Whether you believe the wolf is a Saint, or Satan in disguise, Sportsman Channel is taking the wolf issue head-on with the first-ever televised wolf hunt in the lower 48, when "On Your Own Adventures" new two-part series airs exclusively on Sportsman Channel. The episodes, which are equal parts education and action, chronicles big game hunter and conservation expert, Randy Newberg, on a grueling spot and stalk wolf hunt that spans 11 days where Newberg and hunting partner, Matt Clyde, try to outsmart this most intelligent predator — and explain why it's necessary to manage wolves. The first part airs on August 16 at 9 pm ET/PT and the conclusion on August 23 at 9 pm ET/PT exclusively on Sportsman Channel.
"We understand this is a polarizing and highly charged issue," said Sportsman Channel CEO Gavin Harvey. "As the leader in outdoor TV for the American Sportsman we felt the need to address it head-on in a factual, thoughtful and educational manner. The series is going to give viewers a solid understanding of the issues of conservation management as it relates to wolves and why it's crucial for balance, while delivering some incredible action and imagery around this most elusive and incredible predator."
The wolf was reintroduced in 1995 in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming from Canada. These reintroduced populations were agreed to be "non-essential and experimental" by Federal agencies. However, it took eight years in the courts until Congress intervened; allowing individual states to manage their own wolf populations. "Everyone agreed that the states could have their own management plan, with delisting starting once the wolf population reached 100 wolves, and 10 breeding pairs in each state," said Newberg, host, of On Your Own Adventures. "In Montana, we now have some 700 wolves."
In March, 2011, a bill introduced by Senator Jon Tester (MT) and Congressman Mike Simpson (ID) was passed, allowing for state control of wolf management. Many states now have their own wolf hunting seasons; Montana and Idaho seasons started in 2011 and other states, like Minnesota and Wisconsin, will have their first this winter. (The wolf was not reintroduced in Minnesota, the species, technically, never left the upper portions of the state.)
"There are thousands of wolves in lower 48 now. We can't have one species completely unmanaged while you are managing other species," shares Newberg. "As much as we'd like to think there's this natural balance from nature, it's not there anymore. Migration corridors are gone; human development has driven elk from the plains to the mountains. It is not like it was 400 years ago. We can't just manage elk and not wolves."
A lifelong wolf educator and biologist, Dr. L David Mech of the University of Minnesota, has been involved in this issue since the 1970's as the U.S. Department of Interior wolf biologist. He's penned numerous articles on wolves and wolf hunting and is currently the Vice Chair (and founder) at the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minn. — a non-activist education center on wolves. Dr. Mech answered a few questions via email. When asked "How do we keep the hunting community from thinking the wolf is Satan?" he replied, "Most people on both extremes hold their views in the same way people hold religious views. Thus reason and evidence is of no use to these folks. We can only hope to educate those who are less committed in their views, like children."
The two-part episode of On Your Own Adventures explains much of the history of the reintroduction of wolves and how a hunting season became possible. But viewers will also see how much work Clyde and Newberg put in just to stalk one, lone, wolf. The men stretch their hunting over an 11-day period as they encounter fast moving wolves, confusion if the animal is coyote or wolf, changing winds and other hunters. "Wolf hunting is the most difficult thing you can do. If you want to do fair chase spot and stalk hunting, then you've come to the right place," said Newberg. "It's a whole lot of effort of hiking and glassing, hiking and glassing and then suddenly, it gets real interesting."
No matter what side of the issue you are on, there is science, and logic, behind every decision. Unfortunately, some see the reintroduction as an epic failure and we may never see another species reintroduced in our lifetimes. When asked this question, Dr. Mech replied, "I think it (current reintroduction) might impact future reintroductions of other species. However, I seriously doubt that there ever will be another wolf reintroduction in the U.S. other than the ongoing Mexican wolf program."
"On Your Own Adventures" is sponsored in part by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF), who worked in conjunction with Newberg's team on this particular hunt. David Allen, president of RMEF, said about the issue, "The Northern Yellowstone herd was the showcase elk herd in the world. They numbered around 20,000 in 1995, but it was about 5-7,000 too many for that ecosystem. But today, that same elk herd is at 4,100; that's an 80 percent reduction when it should have been 25 percent reduction." RMEF has been involved with the wolf reintroduction since the beginning. "It is the hunter that will be the long term solution to wolves. The subject is only emotional to those who don't base it on science," said Allen.
Dr. Mech argues that, "The Yellowstone National Park wolf reintroduction was obviously very successful. The intent of wolf recovery never had anything to do with elk. Wolves were officially recovered for the sake of wolves."
Wolves are hard to hunt — and harder to keep their numbers down. The animals are prolific breeders; a breeding pair can have up to six, or more, pups in one year. However, on average, they may lose half the pups in every litter within the first year. The Wolf Center just received two wolf pups earlier this year, which draw quite the crowd for their "Pup 101" showings five times daily.
Yet, Newberg explains in Montana they harvested 176 wolves last winter, but the population still grew by 100 wolves. And the more humans hunt them, the smarter they will get to our ways. Trapping was recently approved in Idaho and Montana and the use of dogs was agreed upon in Wisconsin. All of these methods are a ways to a means to hunt a very skilled, very athletic and intelligent predator. But, will they stick in the law books remains to be seen.
"Hunters are responsible for every species being as abundant as they are today. It wasn't this way 80 years ago. Hopefully hunting seasons will give people more appreciation for wolves and increase the tolerance of sharing landscapes with them. And yes, I will be out hunting them again this season," concluded Newberg.
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For more information on Dr. Mech, visit http://www.davemech.org and for the International Wolf Center, visit http://www.wolf.org