Not Enough Elk Hunters Left To Kill Montana Wolves, As Desired By State Game Managers

ruger varmint rifle photo

Ruger no. 1 Varmint rifle in .223 Remington Image credit:Wikipedia

I did not stretch this headline, nor am I wagging a finger at Montana elk hunters (I'ld love to bag a Montana elk). However, a Montana State employee, speaking for The Missoulian couldn't be more clear about the State's intention: "Our goal is to bring the situation there back in balance in that area [The Bitterroot Valley] ," said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks regional manager Mack Long. "Right now, it's heavily tilted toward predation. It's not only wolves, but wolves have played a substantial role in driving those elk numbers down."

The estimated Bitterroot Valley elk herd size has fallen 60% in the last 6 years: no wonder there is concern. Elk hunting once was a significant revenue source for Montana other adjacent states and could be so again if the herds came back. Paradoxically, now, with so few Elk hunting tags issued, there are not enough hunters a-field to run across and shoot the very wolves that are blamed for reducing the elk herds! What to do?From the Missoulian:

Craig Jourdonnais, FWP's Bitterroot-based biologist, said the concern about filling the quota in the West Fork due to a lack of hunters is "absolutely valid."

Nearly all of the nine wolves Jourdonnais checked in during the 2009 season were taken by elk or deer hunters who spotted the predators while stalking other game.

Jourdonnais talked with a number of hunters that year who were focusing their efforts on hunting wolves. None of them were successful.

"The key to success during the rifle hunting season appeared to be just having people out in the field," he said. "That will be an issue this year in the West Fork. The irony of that is this is exactly the place where we need an effective harvest of wolves this year."

Back in the 60's and 70's there was much controversy over Federal hunters and poisoners (taxpayer employed, full-time exterminators who used strychnine-laced baits, guns and leg-hold traps to kill predators & rodents across the US West).

Collateral damage from the Federal program was significant - there was the occasional bald eagle death attributed to the bird eating a poisoned carcass or bait - and it made many US citizens furious to learn that US taxpayers were footing the bill for this. (Remind anyone of the Tea Party rant?)

This Federal trapping and poisoning of the West controversy, I believe, was the beginning of the much of the tension that still exists between coastal environmentalists and Western ranching interests.

Times have changed.
Back in the day of wide-open Federal 'varmint-killing' there were plenty of Elk for both tourist and local hunters; and Uncle Sam managed to find the money to cover the costs of the predator control program. Wolf killing by the Feds was stopped, however, when the species became endangered.

Ranchers still suckling on the Federal teat to pay for wildlife extermination.
Today, "U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services program, (formerly called Animal Damage Control) kills more than 2.4 million animals each year, including more than 120,000 native carnivores at an annual cost to taxpayers of over $115 million. The methods employed include poisons, steel-jaw leg-hold traps, strangulation neck snares, denning (the killing of coyote pups in their dens), hounding, shooting, and aerial gunning." This cite comes from Project Coyote.

Will we again poison wolves at taxpayer expense?
With elk numbers down in much of the US West and wolves having lost their protected status, you might suppose the US Dept. of Agriculture would be asked to go back after the wolves. Countermanding this expectation, with the main political thrust of Republicans being to cut all forms of government spending, asking now for Federal shooters would seem a very uncool move.

It will be interesting to see if the Libertarian howls of western Congressmen subside, as that potentially would be a sign of the Agriculture Department getting the memo. Rationality hasn't mattered much to Congress recently so don't be surprised.

Notes and questions:

  • In 1988 USEPA banned the US manufacture of the poison pellets used for killing coyotes.

  • A history of the predator control programs, albeit one written from the rancher perspective, can be seen here. It is fairly objective, while brief; but the banner subhead, which conveniently would be quite appealing to PETA members - "Protect Young Animals From Predatory Attacks" - is ridiculous.

  • Drought caused by climate change? Are we even considering that as a potential cause of plummeting elk numbers?

  • No one seems to mention the possibility of coal bed methane extraction and gas and oil well development driving elk from critical browsing habitat or migratory routes, thus reducing the population slowly over time.

  • Same potential issue with all the mega-homes and dude estates that have cropped up all over the Rockies. One of the Koch brothers has such a ranch; and there are plenty of Hollywood types who've left their big estate-prints on the foothills.

Not Enough Elk Hunters Left To Kill Montana Wolves, As Desired By State Game Managers
I did not stretch this headline, nor am I wagging a finger at Montana elk hunters (I'ld love to bag a Montana elk). However, a Montana State employee, speaking for The Missoulian