If you want healthy elk populations, the key is more aggressive killing of predators, especially wolves.
At least that’s the message from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, which announced last week that it will be putting up $50,000 to help fund efforts to kill more wolves. The money would go to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to help pay U.S. Wildlife Services, the agency contracted to kill wolves when they get into trouble with livestock.
The foundation also said it would ask for donations for the wolf killing, and the money wouldn’t pull from the group’s other conservation efforts. But it’s just the latest effort to blame wolves, which it turns out can be pretty lucrative as a fundraiser.
And the foundation isn’t limiting its ire to wolves.
David Allen, RMEF president, said his group wants fewer black bears, mountain lions, wolves and coyotes. And he said the state needs to look at killing grizzly bears — which remain on the federal Endangered Species List — because they prey on elk calves.
“We can’t have all these predators with little aggressive management and expect to have ample game herds and sell hunting tags and generate revenue that supports (the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks) nearly
100 percent,” Allen told the Missoulian newspaper.
What a sad statement from a once-proud conservation organization. But this isn’t Allen’s first time joining the predator-bashing chorus.
For several years now he’s used terms like “annihilation,” “decimation” and “wildlife disaster” when describing elk herds where wolves are found. It’s the same rhetoric I’ve grown accustomed to hearing from kooks on the Internet. The problem is it has no basis in fact — at least according to the elk foundation’s 2011 hunting forecast.
Based on state game agency data, it estimated there are nearly 1.2 million elk in North America. That same forecast blasted animal rights activists saying they had “cherry-picked, manipulated and misrepresented” the numbers in an effort to keep wolves on the ESA perpetually. It also said wolves had “decimated” some of the northern Rockies’ great herds and for hunters to expect “tough hunting” in those areas.
That contradicts statements the foundation made three years ago, when it issued a press release touting its role over 25 years in helping boost elk herds. Allen stated that “growth in elk populations is one measure of our success.” The number of elk in 2009
was 1.03 million across the continent.
I’d say it’s speaking out of both sides of your mouth to pat yourself on the back when elk reach 1 million continent-wide and turn around and blast predators for killing too many elk when we have
1.2 million. In Montana, the herd estimate held steady at 150,000 animals from 2009 to 2011.
I’m sure the foundation would say losses to wolves are localized and in some cases severe. Often, the wolf haters point to the elk herd in northern Yellowstone National Park that migrates into Montana near Gardiner as an example of one that’s suffered from wolves. It’s been reduced from 19,000 animals in 1992 to about 4,100 today.
But that herd was grossly overpopulated. And at more than 4,000 animals, it’s still healthy.
Maybe what the foundation wants are the good old days, when hundreds of elk poured out of the park’s northern boundary into a firing line of hunters. That wasn’t an elk hunt – it was a disgrace.
As anyone who gets out of his or her vehicle and actually hunts knows, Montana has abundant elk. The hunting is a little harder in areas where wolves are. But when isn’t elk hunting tough?
The foundation also left out a major source of predation on elk in Montana — the 2003 Legislature. It mandated that FWP reduce numbers and since then we’ve been pounding elk with second tags, extended seasons and liberal regulations. Where’s the outrage about that over predation?
Clearly, the elk foundation’s use of predator-hating rhetoric is good for the bottom line.
Last month the group boasted of its “record-high membership” and “strong fiscal performance.” The same news release talked about the upcoming predator campaign and said “wolf, bear, lion and coyote populations are well above science-based objectives in many areas.”
When asked, the foundation cited itself as a source. Yet I had no idea the group has the staff biologists to count predator populations and authority to set seasons.
And it’s not like these species aren’t already managed. We’ve been hunting mountain lions and black bears for years. Coyotes can be shot on sight. And grizzly bears, while doing well, remain under federal protection.
Then there’s the hated wolf. We’ve only hunted this predator two years since its reintroduction. It takes time for wildlife professionals to craft a hunt that meets objectives, especially with a new species. To decry this year’s hunt as a failure because we didn’t reach the 220 wolf total quota is ridiculous.
Instead of bashing wolves, the foundation should take pride in their recovery. After all, the only reason wolves can live in the northern Rockies is the abundance of prey – including elk – and the foundation has played an important role in those species larger numbers through habitat acquisition and improvement.
In fairness, the foundation isn’t the only group to get on the wolf gravy train. Who could forget 2009, when Defenders of Wildlife used images of cute wolf puppies while decrying the “slaughter” of wolves in Montana’s first-ever hunt.
But the argument that they did it first doesn’t justify exploiting wolves as a money maker.
I expect a higher standard from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.