On the front page of the Idaho Statesman today I saw a face from my past standing behind a caged wolf ready for its freedom.
Biologist Mike Jimenez is one of the countless biologists, veterinarians, wildlife techs, government trappers and volunteers who helped create what is called one of the great wildlife successes in our history, the return of the wolf to the Rockies.
Today Jimenez is the wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and wildlife Service in Wyoming, a job that once got him arrested and has caused him the usual amount of grief from all sides of the debate. If delisting goes forward this week as expected, then sticks, he’s out of job. The Jackson Hole Star Tribune had a nice profile about him in Monday .
But reporter Chris Merrill wrote as if the wolf story and Jimenez’ story began when wolves were reintroduced in 1995. The story ignores the story of native wolves moving south from Canada over several decades reestablishing wolves into the lives of westerners.
I met Jimenez in 1990, when he was babysitting a family of adolescent wolves know as the Ninemile Pack. These young wolves had moved, or been pushed out, of more wild country in northwest Montana to this relatively crowded valley only a few minutes from Missoula.
There, paperworkers from the nearby Frenchtown mill lived in ranchettes next to old time cattle ranchers. Jimenez’ job was to study and monitor the wolves and mostly to keep them out of trouble.
He talked about how they left the valley one night on a rampage, like teenagers driving to the next town to laugh it up. They ran into some steers, one, which made the fatal mistake of running from them.
They killed him, ate part of him and Jimenez got the late night call that his wolves were on the prowl causing trouble. Jimenez made the comparison with teenagers and it stuck with me as I watched wolves slowly spread out. The Ninemile Valley is only a few miles from Idaho over the mountains.
It was clear then that Montana’s wolves, which came from Alberta, were heading out way.
Two years later I’m in Bear Valley Creek howling at wolves with Suzanne Asha Stone, biologists Val Asher and Alice Whitelaw. Asher and Whitelaw were working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service searching for wolves in Idaho and Stone was the state’s most active wolf advocate.
Whitelaw showed me tracks in the gravel and snow of Bear Valley Creek road that she said clearly were wolves. They had answered Stone’s howling as well.
Several wolves were repeatedly seen together that year in Bear Valley and at least one was found dead of poisoning. Wolf recovery in Idaho was going nowhere.
It was clear to biologists then that wolves were in Idaho but because of wolf haters, they were not allowed to establish. It would take a shot of fresh wolves and the constant babysitting that Jimenez had done in the Ninemile to bring them back.
Jimenez continued working with wolves and people as he does today. Friday he will hand the job over the Wyoming wildlife officials.
That will begin a new chapter in the story that I will continue to write.