courtesy of The Missoulian
by Perry Backus
Carter Niemeyer didn’t set out to become an expert on wolves. For the first 26 years of his career, the author of “Wolfer, A Memoir” was the man behind the gun who killed predators that threatened livestock.
This week, Niemeyer will tell that part of his story in appearances around Missoula. He’ll also let people know how he learned to appreciate the need to bring wolves back to the American West.
Right out of college, Niemeyer moved to Montana from his home state of Iowa and used trapping skills perfected from childhood to kill coyotes, foxes and black bears as a government trapper for a little-known agency called Animal Damage Control. When wolves began crossing from Canada into Montana and ranchers started complaining about predation of sheep and cattle, Niemeyer was called upon to investigate livestock deaths. A nonprofit group called Defenders of Wildlife compensated livestock owners for animals that officials like Niemeyer confirmed were killed by wolves. Livestock producers wouldn’t be paid without confirmation. The results of the investigations were often the difference between life and death for wolves. That conflict often led to face-to-face confrontations with people on both sides of the wolf issue.
Niemeyer was not a rubber-stamp kind of guy. His detailed forensic investigations with their meticulous scientific notes and refusal to back down from furious landowners and environmentalists caught the attention of officials preparing to reintroduce wolves into Yellowstone National Park in 1995. Niemeyer became part of the team that captured the Canadian wolves that became the nucleus of the packs that roam the Northern Rockies today. Along the way, he gained respect and understanding about the predator and the polarizing effect it had on the human population. Niemeyer saw there were two sides to this story and his search for the middle ground cost him friends and respect with Animal Damage Control officials (now called Wildlife Services).
He left the agency in 2000 for a job overseeing wolf recovery in Idaho for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. By the time he retired in 2006, Neimeyer had handled more than 300 wolves. “Not once did any of us ever have a close call,” he said Monday from his Boise, Idaho, home. “We weren’t stalked. We weren’t chased. There were no problems at all.”