Hunting is one of Montana’s most popular pastimes but killing wolves, also forms one of the state’s most controversial issues.
“I killed one, and you would thought I’d killed somebody’s first-born,” said the ranch manager at the Shining Mountain Ranch, John Meyers.
he said he kills wolves out of necessity. Meyers’ livestock has been harassed, injured and killed by the wolves.
“They brought them in here, and, not having a clue, you know, what devastation these animals would cause,” he said.
Meyer’s said wolves are not only dangerous to livestock. Since wolf reintroduction in 1995, Montana’s game population has been declining.
“By the time they might get a handle on it, our elk herds might be, you know, be going the way of the buffalo,” he said.
But the co-president of the National WolfWatcher Coalition, Marc Cooke, said predation and conflict do not justify killing the wolves.
“You realize the vicious part isn’t the wolf, the vicious part is how man has treated wolf through the ages,” he said.
The National Wolfwatcher Coalition advocates locally on behalf of wolves. Cooke said the key to protecting wolves is improved social tolerance and education.
“We have to defend these animals because they don’t have a voice. We’re their only voice,” Cooke said. “We’re trying to get kids interested. That’s the future. We have to reach the kids, to change their attitudes before they are too old.”
Randy Newberg, a Montana hunter on the national TV show “On Your Own Adventures” explained that the problem is not the reintroduction of wolves but rather the lack of management.
"So was I in favor of wolf reintroduction as agreed to in 1995 when we said we’d have these smaller managed numbers? Yes, I was. But as much as I was in favor of that, I’m completely against the fiasco that has unraveled since then," said Newberg.
Hunting licenses are the main source of revenue for wildlife conservation. But Newberg said recent lawsuits blocking wolf hunting have allowed the population in Montana to expand from the original goal of 100 wolves, to more than 600 currently.
“I wouldn’t trust any of these serial plaintiffs involved in this wolf discussion as far as I could kick them,” he said.
Newberg said conservation and protecting Montana’s wild heritage are of utmost importance:
“This represents the fabric of what we are in Montana. In Montana, whether you hunt or don’t hunt you have a conservation ethic, that causes you to have a concern about wild places and wild landscapes,” said Newberg.
Myers said it’s all about finding a happy medium but that balance is hard to reach.
“We need to get them down to a livable number, and what that is, you know, I think that’s gonna be the 64,000-dollar question.”
For now, portions of Montana remain open to wolf hunting including the Bitterroot Valley, the home of both rancher John Meyers and wolf advocate Marc Cooke.
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