Those people, groups and organizations who consider themselves "pro wolf" literally ran out of ammo to defend the spread of wolves in the Northern Rockies and the Upper Midwest several years ago. Their leading adversary became the wolf itself, especially along the northern U.S. Rocky Mountains, where non-indigenous Canadian gray wolves were introduced in 1995. The pro wolf movement of this country claimed that the "reintroduction" of this apex predator would be a wondrous thing for the ecosystem, restoring a natural balance that had been missing since the eradication of wolves during the late 1800s and early 1900s.
But, have the wolves accomplished anything positive? That depends on what the real agenda was in the first place. Has the Northern Rockies Wolf Recovery Project made the big game herds healthier and more vibrant, by weeding out the sick and the weak? After all, those who have been the strongest advocates of this modern wildlife conservation experiment have repeatedly claimed that wolves were the sanitarians of nature, and would kill off those undesirable elk, moose, deer and other large game animals which negatively affected the overall health of the herds, leaving only the strong and healthy animals to breed and pass on those traits.
If one goes back, and carefully thumbs through the Northern Rockies Wolf Recovery Plan, and even the 1994 Environmental Impact Statement filed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the experts involved with drafting those official documents for this project predicted the degree of impact wolves would have on other wildlife populations. It was somewhat established, as fact, that on the average, each and every wolf would account for about 14 big game animals annually - and would have a minimal impact on elk, moose, deer and other big game populations.
How factual have any of the claims made during the planning stages of this project been? Have wolves in fact made the herds stronger, and have they achieved a natural balance?
Reality reveals an entirely different outcome.
Early writings by authors such as Farley Mowat implanted the belief that wolves only kill the sick, the injured and the weak. This particular author went to great effort in his book "Never Cry Wolf" (published in 1963) to establish as fact how wolves only took out the weakest members of the herds, and that wolves killed only what they needed for sustenance. The residents of the Northern Rockies and the Upper Midwest have learned, the hard way, just how wrong those presumptions have been.
(It should be noted that more than 40 years after Mowat's book was first published, the story he told was proven to be a complete lie.)
One elk herd that best exemplifies how negatively wolves impact other wildlife resources has been the northern Yellowstone elk herd, which spends most of the year inside the park and winters in southern Montana. Prior to the USFWS release of wolves from north-central Alberta, Canada, that elk herd was likely at an all time population high, with somewhere around 19,000 animals. Since the release of wolves into the Greater Yellowstone Area in 1995 and 1996, the herd has been in constant decline.
The late winter-early spring 2011 count revealed that only about 4,400 elk remain in that herd. Much of the loss has been through direct depredation of adult animals, the healthy as well as the sick and weak. However, the greatest loss has resulted from the 90+ percent loss of spring calf crops to predators - primarily to wolves which hunt very efficiently in packs. Likewise, wolves that continually pursue their prey cause a great deal of stress on elk. This is especially true during the winter, when elk are constantly kept on the move by wolves - which keep the elk pushed away from the best feed sources that offer the greatest nourishment. Many elk go into the harshest weather of the year undernourished. Most affected are the pregnant females - and the combination of inadequate nourishment and the stress of constant flight from the predators is now causing many cow elk to abort their fetuses.
So, how does this benefit the herd? It doesn't. Before those Canadian wolves were released into the region, the northern Yellowstone elk herd averaged 4 to 5 years of age. Thanks to ongoing depredation, the near total loss of calf recruitment in the spring, and the aborted losses of calves, this herd now averages 9 to 10 years of age. Many concerned residents now wonder just how long this herd will be able to hang on - and when will it become so geriatric that the remaining elk are just too old to reproduce?
The experts who blueprinted this project missed all of this. Their predictions of each wolf killing an average of 14 big game animals yearly was also a gross understatement. Studies now reveal that it takes somewhere around 25 big game animals just to get an "average wolf" through the winter. Those who have now been forced to live with what has proven to be a true wildlife disaster realize that, on average, each wolf is killing between 50 and 60 big game animals every year. Not 14 as claimed in the Wolf Recovery Plan and 1994 E.I.S.
How wolves "surplus kill" (often referred to as "sport killing') is another impact that the project experts and wildlife biologists totally failed to address. Despite the claims of pro-wolf groups, wolves kill far more than what they need to eat. Some studies now say that what each wolf kills just for the pleasure of killing can equal what that wolf needs to kill to sustain life. And that has resulted in the devastation of big game herds that took more than 75 years of sound conservation efforts to rebuild from nearly being lost back around 1900. That also means the loss of hunting opportunities, and that's not setting well with hunters and other sportsmen who have fully footed the bill for those conservation efforts.
The wolves which USFWS brought down from Canada also brought something with them - the Echinococcus granulosus tapeworm. A similar tapeworm was found here prior to the importation of non-native wolves, but it presented a far lesser threat to other wildlife, livestock, pets and humans than the E. granulosus strain.
More than 60-percent of all wolves tested in the Northern Rockies are now infested with thousands of these tapeworms, and every time a wolf leaves a pile of scat, it also leaves behind tens of thousands of the microscopic tapeworm eggs. These are extremely resilient to the weather, and can be spread by the wind - or carried downstream by fast-moving mountain creeks. Grazing animals can ingest the eggs which have settled on blades of grass, and these can cause fluid and tapeworm filled cysts on the lungs and liver. Pets can also be infected by eating on carcasses of infected game or livestock, and those same pets can pass on those eggs to humans by carrying the microscopic eggs home in their fur or hair.
If you are one of those people who truly loves your dogs, kissing on them is no longer recommended. Even petting your dog can transfer those eggs to your hands, and if you have a sandwich, snack on some chips, or eat a hand-held piece of fruit, you could ingest those eggs. Also, hikers might want to think twice about drinking out of a mountain stream, no matter how clear and clean it may look. Once inside, those eggs could develop into cysts on the lungs, liver or in the brain.
Many of the same people who got the wolf introduction project so wrong with their claims and predictions in regard to balancing the ecosystem and wolf impact on other wildlife are now trying to seriously down play the dangers of the Echinococcus tapeworm, and the hydatid disease it causes. Several people in the Northern Rockies have now been diagnosed with the hydatid cysts, and have had to undergo extremely dangerous operations to have them removed. Likewise, more and more hunters are discovering the cysts on the internal organs of big game harvested during the hunting season. Mostly, these cysts show up on the lungs of elk, deer and moose, diminishing the capacity and efficiency of the lungs, and greatly affecting the stamina of that game. Perhaps this is part of the natural balancing the wolf-loving crowd talks about, making it easier for wolves to run down large game.
Has all of this been simply an honest mistake, made by those who truly did not know enough about wolves to play any part in planning such a project - or has it all been a part of the plan all along? Have state and federal wildlife agencies fallen for the "Wildlands Network" agenda of letting nature control itself, and moving people off the land and into the cities? If that sounds absurd to you, perhaps you need to do some research, and start by Googling "Wildlands Network" (and the former name of the project - "Wildlands Project"), then search out "U.N. Agenda 21". There is now an effort to drastically reduce the number of people on this planet, and how rural residents utilize the land.
The role of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks in all of this becomes increasingly more clear every time the agency tries to cover up wolf impact, and makes outright false claims regarding the number of wolves in the state. This state wildlife agency purposely downplays the wolf population, claiming there are "at least 566 wolves" in Montana. The degree of damage done to elk, moose and deer numbers, plus the high number of wolf sightings, and the ever growing livestock depredation problem all indicate far more wolves in Montana, but FWP avoids acknowledging the likely maximum number at all costs. Those sportsmen who have had enough of the problem claim the agency now outright lies. The research and studies of one of this country's leading wolf biologists support that the number of wolves in the state could be in excess of 2,000. And, if each kills an average of 50 large animals annually, the state is losing 100,000 elk, deer, moose, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, head of cattle, sheep, horses, etc. to wolves. Hand in hand with that loss, hunters are losing hunting opportunities and ranchers are losing profits.
Late last month, MT FWP attempted to counter claims of such losses by stating that between Missoula and Butte, the elk numbers were at a record high. However, sportsmen who spend many days a year in the high county say it is just another FWP lie. What these experienced guides, outfitters, and veteran hunters see are elk that now refuse to head back into the mountains in spring and summer, electing instead to stay in the valleys and river bottoms close to ranches, where the wolves have been less prevalent. But, that's changing. Wolves are now coming to the food source, and with them they also bring the increased danger of the Echinococcus granulosus tapeworm to livestock, pets and humans, along with higher losses of cattle, sheep and pets to wolves. Wolf tracks and wolf kills have been reported right in the city limits of Missoula.
Next door in Idaho, the reality of having wolves has finally sunk in, and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game seems ready to bring wolf numbers back as close as possible to the 150 count agreed to during the early stages of the Northern Rockies Wolf Recovery Project. The agency now recognizes "at least 1,000 to 1,200 wolves" in that state, which means the true number is most likely 2,000 to 2,500. At least they are getting closer to the truth, something that is severely lacking in Montana.
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