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Nearly a decade ago, I wrote a column about the doomsday predictions of Robert T. Fanning, Jr., then chairman of a wolf-loathing group called Friends of the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd.

Shortly after the new millennium began, Mr. Fanning made several bold statements. “The Yellowstone ecosystem has become a biological desert ... a wasteland,” he said. “We predict that the largest migrating elk herd on Earth will be completely extinct in three years. We predict that entire communities in Montana will vanish because no one spoke up for social justice for the people who were forced to live with wolves.”

When three years passed and there were still elk in the Yellowstone region, millions of tourists still coming to spend money watching wildlife of all kinds in the national parks, and human settlements in Montana still intact, the absurdities didn’t go away.

Fanning certainly didn’t either; this year, he’s running for governor of Montana as a Republican on an anti-wolf platform.

As we all know, the perception that wolves are “decimating” wildlife, especially elk, is rife on AM radio airwaves. We hear it stated as fact by outfitters and guides at public meetings, and invoked by governors in Wyoming and Idaho as justification for killing lots of lobos.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead in his 2012 state of the state address said wolves were a threat to outfitters. If it’s true – this claim of wolf-caused wapiti Armageddon – then it sure doesn’t align with what outfitters and guides are telling clients on their websites.

I’ve spent the last couple of days reading 50 different outfitter Internet sites up and down the Rockies, from the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming to the Canadian border. Not a single proprietor of guided hunts mentions anything remotely suggesting that wolves are annihilating elk herds or jeopardizing the quality of hunts.

Quite the contrary: Many outfitters making their living in the heart of wolf country would have clients believe that elk hunting is as good as it’s ever been.

In internet pitches to customers, outfitters tout high hunter success rates, healthy herds, glowing levels of client satisfaction, and plenty of return business, which means if elk hunters weren’t bagging wapiti they wouldn’t be coming back.

Nowhere, not on any official outfitter webpage or brochure, is there a caveat emptor warning high-paying clients that wolves are destroying hunting. Gallery photos abound showing smiling clients sitting next to massive elk harvested last season.

So who are we to believe – the outfitters who insist wolves have ruined elk herds or the very same outfitters selling “elk hunting trips of a lifetime?”

Consider this pronouncement from a well-known Jackson Hole hunting purveyor that guides near the southeast corner of Yellowstone: “Our area produces not only some of the largest trophies taken each year in Wyoming, but often records the highest harvest percentage for elk in the state.”

Or this statement from a different Teton County, Wyo., outfitter operating in the same general area. “Great 2011 hunting season – 28 bulls killed!” he boasted on his website. “We usually have one of the highest success rates in the Jackson Hole area!”

Or this from an outfitter in Bondurant, Wyo.: “With tremendous numbers of animals our success rates have been near 100 percent the past five years.”

Or this from a guiding outfit in the Frank Church Wilderness of Idaho, where wolves have reportedly “wiped out” all the elk necessitating Draconian wolf control. “Most of our [elk] hunters are satisfied, repeat customers and they’re our best advertisement,” the outfitter says.

Or this from hunting guides in Paradise Valley, Mont., just beyond the north boundary of Yellowstone: “High opportunity for trophy class elk” and “extremely high client return rate 10 years straight.”

Or this from backcountry specialists in Cody who guide on the Shoshone and Bridger-Teton national forests: “Last year 29 out of 30 clients shot an elk (97 percent). Bottom line, hunter success is so good because there are so many elk in our area.”

I could go on, and on, and on with good news from hunting camps. When Gov. Mead and county commissioners in the three states say the wolf population needs to be aggressively controlled because it’s a “threat” to outfitters, what exactly do they mean?

They ought to spend some time reading outfitter websites. One way or another, someone’s not being honest. Either clients are being fibbed to, or the public is. Which is it?

Todd Wilkinson is a Bozeman writer, hunter and angler. His biography on Ted Turner will be published in 2013.

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