Tony Jones, President of Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association, writes a call to action in today's Ravalli Republic, to motivate hunters and fisherman* to get organized to save the valley's big game animals... so that hunters can kill them later.
As Mr. Jones states, hunting is a boon to the economy of Ravalli County. It brings in approximately $11.2 million annually. Unfortunately, this much needed revenue could shrink with the decreasing elk numbers brought on in part by an increasing number of wolves in the valley over the last few years. The fear by hunting groups and local businesses is that fewer hunters will fill their tags, and with a lower success rate, that fewer future hunters will head into the field.
Mr. Jones writes a fairly even handed letter. He informs people how they can get involved to support wildlife habitat improvements, organize to influence legislation, and highlights the positive work done by wildlife biologist Craig Jourdonnais in managing big game in the valley. He even accepts that changes (meaning "wolves") are here to stay even if "we won't like most of them." I applaud his efforts, because from his motivation, as head of a community hunting and fishing organization, he wrote a decent, non-inflammatory letter (and for the Bitterroot, that is saying a lot).
I do take exception to a few statements.
Mr. Jones states that "predators in the valley are at [an] all time high." I respond that in the case of wolves (which he IS referring to), yes, predators are at an all time high... because of the fact that wolves are coming from a population of zero. We nearly eliminated them from every corner of the lower 48 states nearly a century ago. So it would make sense that "predators in the valley are at [an] all time high."
Mr. Jones calls for "aggressive predator management" and the "need to increase lion and bear harvest" in order insure viable numbers of big game for hunters. While I agree that it is necessary to have predator quotas (wolf, bear, lion) included in the hunt, I disagree that an increase over the bar in which the Montana FWP sets is called for. In the absence of wolves, the valley's balance of predator and prey has been off kilter for some time. It's necessary to rediscover what that balance is and I have more faith in quotas set by the MT FWP based on game counts than those called for by hunters based on emotion.
I understand that big game hunting means big money and that hunters like to supplement their grocery list with wild game in the freezer. But hunters need to understand how easy we had it in the absence of wolves. We need to accept that we are to blame for the near extermination of the wolf from the lower 48, for no reason other than wolves affecting our livelihoods and competed for a food source. This was wrong. We need to accept that wolves are as worthy of conservation efforts as are elk, moose, deer, sheep, and, uh, yes... even fish. I also call any hunter that considers himself a sportsman to reexamine the definition of sport, because as is the case with all sports, competition is one of the goals and success is not always guaranteed.
For more information on wolves in the West and comments by Craig Jourdonnais, check out "Wolf Wars" in the March issue of National Geographic.
* - Anyone who has attended meetings of the Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association or attended its annual banquette knows that fish and fisherman are a minor part of their focus