Panel Agrees On Wolf Control
By Nick Gevock, The Montana Standard, April 30, 2010.
DILLON - Wolves are here to stay, but in some areas their numbers will have to be decreased to cut down on livestock attacks and protect deer and elk.
That was the consensus of a panel that included a hunter, rancher, wildlife advocate and state wildlife agency commissioner in Dillon Wednesday night that discussed the future of wolf management.
"I wish I didn't have to live with them, but I realize I do," said Dean Petersen, a Big Hole Valley rancher. "The wolf is here to stay, and we need to find a way to better manage them."
The panel spoke to more than 50 people who came to the University of Montana Western to view a documentary film titled "Lords of Nature: Life in a Land of Great Predators." The film was shown as part of a wildlife class at the university. It emphasized the importance of predators in ecosystems and focused on how the restoration of wolves in the northern Rockies has had far-reaching benefits.
For example, the film showed how both having fewer elk and driving them away from the streams in Yellowstone National Park has helped willows and cottonwood trees rebound. That in turn has improved water quality and enhanced habitat for all kinds of other species.
The film also showed how farmers and ranchers in Minnesota have changed their operations to better deal with wolves and successfully cut down on livestock attacks.
Petersen, however, noted that this winter the Big Hole Valley has had nine cattle killed by wolves. He said many of those methods used in Minnesota, such as more fencing, won't work in a landscape like the Big Hole Valley where pastures are huge.
"One field is four square miles," he said.
And Chris Marchion, a member of the Anaconda Sportsman's Club, said while the film was well done, it was tailored to one aspect of the wolf reintroduction story. He said most of the hunters he knows would rather wolves weren't here, but they've also accepted that they're part of the landscape.
Marchion said hunters primarily want wolf numbers controlled to protect game animals and also want a quality, ethical hunt for the large predators.
The worst scenario, panel members agreed, would be returning wolves to the federal endangered species list and ending the hunts in Idaho and Montana.
Marchion said the biggest problem has been Wyoming, which adopted a wolf plan that would allow wolves to be shot indiscriminately in most of the state that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rejected. That delayed delisting of wolves from the endangered list and could put them back on if a judge rules in favor of environmentalists this year.
"The real culprit in this is Wyoming," he said. "They're the ones holding things back."
Dan Vermillion, FWP commissioner, said state management is best because biologists and game wardens live in their communities and understand the needs of local residents. He said this year's proposed wolf hunt will include smaller districts and a higher quota in select areas that are having either wildlife attacks or have seen a drop in elk numbers.
Several people in the room commented that while they may not like the wolves, they've accepted them.
Guy Petersen, a Big Hole Valley rancher, said the key is finding a balance. That means working to have the proper number of wolves for each area. But in the Big Hole, where elk migrate out in winter but plenty of wolves live, the number needs to be brought down.
"We can't get along with that many wolves in the Big Hole area; we're going to get along with some wolves," he said. "They were eating us out of house and home a year ago."