By Lynne K. Stone
Copyright © May 9, 2006
About the author
Friday May 5, 2006. Stanley, Idaho. A large gray wolf stirred up our tiny mountain town of Stanley yesterday as it killed a runt yearling elk calf within view of the city limits. Stanley librarian, Jane Somerville, saw the wolf among the local elk herd about 9 a.m., and shortly the wolf had chosen its prey and pulled the small calf down. It was over quick. After the kill, the herd of some 60 elk moved about 100 yards away and continued to forage on the Spring grass.
We have had about 85 elk in and around town all winter and wolves have visited here before. Previous elk kills have not been so visible, though.
A friend called me on my cell and I dashed through Stanley to the banks of the Salmon River to have a look. Someone had also called local resident and anti-wolf coalition leader Ron Gillett who arrived with his .22 rifle. Gillett crossed over the Salmon River on the private Arrow-A bridge into the pasture where the wolf was having breakfast. Seeing Gillett, the wolf grabbed a chunk of elk and trotted up the sage-covered foothills into the timber and disappeared.
Concerned that Gillett would shoot at the wolf (illegal unless it was attacking him) I called our new Idaho Dept. of Fish and Game Conservation Officer Brian Reeves and left messages. IDFG has now taken over wolf management in our state. Then I drove up Hwy 75 to have a chat with Gillett when he came back across the Arrow-A bridge to his pick-up truck. The Arrow-A ranch belongs to Jay Neider, another anti-wolf person who resides here in the summer months.
Having lived in the same town as Gillett for over six years, we've had conversations before about "wulfs." He said the rifle was for protection against the wolf. He unloaded the .22 caliber rifle, put the gun in his pick-up and walked over to within about 16 inches of my face to continue our chat. I was mildly concerned about my Canon Digital Rebel camera hanging from a strap around my neck.
Stepping away from me, Gillett shouted at another on-looker saying he was going to report him for chasing elk. None of this was making much sense. On leaving, Gillett said he was going to "get his camera and get the dead elk on page one of every newspaper." To which I replied, "You mean like you got the anti-wolf petition on the ballot." [As of May 1st, his group failed to get the required number of registered voters to sign his anti-wolf initiative.] He said some words that can't be printed on a family web site. We really don't get along.
Then, IDFG officer Brian Reeves arrived along with Stanley city policeman Pete Isner. When Gillett returned with his camera, the two law officers went out to the pasture with him to see the dead elk. Isner told me later that it was a small calf, only slightly larger than a deer. Gillett is a former big game hunting guide and outfitter who has obviously shot and seen many, many dead animals. Why he gets so upset with a wolf killing to eat,is beyond my comprehension.
ROUND 2 - Things quieted down. But just before noon, the wolf returned. My cell rang and I raced back to the riverbank and watched the beautiful light-covered wolf eating the elk. More people arrived and passerby's stopped. Gillett showed up again with his rifle and started for the pasture. I called the law. Officers Isner and Reeves showed up immediately, lights flashing. The wolf took off with an elk leg, again going up the steep sage slope into the White Cloud Mountain foothills to the east.
Gillett roamed around the Neider pasture for awhile, staring up at the hillside where the wolf had disappeared. Neider's son-in-law is Nate Helm, director of an anti-wolf, anti-predator group called Idaho Sportsman for Fish and Wildlife. This pasture is not a good place for a wolf.
Gillett then came over to the log fence by the Salmon River, gun and camera in hand, across from where myself and others were watching, and screamed at us to get out where he could see us. It was cold and windy and I was sitting in my pick-up truck. The two law officers stepped behind a log cabin, out of sight. My carpenter friend ducked behind the cabin deck. I stayed in my pick-up. It was a bit of a tense moment. As Ron kept yelling, I finally told him to F--- off. Later I was informed that one cannot swear in the Stanley city limits as it's disturbing the peace. I apologized. Usually Gillett's yelling doesn't phase me.
Things were relatively quiet during the afternoon. Wolf supporters hung around, spotting scopes and cameras out, waiting for the wolf to return. Cell phones were busy. We also went to the Stanley library to see Jane's great pictures of the wolf. A bald eagle came to the kill. Two coyotes showed up. The towns ravens got a change from their usual dumpster fare.
ROUND 3 - Around 5 p.m., the wolf returned. He dragged the remains of the elk calf behind a rock. After gnawing for a while, he chewed off another leg bone and this time trotted south through the Neider ranch into a draw. Gillett arrived shortly after, took his rifle and followed the wolfs route. What Ron was doing up there for an hour or more, I don't know. But he has said repeatedly that wolves must to be removed from Idaho by any means possible.
ROUND 4 - Today, Friday May 5th, by 6 a.m. I was by the Salmon River, drinking coffee on a rustic log deck and conversing with a friend while we waited and watched. The wolf returned at 6:30 a.m. and spent two hours feeding on the elk's remains. At one point, the large male wolf chased seven ravens in a circle. A coyote approached but seeing the wolf, quickly hightailed away. We watched the wolf lift his leg on a sagebrush, confirming that he was a he.
Wolf sightings have been common this winter, especially for the Galena Pack that lives in the Sawtooth Valley and ranges between the Sawtooth Fish Hatchery and Pettit Lake south of Stanley. I saw a lone wolf climb out of the Salmon River two weeks ago. Watched, as it laid down under a pine tree and softly serenaded me with a gentle wolf howl.
UPDATE: Four days have passed since the wolf incident, but I expect it wont be long before my cell rings again and I rush off to more wolf action. The image of Ron Gillett carrying a rifle toward a wolf is not one I can forget.
A word about winter elk feeding - The reason the elk are still in Stanley is that Ron Gillett started feeding hay to them in late January. He turned these animals into welfare elk, taking away their wildness. Until then, the elk were foraging on south slopes, among rock outcrops, the hot springs, and along Valley Creek and the Salmon River. I watched them from early November on, as they came onto their wintering grounds. Elk calves were learning how to survive a Stanley winter.
But, once Gillett started feeding, about 85 elk including four spike bulls and one three-point bull spent the next two months gathered around his place on the west edge of Stanley. Neighbors complained to the Stanley City Council when the baited elk also fed on aspens and lodgepole pine trees in their yards. Myself and others believe that Gillett was hoping a wolf or wolves would come to his elk feeding area. Fortunately the wolves stayed away until now.
Its not illegal in Idaho for a private citizen to feed elk. We have a local elk feeding committee that was established many years ago to determine when elk should be fed in order to survive. The criteria for feeding hay had not been met in late January. It was a long, snowy winter in Stanley and maybe some of the older cows and small calves would have died, but that's Mother Nature at work.
Now the three-point bull has left along with 25 other elk, feeding high above town . But some 60 head of elk cows and calves don't seem to know what to do or where to go, even when a wolf walks through their midst.
Note by ed.
The Idaho Mountain Express ran its story about it on May 10
Photos of the events (all were taken from public property by © Lynne Stone)
Elk cows and calves graze near the Stanley city limits on Monday, May 1st. Note how small the calf is at
left-center photo. This scene is about one mile from where the wolf pulled down an elk calf on Thursday, May 4th.
Photo Lynne Stone.
The elk were in this pasture near the Salmon River and Highway 75 near Stanley on Thursday, May 4th, when
the wolf arrived. The Neider ranch buildings are at far right near the snow. The wolf carried elk leg bones up
the sage covered slope to the timber. Lynne Stone Photo.
A gray wolf stands over his fresh elk kill near Stanley, Thursday, May 4th, in easy view of wolf watchers along Highway 75. The elk was a small calf, born later in the summer than other larger, stronger calves in the Stanley elk herd. The fall hunting season disrupts the elk rutting (breeding) season, causing some elk cows to be breed late and have late calves, making them more vulnerable to winter kill and predation. Lynne Stone photo.
Anti-wolf activist Ron Gillett shows up in the pasture. Wolf left as he arrived. Lynne Stone Photo.