(Editor’s Note: This post was originally scheduled for Friday, March 30, but our blog has been down. Sorry for the delay!)
Elk, elk and more elk – It was a big week in the press for elk, wolves and their perennially strained public relationship. First, the Associated Press reported that the legendary elk herd of northern Yellowstone continues to decline in size. However, veteran Yellowstone biologist Doug Smith was quick to point out that the herd is still healthy and strong. “That’s some bad news, a 25 percent decline last year and 10 percent this year. But the elk are looking really good,” Smith said. “This was one of the hardest winters we’ve had in decades … We’ve got a leaner, meaner elk herd.” Smith also says that the herd is now more in line with historic levels, down from a high of almost 20,000 in 1992 when an absence of wolves and other predators allowed the population to balloon well beyond the ecosystem’s carrying capacity. A combination of liberal hunts designed to reduce the elk overpopulation, bad winters, drought, and predation by cougars, bears and wolves has brought the herd down to a more manageable level. Notably, the wolf population in the area has also declined by 60 percent in the last five years, suggesting that a more natural balance between elk and their various predators is still being established.
Then yesterday, Nick Gevock at the Montana Standard took on the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation for exploiting wolves to line their pockets. Most recently, RMEF offered the state $50,000 to support more wolf-killing by federal agents with Wildlife Services, and they’re looking to raise more money to kill other predators as well. Gevock argues that anti-wolf groups continue to foment wolf hysteria by exaggerating the influence that wolves have on game species. Yet the best available data show that elk populations are still strong, with an estimated 1.2 million elk nationwide and about 150,000 elk in Montana alone. Hopefully Montanans recognize that their state is big enough and wild enough to support healthy populations of predator and prey.
Will Montana’s next governor undo wolf recovery? – Leading Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Hill is no friend of wolves. While out campaigning this week, he announced his wolf management plan, which would allow trapping and a year-round hunting season. Hill also wants to encourage counties to adopt wolf bounties. The possibility of a governor like Mr. Hill taking control of wolf management in Montana is one reason we worked so hard in and out of the courts to get a stronger Endangered Species Act delisting rule for wolves, one that required more than 100 – 150 wolves per state. As you probably know, Congress overturned our successful litigation so the fate of wolves in Montana above 150 will be in the hands of the next governor. We’ll certainly be very sad to see the current Montana Governor, Brian Schweitzer. go next year if this is the alternative.
Caught on camera – Check out this clip of a gray wolf in Washington from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife:
And just for fun, here’s a clip of a wolverine using the exact same area!