Thank you for comments on my last column regarding the wolf, which I compared to a disease infecting the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. It hit a nerve. Expressing an alternate point of view in an opinion column should set the stage for thoughtful public discussion and debate. Since this is obviously a very divisive issue, let’s apply common sense to what some of you labeled as nonsense.
First, search the web for wolf subspecies. Some sites claim that subspecies doesn’t matter while other sites claim there are as many as 14 subspecies in North America. Taxonomic listing, photos, description, habits and home range give credence to a subspecies’ uniqueness. Yes, a few wander outside their core area but that is the exception. If all of them ranged freely they would interbreed with other wolves until their subspecie disappeared. No, there is not a wall or ocean prohibiting them from mixing with other subspecies, but their DNA keeps them generally in their home range and separate enough to classify. Even though there are no barriers to prevent it, Canadian wolves did not migrate to Yellowstone in the 80 years after local wolves disappeared. These wolves were brought here by government. Taxonomists say the original Northern Rocky Mountains Wolf was smaller than this introduced wolf and didn’t run in large packs.
It is easy to demonstrate subspecies using deer as an example. Cervidae odocoileus is the specie of all North American deer. Subspecie virginianus is the Eastern Whitetail Deer although many live in the west. Couesi is the Arizona Coues Deer. Both are whitetail deer but are different in habitat preference, size, and other factors such as geographic location. Thus the subspecie designation. The diminutive Coues deer likes the high mountains, up to the top of 10,717 foot Mt. Graham where I have hunted them. Virginianus stay in the river bottoms and lowland even though there are 10,000+ foot mountains above them in Jackson Hole.
Likewise, mule deer subspecies are different sizes and have different habitat preferences. The Rocky Mountain Mule Deer likes the high-elevation craggy peaks throughout the west whereas the Desert Mule Deer lives in cactus and mesquite deserts at the bottom of Mt. Graham. Their genetics make them stay down low rather than climb that cool mountain.
Some claim, “A wolf is a wolf is a wolf. Sub-specie doesn’t matter.” This is a deliberate attempt to blur the lines of wolf sub-species to promote the agenda of introducing a wolf, any wolf, into the Yellowstone ecosystem and protecting it long after it has achieved the definition of “recovered”. Ignoring subspecies is like saying an Eastern Whitetail Deer is a Florida Key Deer is an Arizona Coues Deer is a Rocky Mountain Mule Deer is a Desert Mule Deer is a Columbia Blacktail Deer is a Sitka Blacktail Deer.
A sign at a popular geologic feature in Jackson Hole reads in part, “As non-native species spread…they threaten the existence of [native wildlife]. The National Park Service is committed to protecting [this resource] for generations to come. Federal law prohibits the introduction of non-native species.” Perhaps this is the reason that wolf defenders go out of their way to ridicule the subspecie argument, so they won’t get arrested. Those who are aghast at the thought of killing a non-native wolf that is decimating our moose are the same ones who strongly advocate that we eliminate Lake Trout from Yellowstone Lake because they are an invasive species which is eating our native cutthroat trout.
What about the impact of wolves that are here now, whatever their subspecie? Wolves were introduced in 1995 with the criteria that their numbers would be kept at 100 wolves. At the end of 2015 the official count was 382 wolves. Including this year’s pups, we now have in excess of 500 wolves. The USFWS says each wolf kills 20 elk or the equivalent prey each year. That’s 10,000 of our elk or other wildlife being fed to wolves annually. The sheer numbers have a devastating impact on our wildlife. We could live with 100 wolves, not 500.
Moose, once very visible and enjoyed by all, are now gone from Yellowstone and only 10% of what they once were north of Jackson. That is a fact which cannot be dismissed. No matter what wolf subspecie is here, the moose population has crashed while wolves and grizzlies have proliferated. It’s not global warming or the fires of ’88 or parasites that have killed them off. It’s not a mystery. Wolves and grizzlies killed and ate them. Our iconic moose are disappearing fast. Where is the outrage?
Wolves are now in your neighborhood. A pack of 20 wolves killed or maimed at least seven head of cattle on Spring Gulch Road in the past two weeks, just four miles from downtown Jackson. It is likely our local moose from Dornan’s to Hoback will be wiped out by that pack of wolves.
It’s time to get serious about ratcheting back the wolf population to the 100 wolves pledged when they were introduced. That is common sense.
Remember, “Life is always better when viewed from between the ears of a horse.”