The Idaho Fish and Game Department plans to use gunners from helicopters to shoot wild wolves in the north central Lolo zone – a remote area where so far six wolves have been killed by hunters.
The reason stated for their interest in killing more wolves there is a decline in local elk populations, which is being blamed in part on the wolves. You might think the elk population must be getting very low to kill wolves for eating elk, but actually the number of elk in Idaho has been estimated at about 100,000. Also, in some areas Idaho elk have been reported to be increasing in numbers.
It has also been acknowledged that the degradation of elk habitat has played a role in the population decline, along with predation from mountain lions and deaths from human hunters. The question no one seems to have an answer to is: what is the greatest contributor to the elk decline?
Research conducted in two areas of the Smoky Mountain region found five percent of the resident female elk population was killed by wolves in one location, but just one percent were killed in another. So how likely is it wolves are the main cause of an elk decline in Lolo?
Consider also that the state of Idaho allows hunters to kill many elk each year: in 2009 almost 16,000 Idaho elk were taken by hunters. So it seems a little peculiar to blame wolves for the elk decline and then kill them, when scores of elk are killed by humans regularly. Also, who is to say illegal poaching of elk in the Lolo area is not taking place? Or what of the fact climate change could be altering seasonal vegetation in Lolo, and therefore is reducing the amount of food sources for elk?
Another problem – doesn’t the fact wolf hunters this year have only been able to kill six wolves in the Lolo Zone, and that hunting them from helicopters is believed to be necessary, suggest there might not be very many wolves there at all?
It is possible human activity in the form of land development is contributing to an overall elk decline by converting wild lands into shopping centers and residential districts, “…but the most lasting damage is done by the jaws of subdivisions and mini-malls devouring habitat.” (Source: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation) Admitting humans have played a role and continue to do so in the elk decline, would undermine and maybe even permanently dismiss the rationale for blaming and killing so many wolves. Additionally, notice there is no mention of the fact Idaho’s human population grew 21% from 2000 to 2010. The town of Meridian grew 115% from 2000 – 2010.
Perhaps the governor of Idaho summed up the general attitude towards wolves there when he said, “Actually we didn’t want them here at all.” (Source: gov.idaho.gov)
There’s a big problem with that view though. Wolves were there first (though the current ones were re-introduced) and deserve to have their own habitat. They also have a right to live just as much as all the other species on the planet.
Image Credit: Public Domain, WikiCommons