Wolf data deserves scrutiny
by Idaho Farm Bureau Federation
April 28, 2013
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's annual wolf population report released in mid-April, shows "at least" 321 confirmed packs and 1,674 individuals in Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Oregon and Washington.
Overall numbers are down by about 100 animals compared to last year. Highlighted in the report are confirmation of breeding pairs and growing subpopulations in Oregon and Washington. Further, the report claims there are no wolves in Utah. In addition, the report is riddled with inconsistencies and other strangeness that leads us to believe we aren't getting the full story here folks.
For instance, as far back as 2002, wolves were confirmed in northern Utah, when a pack killed 15 sheep and lambs near Hardware Ranch in Cache County. Livestock depredations have occurred throughout southeast Idaho and northern Utah since that time. In 2002, wolf number 253, a two-year-old male and member of Yellowstone Park's Druid Pack, was caught in a coyote snare in Morgan County, Utah, east of Ogden. This wolf, doing nothing more than following his wild instincts, crossed a political boundary. He was transported back to Yellowstone Park, on the taxpayers' dime, and was later killed by a hunter near Daniel, Wyoming.
In March of 2008, a pilot with experience flying in Alaska spotted five wolves, three blacks and two greys near Dutch John, Utah. KSL News reported that tracks were later found and the wolves answered a howl call. Yet these wolves weren't evicted from Utah. Did the political boundary vanish in those six years?
A large herd of elk migrates out of southeast Idaho to Hardware Ranch in northern Utah every winter. Does anyone really believe there aren't wolf packs following those elk? Do the facts that hunters have killed wolves and livestock depredations have occurred throughout the area prove there are wolves present? In spite of the appearance of solid evidence, the USFWS map that shows confirmed wolf pack territories, reveals no evidence of packs in southern Idaho, northern Utah, or southwest Wyoming.
With all of this evidence of wolves spreading west into Oregon and Washington and occasional sightings in northern Utah, it seems curious that USFWS can't confirm wolf packs south of the Snake River, in northern Utah, or in southwest Wyoming, which leads us to question the validity of the entire report.
We understand the complexity of counting wolves. Imagine flying over vast wilderness areas replete with deep canyons and dark timber. What percentage of existing wolves is it humanly possible to document? We assert that it's a very small percentage and further, that there could be more wolves in Idaho alone than this report documents for the entire region. Yet the USFWS report makes no mention of the difficulties associated with obtaining accurate population estimates.
It's time for USFWS to get serious about telling the truth about wolves. The hundreds of rural families that have suffered economic losses deserve the truth. USFWS, through the use of half-truths and vagueness, has done a masterful job in its public relations efforts. Since the mid-90's their line on livestock depredation has been that wolves only cause a small proportion of all livestock losses. Somewhat true, but they are additional or new losses that the livestock industry did not have to absorb before reintroduction. In addition, when given consideration to the fact that only a small proportion of livestock losses are actually documented, it doesn't soften the blow by much. It's been estimated that only one in nine livestock depredations by wolves are confirmed by USFWS. Yet once again, their report makes no mention of this.
A lot of people have romantic notions about the American West, its wide open spaces and wild animals. The stories that aren't being told are about depopulation trends in rural counties and kids who won't have the chance to go to college next fall because the family business is no longer profitable. And these businesses are not just livestock operations. They include all of the businesses that sustain our rural economy.
This agency's inability to document wolf packs in areas that are politically inconvenient is a serious problem. The report includes the statement that wolf reintroduction has been an incredible success story for endangered species, but glaringly omits the fact that when wolves were reintroduced they didn't have any idea how fast the population would grow or how far territories would expand.