Updated…Of Wolves and Junk Science
This LOBO WATCH Release was first circulated in July 2011. Here is an updated version, sharing some new population guesstimations…and taking a look at how the two 2012 gubernatorial candidates in Montana differ in their views of MT Fish, Wildlife and Parks…and managing wolves.
It is now very apparent that when plans were first being made to bring wolves back into the Northern Rockies, knowledgeable “wolf scientists” must have been extremely rare – and extremely far and few in between. When one takes the time to mull over the so-called Northern Rockies Wolf Recovery Plan, and especially the long and drawn out 1994 Environmental Impact Statement filed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, drafted before the first wolves were released into the Greater Yellowstone Area in 1995, and compares the “facts” within those two documents with what we now know has happened and continues to happen, it becomes very clear that the chosen experts knew little if anything about wolves.
In those days, the team of wildlife biologists, managers, ecologists and environmentalists pushing to “reintroduce” wolves into the Yellowstone ecosystem and throughout the Northern Rockies definitively established that to achieve a recovered wolf population it would take 100 wolves, with a minimum of 10 breeding pairs, in each of three states – Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. And that goal was achieved in 2002. At that time, according to the “Recovery Plan” and the 1994 EIS, management was supposed to have been turned over to the state wildlife agencies. But, it was not.
Although the team of “scientists” and “wildlife biologists” who drafted both of these official documents signed off on the recovery goal numbers well before the first wolves were released, intervening environmental groups, including the Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity, began filing lawsuits to prevent wolf management hunts. And this is even though the wildlife agencies of these states had voluntarily planned to insure a minimum of at least 15 breeding pairs in each state. And that battle continues to this very day.
By the time wolves had reached the agreed upon recovery goal in 2002, it was already evident that those scientists who drafted the plan and EIS had missed their predictions, their claims and their promises to a concerned public by a country mile. Hunting is not just a recreation in the Northern Rockies, it is a way of life, with many families relying heavily on the harvest of elk, deer and other big game to supplement how they keep their family fed. It is also big business. In fact, in Montana alone hunting is an annual $230-million-plus boost to the state’s economy. And well before the first 17 wolves were released into Yellowstone National Park in 1995, Congress proclaimed that the planned project was to “not hurt hunting”, to “not hurt ranching”, and that the release of wolves in the Northern Rockies was not to threaten any other endangered species – i.e. the grizzly bear.
Wolf impact on other wildlife resources was realized by 2002. One of the first elk herds to be severely impacted by wolf depredation was the Northern Yellowstone elk herd. In 1995-96, when the first wolves were released, that herd numbered between 19,000 and 20,000 – and as wolf numbers quickly grew in and around the park, elk numbers dwindled quickly. That summer when wolves reached their recovery numbers, this herd was already down to 12,000. Currently, the Northern Yellowstone elk herd numbers right at 4,000 animals.
The so-called wolf experts who contrived the Recovery Plan claimed that the average wolf would kill around 14 big game animals yearly. Subsequent research, observing what was actually happening once the wolves had far surpassed the recovery goals, established that the average wolf was killing between 20 and 30 big game animals annually – for sustenance. Likewise, they were killing nearly the same number – simply for the sport of killing, eating nothing. That meant the average wolf was killing between 40 and 60 animals each and every year. The “scientists” who drafted the plan failed to even address what is now referred to as “sport killing” or “surplus killing”.
These same wolf specialists also failed to address other aspects of wolf impact that just may prove to have an even greater impact on elk, moose, deer and other big game populations – and that is the stress the wolves put on pregnant females. With the reintroduction of the wolf into the northern U.S. Rocky Mountains, the spring calf to cow ratio has nose dived. In many areas where the survival rate was once 30 to 50 calves per 100 cows, it is now down into the single digits – 6 to 9 per 100 cows. Elk biologists realize that it takes at least 30 to 35 calves per 100 cows to sustain a hunted elk herd. Just to sustain itself without being hunted, a herd must realize an 18- to 20-percent calf survival.
Wolves, mountain lions and grizzlies all account for a high rate of calf loss during late spring and early summer calving. However, where wolves very likely make the biggest impact on the calf-to-cow ratio is through the winter, prior to calving time. Wolves put continual pressure on its prey base during the lean months of December, January, February and March. Constantly kept on the move, there is little time for elk to fatten up for the harshest weather of the year. And as cow elk become heavier with a calf fetus inside, the stress of that constant pursuit is now causing a high number to abort the fetus. And this is an impact factor that our wolf “scientists” either purposely ignored, or were not knowledgeable enough about wolves to even realize.
Another oversight was just how this would affect the overall health of big game herds, especially elk. When USFWS brought in the first Canadian wolves into the Yellowstone area, the Northern Yellowstone elk herd averaged 4 to 5 years of age. Due to the excessive loss of calf recruitment, the herd has gotten much older on the average – now between 8 and 9 years of age. Many cows are now reaching an age where reproduction becomes biologically impossible.
Math is an integral part of science, the part which can be most easily manipulated. That can now be witnessed with the “guesstimated” wolf populations that now roam the upper two-thirds of Idaho, all along the western half of Montana and in the northwest quadrant of Wyoming – and which are now moving into Washington, Oregon and Utah. Our experts claim the region is now home to around 1,700 wolves – even though the wildlife agencies in these states do not have the technology or the manpower to accurately assess. The hundreds of thousands of sportsmen who spend most of the year in the outdoors say that number wouldn’t even account for half the wolves in the Northern Rockies. And one of the most respected wolf scientists in the world, Dr. L. David Mech, of Minnesota, tends to agree with them.
Mech was deposed as an expert witness for the 2008 wolf delisting hearings, and in his declaration he established that even with natural death losses, and wolves culled by hunters and animal control officers, the Northern Rockies wolf population was, then, more than 3,000. Today, the number is more like 4,000 to 4,500 – with as many as 1,600 to 1,800 in just Montana. Still, the wolf specialists with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks continued to downplay the wolf numbers, claiming in early 2011 there were “at least” 566 wolves in the state. As the agency got closer to the 2011 wolf season, they admitted that the population could be around 800. Next door in Idaho, wildlife managers also touted a number far below the real number, claiming around 900 as the state went into the fall 2011 wolf hunting season. Sportsmen in these two states say that combined there are “at least” 3,000 to 3,500 wolves in Montana and Idaho.
The “science” Dr. Mech presents that scares the daylights out of those who continually push for more wolves is the level of reduction it’s going to take in order to stop the destruction of other wildlife populations. In that same declaration, he stated that to just stop the growth rate of depredation could mean eliminating upwards of 50-percent of all wolves in the Northern Rockies. To pull big game populations out of what is referred to as a “predator pit” situation would require culling 70-percent or more of existing wolves.
Plaguing the science of the Northern Rockies Wolf Recovery Project even more is the wolf which USFWS chose to transplant from north-central Alberta, Canada as the replacement wolf for the “reintroduction”. It is not the same subspecies as the wolf that was native to the region. Prior to the importation of those non-indigenous Canadian wolves (Canis lupus occidentalis) , the native wolf of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming was a smaller subspecies (Canis lupus irremotus) . Many residents of the region have stated there were still several small pockets of the native wolf in remote areas when USFWS began bringing in the larger and more aggressive non-native Canadian wolves – and that those native wolves were soon eliminated by the invasive species.
Sportsmen are now seriously questioning how USFWS chose to bring in an entirely different wolf to repopulate one of the richest wildlife ecosystems in the U.S. They tend to feel that bringing in that subspecies would be no different than if the agency arbitrarily chose to truck a few thousand pronghorns from the plains of Wyoming down to Mexico to supplement the endangered Sonoran pronghorn, or to help out the endangered Florida Keys Deer by transplanting noticeably larger whitetails from the Midwest. Then there’s Idaho’s extremely endangered woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), will USFWS come to their rescue and transplant Central barren ground caribou (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus) from the Canadian Arctic? Is this science…or playing God?
More and more, people who live in the Northern Rockies are accusing USFWS of actually violating the Endangered Species Act by introducing, not reintroducing, a wolf subspecies that never lived in the region. And that those non-endangered Canadian wolves have destroyed any chances of ever truly re-establishing a population of the native wolf. The manner in which USFWS, with the encouragement of environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Defenders of Wildlife, pushed for such an accelerated recovery project of wolves in and around Yellowstone National Park has many residents suspecting their agenda has much more to it than re-establishing a wolf population. More now claim it is all a part of the spurious “Wildlands Project” (now called the Wildlands Network) and the United Nation’s “Agenda 21” – with goals to greatly reduce human utilization of rural lands.
Last year, one prominent NASA scientist, James Hansen, was accused of illegally accepting more than $1.2-million from well funded environmental groups to support their “Stop Global Warming” agendas. The manner in which some state wildlife agency biologists now seem to be favoring the “let nature balance itself agenda” has many sportsmen, who are the primary financial supporters of these agencies, wondering if the “selling out” problem has now come much closer to home. In the same light, many overly radical environmental professors who are teaching our future wildlife scientists are now under public scrutiny.
A new area of wolf-related science that is just now surfacing is the threat of the Echinococcus granulosus tapeworm – which close to 70-percent of all wolves tested in the Northern Rockies now carry – and spread widely during their long ranging hunts. Every pile of scat left by these wolves could deposit thousands of the tapeworm eggs, which can result in cystic hydatid disease in elk, moose, deer, livestock – and even humans. The eggs of this parasite can cause health and life threatening cysts on the lungs, the liver and on the brain. Once contracted, detection of hydatid disease could take years. Having the cysts surgically removed presents a new danger. They are filled with a cloudy liquid, filled with tiny tapeworm heads, and should one burst, either during surgery or on its own, leads to a severe allergic reaction, called anaphylatic shock – and possibly death. When a cyst does burst, it can spawn the growth of multiple new cysts, making surgery a tricky procedure.
As wolf numbers continue to grow in the Northern Rockies, so will the chances of contracting the disease. It already has many outdoor oriented people afraid to enjoy harvesting and eating wild berries and mushrooms, which could be covered with microscopic tapeworm eggs. Several cases in humans have now been reported, and a growing number of hunters are finding the cysts on the lungs and livers of elk, deer and moose harvested.
In Montana, the junk science that severely taints the Northern Rockies Wolf Recovery Project is now under full attack from those who are disgusted with the 70- to 80-percent loss of elk herds and other big game populations in the western regions of the state. Democratic 2012 gubernatorial candidate Steve Bullock feels MT FWP’s “more aggressive” 2012 wolf season, which also allows trapping, is definitely a step in the right direction to bring down wolf numbers in the state. Several hundred thousand sportsmen disagree, claiming it is not enough – and so does Bullock’s opponent in the race for the governor’s office. Republican candidate Rick Hill has his own idea of wolf management, which would treat the wolf as a non-protected predator across the eastern half of the state, and would more aggressively manage wolf numbers up and down the western side of the state. Hill also says that, as the Governor, he would push hard for a complete overhaul of the state’s wildlife agency.
Science is a wonderful tool when it is used for the right reasons. But when it is used to lie and deceive, to cover up what’s really happening, and to support a radical agenda, perhaps it should be handled as a criminal offense. Montana resident Robert Fanning, the founder and C.E.O. of the group known as the Friends of the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd refers to the science used throughout the Northern Rockies Wolf Recovery Project as “scientific fraud!”
The evidence says he’s right. – Toby Bridges, LOBO WATCH