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Eight Individuals Expose & Shame Salmon, ID Wolf & Coyote Killing Derby

by Christopher Ketcham
(Summary by Stephany Seay) Many believed that a Salmon, Idaho-based wolf & coyote killing spree was canceled when organizations released to the media that the BLM had revoked permits for the event. The Forest Service still allowed it. The derby was still on. Eight individuals, rallied by Brian Ertz of Wildlands Defense, braved the hostile Salmon community to be on the ground and document the carnage. We were able to expose it, let them know people are watching, and we shamed them into hiding their carnival parade of cruelty.
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Environmentalists Couldn’t Stop the Slaughter at Idaho’s Annual Coyote and Wolf Derby
January 6, 2015
By Christopher Ketcham

On the third day of the wolf-killing contest, an earthquake shook the mountains near Salmon, Idaho. "It's Mother Earth revolting against the cruelty, the violence, the madness, of what's happening here," said Brian Ertz, president of the nonprofit advocacy group Wildlands Defense. A year ago this week, Ertz and I went undercover for VICE in Salmon to infiltrate that town's annual Coyote and Wolf Derby, an event as primitive as it sounds: Dozens of contestants compete to mow down as many coyotes and wolves as quickly as possible, piling up the cadavers in their trucks, vying for $1,000 prizes for most animals killed. Kids as young as ten are invited to join in the slaughter with their families, with special awards handed out to the children who shed the most blood.

This is not hunting for meat. It is not hunting to prevent threats to human safety. It is killing for the sake of killing. To join in the derby was an unnerving experience for me, an immersion into the ugly side of rural mountain folkways in the American West.

I had thought, quixotically, that exposure of Salmon's atavistic blood rites in an international magazine would have helped put an end to it. After all, much of the derby hunt occurs on federal public land, which is subject to federal law and oversight by agents of the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. A year later, however, the derby was on again, and with great fanfare. Government regulators had done nothing to stop it, and environmental groups had failed to galvanize public opinion against it. The event's organizer, the ironically named Idaho for Wildlife, had announced, proudly, that the derby would be expanded to four days from the previous year's two. By the end of day one, derby-goers brought in 17 coyotes to a warehouse in Salmon where their bodies were measured, weighed, and skinned, the pelts sold to fur buyers on hand for the nightly bringing-in of the dead.

Not a single representative from the environmental groups that had publicly criticized the derby—and litigated unsuccessfully to shut it down—showed up to confront the bands of hunters. The sole exception was the ad hoc crew of eight hungry young activists that Ertz, 32, had organized, among them a staff member of the ACLU of Idaho, Ritchie Eppink, who joined in the mission as a legal observer, and Stephany Seay, media director of the Buffalo Field Campaign in Montana.

There was good reason to shy away from confrontation: The folks in Salmon hate environmentalists. It's a small town, and the people, thin-lipped and narrow-eyed, easily sniff out strangers. On the first day of the derby, Thursday, Ertz stood at a gas station in Salmon when a local ranch hand approached to offer a warning. "All these people know you're here," said the man, according to Ertz, "and they're gonna be looking for you. I'd keep your head down, and, if I were you, I'd get out altogether because what they're gonna do to you ain't good." By Friday, one of the activists had fled a hotel in Salmon after Idaho for Wildlife organizers called the owner and warned about environmentalists holing up there.

I asked Ertz why he was taking the risk when he could've tried again to go undercover. Last year, disguised as hunters in camouflage, rifles on our backs, blood thirst in our mouths, we had been welcomed in Salmon. This year, he and his colleagues broke up into teams of two; armed with video cameras, they trawled the hills in their cars to document the slaughter for a future lawsuit.

"The objective," said Ertz, "is to be very much in their face, to let them know we're out here on patrol, looking for violations of federal law. We want to project the image that we could be anywhere, everywhere."

A related objective was to stand in open defiance of what Ertz described as "a culture of death." Salmon, like many small towns in the rural West, is a ranching society. Ranchers who run their cattle on the open range have historically regarded wild predators not as majestic creatures but as vermin to be exterminated. Investigative journalist Jack Olsen, writing in his 1971 book Slaughter the Animals, Poison the Earth , concluded that the livestock industry's hatred of predators—wolves and coyotes foremost, but also cougars, black bears, grizzlies, wolverines, lynx, bobcats, hawks, eagles, and on and on—went "so far beyond the dimensions of reality as to be almost pathological in origin." Indeed, the desire to annihilate the enemy is not based on a rational assessment of the threat to cows and sheep. The number of rangeland livestock lost each year to carnivore depredations is insignificant—less than a half of a percent, according to the Department of Agriculture.

"These people honestly believe that sterilizing the landscape of predators will enrich their economy and preserve their culture," says Ertz. "Events like the derby validate those who have been conditioned to believe that their way of life, or more accurately their way of death, is under assault by environmentalists. They've got a point. Americans in general are becoming more compassionate toward nonhuman animals, and our appreciation of ecology and the contributions of wildlife communities is growing. This awareness and compassion threatens any culture that predicates itself on wanton destruction and an appalling disregard for the suffering of sentient beings."

By the final day, Sunday, the hunters had killed 30 coyotes, according to the event's Facebook page. (No wolves were taken, either by trap or gunfire.) At the awards ceremony that afternoon, Ertz's crew in separate parties attempted to enter the warehouse where the cadavers had been hung on meat hooks. One of the teams, which included Eppink of the ACLU, carried a hidden camera. They were stopped by an imperious little man in a big cowboy hat. "Are you guys entered in the contest?" he asked.

"No, we just came to see the ceremony," said Eppink.

"Out!" said the cowboy. "There's all kinds of animal terrorists here taking pictures and harassing us!"

When Natalie Ertz, Brian's sister, approached to capture the spectacle of the awards with her Nikon, one of the members of Idaho for Wildlife, a woman with funny blackened teeth named Billiejo Beck, cut off her passage. "No cameras—this is private property," she said.

"What are you hiding?" asked Natalie.

"Absolutely nothing," said Beck.

"Where's the property line?"

Beck pointed beyond the fencing of the parking lot, and yelled for assistance to a county sheriff who was standing nearby. So Natalie and her brother and the rest of the crew stood at the fence line. Natalie howled three times like a wolf and smiled.

When Beck again emerged, Natalie called to her: "Billiejo! I'd love to talk to you. What does wildlife mean to Idaho for Wildlife? What does wilderness mean? Wolves and coyotes are wildlife! Where's your ethical line in killing?"

There was no response. "Why won't you talk to me if you're so proud of what you're doing?"

The protesters had a partial view into the warehouse—they could spy the coyotes tossed from trucks and hung on the hooks—but Beck at last placed a bloody tarp across the doorway to obscure the line of sight.

"It's no different from last year," said Brian Ertz, "except in one way: This year they were forced to hide their carnival. This year they feared the cameras and scurried like cockroaches to avoid the light."

This year, in other words, there was shame. That's progress.

Christopher Ketcham is a contributing editor at Harper's magazine. Write him at Cketcham99 [at]
by Christopher Ketcham
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Comments (Hide Comments)
by neartic
i hope the guy i mean the coward with the sunglasses and red shirt who thinks this is fun meets a semi head on, in fact i hope they all do. big men if the thing was shooting back at them they would run like the cowards they are
by Johanna Duffek-Kowal
It is a special mindset. A mindset of utter disregard of non-human life. A mindset taking all of nature as a free-for-all self-service shop on unlimited credit - just TAKE whatever you need or want and never mind payment. A mindset deeply rooted in the philosophy of a bronce-aged, Middle Eastern tribe of donkey drivers, passed on through the ages - "and dominate the Earth!" (Although the original text IS a bit different...)

We must not forget that this mindset - basically the mindset of a schoolyard bully training for thug, taking away the smaller children's lunch money "because he CAN" - once was dominant throughout the whole "Western culture".

Most of Western culture grew up by now - but there still are more than enough remains of that old, outdated, violent, selfish, greedy, self-righteous, irresponsible mindset left. Sometimes those remains show up more than clear - as if a time capsule out of the Dark Ages had popped open and released all the primitive barbarism of our ancestors right into our faces.

The question is, what are WE, the by now civilized citizens of the world, supposed to do with those primitives?

Their traditional solution, "Kill 'em all!", is not and can not be OUR solution. The attempt to patiently re-educate them is rather hopeless, dealing with people who wouldn't even listen to you, being fully convinced of already possessing the ultimate wisdom. That only leaves strict and strictly enforced laws, rules and regulations to at least reign in their worst atrocities - which, of course, only is possible if the legislators are not PART of the ugly problem.

If political leaders and legislators fail to reign in the untamed psychopathy... Well, most of us do live in democracies. But we need to exercise the power our constitutions are granting us!
by Rochelle
The reason it wasn't publicized is due to all the freaking wackos out there who have been raised thinking that predators are sweet little cuddle bunnies. You'all watched too many Disney cartoons as kids and you have no concept of the reality of what these animals are and what they do.
by Pete Braun
I really do wish there was a peaceful way to stop the madness that those barbarians drink in as if it's mother's milk. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly clear that the only way to stop the destructive onslaught on our public lands by these sub-humans... is to kill them all, or jail them. There really is no other way.
by J Reynolds
Idaho against wildlife is not a place I will be going to for a holiday.

scumbag city more like.

This place should be prosecuted under the trade descriptions act.
by Theresa
Wow. Just wow. Even though the entire article was aimed at saying what a horrible person I am and what a horrible place I live I still found myself bursting into laughter several times while reading it. That is the most overblown, hyperbolic piece of purple prose I have ever read.

"an earthquake shook the mountains near Salmon, Idaho. "It's Mother Earth revolting against the cruelty, the violence, the madness, of what's happening here"

"It's a small town, and the people, thin-lipped and narrow-eyed, easily sniff out strangers."

"This awareness and compassion threatens any culture that predicates itself on wanton destruction and an appalling disregard for the suffering of sentient beings."

Of course the comment section is closed to dissenting opinions and of course it includes the predictable call for our deaths: "it is becoming increasingly clear that the only way to stop the destructive onslaught on our public lands by these sub-humans... is to kill them all"

Is is any wonder so many Salmonites pick on these dorks?

I suppose us thin-lipped, narrow-eyed, officious, pathologically predator-hating mountain folk who lack the education to understand the wrongness of our culture of death will eventually be brought around by these kinds of articles though. Or killed. They don't really care which.
by mr me
Probably an irrelevant anecdote.

One time I was driving 18-wheeler through Salmon and stopped in a bar. This guy sitting next to me told me how some of the local guys took this biker out of the bar (the one where I was) ostensibly to drink some beer. After they got him up in the woods they overpowered him and tried to cut his long hair off with a chainsaw, but his hair just wrapped up in the chain tearing his scalp open and the guy bled to death.

"But you're alright though," the guy told me. Salmon, ID is also well known as being a white supremacist hide out.
by John Warren
People like these 8 individuals, think that the world revolves around them and the animals they are trying to protect. Fact of the matter is that they would rather see the people removed completely from the face of the earth. Little do they realize, these derbies do little to the population of the coyotes and as even they admit, NO CHANGE TO THE WOLF PROBLEM. IF you want these vermin running rampant on your place, take them with you when you leave. God put us in charge of caring for the planet, including the animals. That does not mean we are to let them overpopulate and destroy the ecosystem.
by mr me
Ok whatever. I'm a sheep herder and it's very much my job, if I can ever get one, to protect sheep from coyotes. Usually a couple of Great Pyrenees dogs do a good job. But realistically I've never worked for a rancher who gives a shit about the animals that they raise, not even the dogs, or even one who has the foggiest notion about how to raise the animals that they own. Mostly they're a bunch of stupid assholes who have some serious ego problems which they think is resolved riding a big horse and imagining themselves as furthering the legacy of John Wayne.

The fact of the matter is that with the complete and total disrespect that they show to the livestock, they still can't even make money at it because of the simply fact that the mortality rate is so exceedingly high. Not because of the coyotes, but because these dipshits don't know what they are doing at all.

I think it's pretty clear that cattle really do destroy the ecosystem, but I don't feel that way about sheep. Still ranchers kill more sheep through bad practices that any wolves or coyotes do. The American shepherd, if any American can be called such a thing, is disappearing because ranchers are dumb fucks.

Salmon Idaho is for dumb fucks.
by phillip Risen
The fish and game defing and letting the murdering of these animals is beyond there athourity . There are several sites on here all on there own if all the sites become one site and run it like a busness . Petion congress for some time do a power point and make it show all the grotesk bloody way that the animals are murdered bring the media in the same time they might stnd a chance but all the sites must join together so it has numbers invite fish and game and any gudges to attend. We would not get much time in congress but just enough to show the worst.
by mr me
Don't work yourself up into a tizzy at the sight of blood. A coyote is still a pretty piss poor dog, or lupus not familiaris if we're going to speak about them in Italian terms. Mostly their pretty disgusting.

I don't think I've ever seen a wolf, except for those dog-wolves people have nowadays.

But a shepherd, I've never actually needed to kill a coyote. Last summer one of the guys I worked with said that he had actually shot one a week before I showed up which grabbed a lamb and tried to abscond. Having suffered a puncture wound in the neck, the lamb actually lived.

But what I'm taking about is bad practices which kill more livestock than coyotes do. For instance, we moved about 1,500 through the hot Colorado dessert on a very hot day. On horse back. Well anyone knows that sheep are not herded from horseback, but we were required to do it that way because the dumbass that owns these animals once did cows and that's how you move cows and a sheep is just a small cow.

Not to make a long story of it, retracing our steps one of the riders found 7 dead lambs. Now that's about $100 - $130 each. So this guy takes a hit for $700 in about three hours, because he thinks to stampede 1,500 with their lambs.

Now a ewe shouldn't stampeded like that, just think how it affects a 2 week old lamb? Ok, so basically they start dropping like flies. But horses also transfer tetanus to sheep, which everyone who ever read a book on the issue would know.

So, we don't do horses with sheep, we herd on foot. But big time Rancher X, let's just call him Kulak for short, is a fat lazy bastard and he needs a 1,000 lbs horse to transport his fat lazy ass to work. So we do it that way, even through it's wrong not because of the tetanus risk alone, but because sheep are next to impossible to really control from the back of a horse. So we walk softly and carry a big stick, literally. But that doesn't matter, he's John 'fukin' Wanye.

If that were all, we also had a blind newborn lamb. The only way this lamb knew how to go point A to point B was to follow the braying of the others. And he was also ALWAYS last. So I culled him and marked his head and told stooped that we should bottle feed this one. But my co-worker didn't keep an eye on him and he got lest behind.

I just followed the vultures out in the desert and found my 'lost sheep' earless mangled body. Killed by vultures, the sick ugly ones that you see in S. Colorado or on TV. Now they should be shot. They are vermin. They kill livestock. So dumb ass took another $100 hit. Why because he's John 'fukin' Wayne. And that's not even close to all that dipshit lost in 2014.

He lost another 1,500 to Ovine Progressive Pneumonia (OPP) he had to segregate them, graze them for the summer, and sell them all in the fall because OPP is contagious vertically and horizontally. And bought another 1,500 (the ones I was with) and start over.

The number tell the story. The decline of the industry, nay the 'pancake' of the industry, is simply not caused by wolves or coyotes. Though I would shoot a coyote, or even a dog, SOS if they attack my sheep. Men have been doing it since King David was a boy.
by Don't worry about it
The competency of the writer should make any person older than twelve turn away from this article in laughter. Thin-lipped, narrow-eyed people easily sniff out strangers? The town welcomes thousands of people every summer to do any number of outdoors activities, not that the author or his followers would engage in such "primitive" actions as hiking and river rafting. And he hopes to be taken seriously after the statement about the earthquake?
by Danika
you were right about one thing. we weren't killing for the safety of people. we were killing to save the animals THEY kill just to kill. a pack of wolfs may only eat 1 out of ever 10 elk they kill and they leave the other 9 to rot. So actually what we were doing is protecting our OTHER wild life from the real killers so we can have enough wild life not ONLY to FEED OUR FAMILIES but to view in their natural habitat without being attacked by theses vicious animals who kill for sport! Yes we kill elk and deer turkey ext. to feed our families but we also enjoy taking pictures of them and watching them play! So NO we were not just killing to kill these preditors. we are simply ruling over the beasts of the land with the authority GOD Himself gave to us
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