September 22, 2023

Statements Made About The Impact Of Wolves On Elk

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We all do it. We spin information to fit our theories and beliefs more times than not paying little regard to all the facts. Politics in Washington works the same way as it does in the tiniest of towns through this great land. In its most basic form, all parties have an objective. How to reach that goal is so diverse often it becomes insurmountable.

The majority of people want healthy wildlife. How to achieve that is debatable. In the inter-mountain west areas around Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, there are wolves, the animal Americans love to hate. Nearly all people, whether knowledgeable or not believe that wolves prey on other wildlife and domestic animals. When the debate turns toward how much effect the wolf has on certain species is where the road splits.

Today’s Casper Star-Tribune has a story that partially addresses the issues about the impact wolves have on elk populations. Whitney Royster’s article has comments made by influential people in this three-state area about wolves and elk. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says that a state needs to prove that wolves are having a detrimental effect on big game herds in order for them to grant authority to kill wolves.

The difficulty comes because nobody knows exactly what kind of impact wolves eating elk are having. It’s not black and white science and because of that personal perspectives play an important role in reaching conclusions – from both sides.

With that in mind, here are a few statements made by some officials about the elk/wolf political and scientific issues. Mitch King, regional director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service –

“You can’t sort of offhand say, ‘I didn’t kill an elk this year, and therefore wolves are killing them,'” he said. There need to be population numbers for big game, objectives, knowledge of where wolf packs are, and public input. Proposals must also include analysis of other factors affecting big game herds, such as habitat loss, and methods to address those other problems as well.

Carolyn Sime, wolf coordinator for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks said this –

wolves are one part of a complicated ecological system.

Factors affecting the number of big game also include drought, severe winters, hunting, and other predators. Elk herds in Montana, where wolves were never extirpated in the northern area of the state, are at or above objectives, she said.

“At this time our data do not support a statement that wolves are wiping everything out,” she said.

Montana is not looking to kill wolves to protect elk, because data do not demonstrate that wolves are having a significant impact, Sime said.

That does not mean hunters are not concerned.

The Yellowstone northern elk herd has seen reduced hunting. That herd, Sime said, is a migrant herd, and fewer elk are migrating out of Yellowstone National Park due to influences from drought, weather and predation.

“That herd comedown is due to many things,” she said. “It’s not a wolf-elk system in a vacuum.”

Ed Bangs, federal wolf recovery coordinator –

wolves eat elk and reduce the number of elk, but mountain lions eat about twice as much big game as do wolves. He said wolves stir up emotions that other large predators do not.

And wolf numbers are tied to the number of prey available. Lots of prey means lots of wolves.

“Wolves adjust themselves to the level of vulnerable prey,” he said. Wolf populations spiked upon reintroduction because there was a large prey base. Numbers will begin to level as habitat is taken up, he said.

Pat Crank, attorney general for Wyoming –

with 26 packs and about 400 wolves in Wyoming, the state is far beyond recovery goals. Any impacts already seen to big game are going to continue and increase unless the state can manage wolves like it does other wildlife species.

Terry Cleveland, director of Wyoming Game and Fish Department

wolves are having an impact on calf survival, particularly in the Clarks Fork area, where there used to be about 40 calves for every 100 cows. Now the ratio is less than 20.

“Over the long term it certainly appears that less (calf) recruitment due to wolf predation means less opportunities for hunters in some of those herd units,” he said. “We can’t say what percentage is due to wolves. We believe wolf predation in some areas is having an impact.”

He said wolves are likely having more than a 1 percent impact on calf losses, but it is not known how much of an impact.

So there you have it. Five people and five different opinions or positions taken by their perspective governmental organizations. These are the differing elk and wolf perspectives from state and federal agencies that are bound and restricted by the confines of political correctness. When you add to the mix, biologists who will give you reasons to eradicate the wolf again and scientists representing wolf advocacy groups showing reasons no wolves should be killed, there’s no telling what the general public will hear once the media is done adding their spin. And we need not forget the average Joe Hunter and Sally Civilian who will contribute the anecdotal evidence that conclusively proves that either wolves are our friends or they all must die.

Tom Remington