A Rural Viewpoint On Wolf Reintroduction And Protection
olf AttacWolf Attack Randy Blackburn was looking for shed elk antlers 10 miles from
Sportsmen Speak Out
A Howling in the West
By Jim Zumbo
Not everyone is thrilled about recovering wolf populations.
But if you're a supporter of wolves in the
I know a nonresident hunter who didnt,
and he came close to getting into a fistfight with an angry outfitter. And that wasnt
an isolated incident. Thats just the way it goes in towns like Cody that are close
Wolves seem to cause profound personality
changes in otherwise laid-back, shy, gentle people. Thats because of the big canines
ability to ravage game populations, as well as its hunting methods. There arent many
A wolf attack is awful.
When wolves hunt, they do so by sight. They dont scent-trail an animal. When they spot their prey, they give chase. It can be a very long pursuit, or a very short one, depending on the terrain, snow depth, size of the pack, ability of the prey to fight and other factors. The kill is not pretty. Wolf experts describe how typically one or more wolves will lunge at the flanks of the beleaguered animal with their powerful jaws, biting and slashing to shear away the hide and rip out the organs and cause severe blood loss. At the same time, another wolf will commonly jump up and latch onto the victims nose with its teeth, especially when the pack is hunting a heavy animal like a moose. With a 150-pound animal holding onto its nose and several others tearing its sides, the victim is history. The wolves continue to eviscerate the animal and gobble up the emerging entrails until it finally dies. This might take hours or even daysbut rarely minutes.
So, knowing that this scenario occurs countless times every day in wolf country, how can we possibly accept wolf reintroduction in the West? I think most of us understand that in nature not many animals die gently. Violence is common when predators are doing the killing, but there is also long-term pain and suffering due to disease, parasites and starvation. Wolves are simply part of the natural equation of life and death.
If we can agree to that, lets eliminate the emotion and look at wolves from the standpoint of the impact they have on their prey, which happens to include the animals that we like to hunt. Do we really want to share our elk, deer and moose with wolves? And will we ever have a chance to hunt wolves? Are we selfish, as some claim, wanting the elk, moose and other animals only for ourselves?
Living in Cody as I do, my perspective on wolves is different from that of someone who doesnt live here. I worry about the local elk and the moose, and Im concerned when I see a serious absence of moose where Ive seen plenty of them before, and when I see alarmingly few elk calves as compared to before the wolves arrived.
Im not happy when wildlife agencies reduce elk tags, because wolves are taking so many of the surplus elk that weve been hunting for years. Call it greed if you will, but thats my opinion. Many biologists tell us that the low elk numbers are due to the drought, other habitat problems and increased numbers of grizzlies, but they seem to scoff at the notion that wolves are a significant mortality factor. I feel sorry for my rancher neighbor whose dog was killed by two wolves. He was unable to defend his pet because he would have faced a stiff fine and a possible jail term.
Im frustrated that wolves have successfully exceeded the highest expectations of the people who reintroduced them, but we still cant manage them.
When It Began
Thats why I believe we need to manage wolves as soon as possible. But lets not mince words. Management means killing some to keep their numbers at acceptable levels. When, where and how many to kill are the big questions.
Solving the Issue
Killing all the wolves will never happen. Its ludicrous to think it will. Though I dont count myself among them, many Americansand not just activist anti-huntersare comfortable having wolves roam our Western forests. Even the most avid anti-wolf advocates concede that eradication isnt an option. The wolves are here to stay, says Arlene Hanson, of Wapiti, Wyo. Hanson was the leader of the No-Wolf Option Committee and put up a gallant fight to stop wolf reintroduction in the early 1990s. Im not happy with them, but now we must work to manage them, she adds.
But even though the objectives for
recovery have been met, delisting is far from certain. First, there are logistical delays,
such as the need for officials to verify the number of breeding packs. But the bigger
problem is whether the USFWS and the three states involved in the recovery effort can come
to terms over how the wolves should be managed in the future. The relationship between the
states and the feds over the wolf issue has not been a happy one. All three states
initially opposed the reintroduction efforts. It took intervention on the part of Congress
to get the program started.
Despite the initial resistance to wolf reintroduction, however, all three states have produced and submitted plans for managing their wolves. Given the speed with which the wolves have been increasing, the states really had no choice. If they refused to draw up plans, the wolves would never be delisted and, therefore, would never be managed.
We feel good about our management
plan, says Glenn Erickson of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
We finished it in September and the director signed it. Were happy with the
plans flexibility, which gives
Steve Nadeau, large carnivore coordinator for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, agrees. Once wolves are delisted, he says, management will be the responsibility of the state wildlife agency, and well work closely with the Nez Perce tribe. We hope to manage wolves as we currently manage black bears and mountain lions, allowing hunting with special controlled permits.
We hope the delisting process will proceed according to schedule, says John Emmerich of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Were ready to establish hunting regulations on wolves once we have management responsibility.
Ed Bangs, USFWS Wolf Recovery Coordinator,
responded to this issue in a letter to Wyoming Game and Fish Director Brent Manning on
Among other reasons, critics are concerned that a pack can be protected one day if theyre in a wilderness, but be shot on sight when they cross onto non-wilderness national forest land. Under that scenario, wolf numbers could be reduced below levels required by the federal government.
To add to the dilemma, Manning resigned in mid- September, citing family reasons, after having served less than a year. This leaves the Wyoming Game and Fish Department without strong direction from the top. There is obviously no clear, immediate solution. Wolf delisting and management could take years, but wildlife officials in all three states are optimistic, as is Bangs. As it stands now, an independent panel of 12 wolf experts has been chosen by the USFWS to examine the three management plans submitted by the states. They are scheduled to report back to the USFWS by November 1 (after press time for this article), and the agency will review their conclusions. By January 1, 2004, the USFWS is supposed to make its own recommendation regarding wolf management. (well, here we are approaching Jan. 1, 2005 with ever more wolves. Cr)
This will be recorded in the Federal Register, making it available for public review and, of course, litigation. If all goes well with no serious pitfalls, wolves could be delisted by December 2004. (Ha! April fool ! ! ! cr)
Many hope that day will never come. For many others, like me, it cant come quickly enough.
One thing is certain. Wolves arent
going away. As this is written, one or two could be headed in your direction right now. As
a wolf biologist from