It was like an old Western shoot out. And the action took place on January 19th, at the largest shooting and hunting show in the world, simply known as the SHOT Show by those companies and individuals who attend this huge annual trade show.
Defending hunting and pretty much the entire hunting industry was David Allen, President and C.E.O. of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. There to fight for the right of individual states to wisely manage their wildlife resources was Cal Groen, Director of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. And representing the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was Michael Bean, counselor to the Secretary of the Interior.
Allen came armed and ready to fight, sharing with the room full of leading outdoor writers and editors that the No. 1 enemies of hunting today were the anti-hunting environmental groups and organizations - who's true goal has nothing to do with saving wolves, but rather to put an end to hunting. He also shared with the sizeable audience the losses, due to wolf depredation, wildlife populations have already suffered - like the northern Yellowstone elk herd, which has dropped from more than 19,000 elk in the mid 1990s to just over 4,600 elk this winter, and Idaho's Lolo Unit elk population, which has suffered a loss of 75- to 80-percent during the same time frame.
IDFG Director Groen stated flat out that the environmental groups and the USFWS have failed to deal in good faith. He shared with the outdoor press and a few other conservation organization leaders in attendance that wolf management has been kept tied up in court by pro-wolf environmental groups, which keep pushing the recovery goal post further and further ahead. (On hand for the roundtable presentation was Don Peay, founder of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, Ryan Benson, National Director of Big Game Forever, and Toby Bridges, founder of Lobo Watch.)
Cal Groen shared that those same environmental groups, USFWS and the wildlife agencies of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming all agreed on a recovery goal of 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs in each of the three states. And upon the success of that goal, managing wolf numbers was to have been turned over to the state wildlife agencies. That goal was reached in 2002, and although one management hunt was held in 2009, in Idaho and Montana, a coalition of 13 environmental organizations have managed to prevent any other management hunts - resulting in "at least" 1,700 wolves in the Northern Rockies. (And each is now killing an average of about 25 to 30 elk, deer, moose and other big game annually just for sustenance, and possibly the same amount for sport - for a loss of as many as 85,000 big game animals every year in the Idaho, Montana and Wyoming tri-state area.)
Groen went on to point out that before wolves were introduced back into the Lolo Unit of eastern Idaho, there were approximately 8 elk per square mile. Now, due to wolf depredation, there is only 1 elk per square mile. He also stressed it is now very clear that 90-percent of the losses in the Lolo Unit can be directly attributed to wolves.
Michael Bean pretty much took the same route USFWS has taken since the start of the debate over "at what level" and "when" wolf management should be initiated. He acknowledged that while recovery goals have been met and exceeded, with six times as many wolves on the landscape as originally designated as a "recovered population", it has been legal technicalities which have prevented that management from being fully implemented.
As USFWS has done over the past several years, Bean lay much of the blame on the inadequacy of the Wyoming Wolf Management Plan, which he said the U.S. District Courts in Missoula, MT and Cheyenne, WY have found to be for an area that is far too small to insure a recovered population, and which does not assure continued genetic connectivity with other wolf packs within the Northern Rockies. He stated that Wyoming needed to cooperate more fully, and expand the size of its wolf management area. (Currently, the designated wolf management area in this state, located in the northwest corner in and around Yellowstone National Park represents about 12-percent of the state - but is home to at least 300 wolves, or three times what was outlined as a "recovered population" in the USFWS 1994 Environmental Impact Statement.)
His comments raised the hackles of several representatives of the pro-hunting conservation groups present. Ryan Benson, of Big Game Forever, who is a Harvard graduated attorney, called Michael Bean's statements regarding the Wyoming management plan, "Slanderous".
After the roundtable discussion, Benson commented, "It has become clear that Wyoming is being used as the primary excuse by delisting opponents, including several members of Congress and the Obama administration, to muddy the water in attempt to derail our reasonable and responsible state wolf management bills. (S.3919 and H.R.6028) Let me speak frankly, Mr. Bean's comments are a misrepresentation of the facts reflecting the divisive politics that are used by those who do not want wolves managed by the states."
Ryan Benson went on to point out that, in reality, what the U.S. District Court in Missoula, MT ruled was that Wyoming's wolf population could not be separated from the Northern Rockies wolf population as a whole, which USFWS recognizes as a Distinct Population Segment. He also pointed out that last fall, U.S. District Court judge Alan Johnson, in Cheyenne, WY found that USFWS had been wrong to reject the Wyoming Wolf Management Plan.
This roundtable press conference took place at the 33rd SHOT Show, held January 18 thru 21, 2011 at the Sands Convention Center in Las Vegas, NV. The show proved to be the largest ever, with more than 1,600 exhibitors utilizing some 630,000 square feet of exhibit space. Altogether, nearly 58,000 shooting and hunting industry members, sporting goods distributors, retail dealers, and members of the outdoor press attended.
The wolf discussion was organized by Field & Stream magazine. Moderating the talk was the magazine's editor, Anthony Licata. In regard to the wolf issue, he said, "It's a debate we've continued to chronicle at Field & Stream, and we convened this expert panel to discuss the future of wolf hunting, what's at stake and how hunters can get involved."
"This really is not about 'wolf hunting', it's about saving the last hundred years of wise wildlife management, to provide a healthy and renewable resource which insures the tradition of hunting itself. Wolf numbers far exceed the recovery goals, and are now seriously impacting other wildlife resources. It's not about 'wolf management'...it's about 'wolf control'. And it's even more about stopping the efforts of anti-hunting environmental groups who are out to put an end to hunting," says Toby Bridges of Lobo Watch.
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, Big Game Forever and Lobo Watch have all been among the strongest supporters of Congressional legislation which would remove wolf management from USFWS and return that right to the state wildlife agencies where wolf populations must be controlled in order to preserve other wildlife populations. Two bills which are very likely to reappear in the near future are S. 3919 and H.R. 6028. Sportsmen who are concerned about the future of hunting may want to follow all of this on the websites of the pro- hunting groups above.
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