MISSOULA, Mont.—Science-based field research, funded in part by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, is yielding solid data on why gray wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming should be managed by state wildlife agencies.
Wolves have been on and off endangered species lists in recent months. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has repeatedly announced at least partial delisting and state-based management via regulated wolf hunting. But, each time, anti-hunting groups have blocked the effort with lawsuits.
“List, delist, repeat. It’s become an endless cycle driven by those who profit from legal uncertainty over gray wolves,” said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO. “Tying up this issue in courts defies a proven conservation system that is extremely successful at balancing predatory species within biological and social tolerances.”
The Elk Foundation has long funded scientific research on topics surrounding elk and habitat. Universities and state and federal agencies apply for RMEF research grants and conduct the projects. Researchers present results to peers at professional conferences. New understanding leads to better management strategies for all wildlife in elk country.
Here’s a sample of findings, from many different research projects, that support the Elk Foundation’s position that wolves should be managed this fall via state-regulated hunting.
1. In the northern Rockies, original wolf recovery goals for population size and breeding pair estimates are now exceeded by over 500 percent and 333 percent, respectively.
2. Wolf populations in Montana are increasing 10-34 percent annually.
3. Wolves are the top predator on adult elk, especially bulls. Bears take more calves, but at least black bears can be scientifically managed via hunting.
4. Cow-calf ratios are commonly lower in areas with both bears and wolves.
5. Between November and April, wolf packs in Montana kill 7-23 elk per wolf.
6. Since 2000, elk numbers across non-wolf western states have held relatively stable, while elk populations across Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have dropped a combined 4.2 percent. In many local areas, elk reductions have been dramatic and significant. Wolves are a factor, affecting not only elk numbers, but also their distribution, movement and behavior.
7. Elk hunting adds nearly $1 billion per year to the U.S. economy.
8. Hunter opportunity is being reduced to counter declining elk populations in Idaho.
9. A fully restored—but still federally protected—population of keystone predators is complicating and hindering elk management, as well as conservation itself.
10. In 1907, only 41,000 elk could be counted in the U.S. Leadership, stewardship and funding from hunters restored elk to their current population of more than 1 million. It’s this resource that made wolf recovery possible. Yet hunters and state conservation agencies are being victimized by continuous delays in wolf management.
Allen encouraged Wyoming and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to work together on a mutually agreeable wolf management plan. This would remove one of the obstacles that conservationists can actually control, enabling regulated wolf hunting alongside Idaho and Montana, he said.
RMEF Official Policy Statement on Gray Wolf Restoration
Updated March 2009
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) supports the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) decision to remove gray wolves from protection under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA). In the case of the subject of gray wolf populations, ESA protection is no longer legally required or necessary. The recovery plan biological goals for wolves in the Rocky Mountains were attained in 2002. Both population size and breeding pair estimates now exceed recovery goals by 500 percent and 333 percent, respectively. The western Great Lakes population has also exceeded its population goals for several years.
The RMEF supports sound, science-based wildlife management that maintains a sustainable balance between predator and big-game species. We encourage the use of the best available science to finalize this delisting. Biologists, hunters, land managers, private landowners, and other citizens across the nation have worked hard and made sacrifices to achieve recovery for wolves.
RMEF and its primary support base, hunters and anglers, have always supported the legal protection of fish and wildlife species that require protection to survive and flourish.
We believe the following:
When wolf populations meet scientific viability criteria for recovery, they no longer require federal protection under ESA. They should be de-listed if recovery plan goals are met and where regulatory mechanisms are in place to adequately manage the species.
After the wolf is de-listed, scientifically sound wolf management programs administered by state wildlife agencies should maintain sustainable wolf populations to preclude the need to re-list under the ESA.
Reflecting the success of other historic hunter/conservationist-led species recovery programs based on the North American Model for Wildlife Conservation, the management of wolves as game animals should occur in areas designated for wolf occupancy, and wolf seasons should be regulated by the states.
Where and when hunting is deemed appropriate under state regulations, methods used by hunters must conform to Fair Chase principles.
When classified as game animals, wolf populations should be maintained in accordance with the biological and cultural carrying capacities of the habitats they occupy.
Also, management of individual wolves and wolf populations should recognize the need to balance management objectives with respect for private property and human safety.
About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:
Snowy peaks, dark timber basins and grassy meadows. RMEF is leading an elk country initiative that has conserved or enhanced habitat on over 5.6 million acres—a land area equivalent to a swath three miles wide and stretching along the entire Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico. RMEF also works to open, secure and improve public access for hunting, fishing and other recreation. Get involved at www.rmef.org or 800-CALL ELK.