Lions and Wolves and Bears, Oh My!
All the rhetoric surrounding the fight against delisting wolves is almost overwhelming. Especially when you look beyond the overflowing words and see the mis-representations and outright lies which we call 'news' these days.
After all, while some would have us believe the future of wolves in the lower 48 is still uncertain, where is the scientific 'proof' to support the conservation groups' claims wolves may become inbred? They seem to consist mostly of speculative rhetoric. On the other hand, there are plenty of facts, the ones we never hear, suggesting just the opposite.
In the areas surrounding Yellowstone National Park, much work has been done to create wildlife corridors - particularly moving north betweem Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park and on into Canada. These corridors ensure animals the opportunity to move freely throughout the tri-state area with little to no restrictions. Therefore, the wolves in and around Yellowstone are by no means cut-off from the rest of the world as some would have us believe.
Furthermore, the offspring of the three original packs planted in YNP just 13 years ago have now spread throughout much of the west. In July 2008, Washington State confirmed it had a resident wolf pack. A pack has been confirmed in Union County, Oregon. A wolf pack was spotted earlier this year in NE Utah. And, of course there are numerous confirmed wolf packs in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Thus, the wolf, itself, has proven not only its reproductive abilities, but also its ability to travel where it wants when it wants.
Since wolves were only eradicated in the lower 48 through intense hunting by bounty hunters paid to do the job, it seems highly unlikely the occassional killing by a rancher, even an occassionally illegally killed wolf combined with controlled hunting situations (where the hunter pays for the license instead of being paid for the deed) as have been proposed in the Rocky Mountain Region will seriously (or even modestly) threaten the future health and existence of wolves in the lower 48.
Sadly it seems the loudest voices are often the only ones heard. In addition, we all know money talks. Thus, whether the voice of the 'common' man is heard, or not, is still in question. However, I would like to suggest a way to balance our country's understanding of the wolf's resiliance.
I propose we transplant three wolf packs intp Central Park (or the Appalachians, if Central Park is a little to close to 'home'). Given the same degree of protection they have enjoyed in the west, I believe they would find the local pets would supplement the lack of wild game quite well. This plan would certainly give our east coast friends the chance to hear, and see, a wolf in their own backyards - something they apparently find very appealing. Besides, I do not believe anyone can argue the wolf is native to that portion of the country as well.
While my above comments will probably get me labled as cynical (at best) and a wolf-hater (at what I hope would be the worst name-calling), neither could be further from the truth. Unlike many who are crying 'wolf' when it comes to the Rocky Mountain area's delisting efforts, I've yet to hear the east coast majority factor begging to have the animals released in their backyard.
Furthermore, the whole wolf re-introduction process, from the start to present, has been fueled by underestimated numbers, half-truths, and outright lies. Name-calling and plain old rudeness have dominated both sides of the debate. Few have looked at the science - the facts - behind the scenes. That is what I'd like to see.
But, in keeping with the 'new' American science, it isn't the 'facts' which count. It isn't reality we're looking to find. It isn't even an educated guess we want to hear. Instead our wildlife management has taken on the look of a two-ring political circus!
For example, did you know there are over 765 Grizzlies in NW Montana alone? This is more than 2 1/2 times the amount previously estimated to live in the 7.8 million acre Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. This is a scientific fact proven using DNA testing.
As this area makes up less than 12% of the state, how many do you suppose are in the state? Maybe a whole lot more than we've been led to believe?
Here's another scientific fact! When you read there are about 650 wolves in Idaho, for example, that is an estimate! In other words, no one has gone out there and counted the number of wolves.
Currently estimates are determined using the numbers of wolves which are radio-collared or the numbers in packs which include a radio-collared animal. So I ask, what happens to the un-collared pups, yearlings, and wolves which peel leave these packs? Do you really think the ground opens and swallows them up? Of course not. Where do you think the 'surprise' packs found in previous non-wolf states like Washington and Oregon are coming from? Seems plain to me.
Two studies in Alaska, where not surprisingly, there is increasing pressure to shut down aerial wolf hunting are very reveling. Remember, these are facts based on valid and intelligent science. (By the way, have you ever been to Alaska? A lot of it looks kinda like NW Montana - thick. If we can loose that many Grizzly in NW Montana, what makes us think we'd be able to keep track of the wolves?)
The first study conducted in Denali National Park has shown just how far estimated numbers are from reflecting reality. Biologists (scientists not activists or lawyers) found that by using the method described above (the one used in the lower 48 based on collared wolves) they were actually underestimating the actual wolf numbers by 50%!
Furthermore, the results of a six-year study in Alaska's Central Brooks Range conducted by 5 scientists showed even with a liberal hunters' harvest (around 29%), the wolf population suffered no impact.
These are the facts, folks. These are proven. They were conducted by qualified professionals. They are available for you to read. So, why aren't they common knowledge? Why do we still see video clips of cuddly little wolf pups, bear cubs, or mountain lion kittens (another animal whose numbers are surrounded by half-truths and outright lies) as if they were no different from the puppy or kitten your child cuddles to his chest? Why do conservation groups want us to treat these animals as 'special' 'wild' animals while presenting them as friendly, cute backyard pets?
I have decided, in general, American's have been trained to prefer the sensational. We like the to be entertained. We like to 'feel' involved - even if it is just in mud-slinging and empty talk. Sometimes I fear we do not even care whether we are given the facts - just as like as we find it interesting.
I am afraid most of what we are given is just a slight-of-hand. A faster-than-the-eye-can-see trick. A Red-Riding Hood's wolf dressed in Grandma's clothes. A lie as old as time. Sadly, it is also the force shaping the future of the west. It makes me wonder what kind of world, in spite of our good intentions, we are shaping for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I suspect it is far from what they would want.
As I continue to relish the benefits of living in nature's real world, I sure hope the rest of mankind will awaken from their stupor and start working to preserve everything I consider to be the best from my viewpoint as the
Lady of the Lake