In his recent editorial published in the Big Sky Weekly [Dec. 14 – 28], David Allen of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation made a number of statements about the killing of several wolves from Yellowstone packs that don’t jibe with my 27 years of study of gray wolves and their restoration.
Allen writes, “These [wolf] hunts are legal, necessary and scientifically sustainable.”
A number of authorities disagree with him on the latter two points. Necessary? Why?
Does Montana have too many wolves? History may add perspective. In 1884, Montana set a bounty on wolves; in the next three years, 10,261 wolves were bountied (Lopez, 1978). That’s 16 times Montana’s 2011 population of 653 wolves.
Dr. Bradley J. Bergstrom, chair of the Conservation Committee of the American Society of Mammalogists, and four other authors, wrote in 2009 that having gray wolves occupy more than 2 percent of their former range in the conterminous United States, and at a tiny fraction of their former number (380,000, according to DNA data) constitutes recovery. They wonder at the wisdom of reducing their numbers just a decade or two after they have been back in the ecosystem.
Scientifically sustainable? Dr. Linda Rutledge and five colleagues at Ontario’s Trent University wrote in 2010, “Legal and illegal killing of animals near park borders can significantly increase the threat of extirpation for populations living within ecological reserves, especially for wide-ranging large carnivores that regularly travel into unprotected areas.
“Our results indicate that even in a relatively large protected area, human harvesting outside park boundaries can affect evolutionarily important social patterns within protected areas.” The loss of these social patterns negates the value of Yellowstone as a control or baseline against which other areas, where wolf hunting is allowed, can be compared.
Norman A. Bishop