This is neither a pro-wolf article nor an anti-wolf rant. This is a fact provider; a return to rationality, pure and simple.
We need wolves, if for no other reason than to express that we are capable of arresting our species' downward spiral. We, as humans, need to be able to display our ability to coexist with other members of nature in a manner that does not require us to destroy that which we cannot completely control.
For many, wolves represent the untamable and must therefore be eradicated. We have undertaken this extermination approach previously, only to discover that wolves do indeed serve a purpose within the intricate balance of our ecosystem; unintended results of our haste in removing the wolf produced a boom of the Yellowstone elk population, followed by the destruction of the Yellowstone Aspen.
Do we need to manage wolves? Yes, but management plans must be adhered to. Recent, cursory management pursuits have permitted a few anti-wolf advocates to further their objectives through fear mongering, with their rhetoric serving no other purpose than to gain more support for their chimerical cause. Mismanagement by regulatory agencies affords them this opportunity.
Understanding regulatory mismanagement and the ignorance represented by an eradication mindset require only a quick view of the facts.
Fact 1: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service'szz Environmental Impact Statement issued at the time of wolf reintroduction in 1994 placed a cap of 300 on the combined wolf populations for Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. Currently, there are more than 500 wolves within Montana alone. The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks wolf management plan advises a population of 100, with 15 breeding pairs. This plan must be re-evaluated or enacted.
Fact 2: Minnesota is barely half the size of Montana, with 10 times the population density; yet, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources records a wolf population of 2,921. Yes, the timber wolf is smaller than the grey wolf of Montana, and the movement of milk cattle varies from that of range cattle. However, these facts do not justify a wolf population difference that is nearly six times greater than Montana's, considering census and land size.
Fact 3: Montana's population has grown significantly since introduction of the wolf in 1994, from 830,000 to roughly 1 million residents. The increase in population requires expansion into previously undeveloped land, forcing game into farther reaches. Additionally, some of these residents will become sportsmen (elk licenses have risen 17 percent and non-resident licenses 15 percent since 1994). In-depth Malthusian analysis is not necessary to understand that more hunters in the woods, combined with the decreasing elk habitat, will result in decreased elk populations. Denial of these facts makes the wolf the scapegoat.
Fact 4: Elk migrate seasonally; as a sportsman, I recognize and accept this. This does not mean elk have disappeared. Take, for example, the West Fork of the Bitterroot - a contentious site in the wolf debate. One must ask, if there are, as some have noted, "no elk" in the West Fork, then why were 25 cow elk permits provided for the 2010 hunting season in HD 250? If you remove the factory (the cows), you remove the product (more elk). Therefore, wolves cannot be solely to blame for the decrease in the West Fork elk population. Human influence is calculable.
Has the government mismanaged wolf reintroduction? Yes, and we, as Montanans, should hold them accountable. However, when we permit an alarmist mentality to overwhelm rational fact, we become victims of our own reactionary attitudes.
Humans are not the authors of existence, and while we may portend to act with beneficent entitlement, history has proven this to be an undeniably false belief. Wolves represent the recalcitrance of nature, and eradication of the intractable merely exhibits our lack of humility.
Hayden Janssen lives in Missoula.
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