11 Jan 2010, 11:49pm
Latest Wildlife News
by admin

The Wolf War Begins!

By Toby Bridges, Bowhunting.net, Jan 6, 2010 [here]

Back during the mid 1990s (basically 1995-1996), Yellowstone National Parks’ elk herd peaked at around 19,000 animals. The herd was a healthy mix of all ages. And so were the elk herds just to the north and west in Montana. In fact, the state’s elk herd had reached record levels - and for sportsmen, the hunting had never been better. Life was great if you were an elk hunter.

Sound, and still growing, populations of elk could be found throughout most of the state. Likewise, the deer herds across Montana were also thriving, thanks to the same hundred years of dedicated conservation work and the billions of sportsmen provided dollars that funded all of that work. Additionally, ever expanding populations of pronghorn, moose, bighorn sheep and mountain goat also offered greater and greater hunting opportunities.

Unfortunately, the mid 1990s stand to be remembered as the “Good Ol’ Days” unless an all out effort is made to get a handle on the wildlife equivalent of a deadly virus or cancer which has been unleashed upon all big game found along the Northern Rockies. Reintroduced gray wolves are now making a very serious negative impact on our big game resources in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

In 1995, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released the first 14 Canadian wolves in Yellowstone, getting the “Wolf Reintroduction Project” kicked off. The following year, they released 17 more wolves in the Greater Yellowstone Area. And from that core of 31 wolves, the number of wolves in and adjacent to the park had increased to 273 by 2002…and Yellowstone’s wondrous elk herd had dropped to less than 12,000.

What particularly worried area hunters, who valued the Yellowstone elk herds that wintered outside of the park, offering tremendous hunting opportunities, was how wolf packs were destroying the next generations of elk during the spring calving period. To sustain a huntable elk herd requires a calf survival rate of about 30-percent. By 2002, the calf to cow ratio of the Northern Yellowstone herd had dropped to only 14-percent. This was due to not only wolf depredation of newborn calves, but also the stress on pregnant cows from being constantly pursued by wolves, which very often resulted in fetuses being aborted. Likewise, elk that are constantly on the move do not have the luxury of fattening up for the winter, and many now go into the harshest weather of the year undernourished.

This past spring, Yellowstone’s elk herd numbered only about 6,000 - about a third of what it was 14 years ago. The average age of the elk back when they were first thrown to the wolves was 4 years of age, today’s average Yellowstone elk is now 8 years old. Without adequate calf recruitment in the spring, this population of geriatric elk is headed for precipitous crash. Unless some very drastic measures are taken to eliminate half or more of the 450 wolves that now share the same range, this herd could be totally lost within the next five years. And as elk numbers continue to drop, the wolves have added most all other wildlife to their menus, now negatively impacting deer, moose, and other big game numbers.

The problem is not limited to just the Greater Yellowstone Area. Despite claims by MT Fish, Wildlife and Parks that elk and deer numbers remain “well above objective”, sportsmen here sure don’t agree. In most of western Montana, where wolves are most prominent, hunter success this past season took a big nose dive. In FWP’s Region 2 (west central), the elk harvest was down 45%…the whitetail harvest was down 50%…and the mule deer harvest was down 45% FROM THE PAST FIVE-YEAR AVERAGE! Likewise, hunters here and many other areas west of the Continental Divide reported seeing the fewest number of elk and deer in nearly 20 years.

Montana sportsmen are losing faith and trust in their wildlife agency, with many now claiming that MT FWP outright lies to them. This is especially true when it comes to the number of wolves that agency claims to be in Montana. For much of the past two years, MT FWP has sounded like a broken record, repeatedly claiming that the state’s wolf population is about 500. Hunters feel that far too much damage has already been done to the state’s elk and deer herds for the number to be that low. … [more]



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