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Wolf packs must learn to fear man
Let’s get one thing clear. Wolves and man don’t mix. Nor do wolves mix with other types of wildlife.
Wherever they roam, wolves are at the top of the food chain. When they encounter elk, they see a buffet. When they see a herd of cattle, they see a smorgasbord and when they see a flock of sheep, they see dessert.
Much is said about managing habitat for the benefit of the wolves, but that’s beside the point, which is the need to manage wolves so they stay away from people and livestock.
A recent Idaho Fish and Game Commission proposal to kill up to 43 of the 58 wolves that have been dining on elk in the Lolo Pass region of eastern Idaho has been criticized by environmentalists, who say habitat is the issue, not the wolves’ eating habits.
“The scientific community at large is very critical of the state’s proposal because it is clearly the loss of habitat, not predators, that is responsible for the decline in the elk population in the Lolo area,” Suzanne Stone of the Defenders of Wildlife told the Associated Press.
Yes, habitat is an issue in that area, where the forest is rebounding from wildfire, but the trees aren’t responsible for 32 percent of the dead elk that have been found there since 2002. Wolves are.
Managing wolves needs to be the top priority of game managers in any state where they appear. Whether it’s Idaho, where wolves were reintroduced in 1995 and whose wolf population has burgeoned since, or Montana, which is adjacent to Yellowstone National Park, managing wolves so they don’t decimate livestock — and other wildlife — is a critical factor.
Take Alaska, for example. At 570,374 square miles, the 49th state is nearly four times larger than Montana and almost seven times larger than Idaho. Yet Alaska game managers struggle to keep the wolves from wiping out the moose and caribou in the state’s interior.
This winter, state managers hope to kill 400 wolves in an effort to preserve other wildlife, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner newspaper. To do that, they use aerial wolf hunts.
If the killer instinct of wolves is an issue in Alaska with its wide-open spaces, it certainly will always be an issue in Idaho and Montana, which have wolves, and other states like Oregon and Washington, where they will soon take hold.
Here’s another factor to consider about managing wolves. Many are not afraid of people. Hunters in the Madison Valley of Montana near Yellowstone, where wolves were reintroduced a decade ago, reported a wolf stalking them.
“It was approaching us with the wind right in its face — we were standing around the (pack) animals, but he was focused on us,” Jack Atcheson Jr., a hunting guide, told the Associated Press.
Wolves killed rancher Barb Durham’s herding dog two year ago and she blames the lack of proper federal management for the way the predators have moved in.
“They have no fear and that’s been our contention all along,” she said. “We don’t hate wolves; we just want them to be a natural, wild predator and to be afraid of humans.”
In Alaska, managers hunt, trap and harass wolves not to be inhumane but to teach them to stay away from humans and livestock.
That wasn’t done under federal wolf management in Montana and ranchers there are paying for it.
“If you look at where wolves are setting up, it’s not in the backcountry. It’s in the valley bottoms and foothills where people live and raise livestock and where ungulates spend the winter,” said Carolyn Sime, wolf coordinator for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Since Montana has taken over wolf management from the federal government, people are now allowed to fire a rifle shot over a wolf’s head if the animal is approaching. The idea is to scare the animal so when it sees a human it heads back to the wilderness. If a wolf is attacking livestock, ranchers can shoot them without a special permit.
“If wolves have uncomfortable experiences that would be a good thing,” Sime said. “By harassing them now we may prevent problems later.”
That’s a voice of experience wildlife managers in Idaho and elsewhere would be wise to heed.
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM Pacific
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