By WHITNEY BERMES Ravalli Republic
HAMILTON – Montana’s wolf hunt is not working, a Ravalli County commissioner said Tuesday, and local elk herds are decimated.
It is time, Commissioner Matt Kanenwisher said, for Ravalli County to develop its own “living with wolves” policy.
Kanenwisher spent an hour Tuesday presenting his findings on wolf and elk populations – and proposals for a public process the county could undertake to create a local wolf management policy.
Wolves are a significant cause of elk mortality in the Bitterroot, he said. “Here’s one attempt to do something about that. What we’re doing with the hunt is not working. It’s pretty straightforward.”
The timeline that Kanenwisher laid out, which commissioners will discuss and decide upon at a 3 p.m. meeting on Thursday, includes:
• Spend three weeks to further develop information on the economic impacts of failing ungulate herds.
• Request input from stakeholder groups to develop a plan.
• One or two commissioners would meet with any groups that wish to participate or present proposals and publish those online.
• Request input from groups to develop a “living with wolves” policy for Ravalli County residents.
Next, Kanenwisher said, would come publication of a draft policy, followed by two rounds of two-week public comment periods, then publication of a final draft.
Kanenwisher’s presentation looked at historical and cultural impacts of wolves on hunting and the outfitting industry in the Bitterroot Valley. He argued that between 2004 and 2010, the Darby area lost more than $6 million because of declining outfitter numbers.
“The revenue coming from these areas is more than significant. It’s staggering,” Kanenwisher said.
Ungulate herds are a crucial natural resource in Ravalli County and need to be protected, he said.
“We don’t have mining here,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of timber industry here. What we do have are ungulate herds and they are a crucial and critical natural resource.”
The commissioner also presented the findings of the wolf encounter stories the board has been collecting since June. Of the 60 comments received, Kanenwisher said more than half – about 35 – included close encounters with wolves.
“We do have a number of encounters,” he said.
During public comment Tuesday, a few members of the public urged commissioners to move forward quickly with the plan.
“We have to move this thing along,” said Dale Simmons.
Tom Robak of Darby said that elk have moved to the river bottom because of wolves and are staying there year round.
“I lost 10 tons of hay last season,” he said. “It’s really wreaking havoc with the ranches.”
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologist Craig Jourdonnais emphasized his department’s desire and need to work with the commission on the wolf issue. He said some inferences on data in Kanenwisher’s presentation were wrong and he would like to work on correcting them.
“It’s important. It’s very important,” Jourdonnais said.
Jourdonnais went on to say that there is a danger in combining wildlife management and economics.
“It puts the whole thing at a different level,” he said.
Kanenwisher rebutted by saying he only used information he received from local, state and federal agencies.
“I was very, very careful about what data I used,” Kanenwisher said. “I certainly didn’t intend for any inferences.”
Commissioner Suzy Foss added that it is the board’s job to consider economics in its decisions.
“We do have to take in the economics,” Foss said. “Our charge is a little different than yours.”