Sitting inches away from the musky black haired creature, I realized what wild truly was. Looking into its yellow brown eyes said it all. Liz Taylor, one of the lead biologists on this study, reached down and put snow under the big male’s legs to cool his core from the recent aerial net-gun capture. I was smack dab in the middle of it all while filming an episode of Skull Bound TV. I filmed the entire process of the capture, collaring and release of both wolves and elk on this particular day. Let’s just say the helicopter pilot from New Zealand put the “W” in white knuckles.
The wolf’s story has been on the political hot seat since being re-introduced into the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in 1995. Gone are the days when elk herds thrived near Gardiner, Montana. The Lolo herd is in peril as its elk numbers have hit rock bottom and the Bitterroot elk herd is now in the middle of a three-year elk study to find out why their numbers have plummeted in recent years.
Soon after the measurements where taken the wolf’s restraints were removed and the black male darted off down the snow covered slope like Carl Edward heading for the finish line in a NASCAR race. To see a wolf up close like that was incredible on one hand and sad on the other. He’s only doing what comes natural – “killing” to survive! That’s where the rubber meets the pavement. Any animal that’s introduced or re-introduced usually has some sort of success story. In the case of the wolf, his story continues to reverberate across much of the West. Places such as Wyoming, Idaho and Montana have seen the numbers jump far above what the land can handle. Montana and Idaho recently re-opened the hunting season for wolves on a quota system, and though that is one good step in the right direction, it’s a little to late to undo the damage that’s been done on many of the Western states’ big game populations.
As a hunter I can tell you from what I’ve seen first hand in the field parallels what’s happened throughout the West. Without management, the wolves will continue to wipe out what we as sportsman have built over years of game management and leave behind less and less game for the next generations. I’ve spent countless days hunting elk with a bow in hand over the last 26 years in Montana. Today there are far less elk then there were when I first started hunting them. In fact I’ve had to change where I hunt because wolf tracks out numbered elk tracks in many of my best elk hunting spots.
Jana Waller, host of Skull Bound TV, recently visited with some of the top ungulate biologists performing the study. “We hope to educate the audience on what’s being done to collect predation data on the diminishing Bitterroot elk herd and what we as hunters and conservationists can do to help with this important study. Being one-on-one with the best biologists in the country and to see their passion in helping understand how the wolves, lions and bears have directly affected the elk herd and their young is simply astonishing!” The elk and wolf study will continue for the next three years lead by Craig Jourdonnais. Craig is the head biologist and is involved in all aspects of this study. The elk and wolves captured are collared, checked for age, body fat density and overall health before being released back into the wild. Wolves, mountain lions and black bears all directly affect the elk population.
As the wolf debate wages on, Craig and his crew will continue their study here near my home in Montana. Skull Bound TV has spent countless hours in the field documenting the predation problem and what we as hunters can do about it. Look for this episode on the Sportsman Channel in the very near future. Once this study is complete we hope that good science helps all hunters and conservationists. As I write this I still hold a wolf and mountain lion tag in my pocket and hope to fill them both before the season ends. I plan to do my part to keep wolves and other predators in check so that generations to come can enjoy the sound of a bugling bull, the rush of a fleeing buck and the agility of a Bighorn sheep on a rocky slope.
For more information on the wolf debate, check out the video and link to the Campfire Discussion below.Skull Bound TV on America's Wolf Debate,