Letters react to WY legislature plan to charge federal government for elk eaten by wolves.

March 8, 2002

People are reacting to what I consider the symbolic gesture of the Wyoming legislature to ask the federal government to pay for elk wolves have eaten.

Here are two of them.

Worth the watching-
Letter to the Editor/Jackson Hole Guide
by Meredith Taylor

Wyoming's wolves are worth the watching. Some Wyoming folks are howling about
Yellowstone's wolves, claiming that "wolves kill approximately 330 elk annually
in Wyoming, costing the owner of those elk, the state of Wyoming, an estimated
$1.32 million," according to the state's estimated value of $4,000 per elk.
This claim is unfounded, but, since this resolution is in the state
legislature, let's look at a slightly different opinion of the situation.

If the folks had done their homework before launching this anti-predator
resolution (SJR 004), they would know that wolves are big business to
ecotourists and outfitters who celebrate wolf recovery in greater Yellowstone
ecosystem. Many conservationists and hunters support free-ranging, healthy
wildlife in Wyoming, since they are almost completely disease-free. Brucellosis
rates in free-ranging elk average only 1 percent. Thoughtful folks are more
concerned about the unnecessary loss of elk due to disease than to wolves,
since the latter is so minor in comparison. If an elk "lost" by one cause or
another is considered lost revenue for the state, let's consider the number of
elk "lost" to disease.

According to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department Annual Report 2000,
"one-third of feedground elk have been exposed to the disease (brucellosis)"
(WGFD Director's Summary). Using the Game and Fish Department's figure of
$4,000 per elk lost, the inevitable loss is at least $1 million to $2 million
each year due to dozens of lost elk calf production from brucellosis on all 23
elk feedlots. In addition, the state spends at least $1.2 million annually on
these feedgrounds that perpetuate disease transmission among our elk herds. In
contrast, throughout the rest of the state, the productivity of our healthy,
free-ranging elk herds is exceeding management herd objectives and offers some
of the best hunting and wildlife viewing opportunities in the world.

Wolves are not only big business to Yellowstone's communities, they are a
natural element of predator-prey balance. Wolves keep elk and other wildlife
dispersed on their native range to prevent concentration like we see on the
feedgrounds. Wolves are such an attraction to Wyoming visitors that they have
been noted in National Geographic, Conde Nast Traveler and other publications
for increasing the tourism revenues of several of Yellowstone's satellite
communities. Why not take advantage of this world-wide interest to help raise
the funds for a Wyoming wolf plan?

The question is do we want to see wolves disperse free-ranging elk and deer or
do we invite a potential catastrophe from wildlife die-off/slaughter as
Colorado and Oregon are experiencing right now with Chronic Wasting Disease
(CWD) and Tuberculosis (TB)? Brucellosis is already an expensive problem in
feedground elk. If CWD and TB are introduced into Wyoming's concentrated
feedground elk, we may "lose" them from either mortality or government-imposed
control measures. Such a catastrophic reduction has been seen in several states
already and is quite possible in Wyoming if this ill-fated feedground regime
continues. The Game and Fish Department even called artificial feeding and
concentrating big game animals a "recipe for disaster" in their March/April,
2000 Wyoming Wildlife News. Such a wildlife disease catastrophe could have
severe ecological and economic impacts on both our wildlife and our
communities. Wildlife management is a complex process that should be based on
biology, scientific facts and wildlife conservation principles, not knee-jerk
resolutions. If the legislature is going to cry wolf over lost elk and lost
Wyoming revenues, why not add disease, highway roadkills, floods, poachers and
the many other natural phenomena to the list of things that kill elk?

Meredith Taylor,
Wyoming Outdoor Council

Wyoming Legislative Wisdom Is Nothing to Howl About

The Wyoming legislature, in its infinite wisdom, has cobbled together a bill that requests the federal government reimburse the state for elk killed by wolves, which the feds re-introduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995. Their logic is that because wolves kill approximately 330 elk a year in Wyoming, the opportunities for hunters to kill an elk are thereby reduced. The legislature has estimated that hunters spend approximately $4,000 to kill an elk. Wyoming bureaucrats believe wolves are costing the state $1,320,000 a year in lost revenue, which is the dollar amount requested of the feds.

Apparently the legislature believes elk belong to the hunters of the state and no one else. This is simply not true. By law, the wildlife of Wyoming belongs to all the people of the state, be they hunters, wolf watchers, or bird watchers. The fact remains we all have the equal right to enjoy wildlife. The Wyoming legislature apparently feels they can ignore the non-consumptive enjoyment of wildlife.

Many live in Wyoming because of the wildlife and wild places. They hike in hopes of running across a bull elk, a grizzly, or a moose and her calf. Many spend countless hours watching bears, wolves, and their interactions with other wildlife. Many believe there is nothing more exhilarating than watching a group of wolves meticulously test a herd of elk in order to find its weakest link. These experiences are few and far between. Greatly reducing or eradicating hunting altogether would augment wildlife viewing opportunities.

If Wyoming legislators want to be reimbursed for elk killed by wolves, then the wildlife watching public should be reimbursed for the wildlife viewing opportunities shot away by hunters. Is the wildlife viewing public being compensated for their loss? Since the people of Wyoming have a shared interest in wildlife, the state should be held 100% financially responsible for each animal killed by hunters.

In 2000, hunters killed 23,727 elk in Wyoming. Wyoming wildlife watchers should be compensated for each elk they will never get to see running wild and free. How? For the sake of argument, let us say there are 100 Wyoming wildlife watchers who spend at least $100 per year viewing wildlife. Well, let us do a little math. One hundred times $100 equals $10,000, which would be the value of each hunter-killed elk. $10,000 times 23,397 elk (subtract the 330 wolf-killed elk because it is what wolves do for a living) equals $233,970,000. Wyoming wants to collect, on behalf of hunters, 1.3 million dollars from the federal government. To be fair to all its citizens, Wyoming should collect 233 million dollars from hunters to compensate wildlife watchers.

Wyoming politicians often “howl” about hunters footing the bill for wildlife management, including bears, wolves, and mountain lions. Here is a solution for the State of Wyoming to compensate its non-hunting citizens for loss of elk viewing enjoyment: Wyoming should raise the cost of hunting permits to offset the 233 million dollars it is liable for. Well, let us do a little more math. There were approximately 54,000 active elk hunting permits issued in 2000. Do the math and elk permits should be raised to an average of $4,333 each.

Instead of compensating wildlife-watching citizens, perhaps the state could use 233 million dollars to manage wildlife in a balanced manner. This would require a more representative method of appointing members to the Game and Fish Commission. Currently, there are no non-consumptive wildlife advocates on the Commission. The Wyoming legislature and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department should offer equal respect towards those of us who enjoy watching wildlife as well as hunters. Game and Fish needs to remember its motto: “Conserving wildlife, serving people.”

In a March 6, 2002 AP article, Rep. Louie Tomassi, R-Big Piney, said the state should get rid of the wolves. "We didn't bring them here, we ought to shoot them here," he said. "Who's going to take us to court?" he asked.

Now let us talk reality. It is preposterous for the Wyoming legislature to charge the federal government for wolf-killed elk. It is equally preposterous to collect 233 million dollars to compensate wildlife viewers. It is also equally preposterous for Game and Fish to charge $4,333 per elk permit.

If Wyoming persists in disrespecting the right to simply watch wildlife, then perhaps the absurd compensation scenario described above will find itself in the courts. And what about compensation for bear, deer, moose, mountains lions and pronghorn?

What do you call two guys who insist Wyoming justly manages wildlife of the people of this state?

Mack P. Bray and Tom Mazzarisi

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Ed. note: I received a number of other similar letters, and I see more still have been published in local newspapers (most not on-line)  .  .  . Ralph Maughan


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