Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The value of truth about wolves

Garrick Dutcher is program director for Idaho-based nonprofit Living with Wolves.


Last week Frank Priestley, president of the Idaho Farm Bureau, submitted an opinion to the Mountain Express titled "Wolf Advocates are wrong again." The Idaho Farm Bureau is not a state or federal entity, but an independent, non-governmental 501 (c)(5) nonprofit corporation. It is unfortunate that this group has resorted to distributing misleading, incorrect information to the public.

Amid the controversial atmosphere of wolf recovery in the West, there is a steady bombardment of unsourced misinformation. Our organization, Living with Wolves, recognizes the absolute importance of factual integrity of the information we distribute. All of our information is carefully sourced, just as it is below.

It is only when equipped with facts that an informed public can clearly discuss and understand this issue. Often, much of our efforts go toward being purveyors of the truth, providing the public with information to discern between fact and fiction.

Priestley's message is that wolf advocacy groups lose credibility by not being truthful. Ironically, much of his letter is made up of statements that are entirely false.

Priestley supports his first point by saying that "Idaho harvest numbers, as well as hunter interest based on tag sales, are well below 2009 levels. ..."

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game is the state agency controlling hunting and wildlife management, including wolf management. According to its records, the total sale of wolf tags as of Nov. 30 had already reached 31,645 tags, exceeding the total tag sale of 26,428 tags through Dec. 31, 2009. Clearly, tag sales are not "well below 2009 levels."

Also, "harvest" numbers rather than being "well below 2009 levels" are in fact well above 2009 levels. By year's end 2009, again according to Fish and Game records, 135 wolves had been killed in Idaho in the hunt. By Dec. 22, 2011, hunters and trappers had killed 179 wolves in Idaho.

Priestley also makes false claims about Idaho's wolf population and breeding habits.

He states that "Idaho's wolf population has grown well beyond expectations of the foremost federal biologists—from 24 in 1996 to a level we believe surpasses 2,000 animals today."

Fish and Game in collaboration with the Nez Perce Tribe conducts year-end wolf counts and releases an annual estimate. According to their findings, the wolf population in Idaho peaked in 2008 at 846 wolves. It has been in decline since. According to year-end reports, the figure was 705 in 2010. The arbitrary figure of more than 2,000 wolves in Idaho, as presented by Mr. Priestley, comfortably surpasses the total number of wolves living in all Western states combined.

He continues, "Much of what was observed about wolf biology in other places has not proven out in Idaho. For instance, during reintroduction public hearings, we were told only one bitch per pack would breed each year. Yet if that were the case there is no biological way our wolf population would have exploded the way it has."

In North America, without exception, wild wolf packs only reproduce once a year, in the spring, if at all. It is well documented that it is very unusual for more than one female to breed in a pack. This simple fact of wolf biology is the case in Idaho, as it is everywhere.

Fish and Game and the Nez Perce Tribe have carefully documented breeding since reintroduction 17 years ago. In the past seven years, Fish and Game has recorded an average of 55 packs breeding each year. Only twice in these seven years did two females breed within a pack.

For Idaho's wolf population to have grown from 35 (not 24) reintroduced wolves in 1995 and 1996 to a peak of 846 in 2008 is entirely within the normal biological processes of typical wolf reproduction.

I have run out of my allotted space to further refute the other elements of Mr. Priestley's opinion. All the information above is available to the public for those who wish to independently verify it.

Informing the public about wolves is what we do daily at Living with Wolves. Truth is essential in this debate if wolves are ever going to be fairly represented and fairly treated in Idaho or anywhere else.

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