Monday, September 7, 2009

Hunting for Sanity

A long-overdue culling of the federal wolf pack has begun in Idaho. Robert Millage of Kamiah was the first lucky hunter to turn in a tag, bagging an 80-pound female with a .243 rifle in the northern part of the state. "I guess it was the luck of the draw," Millage humbly said.

Though what he did was perfectly legal, and something that's necessary if the size of the burgeoning federal wolf pack is to be kept in check, Millage himself then became a target -- of loose-screw wolf-worshipers who live in a world of Disney-inspired nature fantasies, where man and beast happily coexist. But so it goes in the Rocky Mountain wolf wars. The only thing more vicious than wolves killing sheep is humans fighting over wolves.

If I seem to take delight in the kill, don't get me wrong. I'm not some bloodthirsty, kill-everything-that-moves nut, or a woodsman out to rescue Little Red Riding Hood. It's just that Idaho's wolf hunt signals the triumph of sanity over insanity, reason over unreasonableness, in the decade-long debate over how "wild" the "new West" can be. It means that against long odds, and an army of screaming green weenies, Western states are poised to begin responsibly managing wolf packs that were foist upon them by Washington against their will. And not a minute too soon, given the growing toll these animals are taking on Westerners.

From a recent edition of The Idaho Statesman:

"Kathy Konen has lost guard dogs to wolves in the past, but nothing prepared the Dillon (Montana) rancher for the killing of 120 buck sheep on their ranch last week. "They were in the sagebrush, on the creek bottom — just all over the pasture," Konen said Thursday during a telephone interview before heading up to check cattle. "It's a terrible loss to our livestock program . . .

. . . The total included 82 confirmed kills and 40 carcasses that were classified as probable kills, including some that had been eaten by bears. The attack occurred on private land the Konens own. "That's a lot all in one incident," Sime said.The sheep were just killed and yet the carcasses were almost all intact, Konen said. "They didn't eat what they killed, most of them were just brought down," she said. "I don't know whether they were teaching their pups or what."

It's not the first attack that the Konens have had this summer. They lost 26 sheep to wolves in the same pasture in July, she said. After that attack FWP authorized federal trappers to remove three wolves that had been observed in the area. Trappers shot and killed a gray coated wolf and shot another black one that got away but was believed to be mortally wounded. The third wolf, another black one, got away."

Here's another recent wolf kill story, in this case from Oregon. Such reports used to be rare. Today they appear regularly.

I'm not anti-wolf. I'm not opposed to "re-wilding" efforts when and where they make sense. But the federal wolf reintroduction program has gone from a laudable success to a looming menace, with wolf populations -- which are spilling over state borders and increasing by 20 percent per annum -- growing unmanageable. Livestock kills are steadily rising. Federal workers are running around the countryside, trying to babysit the animals. The effort to restore some textbook "natural balance" teeters in some places toward imbalance, as the wolves begin to eat their way through elk and deer herds. The "experiment" has gotten out of hand.

But rather than acknowledge a success and be reasonable, wildlife advocates have fought every effort to bring some sanity and discipline to the re-wilding effort. States have had to fight to get wolves delisted, fight to win the right to manage the animals, fight for the right to hold hunts. As program benchmarks have been reached and exceeded, animal activists have shifted the goal posts or attempted to change the rules, as in New Mexico and Arizona, where backers of the less-successful effort to reintroduce Mexican wolves (that's another blog post) are trying to end the three strikes rule on livestock-killers.

States that have (sometimes reluctantly) done their parts to make this effort work are now feeling double-crossed by animal advocates, who keep changing the rules of the game. I know most environmentalists are hopeless pessimists. But surely some of them must have given thought to what might happen if wolf numbers grew larger than what's practical in today's more densely-populated, heavily-recreated "new West."

Surely they knew that wolves would at some point have to be managed, just as deer, elk, bear, cougar and other species are managed, in order to keep the populations healthy while minimizing human-animal conflicts. Surely they don't really believe that managing the pack opens the door to another "war on the wolf," or that the feds would passively stand by as the states wipe the animals out?

This is the moment that separates reasonable and responsible wildlife advocates from the environmentally retarded and the complete kooks. And it's clear that the kooks are setting the agenda.

The Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman-Review had a balanced editorial on the subject, which included the following points:

"The hunting period opened Tuesday in the first two of Idaho’s 12 wolf management zones, and although more than 11,000 tags were sold, only three animals had been taken as the weekend approached. That’s hardly a slaughter, and it’s no indication that the impressive gains of the past 14 years are likely to be reversed.

Consider that the restoration effort began in Idaho with the import of 35 wolves. By 2007, the population was about 650; it’s now up to some 1,000. Federal authorities say that the wolf population throughout the Northern Rockies has exceeded the law’s goals every year since 2002.

Now that the animal has been delisted and its management turned over to the states, the law requires that the population be managed to stay above an absolute minimum of 100 animals with 10 breeding pairs, although the feds would start talking about relisting when the numbers dropped to 150 animals and 15 breeding pairs.

Even if all 220 allowed wolf kills happen this season, the surviving wolf numbers will be well above those figures, and Idaho officials know from experience that if they get careless in their duty, the feds won’t hesitate to step back in."

"It’s not the hunting that needs to come to an end now," the newspaper concludes, "it’s the litigation."

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