I was very disappointed with both the content and tone of Mr. Essen’s latest opinion piece on wolves.
Name calling and attempting to degrade the opinions that do not agree with his will only complicate finding measures to reduce the wolf and big game problems that exist in the Bitterroot Drainage.
When the wolves were imported from Canada, nurtured in the Yellowstone area, then released in Montana, the results were predictable. Although their distant ancestors may have dealt with wolves, the present big game population had never encountered them. With an abundant food supply of easy prey wolf numbers increased rapidly. In some areas big game numbers decreased nearly as fast.
In the West Fork of the Bitterroot where steep timbered slopes carry down to the river’s edge with little valley bottom, big game numbers have dropped well below those desired by wildlife managers.
In hunting area 270, which includes the East Fork of the Bitterroot, Rye Creek and Sleeping Child Creek, big game managers are proposing future hunting by permit only in an attempt to restore a more acceptable ratio of bulls/cows in that area.
Along both sides of the main Bitterroot Valley in their attempt to deal with the wolves, it appears that the elk have banded into large herds and moved to lower elevations and more open areas. After the novelty of seeing them in areas where they had not usually frequented wears off, they are recognized as unwanted intruders, damaging fences, consuming forage needed for domestic livestock, and bringing behind them predators, not only wolves, but mountain lions, and bears in season.
Before the wolves Montana was considered one of the most desirable destinations for out of state hunters. They came in large numbers bringing with them many tourist dollars. Hunting in Montana now ranks well down the list with states like Utah, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico now preferred by many out of state hunters.
Although it would be difficult to establish a total cost for the changes that have accompanied the introduction of the wolves in the Bitterroot Drainage, they are adding to the problems many people are having making ends meet in these difficult financial times.
Hunters: Many of today’s hunters come from families living on reduced budgets and are hunting to put meat on table, not trophies on the wall. Reduced hunter success in the Bitterroot since the coming of the wolves is a reality.
Outfitters and guides: With reduced big game numbers, declining success by their hunters, and Montana’s declining reputation as the place to go, many are having a hard time booking clients. For some the wolves may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Farmers and ranchers: With the present livestock markets, high fuel and operations costs, many farmers and ranchers are having a hard time. Elk consuming forage, damaging fences and livestock losses to predators are adding to their problems.
Service and tourist industries: People who are in business to serve others – restaurants, grocery stores, motels, sporting goods, etc. – are feeling the loss of dollars from out of state hunters.
Rural residents are being exposed to more frequent encounters with predators, wolves, mountain lions and bears and have valid concerns for their pets and livestock.
Given the number of people sharing the problems that accompanied the wolves into the Bitterroot, it is understandable why they are so unpopular with most of the people residing here.
We need management practices that will reduce the wolf problems in the Bitterroot Drainage that are acceptable and effective. As Mr. Essen stated, the recent wolf hunting season was not very effective.