LOBO WATCH Guest Editorial –
By Jim Beers, Retired USFWS Biologist –
Budding wildlife biologists used to (many years ago) learn in their third year of college that wildlife species nearly always benefit greatly from regulated harvests. While the desirable percentage of harvest varies greatly from big game to upland game to waterfowl as it does from muskies to crappies; when the optimum annual harvest of mammals, birds or fish is attained, the overall productivity of the species is enhanced.
Consider how many more healthy deer or elk survive a harsh winter when there is abundant food as opposed to many more deer or elk entering the winter when available food is far less than what is needed for many animals. Healthy deer and elk have healthier young in the spring and healthier young survive to mate and bear more elk and deer the following year. Of course, other factors enter into survival and the upward or downward trend of animal populations. Polygamous birds like pheasants “bounce back” quicker than monogamous birds like canvasback ducks. A series of very severe (temperature, moisture, etc.) winters or springs can cause precipitous drops in both mammals and birds. That said, the more suited the food supply is through times of stress, the more and healthier are the offspring born and raised subsequently.
I mention all this to direct your attention to all the faux-hoopla taking place in the Northern Rockies’ states of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, and in the Great Lakes states of Minnesota and Wisconsin. What hoopla you ask? Why haven’t you heard? The federal government has “turned over management of wolves to Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho and they (those states) are killing all the wolves”. In Minnesota and Wisconsin a similar abdication of federal controls is allowing those two states to hold a “wolf hunting season”. Oh my, oh my; the hunters and ranchers and other horrible persons are killing wolves and will once more make them extinct if “we” (urban public, courts, animal “lovers”, environmentalists, and etceteras) don’t “stop them”.
Relax! Things are not as they appear. All those bad guys are really helping the wolf population to expand into new areas and to reach higher densities where they occur now for longer periods of time. The paradox of regulated annual harvests being healthy for wild animal populations applies to wolves just as it does to moose and grouse and walleyes and trout.
1. These “first in fifty years” wolf “seasons” are more successful ventures than any subsequent hunts of the same design. Wolves haven’t been shot at or trapped before and are easier targets. Wolves are like coyotes (and your dog for that matter), they not only learn fast, they adapt their habits and behavior to stay alive just like Fido adapts to whatever he needs to do to sleep on the furniture and get food.
2. Current “sport hunts” are frankly, a joke. First the state agencies lie or lowball the number of wolves present. Second, based on these fantasy figures, state agencies set a low harvest target to get treats from wolf lovers and their judges. Third, such effective means of killing wolves as aerial gunning, poisons, snares, etc. are never allowed. Fourth, no attempt is made to address all the “No Wolf Hunting” ownerships that are in effect simply wolf refuges that are quickly recognized by wolves. Fifth, other impediments like license costs, reporting requirements, closure during other hunts, out-of-state hunter bans, etc. combine to further prove how much the state bureaucrats are worthy of future employment consideration from federal and private animal rights outfits.
3. Canada and Russia and a whole bunch of former Soviet “Republics” like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Siberia, etc. know lots about wolf damage, wolf dangers, and wolf control. Regarding the reduction of wolf populations where their damage (human attacks, livestock destruction, game animal eradication, etc.) becomes unbearable they recognize: A. Control is expensive; B. Aerial gunning in winter, bounties, minimal method of taking restrictions, and concentrated annual harvests are necessary for at least 5 years with reduced efforts EVERY year thereafter to prevent a population rebound; and C. Initial reductions of 70-80% per year for those first five years is NECESSARY to reduce wolf populations. Annual harvests of 30-50% per year thereafter with unregulated private taking of wolves by all citizens where they cause potential harm is necessary, recognizing that periodic harvest increases will be needed as wolves move into the relatively wolf-free areas and as large litters and high wolf productivity display the benefits of hunting and eating in such places.
So what has happened in the Upper Rockies and what is about to happen in the Great Lakes States?
– Montana and Idaho have had hunting seasons that killed a few hundred wolves out of thousands of wolves.
– Wyoming is set to kill wolves on site outside the Yellowstone/Jackson Hole Billionaires Ecosystem while USFWS announces plans to release wolves in Colorado that will surely (in addition to Utah, Northern New Mexico, and nearby Great Plains States) spread North up into Wyoming.
– Oregon and Washington are hosting invading wolves under full protection of law and spending limited-availability money to kill and transplant the few wolves that can be shown to have killed stock or threatened humans. In five to ten years they will be in exactly the same situation evolving in their Eastern neighbor’s states.
– Minnesota and Wisconsin wolf “hunts” will follow the same pattern starting later this year.
What pattern you ask? Why this pattern:
– Harvest levels of 5 to 20% will be set the first year.
– Total harvest the first year will in reality be 5 to (being generous here) 10%.
– Wolf lovers will howl, courts will gear up, and federal bureaucracies will request “more” (money, personnel, and power) to “monitor what is happening” and conduct research on how “loss of an Alpha male” or “stress on denning females” is threatening the wolf gene pool and the tranquility of wolves or how too many big game animals are dying from hunting since wolf populations have plummeted. Real though all this is, it is all hogwash.
– The first year harvest will decrease in subsequent years as wolves get smarter and wolf lovers give them more refugiums (i.e. federal land classifications, private land ownerships and activist mogul landholdings) and a host of ways to make hunters less effective and wolves safer are employed by the children of the former animal lab terrorists, Unabomber’s, and SUV car lot destroyers. If any of these states can maintain a 10% harvest level it will be a miracle. That said; let us give them the benefit of the doubt and double that to 20%. A 20 % annual harvest of wolves (when a 70-80% annual reduction is needed to REDUCE them and a 30-50% annual reduction is needed to MAINTAIN their numbers and distribution) only ENHANCES the wolf population:
– Surviving wolves will be healthier and will have larger (10-12 whelps as with dogs can be routine) litters.
– Wolf survival due to non-hunting loss will decrease as wolves have more food and do not have to move as far day in and day out.
– Wolves will remain at higher densities and as a result of learning, live closer to and more off of human habitations.
– Prohibitions against taking wolves outside proscribed seasons will make wolves, like other animals, bolder outside “seasons” as they frequent human habitations and have their way with dogs, livestock, (kids?, old folks checking rural mailboxes?, campers?, fishermen?, etc.?). Wolves are now being “managed” just like elk and ducks and bass; that is to say with a conservative harvest that spurs reproduction, maximizes off-season survival, and keeps them “smart” to enhance the challenge of the chase! They should change the official titles of all these state and federal Wolf Project Leaders, Wolf Specialists, Wolf Liaison, and Wolf Whatevers to WOLF GAMEKEEPER! But alas, that would be like calling; “choice”… abortion; “gay”… same sex activity; or wolves “exploiting young elk” (as noted in a recent Wisconsin news release)…wolves “killing elk calves”.
That would be “insensitive”.
Maybe Defenders of Wildlife and the US Fish and Wildlife Service should subsidize the wolf hunters like those that purchase Volt cars or those that turn food into fuel. Wolf hunts as currently construed are doing as much public good as either of those two federal activities.
(Jim Beers is a 32 year veteran of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, serving as a wildlife biologist, special USFWS agent, and as the Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System, among other positions. He is also the individual who blew the whistle on USFWS for embezzling between $45- and $60-million from Pittman-Robertson funds, money collected as excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, fishing tackle, and archery gear – that by law was supposed to be used for wildlife habitat and fisheries improvement.)