Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Idaho researchers say wolves aren't decimating elk

The Associated Press

MCCALL, Idaho -- A pair of University of Idaho researchers living in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness say that while wolves around their three-room cabin are making elk more skittish, they're not decimating populations of the big game animals as some hunters fear.

Wolf researcher Jim Akenson, 48, and his wife, biologist Holly Akenson, 48, live and work at the Taylor Ranch Field Station as part of what is so far a nine-year study of wolf behavior.

The Akensons concede elk have become harder to find, but they say that's not because wolves are killing them. They say the wolves' presence has made elk more leery of exposed ground. That makes hunters mad because tracking the big ungulates during fall hunting season has become more difficult.

A spooked elk in wolf country typically plunges into a river or mountain lake, because wolves are at a disadvantage in water, the Akensons said.

Idaho, Montana and Wyoming are trying to get the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove federal protections for wolves, whose population in the region including Yellowstone National Park now tops 1,200.

Eventually, the states want to hold legal wolf hunts. Idaho Department of Fish and Game officials say such hunts are needed to restore balance in areas where wolves have gotten the upper hand.

The Akensons are surrounded by three wolf packs at Taylor Ranch, but say they've never been threatened.

Wolves generally hunt in packs of eight to 12 and have killed several hunting dogs in Idaho in recent years.

  • Santa Fe New Mexican