LOBO WATCH
Sportsmen Taking Charge of Predator Problems

Editorial New/Press Release
December 4, 2010

HOW MANY MORE WOLVES CAN THIS OLD LAND STAND?

By Toby Bridges, LOBO WATCH



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No, this isn't a missing line from the lyrics to "Mercy, Mercy Me", the very popular environmental conscious song made famous by Marvin Gaye during the early 1970s. But it has become a question that more and more residents of the U.S. are how asking themselves, particularly those who live very close to the land - especially lands where an ever growing wolf population now prowls.

A December 2, 2010 news report from Reuters opened with the following sentence... "The Obama administration is seeking to lift Endangered Species Act protection from two of the most iconic symbols of the American west, the grey wolf and grizzly bear, in moves likely to spark fierce resistance from environmentalists."

The fact is, wolves tend to wear out their welcome in short order wherever they become established. Maybe that is due to the dramatic losses of other wildlife, the depredation of livestock, the deaths of pets, and the threat wolves now present human residents along the Northern Rockies and in the Upper Midwest. Of course, those environmental groups who are sure to fight losing "endangered" status for wolves, and grizzly bears, are always quick to claim that none of this is true - that the levels of wildlife and livestock devastation, and the dangers wolves pose pets and humans are greatly exaggerated. Perhaps, but ever mounting evidence continues to stack up against them...and against wolves.

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A major part of the problem we have with wolves in the Northern Rockies, and probably to some degree in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula, is that no one has a clue to how many wolves are really out there. And that means, until state wildlife agencies get a more accurate handle on the true number of wolves, they are simply trying to manage in the dark.

The Reuters news report went on to point out that there are now about 1,700 wolves in northwestern Wyoming, western Montana and the northernmost two-thirds of Idaho, claiming that is..."about 1,000 more than the federal recovery goal for the species."

In reality, it's more like six times the "recovered population" as outlined in the so-called Northern Rockies Wolf Recovery Plan, and in the 414-page Environmental Impact Statement filed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1994, prior to the release of the first Canadian wolves into the Greater Yellowstone Area in 1995 and 1996. The wolf scientists who put those documents together called for a minimum of 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs in each of the three states.

And this was the number of wolves sold to American citizens as a recovered population. So, what happened? Wasn't wolf management, as outlined in those two documents, to be turned over to state wildlife agencies once the goals were reached? Well, what happened was that a coalition of those environmentalist groups that Reuters mentioned figured out how to turn the wolf issue into a bona fide cash cow - ripe for the milking.

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As "not for profit" organizations, these groups, including the Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity, can file for reimbursement of all legal expenses when taking wolf or grizzly bear issues, or anything related to them, to court. And they are profiting millions of dollars each and every time they take these or any other environmental issues, or wildlife agencies, to court.

And these folks spend a lot of time in court these days. Their favorite court has become the U.S. District Court in Missoula, MT - where they have found themselves their very own "Mercy, Mercy Me" judge - Donald Molloy. This federal judge spends all of his time searching for the smallest technicality to keep wolf management, or wolf control, from taking place - while overlooking or ignoring a long list of activities associated with the Wolf Recovery Project that have stepped across the legal line quite a few times since this fact and truth plagued experiment began.

So, how many wolves are there in the Continental U.S.? And what kind of cost can be associated with having that many wolves?

The "1,700" number that is all too frequently referred to by the press, and especially state and federal wildlife agencies, is no more than a minimum estimation of the number of wolves in the Northern Rockies. It's a guess at best, and the sportsmen and ranchers who are seeing and feeling the widespread damage done by wolves feel it is not even a good guess. A growing number of those who each spend thousands of hours a year in the outdoors, whether to hunt, fish, hike, camp, or tend to livestock, say there are more like 3,000 to 4,000 wolves in this region, and that the real number could even top that.

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Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks likes to throw out the number of "525" as the official wolf population in this state, qualifying the number by saying it is their "at least" population number. However, when working on a proposed harvest quota for the 2010 wolf management hunt, which Judge Molloy pulled the plug on this past August, MT FWP officials claimed that their proposed quota of 186 wolves would represent a 13-percent decrease in the state's wolf population.

Simple calculations show that this agency fully realized that there were closer to 1,400 wolves in Montana - not the 525 they too frequently tout. Idaho sportsmen have harshly criticized the Idaho Department of Fish and Game for seriously downplaying the number of wolves there as well.

The USFWS Environmental Impact Statement for this transplant of non-endangered and non-native wolves from north-central Alberta, Canada projected that the average wolf would kill and consume approximately 12 big game animals (elk, moose, deer) annually. It's now believed that each and every wolf kills 20 to 30 wild ungulates each and every year for sustenance.

We also now realize that these same wolves kill for fun, referred to as "sport" or "surplus" killing. And that due to the drastic drop in other wildlife populations, it is likely that wolves kill as much for fun as for consumption. Their favorite target is the young-of-the-year - the calves and fawns.

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Coupled with the predation of adult cow elk/moose and doe deer, the 90-percent losses of calves and fawns means that there is not a new generation coming on to replace animals that die of old age - if they make it to old age.

Prior to wolves being dumped into the Northern Rockies, elk herds here averaged around 4 years of age. Now, due to the loss of calf recruitment, these herds now average 8 to 9 years of age - and the herds are dwindling quickly. Many herds in the region are barely 20- to 30-percent of what they were before those wolves were released into the region. The same thing is now happening with the deer and moose populations in the Upper Midwest.

As wildlife populations are depleted, wolves have shifted livestock depredation into a higher gear - making it tougher for ranchers to operate profitably. And the direct loss of livestock is not the only factor affecting their bottom line. Due to the stress wolves place on cattle, beef producers are reporting significantly lighter per head weights.

One rancher, near Hall, MT found that feeder calves he grazed where wolves frequented the pastures weighed in at an average of 97 pounds lighter than calves he raised where there were not any wolves - and at one major sale that loss cost him more than $13,000. Another loss is that where wolves do pressure cattle, there is a significantly greater rate of pregnant cows aborting calf fetuses, as well as the added cost of stepped up surveillance, constant monitoring of the herds, and fence repair.

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Wolves have also moved in closer to ranches and towns, following big game seeking some security by getting closer to humans. In some areas, the wolves have become so habituated they're now coming right into city limits, often eating garbage. And that is a sure sign that big game populations are really taking a beating, and are below where the numbers can support such a large population of major predators.

Many residents feel that, as wolves become more and more comfortable around people, it is only a matter of time before a wolf attacks and kills a child playing out in the yard, or walking home from school. Due to wolf presence, many parents already no longer allow their children to enjoy the outdoors without an armed adult with them.

There is sure to be a landslide of legislation aimed at getting wolves removed from the protection of the Endangered Species Act, and the management of those wolves taken from the federal government and handed back to the states. H.R. 6028 is a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives aimed at doing just that, and S.B. 3919 is a Senate bill with the same purpose.

The gray wolf is far from being endangered, especially in the Northern Rockies, where the subspecies of wolf released by USFWS can be found by the tens of thousands running across its native range in Canada. And without any management or control, wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan are now moving south - now beginning to negatively affect wildlife populations and rural lifestyles across more and more of these states.

A few wolves have also shown up in northern Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, and Nebraska. Did they walk there on their own? Many feel they may have hitched a ride with overzealous environmentalists looking to speed up the spread of wolves in the Lower 48 states.

Right now, by official USFWS and state wildlife agency counts, there are between 6,000 and 7,000 wolves in the lower U.S. - unofficially the count could be as high as 10,000 or more. Still, that's not enough to satisfy the anti-hunting environmental organizations. Earlier this year, the Center for Biological Diversity boasted that their goal was to see tens of thousands of wolves - from coast to coast. And that brings up the question once more...How many wolves can this old land stand?

Or, better yet, how many wolves will Americans tolerate? The growing sentiment is that we already have far too many - and our wildlife and outdoor lifestyles are already feeling their bite.



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