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Opinion: Legislators should not legislate wildlife management
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Opinion: Legislators should not legislate wildlife management

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The legislatures in Idaho and Montana are dominated by people with a distinct lack of knowledge about wolves, the actual number of livestock killed by wolves, predator/prey relations, the actual big game populations in each state, wildlife biology, healthy natural ecosystems, and the ethics of hunting and trapping.

In both states, extreme measures to kill wolves are being legislated based on nonsense in order to "save" elk and deer from wolf predation and reduce livestock losses.

A few key points for Idaho:

• The three-year average of cattle and sheep lost to wolves in Idaho is 113/year (2018-2020). Ranchers are compensated for every documented wolf kill.

• There are 2.73 million sheep and cattle in Idaho.

• The three-year average wolf kill is 0.00428% of the sheep and cattle in Idaho.

• About 40,000 cattle are lost each year in Idaho to non-predator causes like disease and weather. That is 350+ times the number lost to wolves each year.

• Idaho legislators want to spend $590,000 to kill 90% of the wolves in Idaho, or $5,221 for each cow or sheep killed by wolves each year.

• The total number of elk in Idaho is roughly 120,000. This is about 5,000 below the all-time high elk count of 125,000.

• 2020 was the seventh straight year when the elk harvest in Idaho was more than 20,000 elk and it was the sixth-highest of all time. Idaho Fish and Game calls this "the golden age of elk hunting" in Idaho.

• The Idaho elk population has not appreciably changed since 1995, when wolves were reintroduced.

• Mule deer harvest was 24,809 in 2020. More than in 2019 but below the 10-year average, likely due to recent harsh winters, says Idaho Fish and Game.

• White-tailed deer harvest was 24,849 in 2020; 15% above 2019 and even with the 10-year average; seven of the 10 top harvest years have been in the last 10 years.

Similar points for Montana:

• Average number of cattle and sheep lost to wolves in Montana is approximately 110/year (2018-2020). Ranchers are compensated for every documented wolf kill.

• There are 2.65 million sheep and cattle in Montana (not counting feedlot cattle).

• The three-year average wolf kill is 0.00415% of the sheep and cattle in Montana.

• According to Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the total number of elk in Montana in 2020 is 136,151. The elk management plan objective for Montana is 92,138. Elk are now 47% over objective.

• The 2008 elk count in Montana was 136,032.

• According to FWP, the total number of mule deer in Montana in 2020 was 328,313. The long-term average mule deer population over the past 10 years was 295,729.

• According to FWP, the total number of white-tailed deer in Montana in 2020 was 196,154. The long-term average white-tailed deer population over the past 10 years was 202,033.

Nonsensical anti-wolf bills are what we get when we have legislators making wildlife management policy. Leave wildlife management to the biologists, not the politicians.

Chris Servheen of Missoula is a wildlife biologist, hunter and fisherman, and served as the grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for 35 years. He is vice president of the Montana Wildlife Federation.

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