Wolves Destroying Wildlife And Hunting Opportunities
Editorial News/Press Release
April 7, 2011
Will The Wildlife Equivalent of A Deadly Virus or Cancer
Destroy Big Game Hunting In America?
By Toby Bridges, LOBO WATCH
By the end of the 20th Century, the numbers of deer and elk in the U.S. were either at or approaching record population levels just about everywhere. Likewise, overall numbers of other big game species in this country, such as the pronghorn, mountain goat and bighorn sheep were also growing rapidly. And these remarkable conservation success stories were all due entirely to the past hundred years of dedicated conservation programs which saved our wildlife from the brink of oblivion thanks to the billions of sportsmen provided dollars it took to fund such work.
By 1900, the number of elk remaining in Montana was down to just a couple of thousand. However, by 2000, between 150,000 and 160,000 elk roamed statewide. As a kid growing up in Illinois through the 1950s and 1960s, I witnessed another great conservation success story - as the whitetail population there grew from about 1,500 during the early 1950s to around 1,000,000 today. And that story is the same in most other top whitetail states - because American hunters have had the foresight to support sound conservation practices, and to show a keen sense of responsibility toward managing game populations for future generations to enjoy. Today, that work continues, through both a professional level by highly educated game department wildlife managers and biologists, and on the private level by a growing number of landowners who are now dedicating a large segment of their properties entirely to providing improved habitat and nutritious wildlife food sources.
For the big game hunter, the bounty that exists provides meat for the freezer and an opportunity to pursue trophy class game. Unfortunately, there is now a threat in this country which could seriously jeopardize those opportunities, and which could dramatically impact big game herds in a very negative way.
Back in 1995, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service kicked off its "Northern Rockies Wolf Recovery Project" with the release of 14 Canadian gray wolves in Yellowstone National Park. The following year, they released an additional 17 wolves there. At that time, Yellowstone's northern elk herd was at an all-time high, with between 19,000 and 20,000 elk living in the park and in the adjacent areas of Montana, and Idaho. This is an area that is about twice the size of Delaware.
By 2002, the wolf population of the Greater Yellowstone Area had grown to 273, while the number of elk in the northern herd had dropped to around 12,000. During the spring of 2009, it was estimated that the area's wolf population exceeded 450 animals. And due to the escalated depredation by ever growing wolf numbers, Yellowstone's once wondrous northern elk herd had dwindled to 6,800 animals. The 2011 count has dropped to around 4,400 animals. Likewise, once thriving populations of deer, moose, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats have also suffered a serious down turn in and around America's greatest and most popular National Park.
Within a few years of the initial release of those original 31 Canadian gray wolves into this wildlife rich environment, hunters and other sportsmen who enjoyed watching over the elk that wintered and calved outside of the park, noticed the rapid decline in the number of calves making it through spring and into summer. One early study conducted by the University of Michigan revealed that the survival rate had dropped to around 14-percent. In order to sustain a herd that can be hunted, it takes a survival rate of around 30-percent. The wolves were literally wiping out future generations of elk - before most ever reached six months of age. Ten years ago, the average age of the elk in the Yellowstone area was 4 years, today the average age of the elk there is 8 to 9 years. And without the needed calf recruitment each spring, this geriatric herd is about to hit the wall. Unless some very serious measures are taken, Yellowstone's great elk herd stands to be totally lost within just a few short years. It's dying as you read this.
Unfortunately, the damage to wildlife resources hasn't been limited to only the Yellowstone area. In their zest to reintroduce wolves throughout the Northern Rockies, an out of control U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the state wildlife agencies in Montana and Idaho have infected all areas between northwestern Wyoming and the Canadian border. Wolves are literally destroying decades of sound big game management - and sportsmen are seeing hunting opportunities dwindle quickly.
In the western mountains of Montana, there has been near "0" calf elk survival for several years now, due to wolf depredation, and elk numbers are dropping like a rock. In the state's Region 2 management area, a sizeable unit that's approximately 150 miles long and averages 60 to 70 miles wide, the 2009 elk harvest was down 45%...the whitetail deer harvest was down 50%...and the mule deer harvest was down 45% - from the past five year average harvest. And the 2010 harvest was no better. Hunters reported finding less game than during any other previous season they had hunted. Those hunters who did see elk reported seeing no calves whatsoever. But just about every hunter reported seeing plenty of wolf sign, and many actually saw wolves.
So, how many wolves are there in the Northern Rockies?
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game estimates a minimum of around 850. Next door in Montana, the state's Fish, Wildlife and Parks now claims "at least" 566. And in Wyoming, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service claims there are now 350 to 400 wolves. So, it seems the accepted number of wolves throughout the Northern Rockies by state and federal agencies is between 1,700 and 1,750. The sportsmen who spend a great deal of time in the out of doors say there are likely twice that many, and likely even more. The damage being done to big game populations easily indicates that there are now 4,000 to 5,000 wolves. And so does the math of one of the world's leading wolf authorities, Dr. L. David Mech. For the 2008 U.S. District Court hearing, in Missoula, to determine if the wolves of the Northern Rockies could be removed from the Endangered Species List, Mech was deposed as an expert witness. In his declaration he presented the dynamics of wolf population growth which support the population level generally accepted by those hunters who are no longer willing to accept that our deer, elk, and other big game and wildlife species are nothing more than fodder for growing, and out of control wolf populations.
A number of studies by wildlife managers and biologists strongly support that the "average wolf" will kill between 20 and 30 elk, deer, moose, or other big game animals, each and every year for feed. And we now know that a large percentage of the elk loss in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming is made up of newborn calves. The same thing is also happening to the spring whitetail fawn crop as well, not only in the Northern Rockies, but in northern Wisconsin, northern Minnesota and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. And declining harvests during recent seasons are a sure sign that wolf depredation is beginning to have a seriously negative impact on deer populations.
During the 2009 firearms deer season, Wisconsin deer hunters took home nearly 30-
percent less venison for the freezer. They experienced the worst deer season in that state in 27 years. And the hardest hit were the northernmost counties, which just also happen to be the heart of the state's wolf range. In Florence County, which borders the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the whitetail deer harvest was down a whopping 62-percent...in nearby Oneida County the hunter take was down 50-percent...and in Villas County to the west hunters took 59-percent fewer deer than they did during the 2008 season. All across Wisconsin's northern tier of counties, the harvest was significantly down 40- to 60-percent from last year. And that's mostly due to deer populations that have plummeted during the past several years.
This region is now home to a growing number of gray wolves. According to the Wisconsin DNR, the population was about 700 wolves in 2010. In their own words there were a "minimum of 690 wolves" in the state. However, the hundreds of thousands of sportsmen who hit these woods every fall feel there are more - many more. And, that is very likely. It seems that today's wildlife managers do not have the savvy to get a very accurate count.
One Wisconsin study has shown that 55% of a wolf's diet in this state is made up of white-tailed deer, and another DNR report claims that each wolf consumes an average of 20 deer per year. That would mean the wolves of northern Wisconsin are taking down between 12,500 and 13,000 deer annually, just for feed. And for a state that claims to have around 1.5 million deer at the start of fall, that seems very tolerable. If the same "deer kill per wolf" holds true next door in Minnesota, that means hunters there are losing around 70,000 whitetails annually to the state's 3,500 wolves - which the MN DNR likes to tout as a conservation success story. But one has to wonder how accurate their wolf counts are - if there are noticeably more wolves, the deer loss is noticeably greater. The same would hold true in Wisconsin, where plummeting deer numbers indicate far more than "700" wolves.
As in the West, where wolves are now wiping out the annual elk calf crop, a high percentage of the deer taken by the 5,000 to 6,000 wolves now in the Upper Midwest are young of the year - meaning that the remaining mature does and bucks are getting older. And these herds are also likely headed for a severe crash, once there's not a strong enough fawn recruitment to replace those deer that die of old age, or taken by hunters. In the Northern Rockies, researchers have found that elk and deer become so stressed from the constant pressure put on them by wolves that many cow elk and doe deer are now aborting their fetuses. Likewise, any big game animal that is constantly on the move to elude wolves doesn't have the luxury of fattening up for the long, cold winter months. Consequently, those animals go into the toughest part of the year undernourished. And when an extended stretch of cold and snowy weather sets in, those that have been run thin by the wolves are more apt to be the first to succumb. Across the snow belt of the upper Midwest, where 3-feet deep snows are very common in February and March, the deer are often trapped in "yards" for a month or longer. For those that are even moderately undernourished at the beginning of an extended period without sufficient feed, it's a sure death sentence.
The most troubling impact wolves are making are the documented occurrences of wolves killing for the mere pleasure of killing. In one instance alone, a small group of wolves in Montana went on a killing spree, and in one night killed 130 domestic sheep - without eating anything. And they are doing the same thing with deer and elk. Despite the claims of "wildlife experts" that wolves only kill the sick, weak and injured, there are now many cases that strongly support that wolves kill as much, if not more, for sport as for food. Many times, dozens of wolf-
killed deer or elk carcasses have been found - without any evidence of being fed upon. And as wolf numbers grow, so do such instances.
Dedicated bowhunter and elk hunter, Montana state Senator Joe Balyeat put together a study that revealed the monetary value of the damage wolves are doing to the state's big game resources and livestock production to be more than $120-million annually. That means, if Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is correct, and there are only "566" wolves in this state, each and every one of those wolves is responsible for $212,014.13 in losses each and every year. Senator Joe Balyeat is a certified public accountant.
As much as all of this may sound like a science fiction novel gone bad, the depredation of our big game by wolves and the losses now being dealt livestock producers and farmers just may prove to be the least of this problem. It seems those "Canadian wolves" released into the Northern Rockies are carriers of a deadly parasite - the Echinocossosis granulosus tapeworm. Wolves are the primary carrier of this tapeworm, which was not found in the Northern Rockies until the release of the wolves transplanted from northern Canada. Now, more than 60-
percent of the wolves examined in Idaho and Montana have been carriers of the parasite - the eggs of which are the cause of hydatid disease. And billions of these eggs now cover the landscape in these two states, thanks to all those piles of wolf scat left just about everywhere by wolves that commonly cover 30 or more miles a day in their travels.
The disease is easily transmitted to grazing animals, including deer, elk, moose, and even cattle. Once in their system, these eggs can cause cysts on the lungs, and cause fatality. Humans can also contract the disease from these eggs, mostly from breathing in airborne eggs, which are virtually invisible to human sight. In humans, hydatid disease can cause cysts in the lungs, on the liver and on the brain, and unless those on the brain are surgically removed, the disease can be fatal to humans as well. Wolves also carry, spread and transmit more than 30 other diseases, many of which are infectious to humans, pets, other wildlife and livestock.
It seems that the so-called "Wolf Recovery Project" could likely go down in the annals of history as the greatest wildlife disaster ever in this country. And we've gotten in the trouble we're in because wolves have been repeatedly "managed" in a federal courtroom by lawyers representing anti-hunting environmental groups. Organizations like the Defenders of Wildlife, the Humane Society of the United States, and the Sierra club, and a dozen others, have prevented state wildlife agencies from effectively managing wolf numbers in balance with acceptable depredation levels. Now, with wolf populations running more than 500% greater than the recovery goals outlined in the Northern Rockies Wolf Recovery Plan and the 1994 Environmental Impact Statement filed by USFWS for this project, these apex predators are literally taken a huge bite out of big game populations in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, as well as in the Upper Midwest. And to the sportsmen who have footed the bill for honest wildlife conservation over the past 75 or more years, it has become clear that this has been the goal of such groups since the early planning stages of "wolf conservation" efforts. These "green" organizations are so dead set to put an end to hunting that they are willing to sacrifice other wildlife species, and allow wolves to pull game levels so low that populations will not support hunting.
On March 18, 2011, USFWS announced that it had reached an "agreement" with the groups which have repeatedly intervened in state's rights to manage wolf numbers, that these groups would not take the issue back to court, and would go along with wolf management. To a few, very few, sportsmen and cattle producers, at first it sounded like a step in the right direction - until the details were revealed. The deal would only be for a 5-year period - and wolf management would only take place in Montana and Idaho. Wolves in Wyoming, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan would be allowed to continue the carnage of big game herds, and attacks on livestock. Between those four states, there are 5,000 to 6,000 wolves, and the damage they do is just as great as in Montana and Idaho. Likewise, wolves are now spreading into Washington, Oregon, Utah and Colorado. And that is the true "deal" USFWS has reached with these groups...to throw a carrot to strong wolf opposition in the two states which would be permitted to conduct wolf management, while allowing wolves free rein to spread and propagate without control anywhere else in the country.- End -
Sportsmen and livestock producers are shouting out "No Deal!" Instead, they are backing Congressional legislation in Washington, D.C. which would remove the wolf from the protection of the Endangered Species Act, and gives each and every state the right to manage wolves, or to determine even if they want wolves. Senate Bill 249 (Orin Hatch, UT) and House Resolution 509 (Denny Rehberg, MT) would effectively do that, and both bills continue to gather stronger and stronger sponsorship and support. "The Deal" cut by USFWS and pro-wolf groups is seen as an attempt to circumvent passage of this legislation. That intent is so transparent to many that more effort than ever is now being put forth to insure that these two pieces of legislation become reality.
The future of hunting relies on whether or not we can contain the damage already done in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan - and to get wolf populations down to small manageable numbers in small manageable areas. The ultimate goal of this project has been to reintroduce the wolf back into all of its original historic range, including a neck of your woods - no matter where you live.
If you hunt, hike, camp, mountain bike, fish, enjoy walks in rural areas, picnic with family and friends, or simply love to watch wildlife, winning control of wolf numbers is just as much your fight as it is for those who are fighting the Wolf War on the front lines in states where wolves are making a destructive impact.