-ID Fish & Game Proposes a big
Controversy over the Clearwater elk is endless
Feb. 2, 2006, additions on Feb 3-4, 9, and 16
In north central Idaho, the elk herd of the upper Clearwater River country is like the northern range elk herd of the Greater Yellowstone -- everyone has an opinion, and the opinions don't change.
Much of the area was swept by the great and devastating wildfires of 1910 that burned millions of acres. This was at an time when the elk numbers were at an all time low due to unrestricted hunting and competition from livestock before wildlife management even existed.
As the years passed, Idaho developed a system of wildlife management. In the burn, the sprouting of vast brush fields and meadows provided tremendous habitat for the newly protected elk and their population grew to be the pride of Idaho—America's largest elk herd. A couple generations of hunters brought home an abundance of elk and plenty of stories of the hunt and the beautiful regrowing country.
Nature's bounty after the great fires began to fade first, however, when U.S. Highway 12 was built across this vast stretch of mountains, leading to Montana. Hunting access grew with the highways and the ever penetrating logging roads around the edge of the burn. The herd wasn't quite what it used to be and those who studied forests knew that absent fire this area bound to grow into another forest— a forest to maintain the gin clear waters that were filled with giant salmon and steelhead, but which would provide less and less winter and even summer range for the elk.
Folks were not about to let the elk disappear, however, and Idaho Fish and Game, the Forest Service and others began to reburn the winter range in hopes to stop nature in its tracks. The timber industry, which employed many people sought roads deeper into the forest—a clearcut was as good as a fire, they liked to say, but none of this had much effect because clearcuts don't regenerate into the food elk like and the fires were too mild. The country was bound for deep forest. Places like Hungry Creek, named by Lewis and Clark while starving their way through the Clearwater, were properly named.
But tales of the good old days, die hard. While elk became more and more abundant in much of Idaho, while moose moved in, and while the deer populations exploded in the logged areas, many people thought some human trick could bring the Clearwater elk herd back.
It wasn't all downhill. There were bumps along with way, giving hope that habitat restoration or that legendary silver bullet—predator control—could turn things around.
In the winter of 1996-7, the Clearwater elk really starved. That was the same winter the Yellowstone northern range elk population tumbled, and in 1997 I wrote that the newly reintroduced wolves were going to get the blame, even though there was just one newly formed pack in the area.
Being prophetic in these matters is pretty easy, so it was no shock when in a couple years Idaho Fish and Game greatly increased black bear and cougar "harvest," providing slight evidence that this could increase the number of elk calves that could make it into the coming winter, but the herd has not regrown, and now it is time for the wolf to fall as folks chase dreams of days gone by.
As I write this, a hearing is being held on the other side of the state, in Boise, on Idaho Fish and Game's wolf reducing proposal, and one more hearing is scheduled for Lewiston, Idaho, which sits on a stagnant pool of water at once was the confluence of the Clearwater River and the Snake, now dammed to hell for the dreams of pork barrel politicians. The regrown great forest provides clean water for the giant salmon, but they are a ghost too, killed by the folly of the dams that plug the lower end of the Snake River.
I will be adding materials, such as links, to this first essay, so keep checking this web page.
You can comment (do it by Feb. 16) on the proposal at: email@example.com
News: Nez Perce Tribe opposes Idaho's plan to kill wolves to help elk. By John Miller. Associated Press. Feb 2, 2006.
Note that it was the Nez Perce tribal wolf team, with strong support from the tribe, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that restored Idaho's wolf population to its 600 or so animals—Idaho's latest pride—the most wolves of any state in the West.
Feb. 3, 2006. About the Boise hearing last night. Feds propose delisting wolves; F&G plan looks at management. Idahoans testify on plan to kill wolves in northern Idaho. By Roger Phillips and Rocky Barker. The Idaho Statesman
Feb. 3, 2006. Nez Perce Oppose Idaho Wolf Killing Plan. By Bill Schneider, New West.
Feb. 3, 2006. One thing I forgot to mention in the essay above is Dworshak Dam and Reservoir (map) on the North Fork of the Clearwater. This was all elk and deer winter range. In the 1960s a giant dam was built on it for purposes that escape me (not irrigation, not navigation, flood control is a joke, some hydropower). It flooded many miles of winter range. I had just moved back to Idaho when its gates were closed in the early 1970s, and the lake formed. Hundreds of deer and elk came down and broke through the ice the first winter. People complained about the coyotes chewing on the freezing, drowned and dying animals. Where were they when it was built, and why don't they remember? Would predator control have saved the elk herd?
Dworshak Reservoir. It's pretty when it's full, but it's usually not full. It drowned about
40 miles of key elk and deer winter range. Why is this never mentioned in discussions
about the decline of the Clearwater elk? It is estimated it destroyed 93% of the white-
tailed deer winter range and 60% of the elk winter range on the North Fork of the Clearwater.
Copyright © Michael Wolf.
Upper Fish Creek. Clearwater Mountains. Copyright © Friends of the Clearwater.
This is not good elk habitat. This dense regrown forest (from the fires of 1910) does not provide
the summer range elk need. Not all of the area is this densely forested, of course, and the elk
are hardly extinct, but it will not support a huge elk herd, predators or not.
Feb. 9, 2006. The Lewiston, Idaho, hearing was expected to go badly for those opposed to the wolf killing proposal, but it didn't. Testimony was about even. Wolf supporters gave specific information. Opponents talked in general anti-wolf rhetoric and appalling to me, some talked about how they were scared in the woods nowadays. If they are afraid, I wish they would keep their own counsel. I like to think of my fellow Idahoans as outdoors-capable, not afraid of wild animals, or ghostly stories from the past. Please help me keep my illusions!
Media coverage was by the Lewiston Morning-Tribune, one of Idaho's better papers, but not available except by subscription. The Tribune is, however, for some reason backwards on wolves.
Feb. 16, 2006.
Writers on the Range. Idaho in the Company of Wolves. Wolves kill deer and elk. That's the way it should be -- except, apparently, in Idaho. By Jeff Hull.
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Copyright © 2006 Ralph Maughan
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Ralph Maughan PO Box 8264, Pocatello, ID 83209
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