Firestorm over wolf
throughout Western states
By JIM MATTHEWS
Outdoor News Service
Wolves were first released into Yellowstone Park and central Idaho in 1995. Most people believe it was a “reintroduction” program aimed at restoring native animals back into the region. While it could and should have been just that, it is now becoming apparent the federal government has unleashed an environmental and human health disaster on the Western states.
First, the wolves that were released were the wrong subspecies. The animals were Canadian pack wolves from the Arctic, and while there was a viable population of Rocky Mountain wolves (of the correct subspecies) in several small packs in Idaho and Montana that could have been used for the reintroduction, the federal government choose to use these non-native animals for the rushed effort.
Second, the released wolves were all infected with a parasitic disease (hydatid) that had effectively been eradicated from Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Today, the parasitic tapeworms are infecting a growing percentage of the ungulate and canine population in all three states, and the Centers for Disease Control is gearing up for treatment of human infections for which there is no know cure.
Third, the estimates on the wolves’ population increases and impacts on all wildlife in the region have been grossly misrepresented by federal scientists. As the wolf population spirals beyond what the government set as “recovery” limits, the impacts grow worse by the day. Some are calling it an ecological disaster on par with the slaughter of the prairie bison. And there’s nothing “natural” about this slaughter.
The controversy over the wolf releases is causing a firestorm of biological, political, and health concerns in the region. The releases were the result of feel-good environmentalism run amuck, and top scientists throughout the wildlife community and doctors experienced with the wolf-borne diseases are finally getting their voices heard about the problems with the so-called wolf reintroduction effort in the West.
The use of the wrong wolf subspecies has simply assured the extinction of the pure-strain Rocky Mountain wolf through cross-breeding, but genetic testing has proven this is the federal government’s apparent mode of operation with regard to wolves. The Eastern wolves being released, bred, and scattered throughout the Appalachians are coyote-dog-wolf hybrids. Even the wolves in the upper Midwest have an alarming percentage of dog and coyote genes. Apparently it’s more important to have wolves in a region than to have native wolves.
While the disease issue is going to become a major topic of conversation that will wedge it’s way onto newspaper front pages and national television news programs (and more coverage here another day), hunters and other wildlife enthusiasts are watching with horror as the West’s big game herds are being devastated by the Canadian wolves.
The Idaho Game and Fish Department has just conducted its annual survey of its once-prolific Lolo elk herds, which numbered from 13,000 to 15,500 animals in the years before Canadian wolves were released in Central Idaho. Today, with an Idaho wolf population approaching 1,100 animals (even after this fall-winter legal wolf hunting season that saw nearly 200 animals killed), the Lolo elk herd is down 85 percent to just over 2,000 animals.
The Yellowstone elk herd, which numbered around 20,000 animals before Canadian wolves, is down to around 4,000 animals, another 80-plus percent decline. Surveys of the Wyoming moose herd north of Jackson tallied over 1,200 animals before wolves. The Game and Fish Department’s February survey this year could only find 117 wolves -- more than a 90 percent decline.
The wolf population in the three-state region is estimated to be over 2,000, even though the three states were supposed to be allowed to keep the populations in check with hunting, trapping, and other removal programs when the numbers exceeded 300 with a specified number of packs. Lawsuits by radical environmentalists who don’t care about the impacts on local communities and ranches by the exploding wolf population, are now pressing for a “minimum” number of 6,000 wolves. So they don’t become “endangered” again.
The real issue with wolves is whether or not we can keep them in check now that they are back. It took over 50 years of intense effort to eradicate wolves from the Southwest and southern Rockies. And that was the era of leg-hold traps, snares, bounties, poison sets, and fleets of federal, state, and private wolf hunters working seven days a week to kill the animals. Fifty years! Today’s la-la land environmentalists are concerned that 2,000 isn’t enough or that sport-hunting programs are going to impact wolves?
History says they’re wrong. Even if we killed half of the wolves in the population each year, state wildlife biologists are saying there will be full-fledged packs of wolves in Utah and Colorado within three years. Both states have already reported wandering individuals and pairs. Washington and Oregon wildlife officials are expecting packs to become established in the Blue Mountains within a year or two and then expand rapidly beyond that.
The environmental document that was prepared for the wolf releases ignored vast volumes of scientific literature on wolves’ impacts on game herds, diseases, and productivity. The federal “scientists” assured the public that wolf numbers would peak at no more than 100 wolves in the 20-year period after releases, and that impacts on big game herds would be relatively small. Fifteen years into the project, wolves number over 2,000 and big game herds in the primary ranges have been reduced by 80 percent to 90 percent.
Think this is exaggerated? Canadian wolves kill an average of 22 elk per wolf per year, according to scientific studies, and that is considered conservative by many wolf experts. You do the math even with that number. Today’s 2,000 wolves will kill 44,000 elk per year, and if wolf numbers reach the 6,000 level (and it could do that in just two years at the current rate of growth), that would mean 132,000 elk per year.
To small towns around Yellowstone Park, wildlife along roadsides in the park has been the No. 1 attraction to visitors. Communities all over the region rely on the income generated when hunters flood into the region each fall. Cattle and sheep ranchers continue to hang on a thread in this region. Wolves are putting an end to all those activities in a hurry.
The idea of wolves cropping off just the sick and the weak is nonsense. Canadian wolves are an invasive, non-native species that are decimating Rocky Mountain wildlife and Western ranching and hunting traditions. Maybe that was really the plan all along.