MT FWP Sides With Environmental Groups TO NOT Hunt Predatory Carnivores!
October 20, 2011
In Ravalli County, MT...It's Now Lions... Bears...And Wolves...Oh My!
In and around the bustling western Montana river town of Hamilton, all is not well these days. Nestled in the Bitterroot Valley, with the famed Bitterroot Mountains at the west edge of town, and the Sapphire Mountains only a few miles to the east, from just about anywhere in this community of around 4,500 people, out of at least one window of any house in town, residents can spot a mountain peak. And young anglers can ride their bicycles to the edge of town and enjoy some of the finest trout fishing in the Northern Rockies - catching rainbows, browns and bull trout from the fast running and crystal clear Bitterroot River.
Kind of sounds like a sportsman's paradise, doesn't it? Well, until just recently, it was. Then, starting in 1995, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service felt compelled to reintroduce a major predator here, one which earlier residents had worked hard to eliminate - the gray wolf. Trouble was, that federal wildlife agency did not have a ready supply of the native wolf to this area for a true "reintroduction", so USFWS kind of bent a few scientific Endangered Species Act guidelines, and instead "introduced" an entirely different wolf - a larger and more aggressive non-native central Canadian subspecies. And from that point on, other native wildlife species, namely elk, moose and deer have been near totally annihilated, reduced to a mere fraction of the abundance once found along the mountain ridges, living in the dense valley forests and grazing in lush mountain meadows.
Right now, with most remaining wildlife populations destroyed, with the remnant game numbers moving in close to human settlement for some protection from the wolves, these major predatory carnivores are turning to domestic livestock. Hamilton is the county seat of Ravalli County, and is a strong ranching community. Those who are now seeing their livelihood threatened by wolf depredation are not happy. Likewise, with growing wolf numbers down in the Bitterroot Valley, rural residents are suddenly realizing the safety and health threats wolves pose their families, especially when they are showing up in front and back yards, killing prized riding horses and pets. Those living close with the wolves know it is only a matter of time before there is a loss of human life, and many are now carrying guns anytime they are outdoors - even when mowing the lawn or doing other yard work.
The State of Montana has done little to resolve the problem. The state wildlife agency, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, seems to have bought into all the hype about "the good" wolves would bring to the wildlife ecosystem. Despite the dramatic losses of game populations all across western Montana, and now the growing livestock depredation, the agency continues to claim that wolves are not the culprit.
MT FWP studies have shown that a current glut of other large predators are also now making a big dent in elk, moose, deer and other big game populations as well. And with so little game left out in "the wilds", mountain lions, black bears, and even grizzlies are now looking for something to eat down in that populated valley as well. The hundreds of thousands of sportsmen in the State of Montana, who have stood against an uncontrolled wolf population and both federal and state wildlife agencies which continued to protect wolves, insuring more on the landscape with each passing year, have now finally found some common ground with MT FWP wildlife managers and biologists. The hunters and other outdoor recreationists of this state agree, there are too many large predatory carnivores in Montana, and those predators are now destroying wildlife populations which took the past 75 years of sound conservation practices to build.
Strictly controlling such predators played a major role in those early wildlife conservation success stories. That's something that today's new wave wildlife managers seem to have forgotten. It was the near elimination of the wolf and the grizzly bear, along with high harvests of black bear and cougars, which allowed game populations to thrive - and to provide a surplus which human hunters harvested to feed their families. And that practice goes back thousands of years in this country, with the earliest North American inhabitants strictly controlling predator numbers to insure the well being of the game herds they relied on for sustenance.
Ignoring the fact that the North American Model of Wildlife Management has been based on the "human hunter" harvesting surplus wild ungulates and keeping natural predators strictly controlled, state wildlife agencies such as MT FWP have swallowed the "natural balance" theory hook, line and sinker. Have they also forgotten where their funding comes from? It has been the sportsmen of Montana, through the purchase of big game permits, hunting licenses and fishing licenses which have put the bread and butter on their table. Without a surplus of game, who is going to buy a big game permit or hunting license? Who else will suffer from the near $150-
million loss of hunting and ranching related revenue each and every year?
Many hunting outfitters have already gone out of business, and to stay afloat, many others have had to cut back on the number of people they employ. The hunting has gotten so bad in many parts of western Montana, out of state hunters are going elsewhere, where predators have not yet become a major problem, to spend the thousands of dollars each spend during each fall season. Hundreds of small businesses all along the Bitterroot Mountains are now feeling the bite of predators. In Ravalli County alone, it has been reported that since the introduction of the Canadian wolf in 1995, this very rural county has seen a loss of more than $30-million in revenue. Without the hunters in the fall, or those tourists who come to see a bounty of elk, moose, deer, bighorn sheep and mountain goats, small lodge owners, restaurants, gas stations, sporting goods stores, and other businesses are being negatively impacted by the predator induced economic down turn.
So, perhaps the loss of wildlife can't be totally blamed on the wolf. Still, many sportsmen, ranchers and business owners quickly point out that the problem escalated once the non-
native wolves moved into, or were covertly released into, Ravalli County. Before the wolves, crashes in game numbers due to extremely harsh winter weather or prolonged drought generally recovered within 4 or 5 years. But with a growing number of the wild canines, each known to kill 20 to 30 big game animals annually for food, and about that number for mere sport, the added pressure of such wide ranging predators have put game populations into what is referred to as a "predator pit" situation. In other words, there are far too many predators for the prey base to support - and before game populations can rebound, serious predator control must be initiated, and quickly.
How did FWP let this happen? How could an agency that is "supposed to be" staffed by professional wildlife managers and biologists let things get so out of whack?
Among the sportsmen who have strongly supported MT FWP in the past, there is now a strong resentment against the agency. More and more, the hunters and others who spend a great deal of time in the outdoors are openly saying what's on their mind. And what they're saying isn't good for FWP. A majority of residents, whether they hunt or not, feel that this wildlife agency has abandoned them, that FWP has a new agenda, and that the new direction they seem to have taken is not good for the future of hunting in Montana.
Thanks to the manner in which the agency has worked so hard to publicly down play wolf numbers in the state, continually touting the "at least" minimum number, and the manner in which FWP wildlife managers have outright lied to sportsmen in regard to how wolves, and other predators, have impacted game populations, it's easy to see how that feeling persists. There is also other evidence that FWP continues to side with radical environmental organizations which promote growing predator populations, further eliminating opportunities for the human hunter.
A major pipedream among the more radical of new wave environmentalists is the fantasy of what has been known as the Wildlands Project. If accomplished, roughly 50-percent of this country would become uninhabited, by humans anyway. Rural residents would be forced off the land, and into cities or inhabited zones. This would create huge wild tracts of land, and these larger areas would all be interconnected by "Wildlands Corridors". This would allow major predators to travel from one major tract to another, to keep other wildlife populations in "natural balance". In the wild, that's another way of saying, the carnivores would kill until there was nothing left to support them, then they would move to a new area and start killing again. There would be no need for human hunters to keep game populations managed.
One part of that fantasy is known as "The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative". This would create a near humanless corridor running from the Greater Yellowstone Area all across western Montana and up through Canada. Those currently living in the path of this runaway environmental bulldozer would be forced to relocate - and evidence of that is happening now, with growing closures of access into wild areas, the loss of timber operations, more restrictive mining practices, and the reluctance to permit new gas and oil exploration. In short, no jobs...no people!
All of that red you see on the map above are the places where you would not be allowed to live...and where major predators would become the modern day wildlife managers!
One policy of this radical effort reads as follows, "The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative neither endorses nor condones the hunting of carnivore species such as grizzly bears, black bears, wolves and cougars."
Could this be MT FWP's new agenda? Could it be why they have worked so hard to hide from the residents of this state the true number of wolves here...and why they've tried so hard to cover up the real loss of game to wolves, and other predators? This policy would certainly explain why FWP has adopted extremely restrictive hunting methods and harvest quotas which would make it extremely difficult to eliminate enough predators to allow other wildlife to flourish. Now, does such thinking sound ridiculous, does it sound certifiably environmentally crazy?
Yes, it does. However, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is listed as a collaborator of "The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative", and so are the University of Montana and Montana State University - where many of our "new" wildlife managers and biologists are being educated, perhaps brainwashed. Also listed as collaborators of this project are extremely anti-
hunting organizations, including the Defenders of Wildlife, the Natural Resources Council, the Sierra Club, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, and even the Wildlands Network.
It is the fear of such an agenda and the very apparent losses of wildlife and income which has come to a boil in Ravalli County, MT. So much so, that residents are now putting a great deal of pressure on the County Commissioners to take the matter into their own hands, and to adopt a county predator control plan - whether or not such would have state or federal approval. While such would surely be supported by a majority of those who live in the county, not by all. Ironically, one bit of opposition comes from the Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association.
"Should they pass something like this, it would pit federal and state government against county government. My guess is that it wouldn't turn out very well for the county. This is the first time that I've seen a county commission weigh in on any kind of wildlife season, if they are that concerned about it, where have they been up to now?" said Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association president Tony Jones in an article that appeared in the Missoulian newspaper.
Perhaps it is because federal and state wildlife agencies have failed to truthfully address the issue, and it is those who live in Ravalli County who are suffering the losses. Jones feels that the county should work through MT FWP to find resolution. Unfortunately, this is the very agency the sportsmen of Montana no longer put any trust in to take care of the predator problem.
Many Ravalli County hunters and other sportsmen feel that Jones' fish and wildlife group is not representative of those who do hunt. The Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association is an affiliate of the Montana Wildlife Federation, which in turn is a chapter/affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation. That organization is also listed as a collaborator with "The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative", which MT Fish, Wildlife and Parks is likely already working with - only in the other direction. - Toby Bridges, LOBO WATCH