The quantitative impact of predators keeps coming. In a previously elk-rich valley of western Montana, a hunting outfitter is recommending an emergency closure because of plummeting ungulate populations.

The culprit? Wolves.

Two dates are on the near horizon. One is Montana's plan for this fall's wolf hunt, including what I hope are increased harvest quotas in the most elk-stressed hunting units. The other is federal judge Donald Molloy's ruling on whether wolves will be returned to Endangered Species Act protection in Montana and Idaho.

Unfortunately, if the judge's ruling goes the wrong way, the case of the Bitterroot elk may be the way of our future.