By Michael Howell
John Pearson was on the county commissioners’ agenda last week to discuss wolves. Pearson couldn’t make it to the meeting but over 40 other people showed up to tell the commissioners what they think about the wolf situation. According to Keith Kubista of Stevensville, who spoke on behalf of Pearson, individual and local interests are being sacrificed to wolf re-introduction.
Kubista recited a litany of negative effects that he said were impacting the county’s economic stability, customs and culture and the historic uses of public and private land. He said that wolf re-introduction has negatively affected the hunting industry, including outfitters, guides, taxidermists, meat processors, lodging services and restaurants. Agricultural and livestock operations were also being negatively affected, he said.
“It’s crucial that you develop a policy for the management of large predators,” said Kubista, “or another mechanism to protect the local environment including the tax base, customs, culture, history, health and well-being of the citizens of this county.”
Darby outfitter Scott Boulanger told the commissioners that the wolves had ruined hunting up the West Fork where he operates. He said the number of elk in the area had dropped by 70 percent in the last five years. He said the reduction of permits for bull elk and mule deer in Hunting District 250 had devastated his business.
Boulanger said when he bought his outfitting business in 1998 there were no wolves up the West Fork and that he was assured at the time by government officials and the EIS done for wolf re-introduction that wolves would not be allowed to have a negative effect on ungulate populations.
“I guess the government was either lying to me or wrong because the wolves are having a terrible impact on the ungulate population,” said Boulanger.
Stevensville area resident Judy Kline told the commissioners that she packs a pistol now when walking around her yard after witnessing wolves kill two deer in her yard. Her home is located within a quarter mile of Highway 93.
Tex Irwin, owner of the West Fork Lodge, said that his hunting related business had been decimated and attributed it to the reduction in the ungulate population by wolf predation.
Several other people related stories of wolves killing livestock, including horses.
Rod Knutson claimed that the wolves were driving the elk down off the mountain into people’s fields. He said that he almost doubled his hay production on one field that he fenced to keep the elk out. Jack Pfau, who works as an ‘elk chaser’, chasing elk off hay fields in the valley, agreed.
Not everyone spoke out against the wolves. Dave Taylor said that the wolf was being unfairly targeted. He said that studies show that mountain lions and bears have a much more significant impact on ungulate populations than wolves do.
“People need to end this witch hunt,” he said.
Another woman also felt like the effects of other predators were being ignored in the equation and that the wolf was an important part of a healthy ecosystem. “I’d rather see a healthy ecosystem and not an elk ranch,” she said.
Bill Lacroix asked if this wolf discussion was part of the coordination efforts related to the American Stewards of Liberty, a group that the Commissioners contracted with to aid in implementing a strategy to give local government a leg up in relations with the federal government. He urged the commission to “cease and desist pursuing this pseudo-legal tenet”’ until it had made the effort to be fully, legally open with the public on this matter.
Commission Chair J.R. Iman told the crowd that the county had little influence and no authority over the federal government’s wolf re-introduction program and that there was not anything the commission could do to affect it.
“I don’t agree that we can’t do anything,” said Commissioner Matt Kanenwisher. “We don’t know that till we try everything and see.” He urged people to continue their data gathering and “engage the state and federal agencies any way you can.” He suggested that the next step might be to establish a local policy for predator control.