Two U.S. Forest Service employees
from Utah were evacuated by helicopter
from the Sawtooth Wilderness in late
September after encountering a pack of
howling wolves about five miles east of
Graham in the Johnson Creek drainage.
Johnson Creek is the southwestern
portion of the Sawtooths and in the
North Fork of the Boise River drainage.
According to Ed Waldapfel, spokesman
for the Sawtooth National Forest, the
incident occurred Sept. 23 at about 10
a.m. when the employees observed wolves
chasing a bull elk across a meadow.
"A little while later they started
hearing wolves howling all around them,"
Waldapfel said. "They called on their
radio or satellite phone and asked their
supervisor if they could leave the
Waldapfel said the employees, whose
names he did not know, were from the
Rocky Mountain Research Station in Ogden
and were conducting forest inventory
work in the Sawtooths, began hiking back
to their camp a couple miles away. But
they claimed the howls persisted,
"No matter which way they went they
said they could hear the wolves," he
added. "They climbed onto a rock
outcropping and continued to communicate
with their supervisor.
"They admitted they were very scared
and wanted to get out of the area."
Shortly thereafter, Waldapfel said
the employees' supervisor contacted the
Sawtooth National Forest and "asked for
a helicopter to come in and retrieve
Waldapfel said the wolves never made
any aggressive or threatening moves
toward the pair.
"It was the sound of the howls that
scared them," Waldapfel said, "and the
fact (the employees) were from another
part of the country. They're not part of
our regular workforce and so they hadn't
had training for this kind of wildlife
Steve Nadeau, the state's wolf
program supervisor for the Idaho
Department of Fish and Game, was shocked
that wolf howls would elicit a
helicopter evacuation in a wilderness
"Holy moly—sounds to me like
someone's read too many of Grimm's fairy
tales," Nadeau said. "I'm flabbergasted
that (the Forest Service) would go to
that extent over wolves howling in the
woods because wolves howl in the woods
all the time. That's how they
"If they felt threatened I guess the
Forest Service reacted appropriately.
But I can't imagine why the feeling was
any more than anyone else walking in the
Lynne Stone, a Stanley resident who
regularly observes wolf behavior in the
backcountry, said when wolves howl "the
echo can come from 360 degrees."
"Especially up in the mountains,
where there's a lot of rock, there are
great wolf-howl acoustics," she said.
"They probably weren't surrounded by
Stone, who has observed wolves in the
mountains around Stanley on 17 different
occasions since the spring, said wolves
are very focused during a hunt, and the
Forest Service employees were not in any
"When wolves are hunting they are on
target. They will be oblivious to you,"
she said. "I'd be more afraid of running
into a moose cow with calves, or a black
bear with cubs, than encountering
"These guys were not at risk, and
it's too bad they didn't take time to
enjoy one of the greatest experiences
you could ever have in terms of
Waldapfel said seeing and hearing
wolves in the backcountry in the
Sawtooth and Boise national forests is
"But for someone from another state
or another area where they don't have
wolves, I could see where it could be a
very frightening experience," he said.
While there are no documented cases
of wolves attacking humans in Idaho,
Waldapfel acknowledged "these employees
probably were not aware of that fact."
Waldapfel said the Sawtooth National
Forest will review its training
procedures to better prepare out-of-area
Forest Service personnel for what they
may encounter while in the field.
"We'll spend some time this fall and
winter reviewing our current
procedures," he said.
The Utah employees were flown to
Ketchum after boarding the helicopter. A
Forest Service crew returned to the
scene to break down their camp and
retrieve their gear Sept. 25.