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MTFWP Comment Period on Wolves. Act Now!

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We need your comments to Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks.

Ranchers’ concerns about the transmission of brucellosis by elk near Yellowstone National Park have prompted new proposals by Montana officials for “managing” elk populations in the Greater Yellowstone Area, with options including reducing numbers of both elk and wolves.

To seek wider support for a plan to manage this problem, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission established a “citizen working group” to develop “Elk Management Guidelines in Areas with Brucellosis.” The group presented its recommendations to the Commission earlier this month, and the document is open for public comment through December 20.

Among a few measures presented by the citizens’ working group is the recommendation to reduce in wolf and wolf pack numbers.  Ironically, in recent years some hunters have claimed that the elk population in Montana and Wyoming has declined as a direct result of wolf reintroduction programs. This latest report, however, suggests that elk numbers and density are too high in at least parts of Montana!

The citizens group’s recommendations—which won’t be acted upon by the Commission until after the public comment period is over on Dec. 20th – include:

1.  Changes in hunting seasons and regulations to reduce winter herd size and density for elk;

2.  Manipulation of habitat (including plantings to entice and hold elk in certain areas, rest and rotation of grazing areas, and development of water sources) to promote separation of elk and livestock during critical brucellosis risk periods;

3.  Expanded research and education;

4.  Containment of elk, including use of elk-proof fencing for high-risk areas, more intensive hazing of elk in high-risk areas, expanded use of wildlife management areas for purposes of spatial separation of elk and livestock

5.  Reduction in wolf/pack numbers.

While Wolfwatcher may support the first four of the aforementioned citizens group’s recommendations, we are absolutely OPPOSED to the final measure which calls for a reduction in wolf populations.  The absence of predators may allow sick animals a longer period of time in which to transmit this disease, thus reducing the advantages of the “sanitation effect” wolves and other predators can have on prey species. [Wolves, Behavior Ecology, and Conservation, Feb. 2007, “Ecosystems Effect of Wolves,” Mech and Boitani, p.158]

In addition, determining whether wolves (through direct impacts via predation and/or indirect impacts through elk behavioral changes) caused changes in elk disease would require substantially more knowledge of the epidemiology of each disease.  Because only limited information is available about disease transmission dynamics and clinical manifestations in wild elk,  only plausible inferences are possible and causation cannot be determined. [Survey of Selected Pathogens and Blood Parameters of Northern Yellowstone Elk: Wolf Sanitation Effect Implications; Shannon M. Barber-Meyer, University of Minnesota; P.J. White, National Park Service; L. David Mech, US Geological Survey, 2007].

Similarly, it is possible that wolves may select elk with brucellosis infections, at least in chronic cases, because these cases may cause bursitis, synovitis, and arthritis resulting in lameness (Thorne, et. al., 1978; Herriges et. al, 1989).



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