For 26 years, Carter Niemeyer worked for USDA Animal Damage Control in Montana, where he was a trapper, a district supervisor, and the West’s wolf management specialist. He retired in 2006 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as the federal wolf recovery coordinator for Idaho. The following is an excerpt from his new memoir Wolfer (BottleFly Press, 374 pages, $17.99). Niemeyer’s speaking engagements are listed on his website.
Once the shine of reintroduction had worn off, the troubles between people and wolves resumed, each living up to their worst traits.
After returning from a trip to Albuquerque, where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was wrestling with problems related to Mexican wolves, there was more trouble in the Ninemile: this time on a ranch in Huson, Montana, owned by actress Andie MacDowell.
Everybody in the valley knew the actress as Rose Qualley. She and her husband, Paul, and their three children lived there. Like a lot of celebrities who decide to buy a ranch in a remote part of the West, they were taken aback when wild animals showed up in their yard. I drove to the Qualley place, taking federal wildlife agent Rick Branzell with me.
Paul Qualley answered the door wearing only a towel. He was healing from a groin sprain, an old football injury, he said. He sat on the couch and told us about their calf that was killed right behind the house. The calf had frostbitten feet that were recently wrapped by a veterinarian. It couldn’t walk, Paul said, so it was an easy target.
This wasn’t the Qualleys’ first run-in with wolves. They’d purchased a guard dog to protect their children from the large predators that lurked in that area – mountain lions and wolves in particular. Wolves killed the dog, however, eviscerating it next to the kids’ swing set. The wolves’ most recent victim, the Qualleys’ 300-pound calf, lay covered with a tarp. I walked around the site to figure out what happened. Then I skinned the carcass to determine the cause of death. The wolves, I decided, had attacked the calf as it stood next to a salt block, then dragged it about 50 feet, leaving a distinct blood trail. It had been bitten under its front legs and had a hole ripped open in its flank. Massive hemorrhaging killed it. The calf was full of slashes and bites, but the wolves didn’t eat it.
The wolves hadn’t gone far. One with a radio collar ran in front of my truck as I was driving away that day. It was close enough that I had to slam on my brakes. I grabbed my camera and snapped a photo when it paused to look at me before trotting into the trees. I’d started developing a pretty good sense of what might turn into a public relations disaster and was trying to think of all the evidence I’d need in order to justify moving or killing wolves – especially on a celebrity’s ranch.
Paul Qualley wasn’t interested in moving or killing the Ninemile wolves, but Rose Qualley dialed me up soon after my visit and complained that wolves were getting awfully thick around her ranch.
“I think you ought to move them,” the actress said.
“We can sure consider that,” I told her. “But it’s going to be up to the Fish and Wildlife Service.”
She didn’t push it and I waited for her to call and complain again, but she didn’t. It was a time when we were cautious about killing wolves. We didn’t know they’d be the prolific, resilient creatures they’ve turned out to be – even though we’d been warned. They were endangered, and we were trying to conserve every one of them. As much as we dared, we put it on ranchers to remove the things that would tempt a wolf – like a crippled calf standing out in the open or an uncovered boneyard – so that wolves wouldn’t get set up. So many times dead livestock – and dead wolves – can be prevented.
But the need fizzled. The Qualleys had a wolf problem, but they weren’t eager to do much about it. Defenders paid them for the dead calf, although they probably didn’t need the money. It was the last I heard about wolves causing trouble there, although I did learn that the Qualleys moved away not long after the wolf incident. It’s rough country out there.
Excerpted with permission from Wolfer: A Memoir by Carter Niemeyer (introduction by Nicholas Evans, author of The Horse Whisperer), copyright © 2010 by BottleFly Press.