Some of those losses have been compensated by payments totaling $300,000 to ranchers from the Bailey Wildlife Foundation Wolf Compensation Trust, administered by Defenders of Wildlife. The fund pays not only for livestock, but also for guard dogs or work animals lost to wolves.
Sommers said the compensation is more public relations for the wolf supporters than real help to ranchers, because so few of the livestock killed by wolves can ever be confirmed. He pointed to a state study done in Idaho that found that for every calf confirmed killed by wolves, another six wolf kills would go unconfirmed.
"It's not always clear what killed what," he said. "The forensics get a little iffy and a lot of the carcasses get all ate up and you don't have any idea what did it."
The U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance, a nationwide group of hunters and people who fish based in Columbus, Ohio, took no stand on the decision to reintroduce the wolf because it is not a game species, but Rob Sexton, the group's vice president for government affairs, said hunters are concerned about the effect the wolf has had on the elk population.
"People see far less elk than they used to, and that has to have an effect on tourism in Yellowstone because people go to see elk," he said. "Hunters are saying the same thing. They're saying they see a heck of a lot less calves."
The ratio of elk calves to cows is one of the triggers that would allow either relocation or hunting of wolves, according to the management plans drawn up by Montana and Idaho.
"It is our perception that the delisting of the wolf is a long time coming," Sexton said. "They've been set up separately from the way that we normally manage wildlife."
At Defenders of Wildlife, the feeling is that separation ought to continue a while longer.
"Wolves are clearly doing better now in the northern Rockies and they are clearly on the way to being recovered, but in our opinion it is not yet time for them to be down-listed," Fascione said.
Bangs noted that there is a little irony in the FWS being responsible for bringing the wolf back to the United States and ensuring its survival, since he said it was the FWS that was largely responsible for hunting the wolf to extinction everywhere in the contiguous 48 states except northern Minnesota 70 years ago.
But somebody needs to protect wolves, he said.
"They do everything magnificently in their lives except avoid getting killed by humans," he said.