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article imageOp-Ed: A wolf hunter's perspective and the solution to the debate Special

By Justin King     Oct 5, 2013 in Environment
As the controversy surrounding Montana’s wolves continues to rage, Jason Maxwell took the time to answer questions and provide a hunter’s viewpoint on the issue.
Many will say the numbers he quotes do not match the numbers of a study put out by a different organization. This is true, and the reason behind the discrepancy points to the very heart of the controversy surrounding the wolves.
The government has been playing political games in order to get the studies where they want them. This press release from the Center for Biological Diversity outlines the case against the government’s numbers and methods very well. Meanwhile, hunting advocates can easily call into question the validity of studies produced by organizations that are openly opposed to any type of wolf hunting.
Those who seek to preserve the ecological balance of any area with wolves are left with one option: a call to both sides to participate in a joint study unencumbered by politics to establish a true baseline number and develop a plan that can strike a balance between management and preservation of all species in the ecosystem.
The Interview:
What number does the pro-wolf hunting side feel is an acceptable number of wolves to have in Montana?
The acceptable number for the Montana wolf population closer to the required 130 wolves and 15 breeding pairs set forth by the federal government. I would rather see 135 wolves in the state with only one tag getting issued a year they issuing 6,000 tags on 625 wolves that are decimating the elk, deer, and moose populations. Humans are part of the predator base on these game animals, and steps are put into place to control the number of animals taken by hunters. There needs to be a balance created by lowering the wolf numbers to give these game animals time to repopulate.
What makes certain that a hunter reports that he killed a wolf during the hunting season? Is it possible he just doesn’t report it and save the $19?
There is never any certainty to anything humans do. We can just hope that ethics play a large role in the reporting of a killed wolf. Just like any animal that is poached there is usually an investigation and, at times, there are rewards. In most cases, it is another hunter turning in the poacher. We are the ones in the field with these animals day in and day out, we know what goes on in our areas and we don’t want another hunter ruining our opportunity. It is about management and preservation of all Montana wildlife regardless of if we like the wolf or not.
You made it seem, and I could be wrong about this, that the hunters will not be able to kill 625 wolves using the 6000 permits. Why?
18,889 licenses were issued to hunt the 2012 season on a minimum count of 653 wolves. Wolves are an opportunistic animal to hunt. Roughly 70% of last year’s 226 wolves were taken while hunters were out trying to fill their freezers with deer or elk. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has a minimum number of wolves and breeding pairs they need maintain in this state. If the number drops below what the federal government has set forth, the ability to manage our population goes back to the federal level. Although there is no published harvest limit, each wolf biologist knows what the sustainable number per hunting unit is.
What mechanisms does Montana have in place to prevent over-hunting, and how effective can they be without a set number the state wants to keep the population at?
Montana is broken down into 18 wolf management units. Of those 18, three have harvest limits, and the rest of the units can be closed down by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks when they have reached a sustainable number of wolves. MFWP reserves the right to close a wolf management unit with a 24 hour notice if their wildlife biologists believe the population in that area has been dropped to a manageable level, or that the population may be too low.
What is the reason to thin the herd?
There is no reason to thin the “herd” they are pack animals. The reason to thin the pack is balance. I know this answer is going to get a lot of flak from the pro-wolfers, but it is simple if you think about it. Their normal response is “nature will balance itself, it is part of the natural ecosystem.” That may have been true 2,000 years ago when areas like the Great Plains existed with large amounts of herd animals and free ranging bison. The truth is man has come into the picture and what was once habitat and vegetation for the prey animals, has become towns, cities, interstates, manmade lakes etc…. We have destroyed what was once a “natural ecosystem” and therefore it is our responsibility to manage to keep the balance.
Do wolf attacks on livestock play into the need to lower the population? If so, how often do the attacks occur?
Wolf populations are controlled in two ways, with the first being through preservation of livestock. Attacks seem to happen monthly here in Montana, with the most significant being in 2009 when a pack of wolves killed [url=
in one night ranging in size for 150 to 200 pounds. All kills were confirmed by federal wildlife officials. When this happens Wildlife Services, a federal group, comes in and lethally removes the wolf or pack that was involved. As the first of the year, 67 wolves have been removed from the state due to deprivation. The need to lower the population outside of populated areas through hunting and trapping is for the survival and preservation of our elk, moose and deer.
Environmentalists say that wolves are just on the cusp of recovery and still need to be protected. Do you believe this to be a true statement?
Federal guidelines have been met by the state of Montana that defines a recovered wolf population. As a state we are required to maintain 130 wolves with 15 breeding pairs at all times. Currently as of the 2012 annual report, which was released in March of the following year, Montana has a minimum count (which is visual, and does not take into account wolves not seen) of 625 with 37 breeding pairs. According to what was required by us by the federal government, I would say that is a very successful recovery. What your readers need to understand is the difference between recovered and endangered. Although the U.S. had them listed as an endangered species they were never to that point, being there are 60,000 of them throughout Canada and Alaska. Just because you take a handful of animals from one area to another does not make that species endangered.
Are wolves dangerous to people?
Absolutely, just like any predator wolves are dangerous. Although wolf attacks on humans have been minimal in the U.S. you have to take into account the wolf population size. In 2005, Kenton Joel a 22 year old from Ontario was attacked and killed by wolves while hiking. In 2010, Candice Berner a 32 year old teacher in Alaska was attacked by wolves and killed while jogging. In 2012, Lance Grangaard of Alaska was attacked and drug off of his snowmobile by a wolf. July of this year, an Idaho cyclist biking through Alaska was chased by a wolf on the highway. Most recently a teen just survived the first known Minnesota wolf attack. Once our wolf population hits the numbers of what Alaska and Canada have, we will have more encounters.
How hard is it to set out to hunt a wolf and succeed?
It is extremely difficult to successfully harvest a wolf, last year’s numbers of 18,889 licenses to 226 wolves taken kind of speaks for itself. Wolves have the ability to learn just like any dog. They are very cautious and will circle down wind and try to pick up a sent. With my experience hunting them, once they do this, they will let out a short howl, warning the rest of the pack. When that happens, you might as well grab your rifle and head home. The reason last year’s season was so successful over previous years was the addition of adding trapping as a management tool. It will be interesting to see how the packs react to trapping this year, because by the end of last season they had learned to avoid the traps.
If you could set up any system for dealing with wolves, what would it be?
As a lifelong Montana resident, maybe I am speaking out of place when I say this, but we don’t want them here. They need to be hunted 24/7 just like the coyote. We, as Montanan’s, have hunted the coyotes this way for longer than most of us can remember and still have not effected the population, wolves breed the same way.
Government mismanagement of wildlife is fairly rampant, what do you think can be done about it?
The state and its people should be responsible for the management of the forest and its wildlife. The issue is allowing people on the east coast, Florida, California, etc…to have a say on how we live. We talk to hundreds of people that do not share our views on wolf hunting through the Montana Wolf Hunting and Trapping Facebook page. The response is always the same--they love to see the wolves in the “wild” aka Montana and Yellowstone but would not want them in their backyards. Unless you live with them on a daily basis you cannot comprehend the damage this animal creates.
At the end of the day, it’s you, the hunter, that is stuck between the government and the environmentalist in this battle. Do you feel that either side has your interests at heart?
I believe each side has interests, but the difference is the pro wolf side is fighting for the preservation of one animal while hunters and sportsmen are fighting for the preservation of all wildlife. The introduction is not just about the wolf it is also about maintaining the wildlife the wolf preys on.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
My name is Jason Maxwell, and I run the Montana Wolf Hunting and Trapping Facebook page with my girlfriend, Angela Montana from the Montana Outdoor Radio Show. I have hunted the western part of the state for 22 years. I have seen these areas before the introduction of wolves as well as throughout their migration. Not only are we losing the ability to hunt in areas we have hunted for generations, but we are also starting to see wolves in our school yards, which recently happened in Kalispell, Montana. It is one thing to have an opinion based off of the “beauty of an animal” but it is another thing to have an opinion when you live with wolves on a daily basis.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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