Mike Bader works with Bold Visions Conservation and other organizations on many relevant issues. We would like to congratulate Mike on his recent victory in protecting wolves from horrible traps during grizzly bear hibernation season.
Without Predators Ecosystems Become Zoos
By Mike Bader
Throughout the West and particularly in Montana and Idaho, there has been a vilification campaign against carnivores, omnivores and predators. Partly based on misinformation, some borders on the hysterical.
Wild claims have been made that predators including wolves and mountain lions are decimating elk populations. The facts are, elk populations in Montana and Idaho are at historic highs and many districts are above population objectives. Nor do the claims that wolves are taking an enormous toll on livestock hold up. The actual numbers are miniscule and far less than losses from weather and disease; just 0.00415% in Montana and 0.00428% in Idaho (Servheen 2022) and these losses were compensated.
Lawmakers in Montana and Idaho have enacted a set of draconian laws that allow the most extreme and unsporting methods to reduce predator populations. Expanding wolf trapping seasons using baited meats and snares and allowing huge traps that have caught grizzly bears and moose. Use of night-vision devices and laser sites. Night hunting using spotlights. Hunting black bears and mountain lions with dogs. Paying bounties to wolf trappers and hunters. Allowing black bear “hunting” using baits of garbage, bacon, etc. Proposing to allow ranchers to shoot grizzly bears on PUBLIC lands.
The aim of expanded wolf trapping and shooting is significant population reduction to minimums. The same applies to mountain lions, which face a 40% population reduction in Montana. If grizzly bears are delisted from Endangered Species Act protection, Montana will allow the population in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem to be reduced by more than 300 bears before any management changes would occur. Similar cuts would occur in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
Managing for minimums is contrary to the best available scientific information on proper wildlife and ecosystem management. The changes spurred 35 wildlife professionals including 13 retired Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks biologists to speak out publicly (Servheen et al. Missoulian 1/7/22).
Healthy wildland ecosystems like those in the Northern Rockies are driven and regulated by predators. As a top-level predator the wolf, through its position at the top of trophic cascades maintains ecosystem structure and integrity. Wolf packs keep ungulates on the move (Dellinger et al. 2019).
Ripple and Beschta (2004) present the benefits of trophic cascades with wolves at the top which include: elk foraging and movement patterns adjust to predation risk; there is increased recruitment of woody browse species; there is recovery of riparian functions, recolonization of beaver and recovery of the food web support for aquatic, avian and other fauna; channels stabilize and there is recovery of wetlands and hydrologic connectivity. Many species benefit from wolf kills helping them endure hard winters. For example, grizzly bears appropriate wolf kills providing a much-needed source of protein that was previously unavailable.
The omnivorous grizzly bear is the quintessential indicator of ecosystem health. It is known as an “umbrella” species due to its wide range and specific habitat requirements including security. Scientists have found that as many as 300 other species are protected under the grizzly umbrella. Grizzly bears are an indicator in landscape changes brought about by climate change that may affect food sources and numerous other species.
The wildlands of the Northern Rockies are unique and possess 98% of the species that were here when the Lewis & Clark Expedition passed through. The wolf, the grizzly, the mountain lion and other carnivores hold these landscapes together.
The extreme laws and regulations in the Northern Rockies states are based on unscientific information and do not represent fair chase or proper wildlife management. Without the predator-prey relationship, these wildland ecosystems would become glorified zoos.
Mike Bader is an independent consultant in Missoula, Montana. He frequently writes about western wildlife and wildlands. This piece was originally published in Counterpunch and the Missoulian.