Wolves keep teaching us they don’t follow our rules or fit into our borders.
Yellowstone’s wolf population is in decline and the park’s elk are getting tougher. That’s what biologists are saying in a story in USA Today.
Mange and parvovirus, two canine diseases, have spread throughout Yellowstone’s packs. The packs themselves are killing each other as the entire habitat has been filled in.
And when they leave the park, whether they are hunted or not, they can be killed when they harass livestock. Is this all bad news?
No. It’s nature. When a population growing to carrying capacity a whole host of dynamics kicks in.
Since we are a part of nature we kick in too. Idaho and Montana hunters have been killing wolves across the region. But it’s still an open question whether they are driving the population into decline.
Ranchers and federal agents are killing wolves too and that’s having its own impact on the population dynamics of specific areas.
I know that Yellowstone’s elk are getting tougher but that didn’t take much. In 1995 a great video showed a wolf run right up to an elk and grab its nose. The surprised elk had never seen a wolf before and didn’t know how to react and it paid.
Today in Yellowstone, just as in Idaho, the elk know what’s coming and they’re ready. I have watched the standoff between predator and prey more than once with the wolves deciding it wasn’t worth the risk.
So what’s next?
There will be several court hearings in 2010 that will decide whether wolves go back on the endangered species list. The main case has environmentalists pushing for relisting.
A second case has Wyoming challenging the listing in its state with its unique “shoot on sight” regulations. The federal government will eventually have to deal with both sides of this issue before it is done.
If the Obama administration was lucky enough to win both cases it would have the tools to manage the issue so it doesn’t blow up. But if it beats Wyoming and loses the environmental lawsuit it could become a challenging political issue for Western Democrats.
If Wyoming wins, a higher court will have to decide.
In the meantime, it is just a matter of time when wolves move south into Colorado, a place with millions of acres of excellent habitat and hundreds of thousand of deer and elk to feed the latest migrants to Colorado. That migration will bring new challenges to the myths and doctrine of people on all sides of the wolf controversy.