In the late 1990s, all sides agreed to place an experimental population of endangered wolves in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. They put 10 packs of 10 wolves (100 wolves) in these three states. That population is now more than five times that size, and they are killing elk and other big game animals.
This has been a very heated debate in these three states since the mid-2000s when hunters and ranchers started calling for these wolf populations to be brought into check. They've been delisted and re-listed twice, and Idaho and Montana had one successful hunting season. But the battle to protect big game from the rampant-wolf-population problem is stuck in the courts.
Three experts on this topic joined on stage at SHOT Show as the Field & Stream Heroes of Conservation Roundtable. David Allen, president and CEO of Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation; Michael Bean, counselor to Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks; and Cal Groen, director of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game spoke to a room filled with concerned sportsmen on where this problem stands and what needs done.
The numbers are startling.
- In areas where wolves were introduced, 90 percent of elk who die are killed by predators. 90 percent of those predators are wolves.
- Some regions have seen as much as an 85 percent decrees in elk populations.
- Populations of Yellowstone elk in the mid-1990s were 20,000. This mid-winter count, the number was 4,400.
- In Idaho, the number one reason out-of-state hunters did not return to the state was wolves.
No one is arguing that wolves are a problem for big game. Everyone is arguing about how to manage this problem.
Right now, there is a federal court in Montana that has shot down the delisting of wolves over a few technicalities. Different states, different plans, and room for animal rights groups to prevent states from using hunting as an effective management tool. As Mr. Allen and Mr. Groen pointed out, the chances that all sides can agree to a plan that would lead to a decision that states can manage this problem, is slim. Currently, the problem lies with the Wyoming management plan, which would classify wolves as a trophy animal in certain areas and a predator in others. According to Mr. Bean, the Fish and Wildlife Service and Wyoming are nearing in on agreement that could bring the case back before the judge in Montana.
"The wolf issue could be the fall of the North American model of conservation," said Allen. The North American model of science-based management using hunting and fishing to support the overall health of all fish, wildlife, and habitat has made the United States the world leader in conservation. Allen and Groen agreed that this issue could have a massive snowball effect on future management strategies, declining hunter numbers, and future participation in reintroduction programs.
The worse thing is that right now, our hands are tied. Sportsmen are the loudest, most active advocates for wildlife, but it's hard for us to change law and court rulings. Staying educated and informed on the problem is hunters best option.
–By Brian McClintock
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