This is a repost from 2009, it could have been written yesterday. We’re still stuck in the same paradigm as we were three years ago. The only thing that’s changed is the viciousness of the campaign to exterminate the wolf.
December 3, 2009
The wolf debate has become intrinsically tied to elk numbers and endless conversations and arguments revolve around this subject. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation trumpeted, in an April 09 press release, that wild elk populations were higher in twenty-three states then they were twenty-five years ago, when the organization started. YET, those facts don’t sit well with some people, who refuse to believe wolves aren’t decimating elk. I can’t recall how many times I’ve heard elk hunters say……Well elk may be thriving in one part of my state but their numbers are down in another area. Or elk are harder to hunt….etc. I agree elk are harder to hunt because they’re on high alert, acting more like, ELK. They browse and move, browse and move. It makes hunting them more difficult but when you have a high-powered rifle and the advantage of surprise I’m not going to feel sorry if you don’t bag an elk. It’s not the responsibility of wildlife viewers to be concerned about the success of elk hunters.
Wolf recovery and wolves presence in the Northern Rockies is not about elk hunters or hunting in general, although many people want it to be. It’s about wolves fulfilling their role in our wild places. It’s about tolerance and allowing the wolf to be the wild animal, apex predator they are, to do their job in culling ungulates and making herds stronger, what they’ve been doing for millenia.
“The dance of life and death between predator and prey makes many of us uncomfortable, and yet, prey species are also benefiting from the return of the wolf. Unlike human hunters who target healthy adult animals, wolves cull the sick and elderly from elk, deer, moose and bison herds, reducing the spread of disease and keeping the prey population as a whole healthier.”
It’s also not about conducting polls to see if hunters are happy with wolves, or whether hunters think there are enough elk. It may be important in their world but the majority of Americans don’t hunt.
US Fish & Wildlife 2006 figures report there were 12.5 million hunters nationally with expenditures of 22.9 billion dollars.
Wildlife Watchers numbered 71.1 million and generated 45.7 billion dollars. Does it make sense that wildlife watchers have so little input in how wildlife is managed, when wildlife viewers outnumber hunters by such a large margin and generate more revenue?
Wolves have been persecuted for well over a hundred years in the West, they were exterminated once for ranching interests by the feds. It wasn’t until the advent of the Endangered Species Act that wolves slowly began to recover. Now the ESA is being attacked, with threats to re-write it and exclude gray wolves. The war against wolves knows no bounds. This is a perfect example of why wolves must be protected against scapegoating and persecution.
It’s constantly repeated wolves were forced on Idaho and Montana by the reintroduction program in 1995 but wolves dispersed to Glacier National Park long before they were brought back to Yellowstone and Central Idaho by the feds.
Almost any discussion about wolves is accompanied by a critique of elk or livestock. If by some miracle we could move past these two issues and realize the wolf is a top predator that has a role to play in nature. If emotion was replaced with science that tells us the disappearance of apex predators around the world is causing ecosystem collapse, the science that shows the benefit wolves bring to ecosystems they inhabit, we could make progress in ending this battle.
Don’t get me wrong, I like elk, they are beautiful creatures. Of course I like my elk living and breathing but the material point is, it’s not about elk. It’s about wolves and what’s in their interest. They’ve been so demonized but in reality wolves are animals, the direct ancestors of our beloved dogs.There is no reason to assign motives to their behavior. They are doing what they were born to do.
Somehow the focus must be shifted from elk, hunting, ranching, livestock and outfitters to the benefit of having apex predators on the landscape.
The dialogue concerning elk declines or increases is irrelevant to most Americans. What’s important in nature is balance, not picking one species over another. By manipulating elk numbers state game agencies have elevated elk to a god like status, woe to any predator that dares to interfere with their mission. Their transparent dislike for wolves is palpable. Neither USFWS nor the states have shown the wolf any consideration, which is evident in the way they kill entire packs including puppies. As long as this outdated mindset continues to dominant “wildlife management”, where the only priority seems to be how many prey animals are available for hunters to kill, wolves will never be safe or any predator for that matter. What will it take to deliver the message to tone-deaf “wildlife managers’? It’s not about elk.
Photos: Wikimedia Commons and kewlwallpapers.com
Posted in: elk flourishing among wolves, biodiversity, Canis lupus
Tags: wolf recovery, dispersing wolves, wolf myths, elk