Frank Priestley is president of the Idaho Farm Bureau.
By FRANK PRIESTLEY
Another shot to the credibility of pro-wolf groups is proving out this winter as hunters and trappers across Idaho and Montana are coming up short in reaching targeted harvest levels.
Montana wildlife commissioners recently extended wolf-hunting season to mid-February, and Idaho harvest numbers, as well as hunter interest based on tag sales, are well below 2009 levels, the first time Idaho allowed wolf hunting since reintroduction in 1996. In addition, Idaho Fish and Game officials are making plans to begin aerial gunning in the Lolo region to kill wolves in order to save elk and moose that were once plentiful there.
Advocates went to court—again—last summer in yet another dubious attempt to stop wolf hunting based on fear that wolf populations would be shot down below recovery levels. Thankfully, the courts saw through the propaganda, ruling to allow hunts to commence.
Hunting and trapping are the only tools we have to control wolf populations. While we maintain a healthy dose of skepticism, we hope these tools help keep wolves away from ranches and rural homes.
A lot of sentiment exists that wolves are only accountable for a small number of livestock depredations. We often hear that coyotes kill more sheep and calves than wolves or that bears and mountain lions are a bigger problem. This is the propaganda of wolf advocacy. Here's why: First, most wolf depredation on livestock is rarely confirmed due to the fact that a pack of wolves leaves little behind for investigators to examine. With regard to other predators, keep in mind that wolf kills are in addition to depredation by other predators. Wolf depredation was not a problem for ranchers before the federal government reintroduced wolves in 1996, despite resounding public testimony from rural residents in opposition to reintroduction. About 80 percent of the cattle herds in the U.S. are made up of 50 cows or less. It only takes a couple of losses to predators to make a small operation unprofitable.
In addition, let's not lose sight of the fact that wolf reintroduction has resulted in arguably the most successful recovery of an endangered species in this nation's history. Idaho's wolf population has grown well beyond expectations of the foremost federal biologists—from 24 in 1996 to a level we believe surpasses 2,000 animals today. Much of what was observed about wolf biology in other places has not proven out in Idaho. For instance, during reintroduction public hearings, we were told only one bitch per pack would breed each year. Yet if that were the case there is no biological way our wolf population would have exploded the way it has. During those same hearings, we were told wolves only prey on sick, weak or old elk, deer, moose, etc. Yet, Idaho Fish and Game biologists say two elk herds in the state, the Sawtooth and Lolo herds, have been consumed by wolves to the point where they are no longer sustainable. That is an incredible amount of predation when you stop to consider that only a few years ago these were thriving elk herds.
The statement that wolves would regulate their own populations is yet another questionable assertion passed along by advocates of reintroduction. According to federal reports, there have been instances of wolves killing other wolves when pack boundaries cross. However, the overall population continues to grow, and when we see photographs of packs in excess of 20 members, it appears there is reason to dispute that claim.
All of these facts are a major concern to Idaho livestock producers. While wildlife populations decline, we expect to see increased pressure on livestock herds. We need more hunters and trappers out there in the woods. Even if unsuccessful, at minimum they are giving wolves reason to fear men, which benefits both species.
We wonder if there is a point in time when wolf advocates and their wealthy donors, who live far away from rural Idaho, will begin to accept the fact that wolves must be managed in a manner that allows ranching, big game hunting and other forms of commerce to exist.