If you've followed the heated and ongoing debate concerning wolf reintroduction in Idaho over the last 12 years, you've probably heard of Tim Sundles—even if not by name. He was the agitator who, back in 2001, scandalized a public meeting in Salmon by claiming that he had recently shot a wild gray wolf after it had attacked him and his wife in the Frank Church Wilderness. Then, two years later, Sundles, a resident of the remote town of Carmen, expanded his range onto the Internet by way of the now-defunct site called "Nature's Wolves." The site received a surprising amount of national coverage not only for its detailed account of the alleged attack, but also because it included instructions (to call it a "recipe" seems like a stretch) for how to make lethal wolf-bait out of meatballs laced with the pesticide Temik. Nature's Wolves took a step up in infamy in 2004, when investigators discovered three domestic dogs—as well as a coyote, a fox and several magpies, but no wolves—that had become sick after eating poisoned meatballs in the forest near North Fork.
In a federal courtroom last December, Sundles copped to placing the meatballs in the forest in order to kill endangered wolves. Late last month, he was sentenced to six days in jail and two years of probation. In the meantime, the Intermountain West's reintroduced wolf population has continued to thrive, rising to at least 650 in Idaho as of last year, prompting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to turn over control of most of the wolves in Idaho to the state. The USFWS also announced in January of this year a proposal to remove wolves entirely from the Endangered Species List. May 9 is the deadline for public comment on that proposal.
To gauge how these new developments ruffled an old wolf-foe's fur, BW sniffed out Sundles last week in his western Montana home, where he operates the large-game ammunition company Buffalo Bore, and spoke to him by phone.
Boise Weekly: Not that long ago, you were one of the most vocal critics of the wolf reintegration. Will that still be the case after your conviction?
Tim Sundles: The conviction and sentencing wouldn't have anything to do with anything. I suppose if I was less of an activist, it will just simply be because there are other priorities that matter more, like my family and my business. And I suppose that more things are changing with the wolves. More and more people are on the bandwagon now. I don't need to be, you know, a lone voice crying in the wilderness, so to speak. All the things that I said were going to happen are happening. All of them. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, if they gave a damn, or if they used solid science, or if they cared, would have known this was going to happen. They could have asked anyone in Canada, or any wildlife biologist up in Alaska, what was going to happen with these wolf populations, and they would have known. I'm a nobody, and I knew. They basically did what they wanted at everybody else's peril. And they'll never do a day in jail, they'll never have a criminal charge filed against them, and they can be as inept and corrupt as they choose, and there's no consequences for them because they're federal employees. That's what broken about the system.
Did your perspective on wolves and wolf reintegration change at all through your experiences in the legal system?
The conviction doesn't change my outlook. The only thing that changes my outlook is that the sleeping public is awakening. We're losing much of our elk herds. We're losing much of our sovereign rights here in Idaho. That will awaken them. When they have wolves in their backyard eating Fifi, that will wake them up. Until that time, nothing will change.
My outlook was always stretched because I have so many things going on in my life. But my family and my business and those things are more important than the wolf thing. The wolf thing was tiresome.
Your Web site, Nature's Wolves, hasn't been up for quite awhile. Will you put it back up any time soon?
No, and put this in print: The reason I took it down was for my wife. That was due to her wishes. People who say I took it down because of the criminal charges are wrong. I took it down because my wife was so stressed out about all the death threats we were getting from tree-huggers. Death threats don't bother me that much, but they really bothered her, so I took it down.
The debate seems like it's at a different stage now than it was [when the Web site was up], too. The talk now is all about control, delisting and possibly even legal wolf hunts.
They talk now about hunting wolves, but wolves are pretty smart animals. For the first year or two, they'll kill quite a few, but after that, wolves will go nocturnal, and you won't be able to kill them hunting. I know this because I spent a lot of time in Alaska messing with wolves. And on top of that, assuming you have a pack of 15, and you kill 12 of them, a year later you'll have 15 again from that same pack. All you need is a male and a female, or a male and a couple of females, and boom: You've got 15 or more again.
If you had the opportunity to get a tag and hunt a wolf, would you?
I doubt it. They're not something that I'm interested in hunting. They don't taste good, and I'm not going to support the system by buying a wolf tag. I've hunted wolves in Alaska, and I understand wolves, and I've been around a lot of wolves down here—lots more than anybody knows. And if something breeds in packs, and gives birth in litters, you can't eliminate them with hunting. The public will wake up to that, too, but it'll take about 10 years. They'll kill a bunch of them, but they'll repopulate instantly. They'll get nocturnal and very crafty. The way our ancestors got rid of them was by using poison—and it was government funded poison.