Time to Bag a Wolf

By Beacon Staff

One of my New Year’s resolutions is a howling good one: to get me a wolf.

I’m not the only one resolving such a thing for 2008. The Helena Independent-Record ran a Web-poll that showed 253 of 471 respondents support a wolf-hunting season. Even 63 percent of random Idaho “not-hunters” surveyed feel hunting is an appropriate tool (95 percent of Idaho hunters agree).

After all, the original 1995 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) plan, in which 66 wolves were trapped in Canada and then dumped into Yellowstone and the Selway Wilderness, promised that delisting would occur with 30 breeding pairs in an “equitable distribution,” basically 10 each in the three states of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.

Well, so much for the “plan.” While the original recovery goals were met in 2002, here we are in 2008, 13 years and $24 million in federal funds later, with about 90 breeding pairs among 1,545 wolves in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho – that’s $15,534 per wolf alive today.

As things now stand, all three states have drafted wolf management plans that set a minimum of 15 breeding pairs in each state before public hunting is allowed. Idaho now has 41 breeding pairs, with future harvest allocated on a sliding scale of intensity depending on the breeding pair total between 15 and 30 pair. Their season will run August 30 to March 31 and vary according to the need for harvest in each of 15 wolf Data Analysis Units.

Wyoming’s plan will maintain 15 breeding pairs inside a trophy-game area roughly comprising Yellowstone National Park and federal lands west of State Highway 120 and north of U.S. Highway 26. Seven pair are allocated to the park. Outside that zone, wolves are “predatory animals,” where “take will not be regulated.” However, all wolves taken in Wyoming, either trophy or predator, must be presented unfrozen for data collection to Wyoming Game and Fish officials along with information on location and time killed.

In Montana, residents will have to pay eight bucks for their conservation tag and 19 bucks for the wolf permit (nonresidents get to fork over $350) and will be allowed one wolf per season (Sept. 15-Nov. 30). One-hundred-thirty wolves (out of an estimated 400 statewide) will be the allowed harvest, which seems reasonable given Northern Rockies wolf populations have been growing at 24 percent a year since re-introduction. As with mountain lions, hunters must call in their kills within 12 hours, plus “show-and-tell” to wardens within 10 days. Montana will have three Wolf Management Units with quotas and the season will close when 75 percent of the quota is filled. And bummer, we’ll have to wear orange, if there is a 2008 season at all.

Environmental groups, specifically Earthjustice, have vowed to sue as soon as the USFWS issues a Record of Decision approving delisting. Earthjustice attorney Doug Honnold complained to the Associated Press that the state plans, even though they set a floor 50 percent above the original objectives, push “wolves to the knife edge where [environmentalist biologists] say the population would be at risk of extinction,” and that delisting under these plans is “all about wolf-killing.”

Too bad the AP’s reporter didn’t ask what keeping wolves on the endangered species list is all about. The honest answer, of course, is money and power.

I would argue that the success of a government, or its programs, should be measured by how those citizens most affected by that program feel about it – not just those benefiting, but those paying.

Clearly, environmental groups have raised millions “saving wolves” while “welfare ranchers” and “bloodthirsty killers” have lost millions, while taxpayers forked over millions more.

Good program? Well, non-hunters in Idaho are 55 percent “glad that wolves were introduced,” but only 14 percent of hunters and 13 percent of ranchers feel the same. A fluke? Not really. A Swedish study conducted in 2001 found not only that “attitudes toward wolves are not strong among the general public,” but also “hunters in areas with wolves have the most accurate knowledge about wolves but at the same time the most negative attitudes.”

So … I resolve to be “glad wolves were introduced” and fill my tag.