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Kearns and Sons

Wolves just a distraction from real issues

By Stanley Schroeder, Hamilton

Are our Ravalli County commissioners working for you? Instead of a laser focus on a smart, fair budget and creating jobs, their crosshairs are on wolves and their management. We’re all sick and tired of this commission wasting their time and our money on wolves. Clearly they’re creating a distraction, wagging the wolf’s tail, stoking fear and hysteria, and tossing red meat to their supporters.
Why aren’t we the people the number one priority for the commissioners? We can only guess it’s because they’re empty of ideas to create jobs and improve our local economy. They’ve nothing to offer but to chase wolves and blame them for every ill in the Bitterroot. We, the vast majority of Bitterroot citizens, are not fooled.
Like all decent deceptions there’s a kernel of truth–wolves do kill elk and there’s economic impact. We can all agree on that, but is that the whole story that our commissioners would have us believe? Are wolves the sole, or even the primary cause for lower elk numbers? Instead of the commissioners’ hyperbole, conjecture, and anecdotes, how about some science and facts?
There’s an excellent summary of the impacts on elk and their numbers found in the Bitterroot National Forest Travel Management Planning Project Draft EIS (July 2009). It uses MT Fish, Wildlife and Park’s (FWP) data and information, the primary agency that studies and manages elk. Our commissioners and all concerned citizens should read it. I’ll send the commissioners a copy. Here are some highlights.
Elk numbers on the Bitterroot declined from 1950 to 1980 due to a “proliferation of roads and timber harvest.” In response, agencies closed logging roads and managed elk hunting differently, resulting in growing numbers.
Beginning in the 1980s, and continuing through today, off-highway vehicle (OHV) recreation in general, and OHV use by hunters, has led to “increased elk vulnerability” just as road proliferation did previously. Elk are moving out of their traditional, high elevation summer ranges, and moving into their winter ranges early due to OHV use. Often this is onto private lands reducing hunting opportunities.
Elk aren’t dumb. They’ll leave areas of risk or disturbance and will search out safer places. Once they’ve moved to safer (often private) lands, it’s hard to reverse this movement pattern. Unfortunately, this premature movement to lower elevation winter range causes not just fewer hunting opportunities, but also inadequate winter forage and nutrition. This leads to malnutrition, starvation and disease, especially among calves.
The EIS overview continues: “Predation by wolves is sometimes blamed for the recent decline in elk numbers, and wolves certainly kill many elk. However, FWP increased the number of antlerless elk permits in the mid 2000s because elk populations exceeded objectives, and recent antlerless harvests have been high. FWP feels that the decline in elk numbers in the Bitterroot is likely primarily due to increased antlerless harvests achieving a planned management reduction, and that there is no evidence that wolves or combined predator numbers have much to do with the decline of elk counted through 2008. In addition, the FWP biologist in 2007 felt that much of the decline that year was due to nutritional stress caused by poor forage conditions in 2006 that may have caused poor calf survival.”
The FWP elk population objective for the Bitterroot is 7070. In 1987 the count was 3537, compared to 2419 in 1965. In 1999 it was 5653. Wolves were reintroduced into central Idaho in 1995 and soon spread into the Bitterroot. Elk numbers generally increased through 2005 (8169), declining to 7915 (2006), then 7197 (2007) and to 5950 (2008).
There’s ongoing research looking into the physical health and nutrition of elk up the West Fork. Results are pending. What we know is hunting permit changes in mid 2000s caused a decline. OHVs are having a negative impact. So is poaching. Elk are moving lower sooner, resulting in fewer hunting opportunities and inadequate over-wintering nutrition. Noxious weeds are having a deleterious effect nutritionally. Wolves are eating elk. All of this is happening. And lower elk numbers are having an economic impact–on hunters and outfitters, among others. But to blame wolves for all, or even most of the elk decline is simply untrue.
Citizens need to be informed of the best available information and science. Commissioners need to leave wolf management to FWP and stop feeding the public half-truths. As I write this on the eve of rifle season, the wolf hunt has barely begun. Yet our commissioners are already declaring it inadequate–a clear rush to judgment. What does that tell you? Commissioners, stop your vendetta! It’s a waste of our taxpayer money. Turn your attention to us, the people of the Bitterroot, and to our local economy and jobs. We deserve it. We demand it.

5 Responses to Wolves just a distraction from real issues
  1. Mike Stark
    November 2, 2011 | 1:24 pm

    Dear Sir
    With all due respect I will get right to the point. Your opinion of the disaster occuring to the Rocky Mountain Elk population is no more compelling to me than the commission’s. The fact that it is a disaster can’t be dismissed with all your “facts”.
    Also, why did the “vast majority” of Bitterroot citizens elect this commission if you were “not so easily fooled”? Furthermore why doesn’t your “vast majority” get off its’ butt and institute a recall election. You only want to wag your tongue. Then, you, Sir, are in fact part of that “deception to waste our time”. I’m not really saying that you are wrong, but I am saying that you aren’t doing anything helpful.

  2. DeweyV
    October 28, 2011 | 2:21 pm

    I commend Schroeder for putting a good nest of facts on the table and putting the Lolo Elk Population debate in its proper context. No duplicity or rightwing rhetoric here. Refreshing amid these turbid shoutfests.

    If only FWP , the wolf bashers, the genuine hunter-sportsmen, and the Ravalli commissioners will take heed.

  3. Billy Angus
    October 27, 2011 | 6:50 am

    Ya’ know, politicians and candidates
    make a lot of rosy promises to create
    jobs, bring in clean energy, boost the economy,
    yada-yada-yada…
    But so far, it’s been nothing more than the usual
    lip-service and the same old dull and boring
    status quo of destructive,
    self-serving political agendas
    and catering to/appeasing the greedy special
    interests and their henchmen(aka the 1%),
    rather than serving the people(aka the 99%)
    who elected/hired them to do in the first place…
    As a rock-n-reggae non-conformist,
    I say it’s time to shake up the status quo
    and have the entire commission recalled and then
    start from scratch with everyday people
    like you and me to find new ways to create jobs
    and help out our Earth and ALL of its wild creatures,
    our glorious Great Spirit created for ALL generations to behold with awe and wonder.
    It’s not the 19th nor 20th centuries anymore and so it’s time to leave the past with the past
    and focus on the issues of this millennium…
    (the 21st Century and beyond)

  4. cal007
    October 27, 2011 | 2:41 am

    VERY well said, Mr. Schroeder! From beginning to end! Well done! Thank you!

  5. Wyoming Gal
    October 27, 2011 | 2:12 am

    Best darn article I’ve read in a long time! Thank you for bringing this to light. You are right. Things are being distracted by the killing of wolves, and I hunt. I know the wolves hunt too, but they serve a purpose. People who hunt wolves are out for bragging rights only. See, I can kill something I can’t even eat! I’m a good hunter. Trophy hunters..never could stand them. If ya can’t eat it, don’t kill it. Thanks for your time.

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