Blaming wolves for poor elk management?

Graph of information presented in Montana's Bitterroot 10(j) proposal. (Click for Larger View)

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has issued an Environmental Assessment for Montana Fish Wildlife and Park’s wolf reduction proposal for the Bitterroot hunting district HD250 just southeast of Hamilton, Montana.  In the proposal to kill all but 12 wolves in the district, they claim that wolves are responsible for declines that they have seen in the district and that they are causing “unacceptable impacts” elk population there such that they can no longer meet the objectives they have set there.

While the elk population has declined it should be noted that there was a sharp increase in harvest of all classes of elk in the area after wolves were documented even though as one of the peer reviewers says “[t]here is strong evidence that female harvests need to be reduced when wolves are present (for example, see Nilsen et al. 2005, Journal of Applied Ecology)”. The elk count objectives for the area were also drastically increased to levels far above what the area had previously supported and harvest levels remained high as well.

There is also very little information about the population of bears and mountain lions which also take elk.  Bears, in particular, take very young elk and can have a very large impact on elk populations.

Whether or not killing large numbers of wolves and other predators is effective in increasing elk populations is still debatable but it seems apparent to me that the FWP is blaming wolves for their poor management of elk and that their objectives were based on more wishful thinking rather than what was actually possible.

Here are the Criteria for Proposing Wolf Control Measures under the 2008 NRM Gray Wolf ESA Section 10(j) Rule

  1. The basis of ungulate population or herd management objectives
  2. What data indicate that the ungulate herd is below management objectives
  3. What data indicate that wolves are a major cause of the unacceptable impact to the ungulate population
  4. Why wolf removal is a warranted solution to help restore the ungulate herd to management objectives
  5. The level and duration of wolf removal being proposed
  6. How ungulate population response to wolf removal will be measured and control actions adjusted for effectiveness
  7. Demonstration that attempts were and are being made to address other identified major causes of ungulate herd or population declines or of State or Tribal government commitment to implement possible remedies or conservation measures in addition to wolf removal

Year Total Elk Count Lower Objective Upper Objective Cow Harvest Calf Harvest Bull Harvest Total Harvest Wolf Estimate
1980 612 109 53 137 299
1981 513 65 14 96 175
1982 534 50 6 80 136
1983 608 74 12 124 210
1984 726 79 7 150 236
1985 739 83 19 160 262
1986 780 78 10 122 210
1987 994 62 9 84 155
1988 969 112 3 188 303
1989 715 52 8 136 196
1990 844 35 3 116 154
1991 817 50 9 76 135
1992 991 980 1062 49 7 68 124
1993 950 980 1062 42 3 110 155
1994 1197 980 1062 60 4 106 170
1995 1264 980 1062 43 4 102 149
1996 1297 980 1062
1997 1081 980 1062
1998 1277 980 1062
1999 1285 980 1062 50 5 135 190
2000 1215 980 1062 45 7 124 176
2001 980 1062 51 0 149 200 5
2002 1576 980 1062 49 12 120 181 5
2003 1703 980 1062 84 7 227 318 4
2004 1614 980 1062 252 28 380 660 6
2005 1914 1120 1680 209 21 357 587 11
2006 1462 1600 2400 181 7 279 467 11
2007 1373 1600 2400 118 14 233 365 14
2008 863 1600 2400 65 9 139 213 19
2009 744 1600 2400 70 3 122 195 24
2010 764 1600 2400 5 30

You can find the EA here on the right under “State Proposals to Control Wolves Unacceptably Impacting Ungulate Herds” http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/mammals/wolf/

Written comments can be submitted online at http://www.regulations.gov

or mailed to:

Public Comments Processing
Attn: FWS-R6-ES-2011-0022
Division of Policy and Directives Management
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222
Arlington, VA 22203.

The deadline for comments is 11:59 pm EST April 12.

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About The Author

Ken Cole

Ken Cole, Western Watershed Project’s National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Coordinator, is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He is also serves as a member of the board of directors for Buffalo Field Campaign and as a member of the Sierra Club Grazing Core Team.

One Response to US Fish and Wildlife is accepting comments on Montana’s wolf reduction proposal in the Bitterroot Mountains

  1. avatar CodyCoyote says:

    By not extending this year’s dubious wolf ” hunting *” season in Montana , a tiny tiny beam of sanity has penetrated the rhetorical gloom.

    * there’s a big difference between true hunting and overt caniside

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

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