RMEF Letter to Defenders of Wildlife regarding Wolves

RMEF Letter to Defenders of Wildlife regarding Wolves

If you’re an elk hunter, you’ve got to read this! On March 30th, Defenders of Wildlife sent a letter to RMEF CEO David Allen, claiming he had made erroneous statements about them to the press. Read their letter, then read his reply. Elk hunters need to show their support for the RMEF for their willingness to stand up against these organizations, both in the press and in the courts.

Letter to RMEF from Defenders of Wildlife –

March 30, 2010

Attention: David Allen President and CEO Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation 5705 Grant Creek Rd Missoula, MT 59808

Dear Mr. Allen,

We are writing to respond to multiple erroneous and misleading statements you recently made to the news media regarding our organizations and our positions on wolves and elk. We would like to clarify our position and intent so as to avoid further confusion and dispute.

It is surprising and disappointing that you chose to air this misinformation without contacting us beforehand. Doing so has only served to further polarize this important conservation issue.

We are not misrepresenting data compiled by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF). The data we have referenced from the RMEF are undeniable: region wide, elk continue to thrive in the presence of wolves. We celebrate that fact as fellow wildlife conservation organizations and highlight this wildlife success to counter misinformation on elk numbers that threatens another wildlife success, wolf restoration. We have provided links to some of the RMEF sources we relied upon, as well as a fact sheet on wolf-elk relationships.

The impact wolves have on specific elk herds certainly varies from case to case and depends on numerous environmental factors. Those impacts may also be exacerbated in human-dominated landscapes. Basic wildlife biology, however, teaches us that predators and prey coexist over the long term and across the landscape and have been doing so for centuries. There are approximately 1,700 wolves in the region, compared to over 360,000 elk in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, and many hundreds of thousands of deer. Habitat loss and fragmentation pose far greater threats to elk, as does disease spread by artificial feeding.

More fundamentally, wolves are native wildlife, and both the states and the federal government are obligated to maintain healthy populations. The first principle of the North American Wildlife Conservation Model (featured on your website) is “fish and wildlife belong to all North American citizens,” recognizing the legitimate federal role in ensuring that states manage wildlife in the best interests of all Americans. The other basic principle states that wildlife “are to be managed in such a way that their populations will be sustained forever,” understating how important it is that state plans are in place that guarantee the long term viability of wolves.

You may disagree with our application of these principles to wolves, but you should not mischaracterize it. We fully support wolf delisting and state management so long as the terms ensure a healthy and sustainable regional wolf population over the long term. The current federal requirement of 100 to 150 wolves per state does not meet this threshold, particularly given the real possibility that states could try to manage wolves down to those numbers over time. There is much hostility voiced by a select few toward wolves in the Northern Rockies states including in state legislatures, by some governors’ offices, and even apparently from other conservation groups. Strong, balanced, science-based federal and state plans are necessary to overcome this opposition to wolf recovery.

We recognize that public hunting may eventually be a regular component of state wolf management. However, until plans ensuring regional wolf sustainability are in place public hunts could force populations down before they are secure.

Our position is not one of opposition to sustainable hunting practices or to the important role that hunting plays in conservation. Responsible hunters are some of the most knowledgeable wildlife conservationists and we seek and find common ground with them regularly. It is unfortunate we have not been able to do so with RMEF recently but would like to work together in the future.

Through your publicity campaign against us, RMEF appears to be trying to benefit from increasing the conflict over wolves, even as you accuse us of the same. Our proposed solution, however, is not more conflict but more collaboration. We have called for a scientific review of wolf recovery criteria to incorporate the best available science, followed by a regional stakeholder process to guide development of state plans that meet wolves’ biological needs while addressing the legitimate concerns of affected people and communities. Polarization of the conflict has only resulted in more frustration and wasted resources for us all. Working together is preferable and we would hope RMEF would lend its considerable expertise to this process.

Wildlife conservation includes recovering all wildlife. Wolf recovery is the natural continuation of North American wildlife traditions developed with great leadership by hunters. Our groups share a vested interest in conserving wildlife in the West – both predator and prey. Some of us are avid elk hunters and it has been disappointing to be attacked by RMEF for attempting to extend America’s wildlife conservation know-how and tools to wolves.

We would like to meet with you to discuss these issues. We can – and we must – have healthy populations of both elk and wolves and we look forward to your response. Please contact Mike Leahy or Kirk Robinson at the below contact information if you would like to talk.


Mike Leahy
Director, Rocky Mountain Region
Defenders of Wildlife
Bozeman, MT
Kirk Robinson, PhD, JD Executive Director
Western Wildlife Conservancy
Salt Lake City, UT

The response from RMEF’s David Allen to Defenders of Wildlife –

April 8, 2010
Mike Leahy
Director, Rocky Mountain Region
Defenders of Wildlife
303 W Mendenhall Suite 3
Bozeman, MT 59715
Kirk Robinson
Executive Director
Western Wildlife Conservancy
68 Main Street Suite 4
Salt Lake City, UT 84101

Dear Mr. Leahy & Mr. Robinson:

I am in receipt of your letter of March 30, 2010. I will address your points factually and straightforward.

We would be happy to meet with you to discuss conservation issues and the destruction of specific herds of elk in North America. We believe; however, that your organizations and others are contributing greatly to perhaps one of the worst wildlife management disasters since the destruction of bison herds in the 19th century. Until the lawsuit relative to re-listing the wolves is settled or until you withdraw your support for such, there really isn’t much need to meet as we continue to be at opposite ends of this issue.

Once again, I will state that elk are not flourishing where wolves are present. Contrary to what you have suggested many times to claim otherwise is disingenuous and “cherry picking” data. Elk populations are being exploited at a high rate by predators, primarily wolves and somewhat by grizzly bears. However, since the introduction of the Canadian gray wolf into Yellowstone this exploitation has become worse for elk numbers in the same areas. Yet, you would have the public believe otherwise.

The numbers and facts do not lie and they are as follows:

  • The Northern Yellowstone herd, trend count has dropped from nearly 19,000 elk in 1995 before the introduction of the Canadian gray wolf to just over 6,000 elk in 2008. At the same time wolf numbers in this same area are on a steady increase. Nowhere can I find where a 60% reduction of this herd was a goal of the wolf introduction. (Source: 2009 Wolf-Ungulate Study Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks)
  • The Moose population in Yellowstone National Park trend count shows a decrease to almost zero. (Source: 2009 Wolf-Ungulate Study Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks)
  • The Gallatin Canyon elk herd trend count between Bozeman and Big Sky has dropped from around 1,048 to 338 in 2008. (Source: Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks)
  • The Madison Firehole elk herd trend count has dropped from 700 to 108 in 2008. (Source: Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks)
  • The calf survival rate for those same elk herds mentioned above, where wolves (and bears) are present, is extremely low amounting to as little as 10% or less recruitment or survival rate. Nearly any wildlife professional will tell you this is an unacceptable recruitment or survival rate. Acceptable wildlife science tells us that a 25-40% survival rate is necessary for herd sustainability.

Further, a recent MSU study shows those elk that remain in the Northern Yellowstone herd are in below standard health as they are not feeding where and how they normally do and the females are not getting pregnant as they should, due to hormonal imbalances. How and why did this behavior change? (See Montana State University Study by Professor Scott Creel in July 2009; funded by the National Science Foundation)

  • Wolf numbers have far exceeded what sportsmen, ranchers, wildlife conservationists and the public at-large were told was a desirable goal. Specifically, 30 breeding pairs and 300 total wolves was the goal line when wolves were released in 1995. The minimum number of wolves is now over 1,700 according to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and a number of animal rights groups such as yours believe those numbers should be 2,000 to 5,000.

This is the most disingenuous and deceiving issue relative to the entire Canadian gray wolf introduction and your groups and others perpetuate this every chance you get. We call it, “keep moving the goal line” politics. It is doubtful even you believe that 2,000-5,000 wolves in this area is sustainable. However, this allows you to keep saying “We haven’t reached the goal line yet”. It is sad wildlife management has to come such political posturing.

Wolf population goals established at the introduction in 1995 have been surpassed by some 300-500%. Yet groups like yours continue to move the goal line and yes, continue to cherry pick your facts to push an agenda.

  • Studies show that each wolf kills up to 23 elk from November through April; that equates to up to 40,000 elk killed in six months. This number does not include those elk killed for food by wolves from May through October. While the number of elk killed per wolf from May through October is less than the number from November through April, it is still considerable; and that is just the elk killed for food. These numbers do not account for those elk simply killed by wolves (surplus killing) and yes, that does happen. Nowhere near the majority of these elk kills are simply the sick and the old.
  • The habitat loss that you cite in your letter is yet another critical reason why wolves must be properly managed and managed now. As elk ranges shrink and are encroached upon, the elk have less chance for survival in areas where wolves are concentrated. Elk become trapped with less habitat available. Your organization talks about elk and wolves coexisting on the same terms as if it were the Old West again. It clearly is not and that is why man must manage wildlife as we have for over a century.
  • Canadian gray wolves introduced in Yellowstone in 1995, simply are not endangered, it is quite the opposite. There are thousands of these wolves in North America. Remember this reintroduction was classified as an experimental, non-essential re-introduction in the first place. Your groups would have today’s public believe that it is essential. These wolves are not endangered.
  • You contradict yourself as you point out in your letter how there is a “legitimate federal role in ensuring states manage wildlife in the best interests of all Americans…”, yet you circumvent and disagree with the federal opinion (USFWS) that the wolves are recovered. Further, you disagree that these wolves should not be listed as endangered and be managed by the states at this time. You can’t have it both ways but you continue to try as long as you can get away with it. Do the federal authorities know what they are talking about or not?
  • It is likely that your groups have reaped large donations from your campaign to keep wolves on the endangered species list. This is a common tactic for animal rights groups. It is apparent that if the entire wolf controversy went away it would represent a considerable revenue loss for you.

I don’t see what your costs are relative to the wolf recovery program as it is likely you are getting federal funds to pay some or all of your legal fees under the Judgment Fund or EAJA funds. Could you confirm for us and the public at large if you are receiving such federal funds (taxpayer funds) to offset your legal fees? Frankly, I don’t believe most of the public know about or understand the Judgment Fund or EAJA but they should. It sheds light on potential motives and tactics.

Idaho’s elk numbers in units where wolves exist are far worse, with two units showing over 80% decline since wolves were introduced. If wildlife conservation was your true agenda you would not stand for such losses of any species. The facts are there – the numbers do not lie! Our elk herds cannot be sustained if wolf numbers continue to expand without proper management. What is happening now is not sound management, it is simply an assault. Re-listing wolves will worsen the issue dramatically.

Your letter states, “(Defenders) position is not one of opposition to sustainable hunting practices or to the important role that hunting plays in conservation. Responsible hunters are some of the most knowledgeable wildlife conservationists and we seek and find common ground with them regularly. It is unfortunate we have not been able to do so with RMEF recently but would like to work together in the future.” You have never sought common ground with us once that I recall.

Let’s consider those words a moment. We do not believe that your organizations subscribe to hunting as a viable conservation tool; in fact we believe you and other animal rights groups have an overriding agenda to decrease hunting until there is none. If you truly want to “work together” as your letter suggests, then you will step forward and show a sincere willingness to manage wildlife as they should be managed and not continue to promote a hidden agenda or continue to move the goal line. In fact, I invite you to come to my office and let’s resolve this issue for the sake of those responsible hunters and those responsible non-hunters you reference. Enough of the legal maneuvering and posturing, let’s resolve this now.

Plain and simple, wolves are predators, nothing more and nothing less. They need to be managed like other predators by the folks who manage the rest of our wildlife, the state wildlife agencies. This wolf amnesty program is poor wildlife management. The American sportsmen deserve better respect for all they have contributed to wildlife while groups like yours play games with the system.

Your letter states you have called for a scientific review of the wolf recovery program. Who are your scientists conducting the review? We have never heard of this scientific review? We can find no announcement of such nor can we confirm it. Why isn’t the wildlife science of three of the leading western states (Wyoming, Montana and Idaho) and the USFWS credible? Is it that you are not getting the answers you are looking for? If so, that is not subscribing to science that is manipulating it to get a desired answer.

We live within the rules and game management policies of all the state agencies and when we have differences of opinion we go to them and work it out like adults. The United States has the best system of wildlife management in the world, yet you reject the system of states managing their wildlife. Among your tactics are filing lawsuits to stall and extend the process and then point fingers at others like RMEF and say we are polarizing the conflict! Managing wildlife in court is a recipe for disaster.

Again, you seem to contradict yourselves in your letter; on one hand you trumpet the success of the overall elk populations in these three states (which are managed by those states, I might add); and on the other hand you reject those same three states’ ability to manage wolves. That is a curious contradiction. Either these states know what they are doing or they don’t.

No one is promoting an annihilation of wolves, so let’s stop pretending such exists. However, there is a great need for sensible balance and the current wolf numbers have long since crossed over the tipping point. If your organizations do not begin to subscribe to sound wildlife management soon, this disaster will lay squarely on your hands for history and the public to judge. Feel free to use the date enclosed in this letter when talking to media and legislatures in the future. As I said at the beginning, the numbers and the facts do not lie.

Respectfully submitted,

M. David Allen
President & CEO
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation