Montana's 2012-2013 Wolf Season Takes Fire For Being Too Little Too Late!
Editorial News/Press Release
May 23, 2012
The "Perfect Storm" of Predator Impact Is Destroying Montana's Big Game Herds
Western Montana's big game herds are in trouble. In many areas up and down the Bitterroot Mountains, which form the border with neighboring Idaho, many once prospering elk herds have been reduced by as much as 80-percent. The same is also happening in the country spreading north from Yellowstone National Park, stretching all the way to the Canadian border. Moose have completely disappeared in much of the same habitat, and deer numbers are plummeting sharply. Other big game species, namely bighorn sheep, are also showing some significant decline. Now, the problem is moving eastward.
These losses are not due to a wildfire spread of deadly disease. These losses are due to the "success" of re-establishing a glut of all major carnivore predator species native to Montana - the gray wolf, the grizzly bear, the black bear, and the mountain lion. The losses are also due to extremely poor management of these major carnivores by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Montana's own Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
(Photo above shows all that's left of several wintering elk after an encounter with wolves.)
This was an extremely hot topic at meetings held in Missoula, Bozeman, Great Falls and Billings the evening of May 22. Another is scheduled for Kalispell on June 13. The purpose of the meetings has been to update residents of the state on proposed changes for the 2012-2013 Wolf Season, which would allow the taking of three wolves per hunter, would allow the use of electronic calls, and which would permit trapping for the first time. However, the meeting that took place in Missoula, for MT FWP's Region 2, turned into something very different. At this meeting, the sportsmen in attendance did the majority of the talking.
Regional Wildlife Manager Mike Thompson shared with the hundred or so people present that, so far, FWP has not been able to manage wolves at levels which would permit the loss of other game to reverse itself. He was also quick to point out that, with the "successful" restoration of all native major predators, the loss of big game could not be blamed entirely on the ever growing wolf population.
"It's all about balance - more carnivores require more prey," remarked Thompson.
And, that's when the meeting started to get interesting. One very upset sportsman in the audience stood and challenged earlier FWP claims that mountain lions and bears were making the biggest impact on big game numbers. He pointed out that he has been a hunter in Montana since he was 12 years of age, and that for more than 30 years he had watched big game herds continue to grow, offering great hunting opportunities, even though there were healthy numbers of bears and mountain lions - until the introduction of a non-native Canadian subspecies of gray wolf. From that point on...big game populations in the western half of the state have been in constant decline.
To which FWP Regional Supervisor Mack Long added, "Wolves are the predator that broke the camel's back."
Mike Thompson shared with the audience a more aggressive plan to scale back lion numbers during the 2013 thru 2015 seasons, allowing for 193 female lions to be harvested in FWP Region 2 during that three year period. He also shared that to increase the harvest of black bears, a longer season has been instigated.
Those attending the FWP "Wolf Meeting" in Missoula were also told that the grizzly bear population has been more than restored, with more than 1,000 of the big bears in Northwest Montana alone. Add another 700 to 800 grizzlies inhabiting the portion of the state north of Yellowstone, those now showing up in the southern Bitterroot Mountains and elsewhere in southwest Montana, plus the bears found in the northern stretch of the Rocky Mountains, and those now moving out onto the plains, and there are now likely 2,000 to 2,500 of the bears in this state - not the 900 that FWP has touted so loudly for the past couple of years.
(Photo Above Right - Montana's grizzly population now numbers between 2,000 and 2,500 - and Montana residents now feel that population control is past due.)
In the spring, when bears move out onto the elk calving grounds, they can be just as damaging as wolves. A number of those attending wanted to know when grizzly numbers would be managed. They were told that this next year (2013) an effort would be made to launch proceedings to have Montana grizzlies removed from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.
When the discussion got back to wolves, the hottest topic was trapping. There to oppose the proposed wolf trapping season were members and followers of the group Footloose Montana - which is totally against trapping. Montana's proposed wolf trapping regulations would not allow the use of snares - which are now proving to be extremely effective for "trapping" wolves. During the 2011-2012 Idaho wolf season, trapping was allowed for the first time, and of the wolves taken by trappers, 68-percent were taken with snares.
LOBO WATCH founder Toby Bridges commented, "Wolf numbers in the state on Montana cannot be adequately reduced through sport hunting alone. It will take trapping...and most likely aerial gunning. Where wolves are trapped, snares have proven to be the most effective method of take. For Fish, Wildlife and Parks to ban the use of snares shows that the agency is not working hard enough to insure that the wolf population is reduced."
The FWP managers and biologists conducting the Missoula meeting were at a loss why more general elk and deer season hunters failed to purchase a wolf tag, and account for a larger percentage of the wolves taken during a season which opened for archery on September 1, for gun hunting on September 15 in several backcountry areas and the rest of the state in late October. The season was scheduled to close December 31, but was extended to February 15, due to an inadequate harvest. Still, just 166 wolves were taken, even though the quota had been set at 220.
"Here's an idea, if you want elk and deer hunters to add more to the harvest, then allow any hunter in the field with a valid elk or deer license in their pocket to take a wolf, and tag it with one of the licenses they have," added Bridges of LOBO WATCH.
(Photo above shows LOBO WATCH founder Toby Bridges with just an average buck for the freezer...given the choice, he would have used that tag to take a wolf. Bridges feels that if given that choice, elk and deer hunters would contribute more to the number of wolves harvested.)
Montana sportsmen feel that FWP is trying to make the wolf season too much of a profit center, through the sales of hunting licenses, instead of properly resolving a disaster that is now destroying hunting in much of this state. For the 2011 season, the agency sold more than 18,000 resident wolf licenses, at $19 each. FWP also sold only a handful of non-resident wolf licenses, at $350 each. Many of those attending the meeting thought the non-resident license should sell for $50 or $75, to bring more wolf hunters into the state.
Keith Kubista, president of Montana Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, told FWP Regional Wildlife Manager Mike Thompson that, as proposed, the 2012-2013 Wolf Season would fail to realize the 377 wolf harvest the agency hoped to achieve. According to FWP, that would bring the "at least" minimum number of wolves in the state down to 425. Kubista cautioned FWP not to use that as an acceptable base wolf population. He pointed out that Montanans had agreed to 150 wolves, with 15 breeding pairs - and that, like most sportsmen across the state, he felt that using the higher 425 number would establish a dangerous precedence.
(Photo above shows a wolf pack waiting for a moose to bleed out before they move in to feed, while it is still alive. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has absolutely no idea of how many wolves there are in the state, and their phony population estimate is one of the biggest lies in wolf management...wolf control. Before they can manage, they must first control.)
As always, FWP's "at least" statewide wolf population came under fire. And as always, their math failed to add up. The latest number being claimed by the agency is 653 wolves. FWP claims their goal is to take 377 wolves, which would bring the population down to "at least" 425 wolves at the close of the season. However, when the two numbers are added, the total comes to 802 wolves...not 653. If one uses the math of Dr. L. David Mech, a highly respected wolf biologist and researcher from Minnesota, and factors in established wolf reproduction rates, allowing for natural and manmade mortality of wolves since their introduction from Canada in 1995, the wolf population of Montana is likely between 2,000 and 2,500. Those numbers better explain the dramatic losses of game numbers and the impact wolves are having on livestock producers.
That being the case, even if hunters are lucky enough to take 400 wolves this coming season, at a minimum reproductive rate of 25-percent, there will be right at 2,000 wolves still on the landscape come Spring 2013. If the "now population" is higher, then we will lose significant ground. If Montana's wolves reproduce at a more common 30+ percent rate, the degree of damage will only increase...and Western Montana has already run out of elk, moose and deer to spare.
One of those attending wanted to know, "Is the burden all going to be on the hunter to clean up this mess?"
(Photo At Left - Whining anti-trapping groups like Footloose Montana bellyache over the thought of a dog or two being caught in traps set for wolves...but show absolutely no remorse for what wolves are doing to dogs, other pets, horses, livestock and big game animals. Their values are as phony as they are.)
Jerry Black, one of the founders of Footloose Montana, stated that the non-
hunters of Montana feel they should have more say when it comes to wildlife management. He suggested taking a few of the FWP managed wildlife areas, like the 27,616 acre Spotted Dog Wildlife Management Area, near Deer Lodge, and making them totally non-hunting, non-fishing and non-trapping areas for non-consumptive users. Black claimed that by charging visitors a $20 fee for using the area, FWP would likely pull in more revenue.
It is the intentions of groups like this which concern Montana's outdoor oriented population and sportsmen, who have fully funded FWP since it was established. But Black does bring up a very valid point. Perhaps it is time to assess a use fee to anyone using FWP lands who has not purchased a hunting or fishing license. Many sportsmen feel it is time for these people and groups to begin paying their way.
One sportsman-based group which recently stepped up to the plate to save Montana's big game populations is the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. This organization has donated and dispersed $51,000 to the Wildlife Services division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture - for controlling problem wolves in Montana. Once again, as it always has been, it's sportsmen serving sportsmen. - LOBO WATCH