By: Toby Bridges

   One morning back in early September 2011, I was up early … several hours before the first signs of the new day were even slightly evident on the Eastern horizon.  I loaded up with my two favorite trail buddies, my dogs Bob and Tully, and we headed for the south end of Montana’s great Bob Marshall Wilderness Area … 80 miles from where I live in Missoula.  About an hour later, we turned off the paved highway at the small town of Ovando, and headed due north.  The farther we drove on the gravel Forest Service road, the rougher it got … to the point where 15 m.p.h. was as fast as one dared to drive. Nearly 20 miles and a half-hour later, we pulled into a “turn around” parking area.  I jumped out of the pickup, slipped on a large pack with plenty of easily accessible snacks and water …  enough food for three days (for me and the dogs) … a flashlight, hatchet and a few other essentials … a light nylon tarp for making a quick lean to … a military surplus cold-weather sleeping system … and a reserve supply of ammo for the Winchester Model 70 I would also be carrying in with me. 

     We headed up the trail, knowing it was a near continuous climb for close to 6 miles, to the pass that also makes up part of the southern border of what the locals fondly call “The Bob”.  The first mile or two of the hike in the faint light of the coming day went kind of slow, but as the light grew stronger…so did my desire to “top out” … and head down into one of the Lower 48’s true wilderness areas – the 1,000,000+ acre Bob Marshall Wilderness … to do a little scouting for an upcoming early season backcountry elk and deer hunt.

     In September 2008, I had gone into the Bob Marshall with three friends who were going to hunt elk and deer … and I had gone in to do some trout fishing and photography. During the twelve days we spent in the wilderness, we had seen deer and elk every day, along with a few mountain goats and a handful of bighorn sheep, plus several black bears. During three full days of scouting for the planned 2011 hunt, putting on 10 to 12 miles each day, in the very same basin hunted just three years earlier, I never saw one fresh set of elk tracks … and could have counted the number of fresh deer tracks encountered on one hand. The only tracks in abundance were those of wolves.

     Early each morning, I put in several hours “covering a lot of ground” with a pair of binoculars – glassing ridge after ridge, point after point, and every visible meadow from a good vantage point.  Other than a few grouse and squirrels … not another living thing was spotted.

     On the way back to the trailhead where I had parked my pickup a few days earlier, the dogs and I encountered a young outfitter and his wife – bringing out their hunting camp on mules, even though it was only the second day of archery season.   I asked why they were pulling out so early, with the backcountry rifle hunt less than two weeks away.  They shared with me that their camp had been 12 to 14 miles into “The Bob”, and they had been in for a week to scout…and had found nothing, and in a week had seen only a couple of sets of fresh tracks, other than wolf tracks.  

     The young outfitter shared in anguish, “It’s not good.  It’s really bad…The Bob has been lost!”

    This is the same degree of wildlife losses that have been felt up and down the western half of Montana, across much of Idaho, as well as in and around Yellowstone National Park in Northwest Wyoming.  In “Part 1” and “Part 2” of “The Damage Wolves Are Inflicting On America”, we’ve shared the lies, deceit, collusion, and outright theft behind the Northern Rockies Wolf Recovery Project. Here, in “Part 3”, we’ll look at one federal judge who has allowed this destruction to take place and very likely, Why.  

Montana’s great, and now void of game, Bob Marshall Wilderness Area. It takes a five or six mile hike just to reach one of the entry signs, and it used to mean you were entering an area rich with big game. Now, Montana’s wilderness areas are wildlife wastelands – due to wolves.

                                    Wild Injustice…

     When the time and effort is taken to go back and do the study, do the research, it becomes very clear that much of the “dirty money” that was being thrown around by environmental groups or agenda driven billionaires likely influenced the decision making of many elected officials and many in state wildlife agency management.  Fortunately, the heat of being in that spotlight has kept a few former governors, former senators and former representatives, and even a few former state fish and game directors and other upper level wildlife managers from resurfacing somewhere else.  Even Ed Bangs, who did much to orchestrate the Northern Rockies Wolf Recovery Project, seems to have completely fallen off the radar.  The same graft and greed which lured these people into forsaking their careers and duties to the American public has likewise also severely tainted our justice system.  

     Back when the Northern Rockies Wolf Recovery Plan was accepted as “The Plan” for wolf recovery in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming … and an excuse for dumping non-native Canadian wolves into a rich and thriving wildlife ecosystem, the so-called “experts” putting that plan together agreed that when the wolf population in one of these three states exceeded 100 wolves, with a minimum of 10 breeding pairs, the management of those wolves would be turned over to the wildlife agency of that state.  But, that didn’t happened, thanks to the legal intervention by a coalition of environmental groups which filed lawsuit after lawsuit to keep the wolf issue tied up in federal court.  They had found themselves a Federal Judge in Missoula, MT who was sympathetic to their cause or could be “influenced”?           

     Those organizations that kept wolf management tied up in court had learned to use the “wolf issue” and other “environmental issues” as “cash cows” and generally had a dozen or more cases being actively pursued, to stop this or that, all at the same time.  Thanks to a flawed legal act, known as the Equal Access to Justice Act, those groups learned how to bilk the American public out of billions of dollars by filing lawsuits against U.S. government agencies. Through the 2000’s, these organizations banked somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 BILLION taxpayer dollars – giving them a lot of clout. 

 ?     When a court repeatedly sides with the less than factual claims of groups like the Center for Biological Diversity or the National Wildlife Federation, instead of the reality of the impact that an overly protected population of wolves was negatively making on the past hundred years of wildlife conservation … what is that judge’s motivation? That’s exactly the question several hundred thousand Montanans repeatedly asked themselves when Federal Judge Donald Molloy did just that. 

     Thanks to Molloy’s decisions in the U.S. District Court in Missoula, MT over a five or six year period, several hundred thousand elk were lost to non-native, non-indigenous Alberta wolves that should not have ever been transplanted into the Greater Yellowstone Area in the first place.  By the time Molloy could no longer defend the demands of his radically green benefactors to keep wolves under the protection of the Endangered Species Act, and was forced by public demand to allow management hunting of wolves in 2009, the damage had already been done and wolves had been deeply implanted throughout the Northern Rockies.  That year, in Montana there were at least 600 wolves, or 600% of the “planned recovery goal” for the state and next door in Idaho there were at least 800 wolves, or 800% of the “planned recovery goal” for that state.  In reality, these wolf numbers were being down played by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, which were working hand-in-hand with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  The true number of wolves in those two states, by 2009, was likely more like 2,500 to 3,000, not at least 1,400 to 1,500! 

     It has been “those extra wolves” which these agencies have not been either “professional enough” to determine or were directed to not admit which have overly contributed to the loss of 80-percent of the elk herds in many areas.  Either way, who’s at fault, the agencies staffed by biologists and managers who handle the job of “wolf management” or State Governors and upper game department directors and managers? 

The more the environmental agenda driven game departments try to manage wolves as “big game” … the more we lose to these destructive predators.

     Neither Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks or the Idaho Department of Fish and Game have been able to curb wolf populations, especially since they’ve had their hands tied to “manage” wolves as “big game animals”.  Nowhere in the world have wolves EVER been “managed”.  To keep wolf numbers somewhat in check, many countries have had to employ stringent control measures such as aggressive aerial gunning and eliminating litters of pups in their dens.  The result of federally mandated use of sport hunting methods has been that wolves continue to decimate big game herds – especially elk and moose populations.  Up and down the western half of Montana and most of the upper two-thirds of Idaho, elk and moose populations have been destroyed by 80+ percent and in many areas deer populations are down more than 50-percent.  This devastation has taken place since the first of those Canadian wolves were released in Yellowstone back in 1995.

     Each wolf will kill 24 or 25 elk (or equivalent) every year for sustenance.  Likewise, many now realize that each wolf will also kill 10 to 20 big game animals each year as well just for the sake of killing. With wolf populations at least 6 to 8 times the recovery goals established in the Northern Rockies Wolf Recovery Plan, big game herds are doomed unless some very serious, very stringent wolf control is quickly put into action.  

Note: Toby Bridges has announced his retirement from hosting his Lobo Watch column and web site. Whether you agree or disagree with his assessment of the ‘wolf issue’, one thing is clear, wolves remain unchecked and have done remarkable damage to the wildlife populations in the areas they have been introduced. The question remains, why did the gov’t push so hard to reintroduce an apex predator in the first place. Our visitors can make up their own minds as to how and why this has happened and what effect it has and will have on the future of wildlife areas and our hunting opportunities.

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