Colorado, Kiss Your Big Game Goodbye

It's simple math: More wolves means less big game for Western hunters.

Colorado, Kiss Your Big Game Goodbye

Where wolf numbers are on the rise, its a safe bet that big-game populations are heading in the other direction. Photo: iStockphoto.com/Johny87

“Stocking 250 wolves in the Colorado Rockies is neither good nor bad and won’t affect anything,” spouted the avowed animal activist to the reporter’s question regarding how she felt about the ballot initiative that had just been passed by the narrowest of margins, requiring that the Division of Wildlife stock 250 wolves in the state. Her liberal answer showed about the same amount of intelligence and wildlife acumen as a comment made by a California “bunny hugger” who was interviewed live on TV and stated she didn’t understand why people thought they had to hunt — especially those who ate wild game — when they could go to the grocery store and buy pre-wrapped meat products, and NOTHING would have die. DUH! Yah can’t cure stupid!        

I spent two fall big-game seasons in Idaho a couple years ago guiding bear hunters. During that venture I covered a lot of prime elk habitat on an almost daily basis, from the beginning to the end of the fall rut, in an area that during the 1980s had one of the highest elk hunting success ratios in North America. Bordering the Lolo and Selway wilderness areas, the whole region was famous for trophy bull production, and yet I never heard an elk bugle or saw a bull elk, while hearing wolves howl was a regular occurrence, as was seeing wolf sign on the roads and trails I traveled.        

The 1990 introduction of 31wolves in Yellowstone Park was the start of the wolf mismanagement fiasco perpetuated by egotistical biologists and ignoramus government bureaucrats, dictated to by equally misguided, asinine animal activists who believe we should still have 600 million buffalo roaming the prairies. Today, there are an estimated 7,500-plus wolves roaming the Northwestern and Great Lakes states, creating major wildlife management problems and drastically impacting big-game populations and to a lesser extent, domestic critters. 

As an example, Idaho’s original population goal in 1995, when its first reintroduction occurred, was 300 wolves. According to many Idahoans, this was really an introduction, because the Canadian wolves transplanted were a different sub-species and much more pack oriented and efficient killers than the native Idaho wolves they were supposedly replacing. Idaho now has an estimated 2,500 to 3,500 resident wolves and darn few elk and moose in their historic ranges.         

While misbegotten Colorado East Slope liberals were voting to bring wolves back into the Rockies, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming wildlife agencies have been striving to liberalize their wolf hunting and trapping regulations, as were those in the upper Midwestern states. Their goals were to expand the yearly wolf harvest by increasing kill quotas, allowing night hunting, baiting and the use of snares for trappers and to legalize the reimbursement of hunters and trappers as done by the Foundation for Wildlife Management in Idaho — a self-supported organization that was started by a group of disgruntled elk hunters in an attempt to control wolf numbers. To date this group has paid hunters and trappers in Idaho $750,000 for killing 1,100 wolves, which equates to saving some 150,000 critters. 

Montana got 19,000 responses regarding its recent proposed wolf legislation, 1,000 from residents and 18,000 from nonresidents — nonresidents who would like to see wolves roaming in someone else’s backyard, but damn sure wouldn’t vote to have them in their own backyards.           

In my estimation, the wolf reintroduction in the Colorado mountains is going to be even more disastrous for the future of wildlife in Colorado than it is in the forgoing states. There is no doubt that there’s enough public lands available to contain 250 wolves and their prey during much of the year, but unlike the Northern tier states, when winter hits the Colorado high country, a huge portion of big-game habitat becomes uninhabitable and deer, elk, moose and big horn sheep migrate to their winter ranges, which is mostly private land and very accessible. The wolves aren’t going to stay in the deep snow and try to survive on snowshoe hares and ptarmigan, having more than likely already eliminated any big horn sheep they encountered in the high ranges. They are going to follow the migrating big game right to their limited and confining wintering grounds where elk, moose and deer herds are generally near private land cattle and sheep ranches and to sub-divisions and human-populated areas.  

When the first 31 wolves were released in Yellowstone in 1990, there was a stable herd of 20,000 elk wintering in the Jackson Hole area. That herd now varies between 4,000 and 6,000 animals. The elk population in the Idaho Lolo Wilderness Area prior to the wolf transplant in 1995 was estimated at 16,000 and at last count the herd was down to 1,000 or less. Colorado has the largest elk herd in North America and releasing 250 wolves in the face of what has happened in other states seems to me to be the height of game management stupidity. If you’re planning a future Colorado big-game hunt you’d better do it in the very near future.

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