Opinion: A once-proud conservation group has lost its way

By Dave Stalling August 31, 2012 Opinion: High Country News

Recently, (2012) the family of Olaus J. Murie demanded that the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation cancel the organization’s Olaus J. Murie Award. The surprising reason? The foundation’s “all-out war against wolves is anathema to the entire Murie family.”

Wolf chasing elk, Yellowstone National Park. Before the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone there was an over population of elk. Wolves have now reduced the numbers greatly. Copyright Daryl L Hunter Wolf chase, the story http://daryl-hunter.net/wolf-chase

I sympathize with the family’s position for several reasons. In 1999, while working for the Elk Foundation, I created the Olaus J. Murie Award, with the coordination and the approval of the Murie family. The award recognized scientists working on behalf of elk and elk habitat and was given in the name of Olaus J. Murie because he is widely considered the “father” of modern elk research.

Murie, who did groundbreaking work at the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyo., in the 1940s, also wrote Elk of North America, the first comprehensive and scientific treatise on elk and elk management.

During most of its 28-history, the Elk Foundation and its more than 185,000 members, who are primarily hunters, avoided controversy. Instead, the group focused on its mission: “To ensure the future of elk, other wildlife and their habitat.” Most of the foundation’s leaders had solid backgrounds in wildlife biology, ecology and wildlife management, and they resisted the occasional pressure from hunters to get involved in issues such as gun rights or wolf reintroduction.

“We are not a hunting organization supporting conservation; we are a conservation organization supported by hunters,” former foundation director Gary Wolfe used to say.

But starting in 2000, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s board of directors changed, many staff members were fired, and the nonprofit group went through a string of short-term directors. Then in 2007, the foundation board hired David Allen, a former marketer for NASCAR and the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association, as its director. At first, it seemed that Allen would follow a path similar to former leaders.

“We are not a hunting club. We don’t intend to be a hunting club. We are a membership organization that has an overwhelming number of hunters … but we’re not doing wildlife conservation to improve our hunting,” Allen said when he took on the job. That approach did not last long.

“Wolf reintroduction is the worst ecological disaster since the decimation of bison herds,” Allen said recently, as he claimed that wolves are “decimating” and “annihilating” elk herds. “To keep wolf populations controlled, states will have to hold hunts, shoot wolves from the air and gas their dens,” he said.

When asked about the utility of predator-prey relationships, Allen explained, “Natural balance is a Walt Disney movie. It isn’t real.” Under his leadership, the Elk Foundation recently offered the state of Montana $50,000 to contract with the federal Wildlife Services agency to “aggressively” kill more wolves. “And the next step is the grizzly bear,” he said. “We’ve got bear issues with elk calves in the spring — both grizzly and black bear. We can’t have all these predators with little aggressive management and expect to have ample game herds, and sell hunting tags and generate revenue.”

This approach has not gone over well with some conservationists. Ralph Maughan, director of the Western Watersheds Project and the Wolf Recovery Foundation, said that foundation director “Allen has not only taken a strongly anti-wolf position, but he has done it taking an ‘in your face’ way to traditional conservation organizations such as those supported by Olaus Murie, which he now calls ‘extremist.’” “Allen has also expressed contempt for many of the concepts of ecology, as he seems to be moving the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation toward a single species, single value of elk (hunting) approach.”

There has been a lot of good, solid research on elk and wolf interactions, some of it funded by the Elk Foundation in years past. Most of it that shows that when wolves are restored to an ecosystem, both habitat and elk herds improve. Allen’s claims are not backed by science.

“Mr. Allen and his anti-wolf rhetoric has alienated him and his organization from many of the very organizations that have helped the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation — in subtle and profound ways — garner the successes it has over the years,” said Bob Ferris, a 30-year wildlife researcher who was involved in bringing wolves back to the Yellowstone ecosystem.

The family of Olaus J. Murie, the “father” of modern elk research and management, agrees with these criticisms. A foundation that once understood the complex relationship between elk and wolves has succumbed to the pressures of hunters who don’t like wolves.

Dave Stalling is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He is an elk hunter, fisherman and wildlife conservationist and lives in Missoula, Montana. High Country News

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Five conservation groups filed a lawsuit challenging U.S. Department of Agriculcure’s Wildlife Service’s killing of gray wolves in Idaho. 

According to a Center for Biological Diversity press release, dated on June 1, 2016, five conservation groups filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging U.S. Department of Agriculcure’s Wildlife Service’s killing of gray wolves in Idaho. 

The five conservation groups named as Plaintiff’s in the lawsuit are: Western Watersheds Project, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Clearwater, WildEarth Guardians and Predator Defense.

Defendants named in the lawsuit are: Todd Grimm, Idaho Director, Wildlife Services; and USDA Wildlife Services

In the lawsuit the Plaintiff’s action states: “On February 10, 2016, Defendant USDA Wildlife Services aerially gunned down 21 gray wolves in central Idaho’s Lolo elk zone. These deaths added to at least 636 wolves killed by Wildlife Services in Idaho between 2006 and 2015. In addition to aerial gunning, Wildlife Services captures wolves in foothold traps, often later killing them; shoots them; and uses wire snares to strangle them. The effects of killing Idaho’s native apex predators cascade through the environment, particularly in the Lolo zone, where Wildlife Services has now slaughtered wolves several years in a row.”

According to Center for Biological Diversity’s press release: The agency also kills wolves for the purported benefit of elk herds, including in the Lolo zone.

“The campaign waged against the Lolo’s native wolves in the name of elk is reprehensible. Science shows that the elk decline there is due to long-term, natural-habitat changes, not impacts from wolves,” said Gary Macfarlane of Friends of the Clearwater. “It is particularly galling that Wildlife Services is targeting wolves that mostly live in Wildernesses or large roadless areas. These, especially, are places where wolves should be left alone.” Center for Biological Diversity press release

According to the lawsuit, Defendants violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321-4370, and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. §§ 701-706, by failing to conduct a full EIS and instead issuing the flawed 2011 Wolf EA and Decision/FONSI, and by refusing to complete supplemental NEPA analysis to consider significant new information.

According to the lawsuit the Plaintiffs seek relief reversing and remanding Wildlife Services’ 2011 Wolf EA and Decision/FONSI, ordering Wildlife Services to supplement its NEPA analysis, and ordering Wildlife Services to comply with its NEPA duties by preparing an EIS for its Idaho wolf management activities. Plaintiffs also seek relief ordering Wildlife Services to halt its wolf killing activities until it has prepared an updated, valid NEPA analysis. 

For more information:

Contact: Travis Bruner, Western Watersheds Project, (208) 788-2290
Andrea Santarsiere, Center for Biological Diversity, (303) 854-7748, asantarsiere@biologicaldiversity.org

Gary Macfarlane, Friends of the Clearwater, (208) 882-9755

Bethany Cotton, WildEarth Guardian,s (406) 414-7227

Brooks Fahy, Predator Defense, (541) 937-4261

Talasi Brooks, Advocates for the West, (208) 342-7024


Featured imaged by Ian McAllister

Surplus killings by wolves is a rare occurrence and serves a purpose.

The latest news out of Wyoming Wolf Pack Slaughters 19 Elk in Rare ‘Surplus Killing’ Unusual behavior leaves game officials scratching their heads in Wyoming, according to National Geographic published on March 25, 2016 by Brian Clark Howard, read on:

“Surplus killings tend to be most common in late winter and may actually represent an effort by wolves to cache food for later use, the group notes. The predators are known to return often to kills to snack, sometimes for weeks. Sometimes more prey are also killed than wolves may have first intended due to the chaos of the hunt, the group adds. But even if the elk don’t get fully consumed by the pack, they will provide food for other scavengers.”  (Source)

There you have it in black and white, the fact is predators, such as wolves do surplus killing and it serves a purpose. Man is the only predator that kills for sport. Trophy hunts are about power not conservation. In the bigger picture, elk and wolves have lived side by side for hundreds of centuries, until the human trophy Hunter appeared on the scene. Now elk are managed by hunters for hunting. 

Are elk an endangered species? 

Here’s an article from last year, 2015, from Jackson Hole News Guide Elk count is healthy, but not its distribution Jackson Elk Herd is near goals, but there are too many on the refuge, too few up the Gros Ventre. Read on:

“Aerial counts that wrapped up last week found 10,633 elk using feedgrounds and foraging native range. To account for those that were missed biologists rounded-up the count to 11,000 — precisely the herd’s objective. But the whereabouts of the herd are less than ideal, with surplus animals on the National Elk Refuge and only one-third of the desired number of elk wintering in upper portions of the Gros Ventre River drainage.” 

The following video is of hundreds of elk crossing a road on the outskirts of Baggs, Wyoming filmed in 2014

Should we worry about wolves killing on rare occasions for surplus? After all, we stock our freezers for surplus. 
Featured photograph by John E Marriott

Twenty wolves shot from the air in northern Idaho in the past week

Source: The Spokesman-Review By Betsy Z. Russell

Twenty wolves were shot from a helicopter in northern Idaho in the past week, part of a wolf-control operation designed to improve elk survival in the area.
That’s on top of 20 more wolves killed by hunters and trappers in the Lolo elk zone over the past year, according to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. That zone straddles the county line of Clearwater and Idaho counties.
The helicopter hunt is the operation the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board was trying to keep secret on Monday when the board had its budget hearing before the Legislature’s joint budget committee. At that time, a representative wouldn’t answer questions about wolves killed so far in 2016. The board receives $400,000 a year in state tax funds to target problem wolves that prey on livestock or wildlife; it also receives money from the Fish and Game Department and from the livestock industry.
“Fish and Game prefers to manage wolf populations using hunters and trappers and only authorizes control actions where regulated harvest has been insufficient to meet management goals,” the agency said in a statement. “The Lolo zone is steep, rugged country that is difficult to access, especially in winter,” necessitating the use of the helicopter, the statement said.
It added, “To date, hunters and trappers have taken 20 wolves in the Lolo zone during the 2015-2016 season. The trapping season ends March 31 and the hunting season ends June 30.”
The agency said the Lolo elk population has declined dramatically over the last 25 years, from 16,000 elk to fewer than 1,000 today. It has conducted aerial wolf-kills in the Lolo zone for the past five years.

Image: John E. Marriott Photography