A Gardiner rancher who lost 13 sheep to wolves in April has offered to give up his permit to shoot another wolf.

Bill Hoppe told Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks officials that he was moving his cattle to another location at the end of the week and wouldn’t need the permit after this Saturday. He previously used the permit May 6 to kill one collared female wolf from Yellowstone National Park, prompting hate mail and two death threats.

“It seemed to be a concern that, oh god, I’d kill another wolf,” Hoppe told the, Chronicle on Tuesday. “These people think I’m a mass murderer of wolves. I’ve never even bought a wolf tag — it just doesn’t interest me that much. People just need to calm down a little.”

Hoppe spoke with FWP wolf specialist Abby Nelson last Friday and requested to change the expiration date of his wolf shoot-on-site permit from June 8 to May 18.

“We’re looking at this as a good-faith gesture,” FWP spokeswoman Andrea Jones said. “It was his idea.”

On April 24, Hoppe reported that wolves killed some of the sheep he had bought a few weeks earlier. FWP and U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services inspectors identified two pairs of wolf tracks near the eight lambs and five ewes found dead along the riverbank.

Hoppe’s property is not fenced on the side adjacent to the Yellowstone River.

He was issued a 45-day permit to kill any two wolves that came onto his property a few miles northwest of Gardiner and Yellowstone National Park.

On May 6, Hoppe shot one wolf.

Hoppe told the, Chronicle on April 26 that he intended to dispose of the sheep carcasses on a bone pile.

When asked about the carcasses on May 7, FWP officials said it is not baiting if a hunter kills an animal and a predator then goes after the meat. Baiting is when someone places meat at a site and then kills a predator that comes to the meat.

It does not qualify as baiting if a rancher leaves carcasses out and then kills a predator elsewhere on his property.

Jones said Tuesday that FWP wardens investigated the site 10 minutes after Hoppe killed the wolf and found no evidence of baiting.

Jones said Hoppe removed the carcasses after the sheep loss.

“I don’t know the exact time frame,” Jones said. “It may have taken some time.”

Hoppe said he moved some carcasses to his Jardine property where he has a backhoe. He said he had left a ewe on the property and had buried some lambs in the sand along the river. A few days later, a grizzly bear dragged the ewe off and dug the lambs up, Hoppe said.

Jones said the carcasses were gone by the time Hoppe shot the wolf. Hoppe agreed.

FWP believes the wolf is one of two that killed Hoppe’s sheep, Jones said, contrary to the belief of park biologist Doug Smith.

“There is no way to confirm that,” Jones said. “The park biologist put it in the Mammoth area the morning before the depredation. That’s not that far, so we believe it’s a likely possibility.”

The wolf killing prompted angry responses from wolf advocacy groups, some of which spilled over into the May 9 FWP Commission meeting that was scheduled to consider the 2013 wolf hunting season.

Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso sent a letter to FWP on behalf of the National Wolfwatcher Coalition, questioning the department’s authorization of a permit.

“FWP may only issue permits to kill problem wolves — not any wolf which may wander onto a property,” Preso wrote.

Kim Bean of Wolves of the Rockies said the groups spoke to FWP director Jeff Hagener on May 9, asking that he revoke Hoppe’s permit. Bean said she also spoke to Region 3 supervisor Pat Flowers that evening about the same request.

“Pat’s in a tough space,” Bean said. “He said to take the situation out of the Gardiner area and this is how FWP would deal with it in any other place.”

Bean said taxpayer money contributes to wolf management, agriculture subsidies and livestock loss reimbursement, so ranchers have to be responsible.

“There are a lot of responsible ranchers, but he was not being a responsible business owner when he just left those sheep out there,” Bean said. “When they get money, there should be some accountability.”

Jones said FWP is charged with looking at the facts on the ground and cannot presume a landowner’s motives.

Hoppe said wolves recently killed a friend’s calves near Gardiner.

“This is not over. This is going to happen again,” Hoppe said, referring to depredation. “I wish that when people form an opinion that they would do it with facts and not a bunch of speculation.”

Laura Lundquist can be reached at 582-2638 or llunquist@dailychronicle.com.

Locations

Support quality local journalism. Become a subscriber.

Subscribers get full, survey-free access to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle's award-winning coverage both on our website and in our e-edition, a digital replica of the print edition.