Tragedy of the Lolo Zone

I know this blog occasionally sounds like it should be renamed Wolf Hunting with Andrew McKean. If it’s a bit … Continued

I know this blog occasionally sounds like it should be renamed Wolf Hunting with Andrew McKean. If it’s a bit too wolf-heavy for you, my apologies. We’ll get to other discussions soon.

But there is no greater topic that affects all aspects of hunting in the West right now than wolves. Not habitat issues. Not access. Wolves have polarized the public. They have challenged wildlife managers. And they have galvanized hunters.

I still maintain that wolves belong on our landscape. But they need to be managed, intensively in some places. That’s the same conclusion reached by Idaho’s director of Fish and Game, Cal Groen.

Groen’s department has been blasted from the greenies for being too hard on wolves, with harvest quotas in the state’s first hunting season that were considered murderously high. On the other hand, wildlife managers have been skewered by the wolf-haters as incompetent know-nothings sitting on their hands as their wildlife empire is shredded to tatters by drool-dripping predators.

Groen just penned an op-ed piece that lays out the price of wolves in a hunting unit that for two generations was synonymous with Western big-game hunting. It’s the Lolo Zone, the big woods that drop from the Montana border toward the Snake River at Lewiston. From the 1960s through last decade, if you wanted to hunt an elk you went to the Lolo, where you could hire a pack-string outfit if you wanted, or just spike up a trail and make your own success.

Those days are over, because of wholesale habitat changes, yes, but also because predators tipped the balance of prey, slowly at first, but now perhaps to a point where the elk and deer herds can’t recover. Remember, this is the same landscape where Lewis & Clark’s Corps of Discovery nearly starved to death 205 years ago, when wolves were very much part of the wildlife mix.

How Idaho manages wolves in the Lolo Zone will tell the rest of us a lot about how to deal with wolves elsewhere, in places where the availability of deer and elk is already starting to decline.