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Meriwether Lewis called wolves “shepherds of the buffaloes,” and noted that “we can scarcely cast our eyes in any direction without perceiving deer elk Buffalos or Antelope…wolves appear to increase in the same proportion.” Wolves don’t wipe out their prey. Instead, they keep their prey species healthy.

A prevailing observation among biologists is that predators capture young, old, sick, weak, injured or inexperienced individuals from prey populations. This idea was tested a decade ago, when Krumm et al found that mountain lions in their study area in Colorado actively selected chronic wasting disease (CWD) prion-infected individuals when targeting adult mule deer as prey items.

Four years ago, Nichols et al found that CWD prions remain infectious after passage through the digestive system of coyotes for three days, prompting some observers to question that predation can help limit CWD. But careful reading of the paper tells us that CWD prions may be degraded as they pass through the predator’s digestive system, substantially reducing transmission of the disease.

For years I have been pleading with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to test the hypothesis that wolves can reduce CWD. Yet in the Feb. 9 Chronicle cover story, “The Long Game,” I see no mention of any intent to study any means of reducing infection of our deer, elk and moose. I find it notable that CWD was unknown before we all-but annihilated wolves and mountain lions. Yet, FWP seems bound by an obligation to produce more and more deer and elk, whether the landscape can sustain them or not.

Two years ago, Todd Wilkinson wrote in Mountain Journal, “The Undeniable Value of Wolves, Bears, Lions and Coyotes in Battling Disease.” It’s worth reading.

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Norman A. Bishop