The better to hunt elk, my dear. Wolf advocates say predators, not sharpshooters, best for national park. By Bill Scanlon, Rocky Mountain News.

WildEarth Guardians will sue over the plan to shoot 200 elk a year to control elk overpopulation in Rocky Mountain NP rather than introduce wolves to keep the elk population in check.

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides, and he is President of the Western Watersheds Project.

32 Responses to Wolf advocates say predators, not sharpshooters, best for Rocky Mountain National Park

  1. avatar BW says:

    Perhaps sportsmen should sue over the plan as well.
    Why not allow hunters to pay for the management of these elk populations. It seems to be working elsewhere?

  2. avatar Dan Stebbins says:

    Re-introducing wolves would benefit the elk in RMNP because as the wolf project data shows here in YNP (regardless of what anti-wolfers claim), is that wolves are selective killers. They kill the old, sick, weak, or the very young.
    On the other hand sportsmen as BW mentions above can also benefit prey populations. What he fails to mention (and I would guess would argue against vehemently) is that human hunting does not weed out the weak and sick it just reduces numbers.
    Think about it, if you are sighting down an elk you generally cannot tell it’s age or health. Wolves can do this while they run them. Statistics show that human killed animals are an average sampling of all age classes, wolf killed animals are clustered around the very old & the very young.
    This is a great indication of why human hunting should not be used as a complete replacement for natural predation.

    I also hunt every year and enjoy it immensely, but I also do realize that human hunting is not the ideal management technique.

  3. avatar Catbestland says:

    As badly as I wish to see viable populations of wolves in the state of Colorado, I wonder if it would not be better if they migrate here on their own rather than as a result of a reintroduction program. As I understand it, under a reintroduction program they would be subject to the 10(j) rules for lethal control whereas if they migrate on their own they are totally protected under the ESA, especially south of I-70. Of course a natural migration will be limited if delisting and hunting occur in Wyoming and it would be years before there would be enough wolves in RMNP to have an impact on elk populations. So it’s a Catch 22 as far as solving the current problem. Reintroduction would result in seeing the positive impact of wolves on the ecosystem much sooner than by natural migration but would subject wolves to the problems of the 10(j) rule. I think I would rather see sharpshooters selectively reduce the elk herd than allow hunters to go in there and take the best animals, leaving the poorer ones to reproduce.

  4. avatar Robert Hoskins says:

    Assuming lawsuits against the new 10j rule revisions and the imminent delisting decision are successful, that should give wolves enough time and opportunity to make it to Colorado from Wyoming.

  5. avatar JB says:

    BW-

    I respect hunters and often advocate for the importance of hunting as a wildlife management tool. That said, hunting should only be used as an absolute last resort in the National Parks. The National Parks are essentially the only places in the U.S. where people from all over the country can come and easily see– and learn about first hand — a wide variety of free-ranging wildlife in their habitat. These types of experiences are possible (in places like YNP and RMNP) because wildlife learn that visitors do not pose a threat to them. Start hunting them, and this will change. Animals will become fearful of people and will not be nearly as visible to visitors. The purpose of the NPS is to “preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations,” not to provide more places for a relatively few people to harvest game. Hunting wildlife in the NPs would certainly reduce opportunities for the education and enjoyment of wildlife–and frankly, hearing guns a blazing in the National Parks would certainly take away from their inspirational qualities. Hunters have plenty of opportunities to hunt on BLM land, in National and State Forests, and on other types of public and private lands. In fact, as the number of hunters has dropped in recent years, these opportunities are increasing. There is no need to allow hunting in our National Parks.

  6. avatar Catbestland says:

    I hope that is true. I wish there was some way to help them find their way here more quickly. Those that make it to Colorado will be safe from a dismal future in Wyoming.

  7. avatar Catbestland says:

    JB,
    I totally agree with you. Hunting has it’s place but not in National Parks. The thought is almost obscene.

  8. avatar Mack P. Bray says:

    Ah, JB, Grand Teton National Park has an elk hunt within park boundaries; roughly east of the Snake River.

    Thought you might want to know.

    Mack P. Bray
    My opinions are my own

    wildlifewatchers@bresnan.net
    http://wildlifewatchers.jottit.com/

  9. avatar Robert Hoskins says:

    Yes, this was the result of a compromise with the Wyoming G&F Commission in the 1950 Act that expanded Grand Teton to its present boundaries. The same compromise also grandfathered existing Forest Service grazing leases, since much of the expanded Park included land formerly managed by the USFS. These leases continued when the Jackson Hole National Monument was created in 1943, and continued after 1950.

  10. avatar Trent says:

    While I would love to see wolves in and around RMNP, using them as the major method of controlling the elk population is not logical or practical. While the Park has a very large elk population, a few ecological factors need to be taken into account.

    In general, the Park’s high all around elevation only realy provides summer habitat for the elk (a good portion of the park lies above timberline = appx 11,000′). Come winter, the majority of the elk historically would move out of the park to lower elevations, many of which are now occupied by the towns of Estes Park, Allenspark, Granby, Grand Lake and a slough of mountain homes and small acreages. Unfortuantely, it takes the deep snows of winter to push the animal out of the Park. However, a lot of times this is not until after hunting season. Since there is no top predator (excuding the few mtn lions and coyotes) in the Park to force the elk to move, the elk eat themselves out of house and home before moving to the nearby golf courses and back yards, leaving in their wake, a sea of aspen trees that are all scarred from appx. 7 feet down and no new growth to be seen anywhere. This goes for willows too! While wolves would help disperse the the elk, there is no doubt in my mind that they would follow the elk down into town and past creating quick a rucus to some as they go. Wolves hunting on a golf course probably would not be good for anybody, including the wolf.

    Also keep in mind that RMNP is nowhere near the size of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem plus the human population density surrounding RMNP is far greater than anywhere in ID, MT, and WY.

    In a time when we need to find balance and compromise between man and nature, this probably would not fly.

    Another thought, with an elk population in the Park around 3000, how many wolves would it take to decrease the herd back to the 1200 animal goal? Especially in such a confined area? Once that limit is met, how many wolves could the Park actually sustain?

    Who knows, with the recent wolf (track) sitings on the east side fo the Park, it we debate it long enough, Mother Nature will give us our answer!

    Just some of my thoughts!

  11. avatar Trent says:

    Mack,
    I have to agree with JB. The National Park Service does not allow hunting on any of its properties that I know of and hunting is not part of their mandate. However, hunting on the National Elk Refuge is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Thus, this property is managed just like any other National Wildlife Refuge – for the good of wildlife; and hunting, as well as some agricultural practices are very important tools used to accomplish this mission.

    Again, the Organic Act of ???, that states the mission, goals, and management of NPS lands does not include hunting. As you can see, this can and has created a problems that is often not talked about – inter-agency coordination. Wildlife do not recognize the legal and management boundaries of the NPS, USFS, BLM, USFWS, States etc. so management can become a mess especially when the jurisdictions are adjacent to one another like they so often are in the western/Rocky Mtn regions.

  12. avatar Concerned says:

    Trent,

    There are several NPS properties that allow hunting in the US, and Grand Teton is one of them, there has also been hunting in Yellowstone in the past…

  13. avatar Concerned says:

    There are so many rules, regulations, mandates and exceptions in the National Park system it is hard to keep up with what goes on and does not go on, it pays to read the rules, regulations and operational plans of each of them if you have the chance…at any given time a Park super can alter these based on need as well as impact…

  14. avatar JB says:

    Mack,

    Thanks for the update; I was aware that hunting has and does sometimes occur in our National Parks, though I wasn’t aware of this hunt. As I said, I think it should be the management action of last resort.

    Trent,

    Interesting observations about RMNP. I’ve heard others make a similar argument about wolves in Utah. Essentially, it goes: winter habitat is in the valleys and the valleys have people–so we can’t have wolves here. I don’t disagree that this increases the chance of conflict, but neither do I think we should scrap the idea as infeasible. I just pulled up a map RMNP and the surrounding area on google earth and I see a lot of open land to the north, south, and west of the park. Who knows?

    JB

  15. avatar Catbestland says:

    One good thing about having wolves in and around RMNP is that there are less major ranching opperations in the area than you see around Yellowstone. Smaller hobby outfits, but these owners may tend to be somewhat more forward thinking and tollerant of possible predation.

  16. avatar Concerned says:

    “Tollerant of possible predation?”

    I am sorry, I don’t care what your level of involvement is, I don’t see anybody being tollerant of destruction of their property,…

  17. avatar Catbestland says:

    Of course not. You woulod have to be somewhat open minded for that.

  18. avatar Concerned says:

    I am very open minded, just not in the way you think, I realize the truth of the issue, you have fantasies.

  19. avatar Concerned says:

    Catbestland…

    Why would you think that anybody would be tolerant of their animals being killed, that is such a native way of thinking, the current state of affairs is, as long as it does not effect me, I am all for it, people are not going to stand by and watch their cattle, or pets be killed, that would be like inviting the thief into your house,,,…be realistic and not emotional on this issue, it will not only benefit you, but will benefit all concerned..be real here, are you going to head on down to CO and do a poll….

    I can see it now….

    Question….We need wolves, would you mind if you cows are killed?

    Come on!

  20. avatar Catbestland says:

    Concerned,
    I never said people don’t care if their animals are killed. I said that here in Colorado (where I reside) people as a rule are more tolerant of POSSIBLE predation. There are fewer big time cattle ranchers here than there are in Wy. Id. and Mont. Most are hobby ranchers who do not depend on their livestock for income. Colorado residents on average are more educated in general than are residents of the other states mentioned. Hopefully this will translate into a higher appreciation for wildlife and better understanding of the fact that predators will prey. Many (not all) of the residents in the areas surrounding RMNP are newcomers of a higher education and income than the old timer ranchers. Therefore are PROBABLY more willing to accept the fact if they have livestock in wolf habitat, they can expect some predation.

  21. avatar Concerned says:

    Cat,

    The key is, they didn’t move to “Wolf” habitat! Now people are saying it is wolf habitat…as far as higher education, you are so FAR off the point it is not even funny, you are a bigot and are so mis-informed it is not even funny, as a matter of fact you are sad, I am sure that all of those that live in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, are really glad you have made such an ignorant statement! That those that live in Colorado are of the higher education ilk… Man, talk about mis-informed…I personally know of more PhD’s in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming than any other state I have lived in….

  22. avatar Concerned says:

    By the way, I have lived in Colorado, in Woodland Park as well as Colorado Springs, just in case you think I am a dipsh*t who lives in Montana with out education, I do live in Montana, and I hold a higher education degree, aspiring to further my degree…you made a stupid analogy…period..talk about segregation and ignorance!

  23. avatar Robert Hoskins says:

    Trent

    I want to confirm, as a conservationist and an elk hunter living in northwestern Wyoming, that elk hunting has occurred in Grand Teton National Park east of the Snake River every year since 1950, when the Park was expanded to its present size by Congress. The hunt is managed jointly by law by the Park, the National Elk Refuge, and the Wyoming Game & Fish Department.

    Robert Righter’s Crucible for Conservation, his account of the Park, is the basic historical source for the compromises that allowed elk hunting and cattle grazing in the Park.

    RH

  24. avatar SAP says:

    Cat – a couple things to consider about the “hobby ranchers” around Estes Park:

    1. Sometimes people like that really want to “get their cowboy on,” that is, really act out their cowboy fantasies, be “more cowboy than the cowboys.” We have seen a lot of that up here in Montana and Wyoming, I won’t name names, but they’re your highly educated, high income folks from California, Connecticut, and other places.

    2. Actually, the big commercial cattleman with 3,000 head may be a lot less attached to his animals on an emotional level. Heaven help us when wolves get into someone’s llama pen or they kill some $15K cutting horse. Like “Concerned” says, it wasn’t wolf range when those folks moved there.

    There’s going to be a steep learning curve. You may be right or wrong about whether returning wolves to CO will be smoother than in the US Northern Rockies.

    I hope you’re right. But let’s go one better, and instead of just hoping and speculating, let’s take all the hard, bloody lessons from the past 13-21 years of wolf recovery and try to — in the words of the Captain — make it so.

  25. avatar SAP says:

    Can’t resist sharing this — when I used the phrase “more cowboy than the cowboys” above, I thought it had a familiar ring to it. If anyone is interested (and it does speak to a pattern in human cultures), be sure to check this out on wikipedia:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/More_Irish_than_the_Irish_themselves

  26. avatar dbaileyhill says:

    The plan looks flawed to me. My first thought; sharpshooters will only accomplish reducing the number of elk, and two; it is not effective in keeping the herd moving to decrease the extent of the damage. I think it’s obvious that not much thought was put into this plan and it could open the door to allow other “plans” to be implemented in our national parks. It is not a path that should be taken.
    I am sure it will be costly to build fences around the severely damaged areas. i doubt that actual park employees will be utilized to do the work. “Laid-off” park personel would be the route to take, however, there seems to be a trend in hiring PRIVATE contractors.

  27. avatar Trent says:

    Thanks to all who corrected me on the hunting issue in GTNP – I did not know that and I have done work for the Park Service in the past. Just goes to show that you can learn something new everyday. Plus, what do us Greenies know about the Cowboy State? – Ha Ha

    JB – You are right. Land to the north and west of the park is vary sparsely populated, much like that around YNP. In fact in Feb. 2006, a black wolf-like animal was filmed by the Colroado Division of Wildlife near the town of Walden. And I also agree with you that we should not scrape future plans for wolves in Colorado. In fact I personnaly can think of a few palces that might have all of the requisit habitat to support wolves. But the best way to find these places is to let wolves expand naturally, especially of reintroduction is not an option for what ever reasons. they will find the areas where they can survive. Unfortunately, if certain states have their way, wolves will not be allowed to expand in a natural manner unless under the cover of dark.

    In general, as I stated earlier, all sides will need to allow for compromise if we are to have wolves in Colorado and if the wolf is to stay off of the Endnagered Species List. Ranchers will need to adopted different and maybe better livestock mamagement techniques while environmentalist will need to understand that the wolf is not the answer to all wildlife issues and that wolves realistically will not be able to exist everywhere that they would like.

    To all who are reading this, I think it’s great to read every one’s comments as we are all impacted by this issue. Plus, this conversation is much more civilized than the same conversation I have had with my family in the past. But over time, they have begun to realize that there may be enough space for cows, sheep, and wolves, and that no matter what happens, there is always someone who will not like the final outcome. So keep up the dialog!

  28. avatar Cordell says:

    Cat said:
    “Colorado residents on average are more educated in general than are residents of the other states mentioned. Hopefully this will translate into a higher appreciation for wildlife and better understanding of the fact that predators will prey. Many (not all) of the residents in the areas surrounding RMNP are newcomers of a higher education and income than the old timer ranchers. ”

    The arrogance, elitism and ignorance of the above statement is a prime example of one of the things that needs to be checked if pro and anti wolfers can ever hope to agree on anything.
    I live in Loveland, 30 miles east of Estes and would love to see wolves come back to the area, but I beg you, Cat, please don’t speak as an advocate for the wolf in CO, it’s embarrassing.

  29. avatar JB says:

    Cordell:

    While I agree that Cat’s statement may have been a bit too blunt, several studies have indicated that higher levels of education are associated with more positive attitudes toward wolves. Of course this does NOT mean that more education=more tolerance, but neither is it necessarily elitism to suggest that residents in these areas could be more tolerant.

  30. avatar Concerned says:

    Positive attitude toward wolves does not equate tolerance for livestock being killed and it does not matter if your a “hobby rancher” or a person making your living by ranching. As I stated before, it was an ignorant statement due to her dissatisfaction with some of the people in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Despite, the media reports, there are in fact a good number of residents of the three states currently in question that support or at least tolerant of wolves.

  31. avatar Barb says:

    Let’s see now…. hmmm… hunters take (or aim to take) the BEST AND BIGGEST of the elk (or whatever animal) when they hunt;

    Wolves and other predators will take the “easiest” when they hunt — sick, weak, young.

    Hmmm… now… I wonder… which is better for the environment? To take the best or the weakest?

    Gee, doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know that answer!

    BTW, here’s a little article showing how stupid humans are when trying to “control” natural predators…. will they EVER learn???

    Wildlife Services, a program within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), uses millions of taxpayer dollars to kill nearly 100,000 wild carnivores annually. This publicly funded campaign continues to destroy wild predators, in vast numbers and inhumane ways, despite the development of non-lethal methods and evidence that lethal control is ineffective.

    Formerly known as Animal Damage Control, Wildlife Services spent $31.9 million ($13 million of which was federal funding) in fiscal year 2000 to protect agriculture (crops and livestock) and natural resources from damage by wildlife.

    In the Name of Livestock Protection

    The program’s “protection” of livestock consisted largely of killing native predators (e.g., coyotes and foxes). In 1999, Wildlife Services killed 96,592 coyotes, foxes, badgers, and other predators—about 85,000 of whom were coyotes. That’s a 10% increase over the number of coyotes that Wildlife Services killed the previous year. Generally, the number of coyotes killed annually has remained the same over the past ten years.

    The methods used to kill these animals include shooting from helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, trapping, poisoning, and denning (killing pups in their dens with a fumigant). Used extensively at the behest of ranchers in some western states, aerial gunning accounts for the greatest percentage of predator “take” by Wildlife Services (33% of deaths in 1999). This method is often used as a “preventative” to reduce local coyote populations before any livestock losses occur; as a result, however, coyotes who would never attack sheep are killed along with those who might actually cause problems.

    Trapping is used almost as much (28%), generally in the form of leghold traps and neck snares—both of which can cause significant suffering to trapped animals. In addition, both types of traps routinely injure or kill “non-target” animals such as deer, birds, and pets.

    Whatever method used, lethal control is not effective over the long term in reducing predator-caused livestock losses. After intensive lethal control, surviving coyotes experience reduced competition for food. This means the coyote population will reproduce and rebound quickly. What’s more, not all coyotes attack livestock, even when no other prey is available. Killing a coyote who has no interest in attacking livestock creates a vacant territory that will quickly be filled by a nearby coyote or dispersing younger animals. This new coyote may cause problems that would have been averted by allowing the original resident to remain and defend its territory.

    A careful assessment of livestock husbandry practices, as well as the use of a variety of non-lethal methods, can go a long way toward reducing or eliminating predator-caused livestock losses over the long term. Husbandry practices include bringing sheep into a barn during lambing (when they are especially vulnerable); corralling livestock at night; and removing livestock carcasses before they attract coyotes, bears, or other predators. Non-lethal means of reducing livestock depredations include the use of livestock-guarding animals, electric fencing, and aversive conditioning of attacking predators.

    Overall, predators account for a small percentage of livestock losses: a combined total of 9.1%. (Sheep and lambs are far more vulnerable than cattle to predation, but the number lost to predators is far smaller than the number lost to other causes.) The vast majority of livestock loss is due to disease, severe weather, and difficulty during calving or lambing. However, coyotes and other predators provide easy scapegoats for the many difficulties faced by ranchers, and an easy target for Wildlife Services.

    In the Name of Wild Birds

    Many of the same predator species are killed, using the same methods, in the name of protecting natural resources. Coyotes and foxes are once again Wildlife Services’ primary targets when populations of ground-nesting birds (such as plovers, grouse, and waterfowl) begin to decline. The birds species of concern are those valued either because they are endangered or threatened or because they are considered a “game” species and therefore important to hunters.

    In most cases, bird population declines are caused by loss and/or fragmentation of habitat. Once imperiled as a result of habitat loss, these populations may be impacted more directly by predation. Predators provide an easy scapegoat—and lethal predator control appears to provide a simple solution—when ground-nesting birds or other prey species are in trouble. However, reductions in predator populations only occasionally result in bird population increases; when increases do occur under these circumstances, they are short-lived and require continued and widespread lethal predator control.

    On the other hand, habitat improvements, coupled with fencing that excludes predators, provide an alternative solution that is more likely to produce positive results in the long term—not to mention a more peaceful coexistence with wildlife.

    Sources: National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), Agricultural Statistics Board, U.S. Department of Agriculture; U.S. Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Services, Annual Tables

  32. avatar Barb says:

    Sorry, I forgot to mention that an organization out of Bozeman, Montana, is dedicated to helping livestock owners deal with predators in NON-LETHAL ways.

    It’s time to pull out some other tools besides the guns, poisons, and cruel snares that some livestock owners use to “protect” their free ranging animals who are roaming loose in predator territory.

    http://www.keystoneconservation.us

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