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There have been two recent reports that indicate that one of the loudest special interest groups pushing so hard for wolf-control and extermination programs (the hunting lobby) is – barking up the wrong tree.

It has been the contention of a small but vocal ‘anti-wolf’ lobby that herds of elk and moose (favorite targets of s0-called sport hunters and hunting guide services) are being decimated by wolves, which were reintroduced into the wilderness decades ago in an experiment by biologists, which (they claim) has somehow gone awry – and that all game herds are now in danger of being eaten out of existence by these native (but once hunted to near extinction) predators.

How those majestic game herds ever managed to exist alongside wolves to begin with before Humans showed up seems a stretch for them; nevertheless, recently elk and moose herds HAVE been dwindling in some places.

Now two new studies point, not to wolves, but to HUMAN ACTIVITY as the cause.

According to Jackson Hole News and Guide columnist Angus M. Thuermer Jr., in an interview with Biologist Bruce Smith, science has tracked down the real cause of dwindling elk numbers: the deadly Chronic Wasting disease.

The disease outbreak is being fueled by hunters and game managers who try to feed and grow ever-increasing numbers of these animals for the pleasure of sport hunters – and the revenue such hunters can bring in. Transmission of the disease is being facilitated through feeding stations.

These feeding stations not only stop the elk from migrating and dispersing as they should, but they concentrate unnaturally large groups of animals together so disease spreads more readily and faster from animal to animal.

Worse, as  these same hunters seek out and kill wolves in a misguided attempt to ‘save the herds’, they are removing the very control mechanisms that should be working to remove weak and diseased individuals from the ungulate population. Without wolves and bears removing those carriers of Chronic Wasting Disease, more and more elk are infected and more and more elk die.

Human development in the area is also blocking off historic elk migration routes, creating more competition for forage, increased concentrations of diseased individuals and more over-browsing and damage to the environment – and to all the other species which depend on it, from beavers to songbirds to the amphibians who require the deep moist shade of forests – forests which are being eaten to the ground by hyper-densities of elk.

The second revelation has come from Wyoming where moose populations are mysteriously dropping – and again the hunting lobby has been wrongly blaming the most convenient scapegoat they can for the decline: the wolf. However,  in this recent NPR interview by Tristan Ahtone, it becomes clear it is MAN and his deforestation and use of fossil-fuels that seems to be the real culprit.

In the interview,  Matt Kaufman, zoologist from the University of Wyoming, contends that a series of causes, including a 10-year drought due to a 3% rise in average temperatures in Wyoming caused by anthropogenic climate-change – and the resulting spread of disease that comes with it – may be to blame for the 30% herd reduction.

Specifically, a nasty parasite called Brain Worm (Parelaphostrongylus tenuis), which targets Moose and is spread by horseflies, is apparently thriving in these new climate conditions. Further challenges are due to changes the in vegetation or foliage upon which the moose feed – again a result of climate change and drought.

I’d also like to direct readers to this reference on brain worm in Moose from 1997, when moose were dying of various mysterious causes including brain worm, which is also transmitted by – deer, elk, cattle and sheep. Also please see this DNR report.

No where did the researchers implicate wolves.

Is the removal of wild wolves, mountain lions and bear counter-productive to healthy and sustainable populations of elk and moose?

Could the proliferation of ranches and farms and the over-populations of deer and elk for human hunters (fostered by ‘game managers’) be triggering the demise of the wild moose and elk?

It seems the biggest variable, the real culprit in this whole equation, is not the wolves, bears and other natural predators which have coexisted with game herds for thousands of years, but the damage humans are doing to the planet by our relentless expansion, exploitation, pollution and meddling.