Idaho's wolf management plan gets biologists' support
Wolf advocates say turning management over to the states will lead to a slaughter of wolves and a dramatically lower wolf population than...
BOISE, Idaho — Wolf advocates say turning management over to the states will lead to a slaughter of wolves and a dramatically lower wolf population than today.
Wolf opponents say wolf numbers have grown so high the population will never quit growing and will decimate big game herds.
But what does science tell us about the future of wolves in Idaho? Two wolf biologists with the best of credentials — David Mech and Doug Smith — have two different views of how wolf management will proceed in the Northern Rockies. Yet both say Idaho's approach to the issue is sound.
Mech, senior research scientist for the U.S. Geological Survey and a University of Minnesota adjunct professor, is regarded as the pre-eminent wolf biologist in the United States, if not the world.
His study of wolf-moose relationships on Isle Royale, an island in Lake Superior, redefined science's understanding of predator-prey relationships.
He has argued for decades that for wolves to be recovered in the lower 48 states, they need to be controlled, hunted and legally killed when they continually kill livestock.
They are very prolific and actually become more productive in the face of rising mortality.
Once their numbers become large, such as the current 1,500 wolves that live in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, their population will continue to grow as long as it can expand and it has a healthy food source.
"They may never go down," Mech said. "I don't know any way you'll get them down legally." Smith is the chief wolf researcher in Yellowstone National Park. He has studied Yellowstone's wolves since they were reintroduced in 1995. A former student and colleague of Mech, he disagrees that the growth of the wolf population cannot be halted or reversed.
"They stopped population growth in Wyoming through legal killing outside Yellowstone Park," Smith said.
The situation is different in the West than in the Midwest and the Arctic, where Mech has most of his experience, Smith said.
"Wolves are a lot more vulnerable here than they are there," Smith said. "They all have to come down to valley bottoms here, and everybody knows it." Despite his differences with Mech, Smith said he is in philosophical agreement with the stated philosophy of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
Its managers say they want to focus on reducing wolf conflicts and allowing them to thrive where they aren't causing problems.
"I think that's a good approach," Mech said. "We've been advocating that for years.
"There are places where wolves can't live with humans, there are places wolves should be, and places in between."
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(c) 2008, The Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho).
Visit The Idaho Statesman online at http://www.idahostatesman.com.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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