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In the first week of December, U.S. government agencies carried out one of the largest wolf pack removals ever conducted in Northwest Montana. Over the course of three days, USDA Wildlife Services shot and removed 19 wolves from the Hog Heaven Pack in the Brown’s Meadow and Niarada areas, southwest of Kalispell. The wolves had been killing livestock for over a year, with the most recent killing involving a 2-year-old bull. Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, along with Wildlife Services, have been carrying out “control actions” on the Hog Heaven Pack for much of the last two years, killing eight wolves in separate instances after livestock attacks in the area. By the time the last nine wolves were killed on Dec. 5, government agencies had taken out 27 wolves total from the Hog Heaven Pack, which FWP Wildlife Manager Jim Williams believes is the entire pack.

Northwest Montana Wolf Kill Stirs Emotions

In the first week of December, U.S. government agencies carried out one of the largest wolf pack removals ever conducted in Northwest Montana. Over the course of three days, USDA Wildlife Services shot and removed 19 wolves from the Hog Heaven Pack in the Brown’s Meadow and Niarada areas, southwest of Kalispell. The wolves had been killing livestock for over a year, with the most recent killing involving a 2-year-old bull.

Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, along with Wildlife Services, have been carrying out “control actions” on the Hog Heaven Pack for much of the last two years, killing eight wolves in separate instances after livestock attacks in the area. By the time the last nine wolves were killed on Dec. 5, government agencies had taken out 27 wolves total from the Hog Heaven Pack, which FWP Wildlife Manager Jim Williams believes is the entire pack. While full pack removals to stop livestock depredation are not unusual in Northwest Montana or the Northern Rockies, where wolves remain an endangered species, very few packs grow as large as the Hog Heaven Pack had over the last year.

The Hog Heaven Pack removal demonstrates the incongruous position in which Montana wolf management finds itself at present, where government agencies in a single instance can kill 19 animals listed on the federal endangered species list, with full confidence that the wolf population is more than strong enough to be unaffected by such action.

“Wolves have recovered up here, right alongside removals from depredations,” Williams said, adding that pack removals are “unfortunate. It’s not pleasant, but from a population standpoint, I’m not worried at all.”

Wolf management in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming is a volatile and emotional issue, only aggravated by the legal tug-of-war that occurred over the wolves’ status in 2008. The Interior Department moved to remove the Northern Rockies gray wolf from the endangered species list earlier this year. But in July U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy issued an injunction reinstating endangered species protection while the court decided on an April lawsuit filed by a coalition of conservation groups, which argued that the government had not yet met recovery standards for the wolf.

While the status of the Northern Rockies gray wolf may change at some point in the coming year, Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, doesn’t believe government agencies will change how they manage wolf populations, whether the animals are endangered or not. There will always be conflicts between wolves and livestock, and removing wolves that prey on livestock will continue. The Hog Heaven Pack may garner attention due to its unusual size, but the removal is consistent with the management practices government agencies have taken for years.

“The success of the endangered species act has costs – one of the costs is more conflict with livestock,” Bangs said. “It seems like a lot but it’s really not that much; the price of success is more depredations and more wolf control.”

But not everyone agrees with the wolf removal southwest of Kalispell. Suzanne Asha Stone, Northern Rockies representative for the Defenders of Wildlife conservation group, said her Boise, Idaho, office has received “a lot” of concerned calls from around the country regarding the Hog Heaven Pack removal, which she called a “very aggressive action.”

Several aspects of the Hog Heaven removal disturb Stone, chief among them the question of whether many of the wolves killed were of hunting age. The 2007 FWP report on the Hog Heaven Pack listed its membership at six, and two litters were born within the pack this year. Stone estimates as many as 15 wolves not yet hunting on their own were killed.

“That was just such an unfortunate decision to kill wolves that were not involved in livestock depredations,” she said. “There’s been a much heavier response from the agencies in using lethal control there than the Yellowstone area or Idaho.”

Stone is also concerned that the agencies may not have sufficiently considered non-lethal means of deterring the wolves from attacking livestock, including such measures as livestock-guarding dogs, night penning and others. Simply killing the wolves in the area virtually ensures another pack will eventually move into the territory and begin attacking cattle, creating “a lose-lose cycle for livestock producers and the wolves that are there,” she added.

Williams said he and other officials considered non-lethal means of dealing with the Hog Heaven Pack, but decided they would not have worked with a pack that size that was killing livestock so frequently.

“In this case, they started eating cattle and they didn’t quit,” Williams said. “Our relationship with the livestock industry and private landowners is something we take very seriously as an agency.”

As for killing young wolves, he said wolves from this year’s litter were almost a year old, most weighed more than 80 pounds and were actively participating in livestock depredations. Relocating the wolves, wouldn’t have worked either, Williams added, noting that putting wolves in another pack’s territory creates conflicts and does not decrease a wolf’s propensity to attack livestock, once it has been conditioned to do so: “You move a problem from one area to another.”

While distasteful, the wolf population is thriving and Williams believes the removal of the Hog Heaven Pack due to livestock conflicts is an inevitable part of the larger, hugely successful recovery of wolves in Northwest Montana.

“It’s a good news story,” he said.

Northern Rockies Gray Wolf by the Numbers

Current estimated # of gray wolves in Northern Rockies (Mont., Wyo., Idaho): 1,500
Number of wolves introduced to region in 1995-1996: 66
Number of wolves killed legally in region this year as of early Dec.: 245
Percentage Increase over 2007: 31%
2008 wolf kills by state:
Montana: 102
Idaho: 101
Wyoming: 42
Number of domestic animals killed by wolves in 2008: 523
Domestic animals killed by wolves in 2007: 420

Source: Associated Press

About Daniel Testa

Comments

  1. logger says:

    “Our relationship with the livestock industry is something we take very seriously” says Williams.
    He’s got that right!….Since the livestock industry runs this State and “wildlife management” within it, FWP is always going to take their orders from them and the hell with science.
    Doesn’t matter that over 7,000 miles of our fishing and spawning streams are dewatered each year, our hunting and fishing opportunities are affected, public lands are overgrazed, cows drive out native wildlife, riparian habitat is destroyed….all in the name of “welfare ranching.”
    They take it seriously allright, from the perspective of the DOL and a governor that’s nothing but a puppet for them, but not the general public.

  2. Don says:

    Our grandfathers and great grandfathers got rid of the wolves for good reason. The bleeding hearts from around the country are responsible for bringing the wolves back to MT, ID & WY. Not the people from MT, ID & WY. I wish the bleeding hearts had to pay for the wolves, dead cattle, broken fences and Vet bills. What did they expect? They didn’t expect anything. Now, they cry because wolves will be Wolves.

  3. jedediah Redman says:

    Killing is the one sure way to demonstrate the effectiveness of our stewardship to the livestock industry. Bison, coyotes, pumas, wolves, picketpins, magpies–but not cattle–certainly not cattle!

  4. campfire says:

    Getting rid of all the wolves is not the answer. I got a kick out of hearing them last fall while hunting. Got my elk too, right in the middle of them. I live in Montana and I like having them around. I like beef, too. Hopefully we can find a middle ground with the ranchers. Wolves will probably have to be managed just like deer and elk and bear etc.

  5. abraham says:

    the native peoples had good reason to not eat cattle. fawning over a cattle Industry which supplies impotent meat to a mindless, heartless, spiritless society of sheep is human management at its best. this type of ethic is a master at killing the spirit of the land and its creatures which for eons has been able to establish a strong ethic of sustainable wild supply and demand.
    managers, you debase not only the Spirit of the Land and its creatures, you short change people of their true inner strength and the gift of Spirit which wilderness offers for human renewal.

  6. Craig says:

    The helicopter pilot that assisted in the removal of this pack (who is also an avid outdoorsman) said that in the area that they were following that pack and eliminating them, they also counted over 300 individual wolves from the Kila area to McGregor Lake (about 20 miles). I thought there was supposed to be that many in a 3 state spread!?!?!?!?
    I see less and less game out hunting and more wolf sign and sightings than ever. I dont want to hear about the “endangered” comment as it is a joke.

    SMOKE A PACK A DAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. campfire says:

    300 wolves? that’s ridiculous. no way.

    the wolves vs rancher is a complicated issue. using exaggeration and extreme solutions will not solve any of the problem for anyone.

    the elk and deer can exist in balance with the wolf. have you ever been to yellowstone or glacier national park? the animal numbers reach a balance like the have since the beginning of time.

  8. craig says:

    BY CAMPFIRE,
    You obviously are out of touch with reality in the whole population issues there are with the INBALANCE of wolves that we have in this country.
    Overpopulation will cause not only game shortages, but disease as well. And yes, that was the right number you read and no typo…300.
    Last I checked yellowstone doesnt allow hunting, maybe the balance exists due to that factor. I guess you eco-terrorists will be after that next too.
    What will the wolves go after for food once they become so populated that the game is gone……campers by the campfire?

  9. campfire says:

    craig, why the the name calling? why the smoke a pack a day? why the anger? I’d be happy to have a civil conversation on the issue if you want to be civil.

    once the native americans did hunt in yellowstone. right now, Montana FWP essentially “hunts” in Montana when a wolf pack starts taking cattle. wolves are just another wildlife group that needs to be managed in our modern world. as time goes by our management practices will probably get better if we all work together in good faith.

    wildlife populations ebb and flow depending on a myriad of causes and effects. nature always works toward a balance.

    i think the question that needs to be answered is do we want wolves in our world at all. from that answer we can work toward solutions. So far it appears that we as a country do want the wolves in some healthy form. I certainly do.

    Regarding snatching campers from campfires, have you ever read Jack London and his take on wolves in that day.

  10. Toby Bridges says:

    Wolves were eliminated from the Northern Rockies for a reason – they didn’t mix well with humans, pets, livestock or other wildlife a hundred years ago. And they still don’t.

    The wolf is an apex killing machine, the product of nearly a million years of evolution. And it cannot live in harmony with anything it considers prey – and that is just about any and all other living creatures.

    What good is to be had from having wolves reintroduced into this settled community? (Like it or not, the Northern Rockies is a settled community.)

    Through the 20th Century, sportsmen pumped billions of dollars into sound conservation efforts to rebuild deer and elk numbers back from near oblivion to record levels. Now, the over-funded U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (and a misguided Federal judge by the name of Don Molloy) are throwing all of that hard work right out the window. Wolves, by just being wolves, are destroying our “other” native wildlife populations. Before the “Wolf Recovery Program”, there were 22,000 elk in Yellowstone – now there’s about 6,000. Before the reappearance of the wolf, between 7,000 and 8,000 elk wintered on the north side of the park. That number is now down to about 1,000. And in many game units in Idaho, elk numbers are down nearly 1/3 due to wolf predation.

    Do we need the wolf? Hell no! It’s time to do, once again, what our forefathers (those who settled this wild land 100 to 150 years ago) did to rid the Northern Rocky Mountains of the wolf – And that is to shoot every last one of them.

    Toby Bridges
    LOBO WATCH -
    Sportsmen Against Wolves

  11. Jerry says:

    Oh come on now all of you. If you like wolfs fine. There is a way to keep them for the future of the nation. After all they are a real part of our history. Those who worship them can still do it and those who raise the food we all like to eat can also survive. I suggest we put the wolfs in a very large wildlife park, fenced and protected from poachers and evil doers so the uninformed general public can watch how the very nature of a wolf is to kill anthing they want. After all they need to eat regularly just like we do. And they do eat regularly taking the very deer, elk, moose, bison, cow, sheep, goat, dog, horse, llama, cat, etc that they want because it is available. The public can watch if this viewing area as a pack of wolves rip out the throats of a herd of sheep just for the fun of it and not eat a single one. They can watch as their pet is killed in front of their very eyes. They can also pay ranchers and farmers a fair price for livestock placed in front of the wolves and spectators that are slaughtered in front of their very eyes. Yeh, I know this is not a pretty picture but neither is the devestation of our wild herds that once lived in our land and has fed the wolves. Let the bleeding hearts watch it happen up close and personal. Let them finance the Wolf Park.

  12. Toby Bridges says:

    That’s a great idea Jerry…It would kinda be like the Romans going to the Collosieum to watch the gladiators duke it out to the end…only deer, elk calves, sheep, cattle, and pets wouldn’t have the armament to defend themselves.

    I’ll bet folks would drive from the wolf-loving centers of America to watch all that…you know from New York City, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, and especially San Francisco.

    Damn man, you’re a genious.

    Toby Bridges
    LOBO WATCH

  13. OUT_OF_WORK_LOGGER says:

    Most of the people that want the wolves dont even live here!!! I vote we transplant them where these people are!! And then see how well they are liked.

    YEP SMOKE A PACK A DAY!!!

  14. Toby Bridges says:

    Out Of Work Logger -

    Hang in there. The ultimate plan of the idiotic Wolf Recovery Project is to reintroduce wolves back into all of its historic range -which means the geniuses with the USFWS want to bring wolves back to just about everyone’s neck of the woods in this country…no matter where they live.

    And we have lame environmental groups like Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, and the way off course Humane Society of the United States all working diligently to make that happen. (Or maybe this is just another “Cash Cow” they’ve learned to milk for billions of $$$.)

    But at least then, all Americans can join in on the spectacle of watching wolves destroy a hundred years of real conservation work. Think of how great it would be to take the kids down to Central Park, and let them watch a pack of wolves rip open a pregnant whitetail doe, and pull out the unborn fetuses while the doe was still alive. Heck, I’ll be they would even build observation platforms, where they could sit back and enjoy a hot latte while watching the grandeur of nature’s killing machine at work.

    If we don’t contain this b.s. here in the Northern Rockies and in the Upper Midwest – it will happen. There’s a reason why they’ve let wolves increase to out-of-control numbers in these regions – they are their selected incubators or breeding grounds. After all, to infiltrate the rest of the U.S. with this wildlife equivlent of a deadly virus or cancer, they have to have sources for all the wolves USFWS will need for the transplants.

    The so-called Wolf Recovery Project is nothng more than the greatest act of eco-terrorism ever!

    Toby Bridges
    LOBO WATCH
    Missoula, MT

  15. JSP says:

    Kill em all!!! I went riding this weekend behind Pinehurst Idaho and could not believe the numbers of tracks. Predominantly WOLF everywhere we rode all day! They were exterminated for a reason! Before lond we will no longer need to hunt because all of the species we hunt will be gone thanks to Wolf introduction. Great plan by tree huggers to get rid of hunters in one fell swoop and never fire a shot so to speak.

  16. Mo Fitz says:

    To all those opposed to COEXISTING with wolves,
    Do you really doubt the human capability to find a true, compromised solution? What… are we not superior and smart enough beings to learn how to embrace the nature of our own beloved America land?

    . . . HAD IT NOT BEEN for past injustices and poorly planned actions on our behalf, perhaps there wouldn’t be such an unnatural displacement of wolves now.
    PERHAPS, had we learned to exist with the animals of the land in years past, this generation wouldn’t have such a complex situation on our hands.

    BUT WE DO, why? Because just like many of you are suggesting now, Americans dealing with wolves in the 1800′s and 1900′s did not think of the greater good of the environment but solely what would suit us humans best….

    here’s the key,
    We’re animals; you might perceive yourself as a superior being
    But we’re animals,
    And if we can’t learn to live with them, then we don’t deserve to live. . And that’s the truth

    Stick a wolf in the wild and it’s at home.
    Stick a man in the wild, and his first reaction is to reach for his gun.

    “Our most urgent social and political question is: How to live in right relationship. In learning to pay respectful attention to one another and plants and animals, we learn the acts of empathy, and thus humility and compassion—- ways of proceeding that grow more and more necessary as the world crowds in”

    “But environmentalism, in its deepest sense, is not about the environment. It is not about things but relationships, not about beings but Being, not about the world but the inseparability of self and circumstance”

  17. B. Richardson says:

    Wolves breed like dogs (they are the original dog). They pack like dogs and they kill like wolves – in packs.

    Other “killing” animals do not do it this way and do not do the major damage these do.

    Man brought them in again – it’s not working. Let men take them out legally – hunting licenses. I do not hunt – but I want them gone. I miss my moose, elk, deer population in Kootinai Forest area i live.