The controversy never ends; it just seems to get closer to home. 

It's been 10 years since the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service reintroduced the gray wolf into Yellowstone Park. Now the population is booming and wolf numbers have grown much more quickly than anyone predicted. Last year the population in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming was estimated to be 1,531 animals. Wolves have bred like rabbits and are starting to cause problems for state wildlife managers, cattle ranchers and private citizens.

The federal government is turning over management of the wolf population to the states. A fully implemented wolf management program would cost about $1 million in the state of Montana alone, a real drain on that state's fish and wildlife resources.

Idaho's governor says that the old wolf management plan was put into effect to protect 25 to 50 wolves, but that the state now has to manage 500. The new state rules allow written permission to be given to landowners with grazing permits to kill wolves that are constant threats to livestock. Wolves attacking livestock-guarding animals on public grazing lands can be killed by grazing permitees, outfitters and guides and by tribal members without prior written approval. Under the old rule, the wolf had to have its teeth in the livestock for the rancher to shoot. Under the new rule, it has to be a foot away, chasing them.

The average wolf pack in Montana is four to seven animals and their pack territory is about 200 square miles.

From Jan. 1 to Aug. 29, Idaho Fish and Game and the Nez Perce Tribe documented 102 dead wolves. Of those 63 resulted from depredation-control actions, five were illegal kills, 13 were legal kills, three were natural deaths and there were 13 others. Depredation by wolves is at record levels this year, nearly doubling levels from the previous year for the same time span.

According to a story in Kalispell, Mont., Daily InterLake, "Over the last few months the Hog Haven Pack was involved in eight separate incidents of livestock depredation: on Nov. 8th they killed a 2-year-old bull, Aug. 6 they killed 3 llamas, on Sept. 16, 2 breeding-stock heifers, a calf on Sept. 23 and another the following day." Consequently, the Montana Game Department has killed 19 of the remaining pack that originally numbered 27 animals. Now it is gone.

In a related story in Montana, federal trappers have killed off the remaining Willow Creek Pack near Hall because of chronic livestock depredation. Previously, wildlife managers during the past summer had built visual barriers between livestock and the wolves and hazed the pack out of calving pastures and off private land. But nothing worked and the final 13 wolves were eliminated.

The state of Montana also announced a decline of 20 percent in big game hunting success in areas where wolves were present. So what's the answer? What do you think?

It's a vicious circle that is not likely to change in the near future and it's moving closer to home.

Merry Christmas to all!

Ron Malast is a charter boat captain during the summer months and can be reached at 665-3573 or 360-244-0570.

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