I don’t pretend to be a wolf expert. I follow the news stories, but not a lot of the science, but when I see an expensive, glossy advertisement by a so-called conservation group that publishes bold numbers in a 2-inch font, it makes me more than a bit curious. That’s what I saw in the Kalispell Daily Inter Lake this morning from a group called Big Game Forever. The group is an offshoot of another pseudo-conservation organization called Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife that we’ve talked about before. Their goal is to wipe out every predator known to man and turn over our publicly-held fish and wildlife to private interests, at a healthy profit. Their founder has been quoted as saying that “it’s time to revisit the widely accepted principle in the United States and Canada that game is a public resource”.
Anyway, they went to the trouble to list sources for the information printed in the ad so, I thought it might be worthwhile to look at a few of their sources. One claim was that there were 8,100 cattle killed by wolves in the U.S. during 2010. Their source is a USDA report. Looking at the report, it appears that the 8,100 number is correct although a bit of background is enlightening.
Cattle and calf losses from predators and non-predators in the United States totaled 3.99 million head during 2010. This represents 4.3 percent of the 93.9 million cattle and calves in the United States at the beginning of 2010.
That makes the 8,100 killed by wolves come in at less than 0.01 percent of total losses nationwide. But, let’s look at Montana losses. In 2010, we lost 23,000 cows and 57,000 calves to various causes, 1,000 cows and 4,200 calves were lost to predators. Of the predator loss, 44% of cows lost were attributed to wolves (440 head). Of the 4,200 calves lost to predators, 20.3% were taken by wolves (853 calves). So, the total loss to wolves was 1,293 cattle. Again, that’s wolf loss from a total of 80,000 due to all causes, or just less than 2% in Montana.
One other statistic that I thought was interesting were the elk harvest numbers. The ad stated that 28,000 elk were harvested in 1994 versus 15,813 in 2009. While not specifically stated and even though the ad makes it appear that these are Montana numbers, they are actually from Idaho. I guess it’s just happenstance that they picked 1994, which was the highest elk harvest in the history of Idaho record keeping. Had they picked another year, say 1984 (15,600), 1974 (8,712), or even 1964 (13,653) the comparison would not look nearly so striking ( I guess I just answered why they picked 1994). Those years were certainly not affected by wolf predation. In fact, the sixty year average between 1950 and 2009 was only 15,375, making the 2009 numbers look extraordinarily like an average elk harvest.
FWP and the International Wolf Center put the number of wolves in Montana in 2010 at a minimum of 566. I’ve seen numbers of over 600 wolves currently. Even so, the loss due to wolves in 2010 of 1,293 cows and calves works out to just slightly over 2 animals taken for each wolf.
I in no way mean to belittle the cost to our livestock producers due to predation, but there are more than twice as many calves lost to coyotes each year than to wolves. I never see opinion pieces or news articles decrying coyote predation and I saw an article this morning about the hunt for a sow grizzly that has killed 70 sheep near Conrad over the last two weeks. So yes, predators kill livestock and it is a significant burden on producers. But, predators are a part of Montana, always have been and hopefully, always will be. My point is not that nothing should be done about wolves. My point is that when you see large, bold numbers jumping out at you from an advertisement, first consider the source, and then, if you can, track down the data used to create the glaring, bold numbers and see what it really says. These folks are pushing legislation to remove predators from ESA protections and hand over control of our wildlife to private parties along with a sizable chunk of your tax dollars. Don’t rely on someone promoting a specific agenda to tell you what to think.