A Disease Stalks the Yellowstone Ecosystem

by Maury JonesMauryJones3

A column in last week’s paper advocated killing Mountain Goats because they are expanding into the Teton Range and might spread disease which may infect our native bighorn sheep population. These goats may also compete for available habitat. According to the author, the threat appears to be serious enough that a whole specie which is not native to the region should be eradicated.

Disease always endangers life forms on planet earth. Whole populations of wildlife, domestic animals, and humans have been targeted by various diseases since the dawn of time. Government agencies are constantly working to control such threats.

A disease in the Yellowstone Ecosystem has been slowly gaining in intensity and infection rate and has not yet been controlled or even slowed in its progression. It was first detected about twenty years ago and comes from a foreign source. It has spread exponentially until it is epidemic. It infects wildlife and domestic animals. It may eventually impact humans. The disease causes hemorrhaging with sometimes a slow and painful death.

Some wildlife populations are more susceptible than others. When this disease moves into a moose population the decline is dramatic. One very large area in northwest Wyoming is now devoid of moose while another historically robust moose population is now only 20% of what it was twenty years ago.

Elk have been severely impacted with one elk herd being reduced by 80%. The young of all species are more vulnerable than adults. Our native buffalo seem to be more resistant to it. The number of large game mammals succumbing to this disease results in the sale of fewer licenses and a drop in revenue for our game department budget.

Game biologists have documented that this disease is also deadly to our native mountain lions, systemically reducing their population until it is a major concern. Even bears, both black and grizzly, have been documented to be killed by this infection.

Domestic livestock and pets can be affected by this disease. Some cow herds in certain areas have high mortality when exposed, especially the calves. Domestic sheep have been known to die quickly, sometimes in large numbers. One flock had 49 sheep succumb while 176 sheep were killed by the disease in another flock. Horses have also been victims. Several domestic dogs have died a horrible death from this disease including two of them belonging to the owners of Jackson Hole Feed and Pet.

If this disease were a prion which causes CWD or a virus which causes pneumonia or a bacteria which causes another wildlife disease and had this kind of major impact, we would spend millions to eradicate it to save our moose, elk, and deer. Sadly, it is not so simple. This invasive disease has its protectors, which defies common sense. This is a political disease.

This “disease” is the non-native wolf imported from Canada. If left unchecked, our mountains surrounding Jackson Hole will be as devoid of wildlife as Yellowstone National Park is now barren of moose. But the wolf disease will not then magically disappear when our wildlife is gone. It will find other victims, notably our domestic animals and pets. Probably even humans will succumb to it in rare instances.

The non-native mountain goat may be a potential threat to one of our native animals, the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, but this non-native wolf is a very real and current danger to the entire ecosystem and many species of wildlife. Notice the words “threat”, “might”, and “may” in the opening paragraph. This current wildlife killer is not just a threat which may impact us in the future. It is here. Now. It’s not a maybe. In the time it takes you to read this column another moose, elk, deer or domestic calf has been killed by wolves.

The government checks our hay and our boats to prevent non-native plants and animals from being introduced into the eco-system. Why then was the Canadian Gray Wolf given a pass? Of course we all know the answer to that; political correctness. Not biology. Not impact on our environment. Not common sense. An inordinate love affair with the wolf.

Canadian timber wolves are a land shark which never should have been put here in the first place. Our pioneer ancestors learned by hard experience that wolves destroy native wildlife and then turn to domestic animals for food. Wolves are incompatible with human habitation. Therefore these early settlers of Wyoming declared war on the native Northern Rocky Mountains Wolf­canis lupus irremotus. Some misguided do-gooders decided to introduce a different sub-specie, the Canadian Gray Wolf­canis lupus canadensis­into northwest Wyoming to allegedly “balance the ecosystem”. What a destructive mistake.

Unfortunately, it will not be recognized as a mistake by the majority until it is too late for our wildlife. Sadly, this political disease will be protected until almost all of our native animals are gone. This non-native introduced wolf sub-specie is having and will continue to have a profound negative affect on the wildlife of our ecosystem. It’s time to kill wolves, not just count them.

“Remember, life is always better when viewed from between the ears of a horse.”

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