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Two recent pieces in the, Chronicle commenting on the ongoing wolf controversy in Montana were both disappointing and symptomatic of the shortcomings of one-sided opinions.

Ken Pixley’s letter to the editor would have you believe that our county commission is all but ready to “exterminate wolves” in our area. In truth, this commission is rightly concerned about legitimate damages cause by wolves, to which there are too many to list here, as well as the dangers that a high wolf population poses to livestock and pets. Not many people know that more than 150 dogs, many family pets, have been killed by wolves in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho to date. A simple truth all but ignored here is that Montana FWP manages our wolf population and they will not let it fall below an established minimum level necessary to maintain a viable wolf population.

Mr. Pixley then goes off on a related tangent trying to explain how “preserving wildlife” is much better economically than hunting some species because wildlife viewing in the general population is increasing, whereas hunting has been slowly declining of late. He quotes a number of figures showing that both wildlife viewing and hunting contribute substantially to our economy. He chooses to omit a well-known fact, known by most resource managers, that annual per capita expenditures by hunters in the form of licenses, equipment taxes, conservation donations, etc. far exceeds that of wildlife viewers. Non-consumptive wildlife viewers’ interest in wildlife is traditionally “a mile wide but only inches deep” … i.e. viewers just don’t put their money where their mouth is compared to hunters when it comes to supporting wildlife conservation. Additionally, hunting and fishing license fees and taxes pay the lion’s share of most state wildlife management agencies’ budgets. All of this aside, hunting and preserving wildlife are not mutually exclusive as he implies and there is plenty of room for both.

A second op-ed piece by Todd Wilkinson was even more disappointing in its distortion. Mr. Wilkinson, a good writer who should know better, uses an idiotic old quote from the “chairman of an (obscure) wolf loathing group,” who doesn’t represent most hunters by any means, to build a case that outfitters/hunters are obviously “fibbing” about the negative impact that wolves are having on elk populations. He goes on to rhetorically inquire, how could elk populations be down if so many outfitters are advertising how good the hunting is on their websites? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that no one in their right mind is going to advertise about how bad their business might be, or in this case their hunting. When one cuts through this piece, they’ll find that elk populations in several (not all) regions of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming have plummeted by more than 50 percent and many outfitters have gone out of business due to greatly reduced hunter success. It goes without saying that out-of-business outfitters no longer advertise on websites.

Unfortunately, both of these pieces mimic the increasing polarization that seems to plague politics and political discourse these days: Argue your side with whatever facts or fancy you can come up with while ignoring and/or distorting the other side. As such, good journalism often falls by the wayside.

An important and overlooked reality here is that the most hunters support wolves being returned to our environment. The minority that doesn’t is mostly made up of embittered hunters who have been repeatedly frustrated with the constant efforts of extreme environmental groups to delay the delisting of wolves, which according to most wolf experts, “recovered” years ago. In many instances, these hunters have seen elk populations in their backyards or favorite hunting areas greatly reduced in large part by high wolf populations. Most hunters just want to see wolves managed at levels that allow for a sustainable wolf population while still allowing for plentiful game. Fortunately, this is the path currently being taken by Montana FWP.

Denver Bryan is a wildlife biologist by training and a wildlife photographer by profession. He lives in Bozeman and his work has appeared on the cover of more than 500 magazines, including National Wildlife, Field & Stream and Montana Outdoors, to name a few.

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