In the Feb. 2 Inter Lake, “Wolves still a hot-button issue,” we see that those with an irrational, fact-free hatred of wolves are at it again, just as they were a decade 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, Lewis and Clark 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, or habitat declines.
Neil Anderson of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks correctly points out a number of these as major causes of declines. “We are a predator-rich region, but there are other factors at play, and some folks don’t want to believe that,” he said. Anderson notes that changes to habitat have shifted historic elk habitat, while two harsh winters have lowered fawn/calf survival – a documented fact.
Some of the anti-wolf/anti-conservation proposals at the February meeting included killing Montana’s estimated wolf population down from 851 to the minimum requirement of 150 – an 82 percent slaughter, and a return to using poison and aerial gunning to kill wolves. If you wanted to turn the 300-plus million American “non-hunters” into “anti-hunters” this would be an excellent way to do it. In addition, Republican Rep. Bob Brown is pushing a bill to use taxpayer dollars to reimburse trappers for their costs. Perhaps he could call it the “Trapper Welfare Act of 2019.”
Finally, state 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 would satisfy wolf haters to compensate for their inability to get a deer or elk?
— Brian Peck lives in Columbia Falls