Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Wolf You Feed

We’re coming up on the end of Wolf season. It’s the second time in history that there was a regulated wolf hunt in the lower 48 United States. The first being in 2009, before the Simpson/Tester delisting rider passed congress.

It's been interesting to watch the adjustments made at the Commission level, from the elimination of hunter orange after the big game season to using hunters to help remove problem wolves, to extending the Bitterroot season until April 1st. Some of it makes sense, like extending the general season to February 15th, in the hopes of adding a few more wolves to the quota. Others tested our collective conscience of what it means to be an ethical hunter.

The West Fork of the Bitterroot is ground zero in the wolf saga of Montana. That iconic herd of elk has crashed, and crashed hard. There are a number of reasons why that crash happened, and yes, wolves had something to do with it. But a little known law had more to do with it. The law, HB 42 passed in 2003 required FWP to manage “at or below” objectives for elk. The Legislature mandated that we manage below carrying capacity. Like it was as easy as passing a bill.

That led to the issuance of approximately 1000 antlerless elk tags. We shot the shit out of that herd. In the mean time, you have a switch in season structure for Mountain Lions, going to a more restrictive hunt (and thus helping increase the quality of cat hunting in the area), decreased interest in bear hunting, and a myriad of habitat problems, from a decade of drought, to conifer encroachment to loss of winter range and subdivisions. But mostly, an over-reaching legislature passed a bad bill which started a chain event that caused a once mighty elk herd to crash.

Thanks for that. It’s a shining example of why we don’t want legislators setting objectives, seasons or a host of other issues and procedures.

So, last week, the Commission voted 3-2 to extend the wolf hunting season in WMU 250 until April 1st. Two commission members whom I deeply respect voted no. Commissioner Ron Moody spoke about why he voted no on Montana Public Radio’s news show the other day. I believe that he has some valid points. Now, I was the strongest proponent for moving forward with the extension, but I don’t think we should think of this as a fair chase hunt. It is a management action. Commissioner Moody has some ethical reservations about that. I do too. Commissioner Ream pointed out that the current study is implicating Lions as the major predator of elk calves and that increasing the harvest of wolves isn’t necessarily get us what we are looking for. I can respect a no vote based off of a conviction that we’re making a wrong decision. Ream’s next motion was to increased the number of tags available in WMU 250 by 50% and add more cat hunters. What it boils down to is an honest discussion about how we manage wolves. Not one filled with rants about tapeworms and super-Canadian wolves eating babies.

We’re a long way from filling the quota. Many wanted a higher quota, and now that we’re not able to find 220 wolves willing to be shot, there’s a loud contingency out there calling for gunships and poison.

There’s an old Cherokee story:
Legend has it that one evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, "My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: "Which wolf wins?" The old Cherokee replied, "The one you feed."

Go hunt. Quit whining and let’s finish this job.


  1. Thanks, BDL, for the thoughtful assessment of the Bitterroot wolf situation. This is the type of conversation that fair-chase hunters need to engage in ... I'm weary of the chest-beating pronouncements about the need for gunships, poison and baited traps. Ron Moody's commentary on MTPR was provacative. If folks haven't heard it, you can now at: http://www.mtpr.org/podcasts/audio/mtee_features/01-23-2012Feature.mp3

  2. I think another problem might just be, the disease Midge flys are carrying that has decimated the deer herds on the eastern side of the divide! They say, this disease can effect elk as well!

    I think it is time to get more eyes out there in this off season as hunters, and appraise as conservationists our herds! If they are as small as we surmise them to be ...Maybe we need to get greedy for a year or two and cut down on the number of Permits for out state and new hunters! They can wait until we can breath certain our herds are back up to healthy numbers!
    Yea the wolf and big cat can be a problem, but I think the hunters killing off our Hunting heritage this year are the size of a fly!

  3. Great piece BDL, just look at the path that is created when we let the legislature instead of the professionals at FWP run things with the Public's Wildlife. I too am really fed up with the chest beating, shoot, poison and whatever means available to attack the wolf issue. Montana was the first state to write an acceptable plan to re-gain state management over the wolves, the other two dragged their collective feet with Idaho finally writing a plan and the problem child, the temper tantrum child, Wyoming, is still having their moments with this issue. The time has come for Montana sportsmen to get their shoulders to the wheel and work for the total good of the Public's Wildlife, that means support with healthy debate our Commission and the professionals at MTFWP. JW Westman