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Government Kills Wolf Pups Students Studied and Honored as Their Idaho High School Mascot

Animals
​A gray wolf pup.
A gray wolf pup. Adria Photography / Getty Images

The federal government killed eight wolf pups that were being studied by students at Timberline High School in Boise, Idaho, prompting an outcry from conservationists, animal welfare advocates and the students themselves.


The deaths were discovered when biologists tracking the pups' den discovered it empty in the spring, The Washington Post reported. Conservationists then checked a wolf "mortality list" from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and discovered that the pups were killed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Wildlife Services.

"I understand a lot of people think wolves are dangerous animals," Timberline HIgh School student Michel Liao told The Washington Post. "But it was so shocking to see that federal agents were the ones to come into a pups' den to kill them, even though the pups didn't do anything."

The discovery comes at a perilous time for Idaho's wolves. Gray wolves were stripped of their Endangered Species Act protections in the last days of the Trump administration. Since then, several states have taken aggressive stances towards managing their wolf populations, and Idaho is no exception. The state passed a bill in April allowing hunters and private contractors to kill up to 90 percent of its wolves.

In response to the bill and the killings of the wolf pups, wildlife advocates sent a letter to the USDA in August urging it to halt the killing of wolf pups on public lands.

"There is nothing biologically sound or socially acceptable about killing wolf pups on federal lands, especially when wolves are under significant eradication pressure," the letter said. "Wolf pups pose no threat to domestic livestock — in Idaho, or anywhere in the Western United States."

The Biden administration, however, defended the killing of the pups in an October 1 letter, arguing that they were necessary to protect livestock. They said that 108 livestock had been killed in the area, and that killing the young wolves would prompt adult wolves to relocate, reducing the overall number of killings needed to protect livestock.

"While we understand your objections, it is important that our management professionals have access to all available tools to effectively respond to wildlife depredation," USDA undersecretary of marketing and regulatory programs Jenny Lester Moffitt wrote in the letter. "As such, we cannot stop using any legal, humane management options, including the lethal removal of juvenile wolves."

But this justification didn't hold water with conservationists or with the students. The pups in question belonged to the Timberline wolf pack, which had lived in the same area for many years. The school had adopted the pack as its mascot when it opened in 1998, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) pointed out in a press release emailed to EcoWatch.

"There's essentially been generations of Timberline wolves in the same area," wolf conservationist Suzanne Asha Stone of the International Wildlife Coexistence Network told The Washington Post. "The kids have been following generations of this same pack."

Wildlife experts and even teachers at Timberline High School said the pup killings were not good science.

"We tell our students that science is key in wildlife management, yet scientific evidence tells us that killing or disturbing stable wolf packs leads to more livestock conflicts, not less, and it undermines our native ecosystems," Timberline High School science advisor Dick Jordan said in the CBD release.

Liao expressed further disappointment at the USDA's response.

"It's disheartening to see the USDA justifying killing our pack's innocent pups as 'humane management.' The data from Idaho's Wood River Wolf Project study should've been enough to persuade politicians of the efficacy of nonlethal methods, yet the USDA and Biden administration continue to practice inaction," Liao said in the CBD release. "It's this very passivity that's allowing people to eradicate all the pups from Timberline High School's wolf pack this year on our public lands. It must stop."

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