HOWL Colorado

Editorial: Have you stopped beating your dog?

[large thumbnail url=”editorial-have-you-stopped-beating-your-dog” filename=”editorial” year=”2011″ month=”08″ day=”19″] [thumbnail icon url=”editorial-have-you-stopped-beating-your-dog” filename=”news” year=”2011″ month=”08″ day=”19″] Yes? No? Either answer you give will cast you in a negative light. Today’s anti wolf politics revolve around this concept.

Isolate the debate around a negative situation and wolf advocates are put in a tricky position of trying to change the platform of the argument.

Focusing on the failing numbers of elk in very specific locations, in the face of an overall healthy elk population for the entire region, is one way that anti-wolfers successfully manipulated the debate and rallied the support of hunters, politicians and others.

Even more carefully, those using the Lolo region elk herds selected a beneficially small sampling of the data. Their window of data looked damning to wolves. It did indeed appear that the Lolo herds showed a massive drop in their population, and that the recovery has been significantly hampered by wolves over the last decade.

But, of course, this isn’t a realistic view. The statistical data is a lot more flattering to wolves if taken as a whole.

“ Wolves have hit elk populations hard in the classic elk country of the Lolo, Sawtooth and Selway areas, and the state has capped tags. Bull/cow and cow/calf ratios are in tough shape, and the statewide population could fall below 100,000 for the first time in decades. But the declines are by no means across the board. Elk populations are at or above objectives in 22 of 29 elk hunt zones.” – Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation 2010 Elk report and hunting forecast for Idaho.

RMEF is an anti-wolf organization that hates when wolf advocates use their data. So they have taken to writing in a way to maintain an anti-wolf angle, but they can’t avoid writing the parts they know we will use.

“There are plenty of elk in many pockets of Big Sky country. In fact, Montana continues to boast the second highest elk population of any state by a margin of 30,000 animals. But some populations have plummeted in the past five years.” – Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation 2010 Elk report and hunting forecast for Montana.

They, of course, make sure to mention wolves shortly after in a negative light. But the populations in Montana are very healthy.

“Certain places in Wyoming have seen significant impacts from wolves and other carnivores. Much of the Cody herd, near Yellowstone, is seeing poor calf-recruitment made worse by predation. Once a general hunting area, it is now a limited-entry draw. “ – Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation 2010 Elk report and hunting forecast for Wyoming.

Gloom and doom in Wyoming. Wolves are clearly devastating the elk herds there.

“The statewide objective is 80,000 elk. That’s 40,000 less than where the herd stands now.“ – Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation 2010 Elk report and hunting forecast for Wyoming.

Nevermind.

In 2008, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation stated that published numbers which demonstrated the damage, in their minds, that wolves were dealing to the elk populations.

The elk population in Idaho is dropping. Over the last 15 or so years, it’s dropped about 15 percent.

The elk population in Montana tells a completely different story – one that as you can tell from the above quotes is being cast as less than a stellar story of elk success. Elk populations in 1994 were below 100,000. Elk populations today? 150,000.

A similar story is true in Wyoming as well. In 1994, the population was 100,000. Today, it’s 120,000.

In fact, since 1994, Elk numbers for the region have increased from approximately 312,000 to 371,000, which represents 18.9 percent growth since the reintroduction of wolves.

Wolves are demonized as nature’s version of weapons of mass destruction targeting the nation’s elk. And yet, the numbers are clear – they are just ignored as being unhelpful to the anti-wolf campaign. But, such a strategy would not work if there were not poster children that anti-wolfers could use to justify their argument. Which brings us back to Lolo.

Yet more numbers games…

The Lolo herd is used day in and day out by the anti-wolf campaign as justification for draconian, and potentially anti-constitutional activity to crush wolf numbers for political or financial gain.

So, let us look at the Lolo herds.

The window used by the anti-wolfers is of course 1994 and beyond, garnering support even from the government to paint the appropriate anti-wolf picture for the ENTIRE Northern Rocky Mountain region!

Lolo unit 10

January 1994 – 9,729
January 1998 – 5,079
January 2003 – 2,643
February 2010 – 1,475

Lolo unit 12

January 1994 – 3,315
January 1997 – 2,667
January 2002 – 2,048
January 2010 – 705

Wow! Based on those numbers, that’s incredibly damaging to wolves (for the very limited area these numbers represent of course).

But, with a true blast of cynicism, these numbers have been cherry picked to support the anti-wolfer campaign.

Let’s be a little less selective about when we start the review of the data. Let’s also include the estimated number of wolves and estimated high end elk predation at each of those times in Idaho.

Lolo unit 10

January 1989 – 11,507 (0 wolves)
January 1992 – 7,745 (0 wolves)
January 1994 – 9,729 (0+ wolves)
January 1998 – 5,079 (121+ wolves)
January 2003 – 2,643 (368+ wolves)
January 2006 – 2,452 (673+ wolves)
February 2010 – 1,475 (705+ wolves – a decline from 870+ in 2009)

Lolo unit 12

January 1985 – 4.767 (0 wolves)
January 1989 – 3,763 (0 wolves)
January 1992 – 3,452 (0 wolves)
January 1994 – 3,315 (0+ wolves)
January 1997 – 2,667 (74+ wolves)
January 2002 – 2,048 (284+ wolves)
January 2006 – 2,452 (673+ wolves)
January 2010 – 705 (705+ wolves)

Wolves tend to eat about 14-19 deer worth of meat per year (between 3 and 5 lbs of meat a day), per wolf. It’s tough to determine how many elk are killed by a wolf each year, since elk don’t provide the only source of meat for wolves and are a much larger ungulate than deer.

The question that anti-wolfers don’t want to answer is, what happened to the Lolo unit 12 herd between 1985 and 1994? The herd shrank by over 30 percent.

Similarly, Lolo unit 10 saw a massive declines before wolves were even a contributing factor.

The truth is that elk numbers in the Lolo region peaked in the mid-1980s. It was the re-growth of brush and trees made the region a poor habitat for elk and their numbers began to drop significantly and swiftly. Of course, wolves aren’t the only predators for elk, so mountain lions and bear did take their fair share.

What IS true, but is not the focus of the argument for the anti-wolfers is that as the herd shrank, wolf predation became a leading contributor to preventing any real rebound in the numbers of the elk. However, it’s also tough to say that the Lolo herds would have had any real success rebounding after a very tough winter in 1996-97 given the other contributing factors – but predation has been a primary challenge to recovery.

Officials in Idaho, those that have some level of sanity anyway, do demand aggressive wolf management in the Lolo zone. It may be too little, too late regardless, but at least there is some logic to their argument.

However, the anti-wolfers aren’t using the Lolo situation to help officials fix a specific localized issue in a world of increasing elk numbers. They are using it to create mass fear about wolves destroying livelihoods and limiting the data to worsen the perception for not just a small area, but for the entire tri-state area where elk are seeing excellent health overall. They also use Sawtooth and areas of Yellowstone in a similar way.

And that’s not the only place they do this fear mongering.

Parasites, livestock predation, and monster Canadian wolves… oh my!

Anti-wolfers also reference parasitic infestation, potential risk to livestock and the dreaded fact that these wolves were monsters imported from Canada!

Each and every claim can be debunked.

Regardless of what size canis lupus occidentalis may have been in their Canadian range, they are now averaging about 97 lbs a wolf (adults) based on 188 wolves weighed during the Idaho hunt. The wolves (so called canis lupus irremotus) claimed to be native to the region were said to be small. Well, low and behold, a few generations in their new home, and the Canada-sourced wolves have adjusted appropriately to become smaller. Environment and availability of prey play a massive part in the morphology of predators in a given region.

Does it really matter that these wolves are “Canadian”?

Of course not. Canis lupus occidentalis is a widespread species and cares little for human-defined borders. Indeed it is believed that the Mackenzie Valley wolf (its common name) was already well on their way down the Rocky Mountains before reintroduction. Many biologists have merged many of the numerous subspecies in with occidentalis based on further research of North American gray wolves.

The so-called native wolf for the Northern Rocky Mountains is said to be canis lupus irremotus. Irremotus is thought now, by many biologists, to have been canis lupus nubilus (Great Plains or Buffalo wolf) which are found today through the middle northern US states and central Canada. So, the native wolf of the Northern Rocky Mountains is also Canadian.

Another “fear” button is livestock predation.

Not only are wolves one of the easier predators to protect your livestock against (they won’t walk under low hanging, loose ropes, for example), they really aren’t that interested in livestock when they have a reasonable supply of alternative prey.

This could be one reason as to why wolves, nation-wide, account for less than one fifth of one percent of cattle deaths. That accounts for about four percent of all cattle predation. Be wary, the anti-wolfers will say that wolves are responsible for four percent of ALL cattle deaths (even getting media to report it this way). Which is quite a bit different.

For parasites? I can’t come close to explaining it as well as Dr. L. David Mech does, so here is a link to his response.

Wolves are not perfect animals. They are wild, apex predators. They do hunt and kill their prey. But, they certainly are valuable to their ecosystem and don’t deserve the lies, misrepresentations, back-room deals and dirty political maneuvers which they have been subjected to.

Call your representatives and senators and ask them to get science back in charge of managing wolves. The anti-wolfers are getting their lies heard, make sure you are telling the real story. Remember, this isn’t a “side” of the story, this is the truth. If there were “sides” they wouldn’t need to distort the truth to make their argument.

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