HOWL Colorado

Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation attacks conservation groups

[large thumbnail url=”rocky-mountain-elk-foundation-attacks-conservation-groups” filename=”editorial” year=”2010″ month=”02″ day=”28″] In an “article” published on ESPN’s hunting pages, the RMEF says conservation groups which are pro-wolf are perpetuating the fight over wolves in order to make money.

Many conservation groups, which focus on the protection of America’s wolves, often use RMEF statistics to support their claims that wolves and elk are capable of co-existing without annihilating each other.

HOWLColorado has done this ourselves (Utah anti-wolf bill continues to move forward).

However, according to the article on ESPN.com – Crying Wolf:

“Remember, pro-wolf groups make their living by prolonging this conflict. There is no real incentive for them to admit that wolves are overly recovered. Fundraising is their major motive and they’ve built a goldmine by filing lawsuits and preaching that nature will find its own equilibrium between predators and prey if man would just leave it alone. That’s a myth.”

Let’s start from the top. Fundraising is not, in any way, shape or form, a motive for HOWLColorado. We don’t ask for donations, and we are a privately-funded organization which seeks specifically to provide education, news, and facts about wolves – with a specific focus on Colorado.

So, that generalization is utterly false. But you know what they say about assumptions.

The “myth” the writer refers to, that predator and prey find a natural equilibrium is one of those myths supported by hundreds of thousands of years of evidence. The cause of extinction for species prior to the influence of man was either natural selection, or more rarely a catastrophic incident such as an ice-age. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that wolves and elk lived in unison for thousands of years on American soil prior to human intervention. Neither species was selected for extinction. 

In just the last 200 years, that balance has been devastated. 

Elk only made up a percentage of a wolf’s diet. Bison, deer, and other prey which was numerous before the middle of the 19th century in the western half of the US. Therefore, while  a wolf pack would roam significant areas, it wouldn’t need to be massive, and have more than enough prey to support their pack for the year without detrimentally impacting the numbers of elk, deer or bison.

The line “if man would just leave it alone” is fascinating. It is man which makes it impossible for nature to balance itself. Man kills more elk than any natural predator could ever hope to. The truth is – there are too many hunters (human and animal) for the number of elk – more on that later. 

There is one myth here, however. The one that suggests that wolves and elk are balanced by some magical, mystical force. This is garbage. The truth is brutal, and harsh, and one that people don’t want to think about.

Wolf populations, if left to their own devices, are managed by… wolves. A wolf pack defends its territory viciously. The area of a wolf pack’s territory is defined by the amount of prey and the ability for the wolves to traverse that territory. The less dense the prey population, the more a wolf pack will expand its territory. This puts a pack in direct conflict sooner or later with another wolf pack.

Conflict occurs. One pack will retreat and move, or a pack will be killed.

This reduces the number of wolves in a given area, allowing the prey populations to rebound. As the prey populations rebound sufficiently, the wolf territories shrink – they don’t need to cover as much area to find the necessary prey for their pack survival. This leaves room for another wolf pack to encroach.

This is purely balance by survival of the fittest.

Humans aren’t constrained. They don’t shoot other hunters who are too close. They number in the tens of thousands. And they lack some of the penalties a natural predator must deal with. The elk don’t have a fighting chance – the reason wolves take weak, sick or old animals is because it reduces their risk significantly for injury. An injury in the wild is often fatal, and elk and bison are more than capable of defending themselves against wolves, especially in numbers.

Human hunters have little to fear from their prey. They can take one, or a dozen animals, and risk for injury is negligible.

The ESPN article is also disingenuous. A quote from the How are Elk Faring? information on the RMEF.org site:

Elk populations are also increasing in other states where they had almost disappeared. The forests surrounding Flagstaff, Arizona, are home to an increasing number of elk. Once down to only a few individuals, California’s 7,500 elk now live in locations from the foggy coastal ranges to the hot and sunny central valleys. And, for the first time in decades, elk can be seen on the prairie between Denver and Colorado Springs where they were abundant before human settlement.

Although elk will probably never return to their historic numbers nor to all of their historic range, far more elk inhabit the United States than at any other time in the last 100 years.

And further still…

In an ecosystem undisturbed by humans, elk populations would fluctuate depending on the quality of their habitat. They would also be hunted by predators such as mountain lions, wolves and bears. Today, though, most elk live in habitats of varying quality and size that are affected by human activities and have fewer wild predators.

We can’t disagree with such statements. That’s why we use RMEF information (without the rhetoric, which is primarily what the ESPN article contains). We aren’t cherry picking data. We are using the RMEF’s very own generalizations.

There are also interesting statements in the ESPN article are things such as:

“When wolves are too abundant, they’re more susceptible to diseases, just like all wildlife.”

True, but weak populations combined with inbreeding could also explain increase in disease. Unusual parasites and infections could also have been introduced – due to the wolves being a reintroduction program, or the introduced animals lack natural resistance to already present diseases. It’s not an inaccurate statement, but it’s overly simplistic statement.

Managing wildlife seems less important than managing humans. And “wildlife management” is too often a euphamism for “protecting hunters and their entertainment.”

The reason that HOWLColorado, and other groups, fight is because we are aware of the past and we recognize how we arrived at the point we are now. We fight because special interests don’t have the welfare of America’s wildlife at heart – and we don’t believe they won’t annihilate all competition and threats. We fight because the wildlife of America can’t fight for itself.

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