As predators are reintroduced, group seeks to quell fears
By Gary Gerhardt, Rocky Mountain News
July 15, 2004
A study of the Northern Yellowstone elk herd, the largest in the U.S., found that 85 percent of deaths each year are due to hunters or harsh winter weather.
Wolves and other predators are responsible for about 15 percent of the total.
And wolves are not the worst violators among the predator group that includes grizzly and black bears, mountain lions and coyotes.
That finding was among the points wolf biologist Ed Bangs made to the state’s Wolf Management Working Group in Denver on Wednesday.
For two days, the working group listened to game and fish officials and ranchers from Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, where wolves have been reintroduced.
Some wolves eventually will make their way to Colorado, and the state hopes to have a plan to deal with them by December.
The group’s first challenge is separating myths from facts.
“I came in with a bias against wolves because I’m a hunter and I heard they decimated elk herds,” said Michael Bond, a sportsmen’s representative.
“But after listening to the game and fish people in Montana and Idaho, I’m learning we don’t know enough scientific facts yet to make many assumptions.”
Bangs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wolf recovery coordinator for the northwestern area, said the group has to grapple with four main concerns:
Human safety: People fear wolves, although no human has ever been killed by one in North America.
Land-use restrictions: They don’t apply to wolves. Wolves travel wherever they want.
Loss of livestock and pets: The management plan needs to address depredating wolves and how to compensate livestock owners.
Wolves compete for big game: Wolves kill, but they are not nearly as predatory as mountain lions, which take twice as many deer as wolves do.
As for livestock losses, Bangs said that since wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone and Idaho in 1995, they have documented kills of 300 head of cattle, 800 sheep, 63 dogs (mostly herd dogs), nine llamas, 10 goats and one foal.
“However, we know the actual number could be two, four, even eight times that many. Livestock disappears, and how do we know what happened to it?” Bangs said.
Bangs warned the group to remember that “wolf management” -really is “people management.”
“Wolves are not animals. They are symbols,” he said. “They are either angelic or demonic, depending on your biases. And while we all experience wolves through their symbolism, most of us will never even see one.”
As the group works toward a management plan, bickering still breaks out between wolf lovers and wolf haters, but it is subsiding.
“I think we have to know one another better, and small working groups will help a great deal,” said Rob Edward of Sinapu, a predator advocacy group.