NORTHERN IDAHO WOLF ALLIANCE
Ken Fischman, Ph.D.
Sandpoint, ID 83864
Remarks at Sandpoint Public Demonstration Against the Upcoming Idaho Wolf Hunt, 8/31/09.
Good morning, ladies & gentlemen. I am Dr. Ken Fischman. I am a retired geneticist, living in Sandpoint, Idaho.
I would like to address some important questions of fact and Science today.
• Many hunters believe that wolves are devastating Idaho’s elk. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation RMEF), an organization friendly to hunters, published a report in February of this year, showing that Idaho’s elk population fluctuates, but that it has been above 100,000 animals for several years now. The hunters’ perception that there are less elk is probably due to the wolves pushing elk off the valley floors and into the mountains, making the hunters work harder to find them
RMEF also said that there are over one million elk in this country, most of them in the Northwest. Compare this with the tiny number of wolves. At the last official IDF&G count, in March of this year, there were 846 wolves in Idaho. Hundreds of thousands verses hundreds.
If you say that it is unfair to compare predators with their prey, lets compare the wolves with other predators. According to the US Fish & Wildlife Service, there are over 31,000 mountain lions in the Pacific Northwest alone.
• Many ranchers believe that wolves are decimating livestock in Idaho. Once again, this is far from the truth. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Statistics reports that coyotes are responsible for over 2/3 of livestock depredation in the US, and wolves are far down the list.
The difference gets even more dramatic in Idaho. ID F&G states that wolves are responsible for only 1 -2 % of sheep depredation in Idaho. Wild dogs killed over 4X as many sheep in Idaho than wolves do. Even eagles and other raptors carry off more lambs than wolves do.
Yet, when a wolf killed 2 calves on a ranch in Eastern Idaho, it got front page headlines. Why? The answer lies in mythology and hysteria, not in fact.
• Lastly, I would like to tackle the question of whether wolves are sufficiently biologically recovered in Idaho to justify their being hunted. Let’s put this in perspective. There are 4X as many human beings in the little town of Bonners Ferry, up the road from here, than there are wolves in all of Idaho. If this hunt goes through and they kill as many wolves as they plan to, they will leave small, disconnected populations of wolves, which will be genetically isolated from each other, and in danger of becoming inbred.
When we asked for evidence of genetic connectivity, the USF&W gave a few anecdotal references to wandering wolves. That does not prove gene flow from one population to another.
We no longer have to guess about the consequences of genetic isolation of wolves. Just a few months ago a study was published on what has happened to the wolves on Isle Royale National Park. Isle Royale is an island in Lake Superior. All the wolves there have deformities of their backbones, making it painful and difficult for them to run. This is due to inbreeding.
What will IDF&G do to prevent that from happening here? Will they fly wolves by UPS between Yellowstone and central Idaho like they now truck salmon around dams?
The restoration of wolves has been a great success, but it is premature to hunt them now. The best minds in Conservation Biology talk in terms of several thousands of animals needed for recovery, not hundreds.
Minnesota, where there are over 3,000 wolves, will not even consider holding a hunt for 5 years after wolves are delisted there.
Minnesota has acted conservatively. Idaho should follow their lead and postpone its wolf hunt.