Impacts have hunters howling

Articles like this spread misperception-

Impacts have hunters howling. Rapid growth of packs, observers say, mirror decline in deer numbers. By Jim Mann, Northwest Daily InterLake.

In fact the number of wolves in Montana, including this area are down this year. The number of wolves in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming is no longer growing.

For the last 7 or so years ago many reporters and politicians have led us to believe that wolf numbers would climb indefinitely. Now that a natural or artificial plateau or decline has been reached, they continue to act as though nothing has happened.

An accurate headline would be “Hunters howl, but fewer wolves do.”



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  1. John d. Avatar
    John d.

    “Wolves dine, hunters whine”

    A lesson in ecology wouldn’t hurt these people would it?

  2. Alan Gregory Avatar

    This is closely akin to the same old tired argument Pennsylvania deer hunters voice about coyotes, while ignoring the still explosive growth in the state of edge habitat, thanks to road-building and sprawl.

  3. adam gall Avatar
    adam gall

    hello ralph and thanks for maintaining this website. i check it regularly as it is a good way for me to keep tabs on the goings on. in response to this Inter Lake article, i am finding myself siding more and more with the state agencies and hunters who want management. the reason for “re”listing wolves to me just doesn’t hold water. if you actually look at the number of packs along the border between idaho and montana, and to a slightly lesser extent wyoming and southern idaho, i find it hard to believe genetic exchange is not occurring between subpopulations. i am no longer a biologist in the field but it doesn’t add up. i think wolves should be delisted. they are here to stay, which is great. but it’s time to take the next step, which is management. we are never going to turn the corner of hunters and watchdog groups reaching some middle ground if litigation keeps cropping up. i’ll get off the soapbox now! thanks again.

  4. jerry b Avatar
    jerry b

    Montana FWP reported “record #’s of deer and elk in parts of western Montana” as of Sept 4, 2008. I suppose wolves killed them all within 2 months.

    Elk, deer prospects look good this year
    By MICHAEL JAMISON of the Missoulian

    KALISPELL – A cool, wet summer grew lots of green this year, and now that green is growing lots of big deer and elk – record numbers in some parts of western Montana.

    “There’s quite a bit of annual variation in antler growth, based on how much forage is available,” said Mike Thompson, “and this year an abundance of forage means some real nice bucks and bulls. We’ve got elk and deer scattered from the tops of the mountains all the way down to the farmers’ fields.”

    The outlook for hunters, he said, “is really very good.”
    Thompson is the Missoula-based regional wildlife manager for the state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, tracking critters across west-central Montana. He keeps a particularly close watch on elk, whose numbers coming into the 2008 hunting season “are very, very good, at or near modern-day highs.”

    Sure, elk herds aren’t as good as they could be high in the upper Bitterroot, especially on the west side of the drainage, and populations have leveled off out at Fish Creek, near Superior. And the Middle Fork of Rock Creek isn’t seeing healthy increases either, for some reason.

    “Who knows for sure?” Thompson said. “In my experience, these things are usually more complicated than they seem.”

    But whatever the reason, herds holding steady or in slight decline “make up an awfully small portion of the whole region. Overall, west-central Montana is growing a bumper crop of elk.”

    Both sides of the Deerlodge Valley are looking quite good, in fact, as are the wilds around Ovando.

    And this year’s spring surveys showed the region’s elk numbers “higher than we’ve ever been,” Thompson said.

    Same goes for whitetail deer. Thompson’s biologists spent some time hunting deer earlier this year, down in the lower Clark Fork around Superior. They were worried, he said, that a long winter might have hurt fawn survival.

    “But they were fine,” he said of the next generation. His crews counted 40 fawns per 100 adults, “which is really quite good, especially for that country.”

    Because after the snowmelt came all that green browse, which for months has fattened the herds and provided the nutrition required to grow big racks.

    In fact, biologists from across western Montana are reporting large numbers of large bucks, reflecting not just a good growing season but also an echo of a hard winter now 10 years past.

    In the winter of 1996-1997, record snows – particularly in the low country – wiped out huge herds of Montana game. Up in the Flathead Valley, FWP wildlife biologist John Vore reported that 20 percent of the elk he was studying died that winter, and whitetail deer fared far worse.

    “It was a tremendous loss,” Vore said. “That kind of winter can make a substantial impact in population numbers.”

    So much impact that Thompson and his peers throughout the region greatly reduced the number of doe licenses available in subsequent years. “We practically shut down our doe harvest after that winter,” he said.

    Which meant more does grew up to produce more fawns, which grew up to produce more deer still. Now, the echo of the hard winter and the FWP response can be heard in the woods – the rattle of big bucks, finally mature and at their peak at age 6 or 7.

    Those bucks haven’t started into the rut just yet – won’t until November – but the elk already are bugling and bowhunters are practicing their calls.

    The bow season begins this Saturday, a long Indian summer before the Oct. 26 opening of the general rifle season, and both Vore and Thompson predict a successful season for hunters.

    Thompson’s paying special attention to the Rattlesnake Wilderness hunt near Missoula, because elk there already have been spilling out of the hills and onto nearby farmland. He has four “damage hunts” already on the ground, and more in the works, as elk and deer chew through farmers’ fields.

    One ranch near Butler Creek seems to be attracting lots of Rattlesnake elk, he said, and a damage hunt just might push them back into the wilderness in time for the season there.

    “Or it might just push them onto the neighbor’s place,” he said. “You never know. These elk have learned the fields give them everything they need, so why work for it up in the mountains?”

    Farther north, near the Flathead, Vore’s annual survey crews counted nearly 5,000 deer this past spring, with about 30 fawns per 100 adults. Some young whitetails likely were lost to the long and lingering winter, he said, “but the elk are doing pretty darn good. Especially down in the Swan. The population is definitely growing down there.”

    Wildlife managers have limited cow tags there, allowing the herd to grow in a place with little agricultural conflict. “It’s not a big farming valley,” Vore said of the Swan, “so we’d just as soon grow some elk in there.”

    Generally speaking, northwest Montana doesn’t have the elk densities of southwest Montana – areas around Bozeman and Dillon have 10 times the elk density, as do areas around Libby – but the elk that are here tend to be trophy size. It’s such thick country, Vore said, so jungly that it’s mighty hard to hunt.

    So elk tend to grow old here, hidden in dark forest depths and maturing into monsters.

    “I think the strongest places this season, outside the Swan, will be up in that Thompson River-Clark Fork country,” Vore predicted.

    It’s tough to pin down, though. During the early bowhunt, “the elk are still spread out across the entire landscape. They could be anywhere.”

    They’re surely up the South and Middle forks of the Flathead River, he said, “but again, that’s hard country to hunt.” It’s remote and wild and steep and thick.

    Which is exactly how the elk like it, and the mule deer, too.

    “Boy I saw some nice mule deer bucks up high in the goat rocks of the Bob Marshall,” Vore said after a recent wildlife monitoring flight. “If you’re looking for a big mule deer buck, I’d look way up high.”

    All of which will change, of course, as fall wears on and the rut begins.

    “Then they’ll be putting on a lot of miles, looking for a girlfriend,” Vore said.

    That’s the time to rattle them in, and it’s also the time for the general season.

    For now, however, the bowhunters own the woods, and all is quiet and still and waiting, watching and stalking and bugling.

    “When it gets going,” Thompson predicted, “it’s going to be a very successful general season. Until then, I think the bowhunters are going to have a pretty good time out there.”

  5. Jon Way Avatar

    It is unacceptable that those people (loud, whining hunters) essentially determine wildlife management policies (unless an animal is on the ESA) in all states. Even moderate, more knowledgable hunters don’t have a voice, and especially so for wildlife watchers or scientists…

  6. Salle Avatar

    More evidence that a”book cooking” is at play…

  7. Mike Post Avatar
    Mike Post

    Jon, right or wrong, money talks. Now if non-hunters began to support a tax on, say, mountain bikes, kayaks, binoculars, hiking boots, and tents that is just like the excise tax on hunting and fishing equipment and would be used for the same wildlife and wilderness purposes, you might just see a big difference in the lobbying power of the groups who generate that money. That may not represent the perfect world but it is the way the system works.

    Yes, some hunters whine and cry about game and predators, often without valid science to back them up, but they bought the political clout that their whining sometimes has with hard dollars. Hard dollars from excise taxes, hunting licenses and fees as well as contributions to conservation organizations that support hunting. Want a bigger voice, make sure you are a CONTRIBUTING member of a conservation organization that represents your views (and I don’t just mean $50 a year for a bumper sticker and a magazine).

  8. Jon Way Avatar

    You are right Mike. But that was 100 years ago when hunters gained the clout. I fully support a tax on what you mention. Absolutely. But, also, people should realize that wildlife watching brings in twice that hunting does nationwide and many more in my home state of MA (about 10 times). While I completely agree on a small fee on wildlife watching related things, we are currently hamstrung on a hunting dominated board that refuses (in most cases) to support those things b.c then they will lose some power. Current management is undemocratic and hard to change. Hopefully that changes.

  9. Alan Gregory Avatar

    In Missouri, all citizens — through paying sales tax — support their state’s wildlife agency. Not so in Pa. and a lot of other states, though, where the hunting license dollar and fishing license dollar do all the talking.

  10. Bonnie Avatar

    Mike and Jon are both right, but I think part of the problem is that while wildlife watching and related activities brings in twice as much revenue as hunting and fishing, it’s not as easy to see. Every state government knows exactly how much was paid in hunting and fishing licences per year, but it’s a little harder to determine what amount was paid by wildlife watchers. Those moneys are hidden in admittance and/or use fees, travel, equipment, etc., all things that may or may not be related to wildlife watching. If a person travels to Jackson Hole and spends a week there, are they there because they want to experience the ‘Western Lifestyle’ or are they spending all their daylight hours on the Elk Refuge, hoping to spot a wolf? I’m certainly not advocating a license to watch wildlife (the last thing we need is to make it more expensive or more difficult to appreciate nature), but if we did have to buy a license, atleast governments would have a hard number to look at. Maybe we need a National Wildlife Association.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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