In total, 15 wolves were released in Idaho in 1995. After the four wolves we released in Corn Creek, the remaining 11 were flown in two groups days apart from each other by helicopter to Indian Creek and Thomas Creek on the eastern edge of the Frank. A few of us flew into the remote backcountry landing strips to help with their release. Some of these wolves bore collars with names "Blackfire", "Timber" and "Hinton", chosen by students from the Alberta town where the wolf capture activities were based. Hinton students even participated in caring for the wolves during the capture operations and transport. Blackfire and Hinton paired up and established their territory in the Bitterroot Divide soon after the release.
However, only nine days after the last wolves were released, B13, a young female weighing 87 pounds when she was captured on January 15 in Alberta, was killed illegally. Her body was found next to a dead calf on pasture owned by rancher Eugene Hussey, who raised cattle on ranch south of Salmon, Idaho. It was our deepest concern, that local residents would continue to take up arms against the wolves, despite the concessions that had been made to livestock owners. The wolves were being introduced under a "nonessential experimental population" compromise plan that allowed removal or translocation of wolves that preyed on livestock. It was thought that this compromise would result in greater tolerance for having wolves thrust back on the landscape.
My sleep was broken by a dream of a wolf being shot and killed that same morning B13 died on Gene Hussey's cow pasture. I couldn't go back to sleep but paced around the house thinking of the vivid dream. Finally, at 7 am, I called and left a message at the US Fish and Wildlife Service office. It was a weekend morning so there wasn't anyone there to answer. I left the message on the voice recorder.
"This is Suzanne... I know this may sound odd but... did we lose a wolf this morning?"
Ted Koch, the new lead Idaho wolf recovery coordinator who called back sounded wary and puzzled.
"How the hell did you know?" he asked.
I wasn't sure how to answer this question but I remembered Jay's best advice to me as my internship supervisor: Always tell the truth and always the same truth to everyone. I didn't want to lose my credibility because of the strange dream but I didn't want to lie to him either. I swallowed hard and responded slowly.
"I had a bad dream about it this morning."
He was quiet. That was not the explanation he expected but once a moment of silence passed, I could hear in his voice that he wasn't sure how to respond but didn't want to discuss it any further. I knew that he couldn't tell me anything about the circumstances because the wolf's death was under law enforcement investigation. Any slipped information at this point would only weaken a potential arrest and following litigation.
The details came out months later but the press didn't wait for facts. The headlines across the local papers blamed the wolf for killing the calf, decried the burden it was to the rancher, quoting his side of the story, the Lemhi County sheriff, and a local vet who was vocally anti-wolf but had concluded from his investigation that the calf was born alive before the wolf killed it. Steve Magone was one of the federal law enforcement agents called in to investigate the wolf's death.
The following story "Did Idaho Libel the Feds? by reporter Dan Egan was published October 2, 1995 by the Idaho Falls Post Register and reprinted by High Country News here: (https://www.hcn.org/issues/44/1333)
"The clash occurred March 8, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents arrived at 74-year-old Eugene Hussey's ranch near Salmon to look for the bullet that killed a gray wolf. The animal was one of 15 that the agency had trapped in Canada last January, then set free in an Idaho wilderness as part of a controversial federal plan to restore wolves to their historic range.
The confrontation drew national attention after Lemhi County Sheriff Brett Barsalou assailed the agents in the press, calling their tactics "heavy-handed and dangerously close to the use of excessive force." Backing the sheriff, state legislator Rex Furness, one of Idaho's staunchest conservatives, showed his quick draw.
"We've got to start standing up for our rights," he said. "We aren't too far away from the West being ruled by the weapon. And that wouldn't be such a bad law."
The state's congressional delegation also hopped on the bandwagon, adding the federal visit to a list that included Waco and Ruby Ridge. They called it another example of an out of control law enforcement agency from Washington, D.C.
"When I think of a 74-year-old man being intimidated by armed federal land management officials, I think of my dad, and it makes me a little angry," Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, R, said last March.
The flamboyant Rep. Helen Chenoweth, R, stole the stage a week later when she convened a hearing in Boise on the confrontation and blasted the federal agents as interlopers. The pressure grew so intense that Fish and Wildlife Director Mollie Beattie sent a memo to employees. If an error was made, she said, it was "in failing to keep open lines of communication so those who needed to know were kept informed."
Finally, Hussey and Barsalou were called to Washington, D.C., to testify before a congressional subcommittee. Hussey spent $1,200 of his money and flew in an airplane for the first time. "I felt I owed it to the Western people," he said.
As the anti-federal din intensified, the agents - Tom Riley, Steve Magone and Paul Weyland - bit their lips and took the criticism silently. Finally, a few months ago, they spoke out, saying Hussey was the aggressor. But the public had no way of knowing who to believe - until now.
A transcript of the taped confrontation, obtained in September by the Idaho Falls Post Register, shows Hussey as the aggressor and far from the helpless old man that Idaho politicians had depicted. The transcript shows he called the agents "f---er" dozens of times, referred to them as "big federal turds," and tried to pelt the men with rocks when they arrived on his property.
"It's real tough to convince some of the public that everything you said was true, especially when other individuals were saying it wasn't," Riley said recently. "I think the transcript ... shows that we acted professionally and tried to settle him down as much as we could."
Hussey, who fiercely denies any part in the wolf killing, only heard excerpts from the tape transcript read to him over the phone Sept. 12. It was the first he heard that the tape existed, and he was quick to discredit it.
"I think it's bull," he said. "There's things they're saying there that I know they didn't." A copy of the tape played to a reporter by U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent Steve Magone showed no evidence of tampering or editing.
When Riley was told Hussey didn't believe the tape was the real thing, he broke into laughter. "I don't think we could fake that (Hussey's) voice," he said. The agents said they kept their tape a secret in case they needed it to defend themselves in court. It only became available to the public after they closed their investigation this summer. They never found the bullet and still don't know who shot the wolf (see accompanying story).
The transcript shows a foul-mouthed Hussey ready to brawl when the agents arrived and presented him with the warrant.
"Here. Take it. This is your copy, sir," agent Magone told Hussey as he waded across a stream to hand Hussey his warrant.
"I don't have to take a f---in" thing 'til he gets here. Only from the goddamn sheriff," Hussey replied. "Nobody's doing a f---in' thing 'til he gets here." At that point Hussey was tossing rocks at Magone.
"Don't hit me with rocks, Gene," Magone said calmly. Magone carried the recorder in his coat pocket and on the tape rocks could be heard hitting the ground.
"I can hit ya on my f---in' property. Goddamn you," Hussey said. When interviewed about the tape, Hussey admitted he did throw a rock, but, "I tossed the rock slow-pitch. I've got arthritis in my arm. I can't toss overhand."
This admission, six months after the incident, was a first. Hussey told Idaho Falls Post Register reporter Rocky Barker in March that he never threw any rocks and never showed any aggression toward the agents.
But the agents weren't saints that day. The tape shows at times they got rattled as they waited for Sheriff Barsalou to arrive before they continued their search. At one point, agent Weyland chided Hussey about the possibility that his ranch is subsidized by the federal government. And when Weyland got frustrated with Hussey's refusal to acknowledge the validity of their search warrant, he teased the rancher about moving out of the country.
"Is this country the United States?" Weyland asked.
"Huh?" Hussey replied.
"This country is part of the United States," Weyland said.
"They - however you want to look at it," Hussey said.
"This - isn't the United States?" Weyland continued.
"I haven't surveyed it."
"This is in the United States."
"I haven't surveyed it."
"You live in the United States. You know, if you don't like this, why don't you move to Russia?"
"Why don't you move your butt to Russia?"
"Hey, it's beginning to feel like we're there with these goddamn guys."
Hussey said it was Weyland's words that riled him. "The only guy I had problems with was (Weyland).
He was the lipper," he said. "When a guy calls me a subsidized farmer, I'm abused verbally."
But Hussey denies that Weyland ever told him to move to Russia. "He told me that I should go to another country, not that I should go to Russia," he said. "I don't think there's anything to this tape ... there's so much there that I don't recognize."
Riley said Weyland said those things to distract Hussey from attacking Magone, who was standing nearest to the rancher. Though it isn't revealed on the tape, Riley said it looked like Hussey was about to strike Magone several times.
"Paul knew this was being taped," Magone said Tuesday. "He was trying to distract Hussey from swinging at me."
But the transcript shows the exchange was at times nearly cordial.
At some points the men laughed together and rambled in an almost-friendly manner about constitutional law and federal policy while they waited for the sheriff. Magone said they tried everything they could think of to calm Hussey during the waiting period. He acknowledged that Hussey fought five major battles in World War II and said, "I know and respect you for that."
He talked about the possibility of going out to dinner with him.
"It's still one of the weirdest things I've ever run into," Magone said earlier this month. "It seemed like no matter what we did, nothing would satisfy him. He was just mad. He was mad before we got there."
Gayle Lutz, a notary public who transcribed the tape, said she couldn't help but chuckle as she typed the exchange. "The whole thing was bizarre," she said. "You should have heard the tape; it was even funnier."
Finally, Sheriff Barsalou arrived and tempers flared again. But Magone said he turned his tape player off because he thought the sheriff would restore some sanity to the situation. Things only got hotter, and Barsalou and Magone nearly got into a fist fight, according to accounts from all sides. Magone, Riley and Weyland then left, and they haven't returned.
Magone said he is glad he taped the encounter with Hussey, but he doesn't expect it will absolve him and his co-workers in everyone's eyes.
"If people want to think we did something wrong, they're going to think it," he said. "But I don't think we did." He said he learned one important lesson from the incident. "Next time I do a search warrant, I'm going to videotape and record everything."
He said what is particularly galling is the fact that he and his coworkers were criticized so harshly for carrying weapons. He is, he explains, a law enforcement officer, and he wears a weapon every day, even when he's at his desk in a large office building near downtown Idaho Falls.
"It's discouraging because I've worked really hard in this state," said the Montana native. "You catch all these people poaching elk, deer, bighorn sheep, antelope, and no one questions why you are armed. Then you go to serve this search warrant, and all the politicians all of a sudden call us "armed federal agents." But no one seemed to mind that when we were doing all these other things."
Lutz said she has worked on transcripts of federal law enforcement actions where the outcome was much more serious, including some tapes made during the 11-day standoff near white separatist Randy Weaver's northern Idaho cabin in 1992 that left three dead.
She said Magone and his co-workers should be commended, not castigated. "I thought they handled themselves professionally," she said. "They did a really good job. It could have turned out a different way."
Calling it "a shame," Magone said recently he wishes some of the prominent elected officials who jumped on the bandwagon had bothered to collect all the facts."
Sadly, the calf in the midst of this tragic event was not even killed by the wolf but instead had been a stillborn. Wolves often scavenge for their food as well as hunting prey so a fresh carcass is a welcomed free meal. The necropsy on the calf carcass was performed by USDA Animal Damage Control (now Wildlife Services) wolf management specialist Carter Niemeyer. Calves are born with a rubbery layer called a deciduous hoof capsule. This capsule covers the sharp edges of the calf's untried hooves protecting both calf and its mother from injury during birth but it changes visibly once the calf stands on its own. He noted that there was also no sign of hemorrhaging, another sign that the feeding took place after the circulatory system had stopped, despite the earlier reports. Agent Niemeyer was a wildlife depredation forensics expert based in Helena, Montana where he already had investigated hundreds of wolf, bear, coyote and other reported depredation events. He concluded that the calf had died of natural causes and was not killed by wolf B-13.
When I first met Carter Niemeyer, about 5 years prior to this incident, he remembers that I was pretty standoffish. In my defense, I had good reason to be. USDA's Animal Damage Control's program was notorious for their anti-predator actions that left thousands of coyotes, hundreds of bears and other wildlife dead in defense of livestock in the West. I had met several of their field agents in my work as an intern and always came away with the impression that they would rather kill wolves than leave any left alive. Carter and I met at a public hearing on wolves, one of several conducted in Idaho before the reintroduction in 1995.
Carter stood over six feet tall so he towered over the crowd of cowboy hats that filled the room. I noted though that he took care to look me in the eye when we spoke. That was refreshing. I read his reports in Montana carefully when the US Fish and Wildlife Service reported on wolf activities there. Wolves were new to the landscape in Montana having returned their on their own from Canada and a bit of expected hysteria over their arrival had set into the livestock community. Cattle that died of birthing problems, dehydration, old age and disease - all common ailments - were suddenly suspected to have fallen prey to wolves despite the clear indications that they had died of more familiar causes.
The weakest part of USDA Wildlife Service's program design is the built-in pressure on the Wildlife Services field agents. They were essentially working for the ranchers and many felt to keep their jobs, they must agree with their bosses' biased analysis regarding the cause of death. That led to a number of cursory investigations and a quick check-the-box blaming wolves. Ranchers had a perverse incentive as well because they would only qualify for reimbursement for their loss if it could be blamed on wolves. Worse yet, there was plenty of government help for killing wolves and predators but nearly nothing to help them prevent losses from occurring in the first place.
I took note that far more often than not, when Carter was involved, the verdict on cause of death typically turned toward the more likely causes: disease, old age, birthing problems, etc.. He noted that about 9 out of 10 reports that he received blaming wolves for livestock deaths had nothing to do with wolves at all. And he took great care to explain to the livestock owners, managers, and other less careful Wildlife Services' personnel how he methodically came to his conclusions. His investigations were based on forensics science and were painstakingly careful to document his findings in his reports. Soon I realized that Carter's actions in Montana made it possible for wolves to recover there, which in turn built support for the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone and Idaho as well.
I've watched him in action more times than I can possibly remember. He was deeply criticized by ranchers who disagreed with his decisions and his bosses at Animal Damage Control (now renamed Wildlife Services) in Montana who resented his commitment to the truth over siding with ranchers at all costs. I found myself in the unexpected position of deeply respecting him and later becoming his advocate and friend, which has lasted for three decades now. Carter has two great wolf books out and is working on his third. They're very much worth getting if you haven't read them yet.
Most wolf advocates today are unaware of the crucial events that led up to the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. Some believe, mistakenly, that wolves were always part of the flora and fauna of the region. Others couldn't name the people who made the monumental difference between wolves being restored and just another possible dream forgotten over time. A handful know the full story. While this is 25 years later, it is possible that wolves would still be absent from Yellowstone or yet to secure a healthy population in central Idaho if it weren't for the turn of certain events. And while the overall effort was fueled by the actions of individuals, organizations, and agencies working toward the goal of restoring wolves, all of it hinged on certain key individuals. Carter is one of those people. Another is Renee Askins, founder of the Wolf Fund.
There were few women in the environmental field in the late 1980s and early 1990s when I was a college intern working my way into a career in wolf conservation. I cannot begin to count the number of meetings where I knew more on the topic at hand than most of the men at the table but was completely dismissed because of my gender. My mother's generation was largely regarded as best seen and not heard both as girls and later as wives - and rarely were they at the helm of important decision making. I think that's why her generation struggles so much today with politicians like Hilary Rodham Clinton, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Nancy Pelosi and even ultra-conservatives like Marsha Blackburn whose keys to the throne room appear conditional on her anti-abortion advocacy and toeing the older white male line. Walking into yet another wolf conservation meeting, I noted that the room was filled largely again with older Caucasian men when I realized that the person sitting at the head of the table was a woman. And she wasn't taking notes. She was staring down Tom Dougherty from the National Wildlife Federation and Hank Fischer from Defenders of Wildlife while carefully, politely but firmly explaining to them how things regarding the Yellowstone Wolf Reintroduction were going to unfold from the Wolf Fund's persective.
I took my seat at the table and watched the uncomfortable squirming begin. These fellows, and some of the other men at the table, kept cutting in to take over the discussion but she wasn't slowing down for them. Renee kept firmly to her position. And she had every right to do so because instead of following their lead, Renee had started her own very well funded organization - the Wolf Fund - with the single purpose of bringing wolves back to Yellowstone National Park. Once they were back in the park, she vowed to shut down the Wolf Fund and walk away. On that midsummer day in 1991, I watched her and the others at the table closely and learned that the only way to have my voice heard was to think faster, work harder and be willing to stand on my own when necessary to accomplish my goals. Renee was a force of nature and I knew then that I couldn't spend my life behind a desk at the US Fish and Wildlife Service after being inspired by her example. Thankfully, I picked a different path, in part due to her example.
She turned a curious glance toward me taking a seat at the table - I was there to take notes and conduct some interviews - but didn't miss a beat. They were discussing Idaho Senator Jim McClure's sudden conversion from avid wolf opponent to wolf reintroduction advocate. James Albertus McClure (December 27, 1924 – February 26, 2011) started his career as a prosecuting attorney in the rural community of Payette, Idaho before becoming a state senator. By 1990, he was serving third term in the US Senate. He wasn't running for a fourth term but wanted to alter the course of wolf recovery in the Rockies before he ended his time as senator. I had attended one of his speeches at Boise State University where a skeptical audience largely composed of ranchers questioned his seemingly sudden change of heart on the wolf issue. But McClure understood that the tide was turning on environmental causes and wolves had captured the hearts of the American people. Like whales before them, the public wanted to see the wrongful actions that led to the wolf's demise amended and the place they wanted to see them restored more than anywhere else was Yellowstone National Park. It was part of Renee's brilliant messaging that was picked up and echoed by the other major NGOs: the wolf was the "missing link" to complete Yellowstone National Park's rich ecosystem puzzle. And after centuries of wrongful persecution, the wolf deserved our help returning to the crown jewel of America's national parks.
Wolves were already starting to return to the region in the 1970s and 1980s on their own. Mike Fairchild and Diane Boyd, two protégé biologists out of Dr. Bob Ream's University of Montana wolf research lab. The lab was founded in 1973 and they documented the first pack of wolves in 1982 and the first breeding pair in 1986 just south of the US/Canadian border. Mike told me that he and Diane dubbed the wolves the "Magic Pack" as they kept mysteriously showing up and then disappearing back into Canada. Other wolves dispersing on their own like the one poisoned in Bear Valley in 1991 were genetically tied to wolf packs in southern Alberta and British Columbia, which made sense given how far wolves travel and that these were essentially the same wolves that had once inhabited the region south of the border.
The ancestors of wolves developed in the Paleocene, about 60 - 70 million years ago. By the Miocene, twenty million years ago, felines and canines separated from common ancestor. The wolf ancestor Tomarctus was identified with a fifth toe on the hind leg left over from its earlier ancestor's ability to climb trees. About 1.5 million years ago, fox and coyote diverged from wolves though fox has maintained an uncanny ability to climb trees to this day. Over 300,000 years, the gray wolf (Canis Lupus) was present in both Eurasia and North America and around 20,000 years ago, dogs and present day wolves diverged from a common ancestor.
In North America, there is only one species of wolf - the gray wolf - but scientists have divided the gray wolf into six subspecies: the Arctic wolf (Canis lupus arctos), Great Plains wolf (Canis lupus nubilus), Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi), northwestern wolf (Canis lupus occidentalis), the eastern wolf (Canis lycaon) and the eastern timber wolf (Canis lupus lycaon). In reality, as wolves are so far ranging, the overlap among these "subspecies" of the gray wolf tends to result in blends with subtle differences. The identification of wolf subspecies has confused some people and served as weapon for others who argue that wolves north of the US/Canadian border are somehow not native from those found just directly south of it. They use this argument to justify their opposition to the return of wolves to the region. However, gray wolves that inhabit North America today arrived from Eurasia between 24,000 and 70,000 years ago. The US/Canadian border, which is not a structure but an imaginary line on a map, has been around since 1783. Arguments that wolves restored to Yellowstone and Idaho were somehow different than those historically present before white settlers, ranchers, bounty hunters and government trappers eradicated them from the lower 48 portion of their range are based on misinformation, ignorance and just plain malicious propaganda.
Senator McClure's plan was actually pretty clever and at least partially well-grounded. The 1987 Northern Rockies Wolf Recovery Plan called for a mega-population of wolves with connecting habitat in central Idaho, northwestern Montana and Yellowstone National Park and 10 breeding pairs successfully reproducing pups for three consecutive years in each of those three recovery areas. McClure's plan would only approve three breeding pairs "transplanted" in Idaho and Yellowstone and the species would be simultaneously reintroduced and delisted (removed) from the Endangered Species Act with a very limited "core zone" where they had some limited legal protection.
The Yellowstone wolf core zone was limited to the confines of the park. Any wolves dispersing beyond it would lose all protection and could be shot on sight. Idaho's wolves were provided a portion of the Selway Bitterroot and the Frank but nothing more. And these portions contained very little winter range for elk and deer so wolves would naturally disperse away from them in search of better habitat. In Montana, the wolves would only have protection in Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall wilderness complex and the Swan Crest region where the 70 - 80 wolves in Montana, the offspring of those dispersing from Canada, were already present in the early 90s.
Senator McClure faced one major obstacle: the ranchers hated his plan. They were happy with no wolves at all and were firmly skeptical of his approach despite his service safeguarding their interests for decades. This meant that he had to sell his bill to the environmentalists while trying to keep his base appeased as well. In 1988, Defenders of Wildlife published an interview between their president M. Rupert Culter and Senator McClure to discuss his wolf plan proposal:
Rupert: I'm sure you know that you're not generally regarded as a friend in conservation circles. In fact, your League of Conservation Voters' rating is consistently among the lowest in the country... But many of our conservation friends want to know why you've become so involved in the wolf issue. What's your real motivation?
McClure: Because there's a balance that needs to be struck and polarization will not produce the solutions. That's what I'm really trying to do - find a solution for an issue that's become so polarized there's no forward motion.
Cutler: What do you see as the primary benefit for restoring wolves to Yellowstone?
McClure: Wolves are a natural part of an ecosystem that will function better with their presence. Without predation, the numbers of big game animals in the park can get out of hand... From my perspective, we have a problem with too many elk in Yellowstone Park. It's an unnatural condition. We've got brucellosis in the herds, and that's a sign of overcrowding. Wolves were eliminated from Yellowstone unnaturally. Nature didn't do it - they were eliminated because of their conflict with man..."
Back at the wolf meeting, Hank Fischer and Tom Dougherty argued that the group should take McClure at his word and asked what harm could come from getting wolves there and changing the protections in place for them later. As I tried to read her reactions, it seemed that Renee didn't trust that McClure had suddenly given up decades of being a staunch ultra-conservative ranching defender and was now seeking a peace treaty with wolf advocates. She appeared wary and noncommittal.
While I was still an intern for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, I was attending the meeting in my new role as the new director of the Idaho-based Wolf Recovery Foundation, a very tiny and under-funded non-profit organization. This allowed me to participate in the meeting but it didn't provide much leverage. The Wolf Fund and national groups were wholly committed to the Yellowstone wolf reintroduction. Idaho's wolf issue was barely a sidebar note. Before the meeting ended, I tried to explain to the group that wolves were being sighted well outside Senator McClure's "core wolf zone" and that those wolves could be killed under his plan. They were politely concerned about Idaho's wolves but only Yellowstone's wolf reintroduction was essential to the wolf conservation community. Idaho simply distracted from their main cause. Besides, McClure was from Idaho and his own press release issued May 22, 1990 praised his legislation as striking "a middle ground, allowing wolf reintroduction to begin in the northern Rockies while... giving ranchers and stockmen some assurance against economic loss because of the wolf's return." And while they were encouraged by McClure's sudden interest in restoring wolves to Yellowstone, I had strong reason the doubt his sincerity.
My newest internship task was interviewing all the major stakeholders regarding their perspectives on restoring wolves to Idaho. Those interviews included all the livestock group leaders, hunters, outfitters and guides, wildlife conservationists, timber company representatives, state and federal agencies, tribal members, and more. It was while I was waiting for my appointment to interview the Idaho Cattleman's Association president at his office in Boise that a twist of fate occurred. A person there took me aside and told me what that they had overheard during the cattlemen's meeting with Senator McClure on his proposed wolf bill that had finally convinced them to support him.
"Don't believe them. They know this plan will be bad for wolves in Idaho. They're doing this just to get rid of federal protection for the wolves."
I wasn't certain what to do with this information but now I knew McClure's plan would be disastrous for wolves as they would not be allowed to fully recover in the region. While largely safe inside Yellowstone National Park, just stepping across the border would become a death sentence for those caught by hunters and trappers waiting on the other side. Without the connectivity between the three subpopulations in central Idaho, Yellowstone National Park, and northwest Montana, it was thought that wolves could become genetically isolated as well. And while bad for Yellowstone's wolves, it would have been much worse for Idaho's chances of wolf recovery as the "core zone" habitat chosen was woefully insufficient to support them year round. And without Endangered Species Act protection, wolves would never recover in Idaho. It would just be more poisoning, trapping and shooting. I returned home with a heavy heart.
Soon, a committee was formed to move forward with developing a plan for reintroduction to Yellowstone. Interior Secretary Lujan appointed the committee in the fall of 1991, at Congressional request and directed that it finish its work by May 15, 1992. The 10 members of the committee included chair Galen Buterbaugh, US Fish and Wildlife Service; George Bennett, Gem State Hunter's Association; Jerry Conley, Idaho Department of Fish and Game; K.L. Cool, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks; Thomas Dougherty, National Wildlife Federation; Hank Fischer, Defenders of Wildlife; James Magagna, American Sheep Industry Association; Lorraine Mintzmyer, National Park Service director; John Mumma, U.S. Forest Service; and Francis Petera, Wyoming Department of Game and Fish.
The plan heading to Lujan calls for Canadian wolves to be transplanted to Yellowstone. Those wolves and others in a 2-million-acre tract of northwestern Montana that includes Glacier National Park would remain classified as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, according to the proposal. Wolves elsewhere in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho would be designated "experimental, non-essential" animals that could be killed. That provision spurred the conservationists' letter to Lujan, in part because such a reclassification would take place before wolves would be returned to Yellowstone. Hank Fischer of Defenders of Wildlife, a member of the committee, also said the provision would allow ranchers to shoot wolves that simply "harass" livestock. "To some people a wolf walking across their pasture constitutes harassment," he said from his Missoula, Mont., office.. As a result, Fischer said, wolves naturally returning to Montana and Idaho could be killed by ranchers while the federal government tries to restore the animals to Yellowstone. "That basically gives everybody a license to kill a wolf if they see them," Fischer said. "With that kind of scenario, we won't achieve recovery."
Buterbaugh maintained that such a designation was clearly allowed under the Endangered Species Act.
Joining Fischer in signing the letter opposing McClure's plan sent to Lujan were Tom Dougherty of the National Wildlife Federation, another committee member, and representatives of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Sierra Club, The Wolf Fund, The Wilderness Society, the Idaho Conservation League and The Wolf Recovery Foundation. It was the first significant political action taken by the new foundation but I used my role to fight McClure's plan at public hearings, legislative sessions, and when writing an editorial on the threat to Idaho's potential wolf population. And it must have been how he found me.
"Hello, my name is Michael Blake. I'm the author of Dances with Wolves. May I speak to Suzanne, please?"
I didn't know what to say. I had received more than a few weird calls in my short time at the helm of the Wolf Recovery Foundation. One old fellow used to call my office and yell "Wolf Slut!" before slamming down the phone. My crew loved mentioning him and even had a t-shirt made for me to tease me about my persistent "admirer." Occasionally, I'd get the crank call from a friend pretending to be a grumpy rancher or angry hunter. I had just watched Dances with Wolves sweep the Oscars a few weeks earlier. Nominated for 12 Oscars, "Dances With Wolves" won in seven categories, including best adapted screenplay (by Michael Blake, from his own novel), musical score and cinematography.
"Ok. Who is this, really?"
"My name is Michael Blake. I'm the author of Dances with Wolves. I heard that wolves in Idaho are in trouble. I'm calling to see if I can help."
"Yeah, right. That's funny. So, who is this?" I wasn't buying it.
"Ok. I see that you don't believe me. Here's the name of my secretary in Hollywood. She can vouch for me. Are you ready to take her number."
At that point, I realized that this wasn't a prank call this time. Even so, I took down the number and called her. She vouched for him and then put him back on the phone.
"Yes. That's me."
"And you want to help wolves in Idaho?"
Two days later, Michael was in Idaho. He and his press secretary put together press releases and set up at press conference (my first) at the Idaho statehouse. He was very kind, supportive and intrigued by our efforts to protect wolves in Idaho. Then we boarded an airplane heading for DC. Our first stop was in Denver. I learned then that he wrote most of Dances with Wolves while living out of the back of his old VW. It was published in 1998 but it didn't receive much notice. Kevin Costner and Michael had met years before and it was Kevin that asked Michael to create a screenplay from the book, just after he had been fired from his dishwashing job in Brisbee, Arizona. Dances helped to change the way native people were perceived in our society and challenged the popular belief that white domination was for the greater good. There was a new level of understanding and respect for native culture. And while many native people felt he didn't go far enough or that Costner's role as hero was another disappointing white man saves the day story, Michael's deep respect for tribal nations was sincere. He spoke about his time washing dishes and writing as the time of his life. Almost wistfully, as if he wished he was still there.
This was in 1992 so anyone could meet passengers at the airplane's gate. As we were walking down the passageway exiting the flight, we heard my name being called and another familiar name being shouted.
"Kevin Costner - is Kevin Costner on this plane?!"
"Kevin, Kevin - where is Kevin?"
Reporters and TV news video cameras were jammed at the terminal gateway. They were standing on chairs, standing on pots, and jostling each other to get a better look up the passageway.
Michael pulled me close and whispered, "Don't say a word. Just keep your head down and keep walking."
We walked past the reporters straight across the aisle into a coffee shop where we waited for our flight to DC. As we drank our coffee, the reporters eventually wandered away as the plane began boarding passengers for a new flight. Michael waited until only one journalist remained before walking over and tapping him on the shoulder. Kit Miniclier from the Denver Post got an exclusive interview with Michael and became one of my favorite reporters covering wolf issues in the years to come.
We didn't have much time to spare when we landed in DC. Michael's press secretary has scheduled meetings with several important key decision makers including from the Department of the Interior to the members of Congress. We also held a press conference but failed to get much support from the local environmental community. Only Defenders of Wildlife, still a mid-sized organization, was willing to help us. Set in a small house on Pennsylvania Avenue, they allowed us to use their office to make copies and helped us send out our press release. We learned that the federal wolf plan was due in DC the same day we arrived so we couldn't hesitate a moment to get to the decision makers quickly enough.
Michael gave a powerful speech at our little press conference on the lawn of the nation's Capitol. And I know he meant every word.
BRING BACK WOLVES
"I have lived in the west all my life and I love it very much.
A great portion of the west I love has been destroyed in the name of the cow. We can no longer let cattle rule our public lands and national forests to the exclusion of other life. America's belly might be full but its spirit shrivels from want.
The wolf is largely gone from the land and with it has gone a howl the human soul rejoices to hear. It is one of the most reassuring sounds on earth. It means our ground, the ground on which our feet are planted, is alive and vibrant still.
It means the Creator is still guiding our destinies and to my mind that is how is should be. To leave man's fate wholly to man is a mistake.
It is not too late to embrace the natural world, to make planet Earth a partner in our tomorrows. The four leggeds who walk the earth and the two leggeds who fly over it are necessary members of that partnership.
For centuries we have destroyed our partners with bullets and poison and steel-jawed traps. America can no longer afford to make this kind of war on animals. We must bring them back before it is too late. We must welcome them back as special beings in the life of our world.
Without the wolf, and those like him, our lives will eventually be reduced to nothing but us.
I hope that anyone hearing this message will help in the movement to bring back the animals of our earth.
They are us.
We will never survive without them."
May 14, 1991
My speech was focused on Idaho's wilderness and the wolves already found there. I spoke about the victims of shoot, shovel and shut up and Pete Hayes, Nez Perce chairman and my friend who so greatly wanted to see them restored for the sake of his ancestors and future generations. It was a good speech but paled beside Michael's passionate prose, which was fine with me. I was only there because of his fame and compassion for animals.
The next morning, we trudged through the offices at the Department of Interior and US Fish and Wildlife Service. They gave us time but not their real attention. We were just another pair of petitioners in a long line of lobbyists. It wasn't until we reached Senator Byrd's office that the day took a turn in our favor. Senator Robert Carlyle Byrd (born Cornelius Calvin Sale Jr.; November 20, 1917 – June 28, 2010) was an American politician who served as a United States Senator from West Virginia for over 51 years, from 1959 until his death in 2010. He was the longest serving senator in US History and served three terms as chair of the Senate Appropriations committee. He was also a huge fan of Dances with Wolves and we were quickly ushered past his staff into his inner office chamber where he and Michael began a conversation about the book and Michael's experiences writing it. As we had only 15 minutes allocated with him, I sat quiet listening to the two men talking about their common love of literature and Michael's epic story. Five minutes passed. Then ten. I was getting visibly anxious by 12 minutes into our meeting when Senator Byrd noted my anxiety and said "You don't need to worry about that plan you're worried about. It arrived an hour ago and I agree on your assessment. It's been filed in the appropriate place." He tipped his head toward the trash bin under his desk.
I don't remember what was said after that. He and Michael returned to discussions of literature and its importance to our culture. All I could think about was that the bad plan was no longer a threat and that Idaho's wolves would have federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. And after a quick taxi tour of the DC sites that Michael insisted I had to see, we parted ways at the airport. He was heading back to Hollyhood and I was returning to Idaho. We would remain friends for years but Michael's true love was his wild horse rescue mission and #12, a beautiful black mustang stallion that he resued from slaughter. His tribute to "Twelve, the King" is still online: http://www.michaelblake.com/Twelve-The-King-Description.html