In the Jan. 23 Beacon (“Wolves on the Landscape”) we see that those with an irrational, fact-free hatred of wolves are at it again, just as they were a decade ago – or for that matter a century and a half ago. Unfortunately, the anti-wolf paranoia is once again being stirred up by some in the hunting community, long a pillar of American conservation, but here engaging in flights of pure fantasy.
Apparently seeing a wolf behind every tree, they fume that “this is a crisis situation” and that if more wolves aren’t killed immediately, “in another three or four years the deer and elk numbers are going to be in the toilet.” This ignores the fact that well before there was any predator control at all, the Lewis and Clark journals (1804-06) repeatedly referred to “vast herds” of bison, elk, deer, and pronghorn – as well as large packs of wolves on the same landscape. It also ignores more than 60 years of wolf/prey research consistently showing that wolves, by themselves, are seldom able to significantly lower big game populations and hold them down long-term. That requires severe winter weather, high human harvest, other predators such as cougars and bears, or habitat declines.
Neil Anderson of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) correctly points out a number of these as the real issues when he says, “We are a predator-rich region, but there are other factors at play, and some folks don’t want to believe that.” Anderson notes that changes to habitat have shifted historic elk habitat – regrowth of the 1910 Big Burn would be one of those – while two harsh winters have lowered fawn/calf survival – a documented fact. In addition, FWP notes, “Changes in forest management and wildfire have driven elk herds to forage new parcels…affecting their distribution.” For example, both the Kootenai and Flathead National Forests have excessive motorized road densities, and we’re all aware of the hundreds of thousands of acres of wildfire since 2000.
Perhaps most importantly, FWP biologists who conduct annual aerial counts of big game, “report seeing robust herds in line with historic population numbers.” In addition, out of an estimated population of 851, FWP reports that 305 wolves were killed in 2017-18, nearly 36 percent of the entire population, leaving one to wonder exactly what sort of extermination campaign the wolf haters have in mind to compensate for their inability to get a deer or elk?