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Across the West, mountain lion and black bear hunters are rethinking their tradition of hunting over hounds. Too many of their working dogs are being killed by wolves. No statistics are kept on the number of hounds killed by wolves, but anecdotally the loss of hounds is widespread, and increasing.
“Wolves and dogs just don’t mix,” says Pat White, who grew up chasing lions near Idaho’s Dworshak Reservoir before wolves were reintroduced to Idaho’s backcountry. The central Idaho area now has the highest density of wolves in the West. “I lost two dogs last year, and it wasn’t even fair. The hounds go in making all kinds of noise, baying up lions, totally distracted by the scent trail. The wolves find them and ambush them. When you look at the carnage, those dogs don’t have a chance.”
Cattle and sheep producers also lose animals to wolves, but their loss is compensated by a fund that has paid $1.15 million to producers since 1987. The fund compensates for dogs killed by wolves, but only those actively guarding livestock are eligible for the program. Hunting dogs, even working hounds, are considered domestic pets and their loss to wolves isn’t compensated. Angie Denny, an outfitter who spends most of the spring guiding black bear hunters in Idaho, lost her best bear hound, Molly, in May only 150 yards behind her house. “Molly was probably worth $10,000 if we were to sell her, but for us she was priceless. You just don’t sell a dog with the sort of talent that Molly had.”
“The dogs were in a hot race with a bear and they went right through a pack of wolves,” says Denny. “Three of our dogs were hit. Molly was just shredded. She made it for a few minutes, then died on the way to the vet. We had another dog whose kidney was pulled nearly completely out of her abdomen. We managed to get her help and I think she’s going to make it. The other dog was cut up, but not as bad.” Lion hounds are especially susceptible to wolves. Often a pack of wolves will steal a lion-killed elk or deer. When hounds are released on the fresh lion tracks, they end at the carcass. But instead of finding a lion at the end of the trail, the dogs find wolves protecting the carcass. It never ends well for the hounds.
Denny used to guide elk hunters in Idaho, but the reintroduction of wolves to central Idaho in 1995 and 1996 changed her business plan. “We sold our elk license,” says Denny. “We used to have 100 percent opportunity, and it was a great elk area. It got down to 40 percent opportunity, and was headed lower. That’s totally attributable to wolves.”
Angie Denny and her husband Scott spend most of their spring in Idaho’s wolf country, but they’ve only seen a handful of the predators. “Everybody who believes that a hunting season (for wolves) will control their population needs to understand that we will not kill very many wolves,” says Angie. “They are very smart, very capable survivors. I think we’re only going to impact a very, very small percentage of wolves, even with a sanctioned hunting season.”
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks last month established a wolf hunting season set to begin this fall, with a harvest quota of 75 wolves. Tags will go on sale Aug. 31. Idaho’s Fish and Game Commission meets Aug. 17 to set harvest quotas for Idaho’s first wolf hunt this fall. Tags will go on sale after quotas are established. A resident tag would cost $11.75; nonresident wolf licenses would cost $186. Litigation could hijack the whole season; in fact wolf advocates are reportedly working with a federal judge to issue an injunction stopping this fall’s hunting seasons before they get started.
Do wolves pose a danger to humans in the West and in the Great Lakes states? Statistically, probably very little. After all, humans have lived around wolves for thousands of years, and accounts of attacks on people are few and dubious. Still, Canadian college student Kenton Carnegie’s death by a pack of wolves in 2005 proved that the predators sometimes target people. “The most chilling detail about our loss of Molly is that it happened right behind our house,” says Angie Denny. “I have little kids, and our neighbors have little kids. We keep them close to the house. I just can’t let them run around like I’d like to.”
Warning: EXTREMELY graphic photos. Wolves are hammering more than elk and deer. Working dogs are victims, too.