The Ravalli County Commissioners have been collecting data from the public for the past month about interaction with wolves and the economic effects on the valley’s economy. On Thursday, October 20, they decided to ramp up the effort and set a schedule in hopes of developing a large predator control position paper to be presented to FWP and possibly a “living with wolves” policy to help local residents deal with the presence of wolves in the valley.
Over the next six weeks the commissioners will be soliciting more input from the public as well as from local groups and organizations with an interest in the topic. Public hearings are tentatively scheduled for December 5, 2011, January 3, and January 16, 2012. The plan is to arrive at a final draft of proposed position policy that could be used in coordination efforts with federal and state officials as well as a “living with wolves” policy that could provide valuable information to local residents about how to cope with the local wolf population.
Commissioner Matt Kanenwisher presented a “Wolf Report” that summed up his research to date on the issue of predator impacts on the local large ungulate population and subsequently on the valley’s economy. It began with a “statement of authority” in which he outlined the constitutional and legal framework that he believes establishes a place at the table for local government to coordinate their policies with those of the federal and state agencies involved.
Kanenwisher said that the aim of his presentation was not to convey facts about the elk and wolf populations but to document the cultural and economic impacts of the wolf population on valley residents. He noted that the numbers of hunters and the numbers of successful hunters have both fallen since wolf reintroduction in the area. He called the revenues from hunting to the valley’s economy “staggering.” He said the outfitting industry contributes directly about $44 million annually and indirectly about $10 million more and another $12 million through employees. He said these revenues have dropped by about $6 million between 2004 and 2010.
Kanenwisher did say that wolves are not the only cause but are one significant component. He said the pressure could be reduced by reducing the number of predators.
Several people spoke in favor of reducing the wolf population by any means possible and thanked the commissioners for taking on the project.
FWP biologist Craig Jourdonnais cautioned the commissioners about making incorrect inferences based on the data. He said that he thought Kanenwisher was making inferences about relationships among the different data that are not necessarily justified by the data. He said there is a danger in mixing economic management with wildlife management.
Kanenwisher said he was not making any inferences but simply presenting data he has collected. He called his points correct and “unarguable.” He said FWP may not have to consider economics in its management plan but that the county commissioners do.
“That’s why it’s important for us to cooperate,” said Kanenwisher.