woman who saw the wolf eating the deer in the backyard, do you also work as a connection or a go-between, between sportsmen and somebody who doesn’t hunt?
Justin Webb (51:30):
Yeah, you know, to some degree, I’ll say the ranching community in our state, one of the things I tried really hard early on to do was to build a somewhat of a, of a call line so that if a rancher was having complications and they were in an area, let’s just say on public land or their cattle were being preyed on, if they reach out to me, I’m always happy to try to send them one of our trappers that have really proved themselves and that, and that are consistently harvesting wolves productively. So trying to help out in that manner certainly is something we’ve put effort into. But with that, I will say oftentimes the frustration level by those suffering loss is so great that by the time the call comes into us, they’ve kind of given up. It’s really sad to kind of watch the change in the, the, um, the mentality of people who are suffering conflict with wolves.
It’s heartbreaking and it’s, it definitely leaves people with a, a real negative taste in their mouth for, for wildlife interactions in, in general. But yeah, if anybody has conflict in an area where Wolf Harvest is legal, we’d certainly be happy to, to try to facilitate some sort of a communication line. Um, we’ve been asked to expand into different avenues. To date we’ve only focused on wolf management, but one of the things that we’ve do understand is that areas such as Oregon and Washington, they don’t have the ability to run mountain lions with dogs. And so therefore those states have mountain lion populations that are extremely high in some areas. And they’ve asked us if we’d be willing to consider facilitating reimbursements to keep people in the woods targeting mountain lion. To date, we’ve never entertained that, but I could see, you know, maybe 10 years down the road, if we ever are able to get our wolf populations under control, that’s expanding to look at other predator management. There are other states as wolf management becomes legal in different areas and is implemented in different areas that I could foresee. F four w m chapters popping up. Or even, we, we actually talked a lot at the NAS summit with some folks from Oregon about the concept of starting chapters of F four w m in their state simply for the education purposes simply to, to be able to have a presence and have a booth at the trade shows and, and try to help the public understand what the problem is because most don’t.
And so that’s something for the listeners, if you’re interested in learning more, reach out to Justin and you can ask him questions if you want him to come speak at an event that is something that maybe you guys could work out together, if that’s something anyone is interested in, there is so much to know. And that was partly why immediately I was like, you have to come on the podcast because I’ve been researching and studying the wolves, but I knew very little in comparison to what you had at your booth at the Nest Summit. I was just like, oh my gosh, I didn’t know this or I didn’t know that. And you’ve been in the middle of it for a while where it’s pretty new to me here in Colorado and I know we have a long road ahead of us. So I thank you so much for coming on and teaching me a little bit more and sharing it with our listeners because it’s so important. So I thank you so much, Justin.
Justin Webb (54:46):
Oh, thank you. I appreciate the opportunity and, and I’m really decided for the, the opportunity to try to educate more of the general public. There’s so much misinformation out there and people just, they really, truly don’t realize what they’re up against. I, I honestly am fearful for you folks in Colorado because you’re prey based. You’re elk population alone is three times that of what Idaho has. And when those wolf numbers really take hold and they start to multiply, they’re gonna take off like wildfire. And I really, really hope that your state game management agencies are looking at what they’re going to do when that takes place. Because it’s not a, if it’s going to happen and, and your wolf numbers are gonna explode and they’re, you’re going to have problems and, and they’re going to struggle to be able to manage them. Um, and I, I, if I recall Colorado’s trapping regulations, uh, are extremely conservative.
We only allow for live traps, so we have to use box traps or things like that. We cannot use leg hold snares, nothing. And from what I have learned from trappers in Montana is you kind of need those in particular to trap the wolves is what I learned. I don’t know how true that
Justin Webb (55:59):
Is. A wolf is not going in a box period. Yeah. A a wolves. Wolves are extremely, extremely cautious when it comes to enclosed spaces. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and without trapping, you literally will have no tool to control their numbers. Ugh. People think that, that, uh, we hunted wolves to extinction and people say, oh, well you know what? They couldn’t hunt. They trapped. That’s all false. We had full-time employed people that worked for local entities, that worked for state government, that worked for federal government, that did nothing but target wolves. We had a, a widespread fear and hatred of wolves widespread. Everyone feared wolves. Everyone hated wolves. Every wolf that was seen was shot on site and they couldn’t control their numbers, so they poisoned them. That’s what happened to wolf populations. We never hunted or trapped them to extinction. We poisoned them. And that, I hope to God never takes place again. But the state needs to be looking at what they’re going to do when those populations start to collapse. The elk numbers that you have in the state, when those elk, when those wolf populations are, are starting to prey on your livestock, they better come up with a plan and they better do it quick because this is gonna happen fast.
Yeah. Well, thank you for the, the last note of despair to me. Oh my, oh my God.
Justin Webb (57:25):
I apologize. I don’t wanna leave on a negative note by any means, but I, I’m fearful for you folks. I mean, we, if you try to compare it, that’s one of the things, when I had the opportunity to visit with someone from Colorado Parks and Wildlife at the NAS I’m at, I was trying really hard to encourage them to be in conversations with the state of Idaho. We have the most liberal wolf harvest seasons on the continent and we can’t reduce their numbers. What are you guys gonna do? And
You’re still three times over the project goal. Yeah. Yeah. Whoa.
Justin Webb (57:57):
Well, for my listeners, what I would suggest you can do is study up on the wolves a little bit more. Go ahead and do your own research despite what we are sharing with you today. But also, please reach out to Colorado Parks and Wildlife. They do have a link where you can provide comment about the wolves, or you can get in touch with the game commissioners there at Colorado Parks and Wildlife. There also is a schedule, which I will link to for public hearings and public comment where you’re gonna need to have your voice heard. In the past year or two, I’ve been providing public comment and all of it has been we’re going to have a successful introduction of wolves because that’s what the state law is now, and it’s been ordered by the voters with success. As Justin is talking about, we’re gonna have a number of wolves with our Colorado population of humans.
We’re going to have to manage the wolves. So I would suggest either going to the public comment or contacting them and letting them know your own thoughts about what we need to do as far as a management or compensation, and all of the methods of take as well that needs to be voiced. So please do reach out and look in the show notes for that contact information. Justin, again, I thank you so much for coming and educating us a little bit more, and I hope to bump into you again soon, maybe at one of these trade shows that you guys are gonna be at, and maybe eventually we’ll get a chapter here in Colorado. You
Justin Webb (59:27):
Bet. Sounds great. Thank you so much for having me.
Yep. Thank you so much. I do appreciate it.
Speaker 4 (59:35):
Hey, this is Lloyd Bailey, the armed Lutheran host of the Armed Lutheran Radio podcast, reminding you that the podcast you’re listening to is a proud member of the Self-Defense Radio Network. Check out all the great content at self-defense radio.net.