Does MT FWP Lack The Ability To Control Wolf Populations - Or Is It Their Plan To Allow Wolves To Destroy Elk Herds?
July 15, 2013
Many More Wolves Need Eliminated To Save Elk Herds
In early June, the owners of a Bitterroot Valley hay farm, near Stevensville, MT, were shocked to find the tracks of four wolves crossing a freshly plowed and worked field. It was the first such wolf sign found in their relatively densely populated rural neighborhood, and what bothered the small acreage farmers most was that the tracks were headed directly toward several other small farms with livestock. From just about anywhere the tracks could be seen in the fine dirt, at least four or five nearby homes or barns could also be seen across open fields or through open stands of timber.
(Photo at Right - Wolf tracks are more frequently being found in human settled rural communities.)
The terrain and habitat of the area is far from being what is considered typical wolf country. Or, at least, what was once considered wolf country. The wolves are no longer keeping to the mountain ridges that border both sides of the Bitterroot Valley. They're now down in the valley, and it has been hunger that's driven them to hunt among the valley dwelling human inhabitants of Western Montana.
There's not much left to be hunted in the mountainous country up and down most all of the western one-third of the state - either for wolves or for human big game hunters. Once bountiful elk herds are now barely 20-percent of what they were 15 years ago. Back then, most local residents would catch sight of moose several times a year. Now, moose are merely a memory. Outside of the human inhabited valleys, deer populations have plummeted sharply as well, and there is growing evidence that wolves and other apex predators are now making a serious negative impact on bighorn sheep and mountain goat numbers as well - especially during winter when these high alpine dwellers move to lower elevations to escape deep snows.
What big game there is left in Western Montana is now mostly found in the valleys, close to human inhabitants - where the remaining elk and deer seem to sense some safety and protection from aggressive wolf packs. Elk which once came down out of the high country when late fall snows began to blanket the ground, then returned the following spring, are now staying year-
round in the valleys- and they're staying out of the mountains. Following them are now the wolves.
(Photo at Left - When the supply of wild prey runs short, wolves readily turn to domestive livestock, and pets, to satisfy their hunger.)
Healthy adult whitetails are simply too fast and too agile for wolves to depend on for a constant food source. Elk on the other hand are slower, and less likely to dart through thick timber at full speed. Three or four wolves can more quickly wear down a lone elk, especially a pregnant cow in the dead of winter - and that's why they have so negatively impacted elk populations. However, without elk, the wild carnivores will turn to whatever else is available - wild or domestic. The four wolves hunting the tilled hay field near Stevensville were most likely hunting for newborn whitetail fawns or calf elk. The predators are particularly hard on the newborn of the year, in many areas leaving a less than adequate 6- to 8-percent calf elk recruitment. Just for an elk herd to exist, it takes close to a 20-percent calf recruitment - and around a 30-percent calf recruitment to justify even limited elk hunting opportunities for human hunters.
The manner in which the State of Montana continues to pussyfoot around with an ever worsening major predator problem baffles the sportsmen and rural residents of the state. One thing that's now clearly evident is that wolves cannot be controlled through sport hunting - requiring hunters to purchase a wolf hunting license and restricting those hunters to "sporting" methods of take. The transplanted Canadian wolves now roaming the Northern U.S. Rockies are not native to the region, they are not "big game" the same as elk or deer, and anyone in pursuit of wolves with the intent of controlling their numbers cannot be subjected to "fair chase" restrictions. Wolves are destructive predators, and must be controlled as such. Montana hunters impacted by the devastating loss of wildlife to wolves feel that the state's wildlife agency needs to abandon all efforts to manage wolves as another big game animal, and allow hunters to take wolves whenever the opportunity presents itself - no license, no season, no limit, no "sporting" methods of take restrictions - until the wolf population has been adequately reduced.
Currently, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has proposed some changes for the 2013 Wolf Season that will make it the most liberal season to date. This year, wolf hunters/trappers would be allowed to buy up to five licenses, the firearm wolf season would begin statewide on September 15, and the season would run until the end of March. Just days before the end of the 2012 wolf season, legislation was enacted to legalize electronic game callers for hunting wolves, but the 2013 season will be the first to determine just how effective such callers are for taking such an intelligent and secretive predator. Unfortunately, the writing is already on the wall, and concerned Montana residents are openly speaking out, condemning even these changes as not going far enough.
(Photo Above Right - This Lincoln, MT elk herd has moved right into town, living among human residences to escape the constant onslaught from wolves.)
During the wolf delisting hearings of 2008, Dr. L. David Mech, considered by many as the leading wolf scientist in the world, was deposed as an expert witness in support of halting the growth of the wolf population in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. In his declaration, he pointed out that wolves could not be managed the same as game like elk, moose and deer. He also outlined the degree that wolf populations had to be culled. Just to stop the rate of wolf population growth, and to stop the growing depredation caused by the wolves, required eliminating basically half of the existing number of wolves. However, even that degree of harvest would not allow big game numbers to rebound. A 50-percent elimination of the existing wolf population would only stop the growth rate of game and livestock depredation. According to Mech, it would take the elimination of 70-percent, or more, of existing wolf numbers, with the wolf population held at that level for at least five years, before wildlife populations would begin to rebound.
At present, that cannot be accomplished, mainly because MT FWP has absolutely no idea how many wolves are in the state. They continue to throw out artificially low wolf population estimates, with the real number of wolves in Montana likely two or three times greater.
(Photo at Left - Unfortunately, most wolves are not as visual as these Yellowstone Park wolves. In much of Western Montana, wolves live in rough terrain with heavy growth, making it impossible for MT FWP wolf "specialists" to even realize they are there.)
The state's 2012 wolf season saw hunters and trappers purchase 18,642 licenses for harvesting "a wolf". The season opened with the start of the archery big game season on September 1, but for rifle hunters the only early season wolf hunting allowed was in several backcountry hunting units, which opened September 15. For all other rifle hunters, the season opened with the start of the general big game season on October 20. The first ever wolf trapping season opened December 15 - and that season, along with the firearm hunting season, closed on February 28. During the 181 days of the season, just 225 wolves were taken by hunters and trappers for a not so whopping success rate of only about 1.2 percent.
Still, MT FWP Director Jeff Hagener commented, "We're generally pleased with these results. The overall harvest of 225 wolves this season is higher than last year and reflects the more liberal harvest opportunities that were added for 2012. The effectiveness of hunters and now trappers together continues to grow."
Although the agency has done its best to make the season sound like a tremendous success, in reality when just 1.2 hunters or trappers per 100 fill a wolf tag, FWP's so-called wolf management through sport hunting has been a miserable failure. As you read this, there are now more wolves in the state than before the start of the 2012 season - and MT FWP is further in the dark when it comes to truly knowing how many wolves are in Montana.
At one 2012 MT FWP meeting in Missoula to discuss overall predator impact, and to allow sportsmen, ranchers and rural residents to comment on what's being done or not done to control major predator numbers, one of those commenting pointed out that the problem is how few hunters are actually buying a wolf tag. One suggestion from the 300 or so who attended the meeting was that any big game hunter with a valid Montana big game tag in his or her pocket should be allowed to use that tag to take a wolf. Instead of fewer than 20,000 "wolf hunters" out there during the five-week general big game season, there could potentially be two...three...or four times as many hunters who would take a wolf if there was suddenly the opportunity to take a shot.
(Photo at Right - Before MT FWP can "manage" wolves, the agency must first "control" wolves - and to adequately reduce wolf populations means hunters must shoot wolves whenever an opportunity presents itself.)
With each season that Montana Governor Steve Bullock allows FWP to drag its feet on taking actions that would bring down the wolf population in the state, the greater the loss of big game resources. The herds continue to get smaller - and older. Many who have cherished the bounty and variety of big game in Western Montana their entire lives now fear that unless drastic measures are taken to bring wolf populations down as dramatically as outlined by Dr. L. David Mech back in 2008, many once great herds could be lost forever. More than ever, the talk among sportsmen is that FWP cannot be trusted to come up with a viable solution, and that it's now time to take the matter into their own hands and begin killing every wolf they see. Some have already started their own kind of vigilante wolf control. Likewise, as grizzly numbers continue to increase, also taking more of a bite out of big game populations, more and more of the big bears are also ending up in the crosshairs - and left to rot.
Does that sound like poor ethics to you?
Welcome to the new normal. When a sportsman funded wildlife agency like MT FWP begins to favor growing numbers of predators and shows a complete disregard for properly managing the elk, moose, deer, pronghorn, and other edible big game that Montana sportsmen have counted on to help feed their families for decades, it is then the agency that has stepped across the ethics line. Dark storm clouds are brewing on the horizon and that rumble in the distance may not be thunder. More than likely, it's some extremely disgruntled residents of Big Sky Country gearing up for war. - Toby Bridges, LOBO WATCH