Wolves…Shoot On Sight 365-Days A Year!
Sportsmen, wildlife watchers, ranchers and other rural residents of the Northern Rockies have had to come to grip with a stark realization and ask themselves an extremely tough question – are elk, moose, deer and other big game animals more important to them than beavers and songbirds?
With the introduction of the Canadian gray wolf into the Northern Rockies ecosystem, in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, big game populations in this part of the country have taken a precipitous nose dive. Many of the great elk herds of this region are now barely 20-percent of what they were when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released the first of the Alberta wolves trapped and transported to the U.S. for release into the Greater Yellowstone Area in 1995. One of the hardest hit herds has been the Northern Yellowstone elk herd, which numbered close to 20,000 when the first wolves were released. Today, that herd is down to about 4,000 – and continues to drop.
That is the degree of damage to all wild ungulates along the northern U.S. Rocky Mountain chain these days. As wolf numbers continually escalated, the numbers of prized game animals sank lower and lower. Many areas of Idaho and Montana are now literally wildlife wastelands, where the wolves have even left due to the lack of enough prey to keep them fed. And that has created yet several other growing problems. As game animals have moved in closer to human populations to escape continual pressure from wolf packs, where the prey has moved inside of city limits, the wolves are now following. And those that don’t have stepped up depredation of cattle and other livestock.
Could these losses and new dangers to the residents of the region been circumvented, or was it just inevitable that wolves would eventually re-colonize the rugged landscape anyway? Those who have lived with wolves since they were unleashed on them are now pointing an accusing finger at USFWS and state wildlife agencies, claiming that these wildlife managers did not know enough about wolves to undertake such a gamble, with other wildlife resources and ranching at risk. They also blame environmental groups, such as the Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club, for keeping wolf management tied up in court for years, allowing wolf numbers to grow even more.
According to the Northern Rockies Wolf Recovery Plan, and the 1994 Environmental Impact Statement filed prior to the first release of imported Canadian wolves, management (or control) of this “endangered species” was to be turned over to state wildlife agencies once the numbers reached 100 wolves, with a minimum of 10 breeding pairs, in each of the three states. That did not happen, largely due to legal intervention by a dozen or so environmental groups. In fact, the wolf population met the recovery goal in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming by 2001. Still, no management or control hunts were conducted until 2009, and by that time the “at least” number of wolves in the region was around 1,600 – with residents, based on the negative impact wolves were having on big populations, claiming the number was “at least” twice that estimate.
The same coalition of environmental groups successfully managed to stop a 2010 wolf hunt, but several federal courts upheld the right of states to manage wolf numbers in Idaho and Montana in 2011. As this is being written, those hunts continue. In Idaho, where wolf numbers are now “at least” 1,000 to 1,200, a quota has not been assessed for most hunt units. However, next door in Montana, the state’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks established a quota of 220 wolves to be taken statewide, claiming the number represented a 25% decrease in the state wolf population. The season was originally slated to end December 31, 2011, but has been extended to February 15, 2012. Even so, as of January 6, 2012, Montana wolf hunters have only shot 125. Next door in Idaho, where hunters are allowed to take two wolves during the current season, and trapping is now being allowed, just 207 wolves have been taken. Several hunt zones closed on December 31, in 9 others the season is scheduled to close on March 31, 2012.
In the Selway and Lolo hunt zones, the season runs all the way until the end of June. Both of these zones have been hard hit with wolf depredation, especially of newborn calves. More than 75-percent of the elk numbers within the Lolo zone have been lost to major predators, primarily to wolves. The goal of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game looks to take at least 60 wolves out of this management zone.
The sportsmen who spend a great deal of time in the outdoors, and who have witnessed the destruction of big game herds, now openly challenge the effectiveness of controlling wolf numbers by treating these apex predators as a “big game animal”, and hunting them only during a regulated season. Many now realize the intelligence of wolves, and their ability to remain hidden in the thick cover of the Northern Rockies – and to disappear in the blink of an eye.
Several hundred thousand elk, deer and other big game hunters participate during the big game seasons held in each of these two states, but once those seasons come to an end, not many will venture out just to hunt wolves. In Montana, the general firearms elk and deer seasons closed on November 27, and at that time 100 of the 220 wolf quota had been taken. A few had been harvested earlier during archery hunts, but the vast majority of those wolves were shot by hunters looking to hang their tag on an elk or deer for the table during the 5-week long gun season. During the six weeks since the close of that season, just 25 additional wolves have been culled.
What are the chances of the 220 quota being filled, and if it is, just what real impact will it have on the wolf population and depredation of game and livestock?
Montana residents now feel that the quota will not be filled, and would be extremely suspect if MT Fish, Wildlife and Parks claims that is has been. Likewise, these very outdoor oriented people fully know that the real wolf population of this state is more like 1,400 to 1,600, and that eliminating just 220 wolves will only insure that more wolves are on the landscape come the birthing of wolf pups in the spring. At just a 25-percent birth rate growth, that would put the summer wolf population at “at least” 1,475 to 1,725 wolves. If the birth rate jumps to 30- to 35-percent, which it often does, there could be as many as 1,800 or 1,900 wolves roaming Montana next fall.
Sportsmen are now calling for more sensible control of wolf numbers. They feel an established season and quotas will never gain any control of burgeoning wolf numbers. Many want wolves to have the same status as coyotes – shoot on sight 365-days a year, no license or permit required! Only this approach has made any impact on wolf numbers in Canada, where wolves have always been a major problem. Here is what one 2005 Canadian study established about wolves, and what our Lower 48 states have to look forward to as wolves are allowed to freely spread across the country – and that’s the goal of many environmental groups.
1. Wolves destroy 90% of the elk populations.
2. Elk slaughter by wolves increased in proportion to the severity of the winters.
3. 60% of the elk stopped migrating.
4. Wolves destroyed 56% of moose populations and nearly eliminated calf recruitment.
5. Wolves decimated woodland caribou, bringing that species to ultimate extirpation.
6. Wolves stole 57% of prey kills by grizzlies.
7. Any attempt to manage ungulate numbers anywhere near pre wolf times is a not feasible.
8. Increasing quality habitat for elk had no effect on increasing numbers with wolves present.
9. To begin replenishing ungulate populations, wolf numbers need to be reduced every year by at least 70%. The reduction has to be ongoing, forever.
10. Wolf hunts utilized to control wolf populations are ineffective.
During the 72nd North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference, held in Portland, OR in 2007, the University of Montana’s Mark Hebblewhite presented a study on “Predator-Prey Management in the National Park Context: Lessons from a Transboundary Wolf, Elk, Moose and Caribou System”, and stated ” Based on experiences in BNP (Banff National Park), I show that wildlife managers face tough choices ahead and must come to terms with the truth that maintaining prewolf ungulate harvest regimes may be a fantasy in postwolf landscapes…”
He went on to state, “ The typical conclusion of previous studies where wolves limited prey densities to low numbers was usually a recommendation to reduce predation via large-scale wolf control . While there is some controversy over the success of wolf controls, there is some experimental evidence that wolf control—when applied consistently to reduce wolf populations by greater than 80 percent over huge areas for long terms (5-years) at great financial costs can be partially successful at enhancing ungulate populations for short periods of time. I feel compelled to reiterate, however, that the main conclusions of the authors of perhaps, to date, the best executed wolf-control study in the Yukon pointed out the seeming futility of their wolf-control program as a long term solution to ungulate population declines. Within 2 years of the end of wolf control, wolf densities and ungulate vital rates returned to precontrol levels. To be successful, wolf control needs to be conducted for long periods of time with greater than 70 percent of the wolf population removed from huge areas. While future harvest plans for wolves once delisting occurs will undoubtedly include some wolf harvest, it remains difficult to conceive of states being able to conduct wolf control at the spatial and temporal scales required to even obtain short-term increases in ungulate populations.
Within national parks, where management objectives are often ecosystem based, low- density elk populations may be consistent with long-term management objectives. However, in the managed lands surrounding national parks, management objectives include both consumptive and nonconsumptive wildlife use. In this context then, low-density population of elk may not meet historical agency management objectives. This contradiction will become a common management problem in ecosystems with recovering wolf populations.”
Mark Hebblewhite is one of the professors now teaching future wildlife managers and biologists at the University of Montana, in Missoula. More and more, the sportsmen who have funded state wildlife agencies are seeing a change in management practices that they really don’t like, and that is a move to supporting the agendas of radical environmental groups rather than the sportsmen who have footed the bill for wildlife conservation. Hebblewhite’s study does a great job of exactly identifying what’s happening inside Canada’s Banff National Park, as well as in Yellowstone National Park – and that is a move to permit nature to balance itself – by allowing major predators to dramatically reduce big game populations. Only problem is, the practice has spilled outside of park boundaries, and those who have strongly supported the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation for the past 75 years are now witnessing state wildlife agencies literally robbing them of hunting opportunities.
The sad truth is, this is all by design. The University of Montana is one of more than a hundred collaborators of the “Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative”, along with anti-hunting organizations such as Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, and The Wildlands Network. It is their goal to establish a near human free wild corridor nearly three times the size of California running from Yellowstone National Park all the way into the Yukon. This corridor would be returned, as much as possible, back to wilderness, where wildlife could move freely North-South for more than 2,000 miles – and where wolves, grizzlies and cougars would serve as the wildlife managers. The Y2Y followers neither endorse nor condone the hunting of large carnivores. For many Northern Rockies hunters who have lost all trust in IDFG and MT FWP, it does not come as any surprise to learn that those two state wildlife agencies are also listed as collaborators of this environmentalist dream world.
So, what will it be…elk, moose, deer, pronghorns, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats? Or, will it be wolves, beavers and warblers? According to “experts” like Mark Hebblewhite, we’re not supposed to play any role to enjoy an abundance of both. – Toby Bridges, LOBO WATCH
Addendum – Here are the beginning two paragraphs of Hebblewhite’s study he presented at the 72nd North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference…
Wolves (Canis lupus) are recolonizing much of their former range within the lower 48 states through active recovery (Bangs and Fritts 1996) and natural dispersal (Boyd and Pletscher 1999). Wolf recovery is being touted as one of the great conservation successes of the 20th century (Mech 1995; Smith et al. 2003). In addition to being an important single-species conservation success, wolf recovery may also be one of the most important ecological restoration actions ever taken because of the pervasive ecosystem impacts of wolves (Hebblewhite et al. 2005). Wolf predation is now being restored to ecosystems that have been without the presence of major predators for 70 years or more. Whole generations of wildlife managers and biologists have come up through the ranks, trained in an ungulate- management paradigm developed in the absence of the world’s most successful predator of ungulates—the wolf. Many questions are now facing wildlife managers and scientists about the role of wolf recovery in an ecosystem management context. The effects wolves will have on economically important ungulate populations is emerging as a central issue for wildlife managers. But, questions about the important ecosystem effects of wolves are also emerging as a flurry of new studies reveals the dramatic ecosystem impacts of wolves and their implications for the conservation of biodiversity (Smith et al. 2003; Fortin et al. 2005; Hebblewhite et al. 2005; Ripple and Beschta 2006; Hebblewhite and Smith 2007).
In this paper, I provide for wildlife managers and scientists in areas in the lower 48 states (where wolves are recolonizing) a window to their future by reviewing the effects of wolves on montane ecosystems in Banff National Park (BNP), Alberta. Wolves were exterminated in much of southern Alberta, similar to the lower 48 states, but they recovered through natural dispersal populations to the north in the early 1980s, between 10 and 20 years ahead of wolf recovery in the northwestern states (Gunson 1992; Paquet, et al. 1996). Through this review, I aim to answer the following questions: (1) what have the effects of wolves been on population dynamics of large-ungulate prey, including elk (Cervus elaphus), moose (Alces alces) and threatened woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus tarandus), (2) what other ecosystem effects have wolves had on montane ecosytems, (3) how sensitive are wolf-prey systems to top-down and bottom-up management to achieve certain human objectives, and (4) how is this likely to be constrained in national park settings? Finally, I discuss the implications of this research in the context of ecosystem management and long term ranges of variation in ungulate abundance.
To read the entire study, go to the following link –