Here is a reality check that flies over the heads of most Americans when they think about wolves in the West: Today, for every live lobo that roams free and howls in our region, another has been shot, trapped, snared or otherwise destroyed by government agents in order to buy more human tolerance.
To those who say there are a lot of wolves out there on the landscape, the take-home message is, yes, but a lot have also been put down.
In 2014 four out of every five wolves inhabiting their historic evolutionary homeland in the northern Rockies did not have a negative encounter with a domestic non-native cow or sheep.
And of those that did, the vast, vast majority of encounters involved only a couple of predation incidents per animal, said Mike Jimenez, who oversees wolf management for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Meanwhile, thousands upon thousands of cattle and sheep perished from inclement weather, disease and misadventure having nothing to do with predators, such as lightning, drowning, falling off cliffs or being struck by vehicles.
A year ago in South Dakota, 20,000 cows died in a freakish early-autumn snowstorm, along with 1,200 sheep and 300 horses.
The news of those losses was buried in the pages of most newspapers, yet today if just a single calf or lamb dies due to wolf predation it is likely to make the front page of local rural rags.
In his recent, excellent book “Wolfer,” Carter Niemeyer chronicles the warped bias against Canis lupus. Niemeyer worked for both the Fish and Wildlife Service and the federal agency known as Wildlife Services, and he killed more wolves than anyone else in modern history.
For the majority of ranchers in the northern Rockies, wolves are a nonissue, he says.
The same can be said of hunters who overwhelmingly enjoy high harvest success rates. In most locales there are far more elk in abundance and distribution across Wyoming, Montana and Idaho than there were a generation ago.
Most real hunters have come to accept wolves and reject the culturally induced hysteria that accompanies the animals. Only a few blowhards openly endorse the wanton violation of sacred state fish and game laws.
Outlaws who promote poaching of public wildlife and encourage others to adopt the practice of “shoot, shovel and shut up” are not worthy of being called sportsmen and sportswomen. Their attitude is also a violation of the North American model of wildlife management.
“Seeing the science, I never bought into the belief that wolves are wiping out the deer, elk and moose in the Northern Rockies,” Niemeyer says. “Wolves prey on all of these ungulate species, and in areas of high wolf density some localized elk herds are showing some declines. But most aren’t.”
“Overall,” he said, “elk are doing great in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming and are at or above management objectives according to fish and game reports based on big game surveys and trend studies.”
Niemeyer, who grew up hunting and fishing in the Midwest and brought that passion to the Rockies with him, also observes: “I know several veteran hunters who kill an elk every year because they hunt hard, walk far and get back into country where the elk are hiding. Hunters depend too much on mechanized hunting, like ATVs, to hunt big game and are partly to blame for big game being hard to find.”
He goes on: “It is unfortunate that the anti-wolf crowd is playing on the fears of people that wolves are killing all of the elk, spreading diseases and parasites and stalking kids at bus stops, which just isn’t true. And as for poachers, they are criminals. Period.”
During an interview, Niemeyer shared some thoughts about the millions of dollars that have been spent to eliminate native wildlife predators from public lands in order to make them safe for private cattle and sheep.
“I am a believer that predator control in the United States should be conducted differently on federal lands than on private land,” he said. “Private property rights should include the right to protect livestock from animal attacks, but on federal grazing leases I think livestock producers should make every effort to minimize losses to predators by using nonlethal deterrents.”
This article was published in the Jackson Hole News & Guide
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