Wolves under attack again in Wyoming
A few years ago, I was hunting elk near Togwotee Pass when I came across a pair of wolf tracks in the early-season snow. It was getting late, but I and my horse followed the tracks until the trees opened up. In the clearing, not sixty yards away, a pair of gray wolves stared back at me. They showed neither aggression nor great fear by our sudden appearance. After a couple of minutes, the wolves moved into the dark timber and vanished like smoke from a high country campfire.
It was one of the most memorable moments in all my years of hunting – seeing hundreds of elk in the same neighborhood as a pair of gray wolves. In the snow on that quiet night, looking at those two wolves, I felt that I was really in the wild, in a place far from the noise and commotion of civilization. That feeling of peace and wilderness is part of what I like about hunting.
Some would say we need to remove wolves because they are taking out too many elk and reducing hunting opportunities for Wyomingites. In fact, Wyoming’s elk herds are doing just fine. As Chris Colligan pointed out in his op-ed “Wolves add to the mystique of elk hunting in NW Wyoming” last week, hunter success is high in Wyoming and specifically around Jackson.
Charges that wolves are largely responsible for declines in elk and moose numbers are just not based in fact. Instead, many variables are at play. Studies by researchers at the University of Wyoming show that moose are declining due to poor habitat quality rather than predation. When moose are not able to find food due to a degraded habitat, reproduction suffers. To simply say that there are less moose because of wolves is foolish. This attitude could hurt moose populations even further as it ignores the real reason for the population decline.
I know that it is easy to blame wolves for declines in elk and moose populations. Wolves are a tangible scapegoat when the answers are more complex and hazy. Instead, I continue to believe that wolves and big game will reach a natural balance – one that bolsters the health of the entire landscape and provides Wyomingites with ample hunting opportunity.
Seeing those wolves up on Togwotee Pass reminded me why I hunt. For me, encountering a wolf makes hunting that much more of a wilderness experience and reminds me why I choose to live in Wyoming.