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The Gunning Down of Hog Heaven - by Chris Kirby

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Nineteen members believed to be part of the Hog Heaven Pack were killed in Montana by state and federal wildlife officials.  U.S. government agencies carried out one of the largest wolf pack removals ever in Northwest Montana.  Two wolves were killed December 3, then 8 more wolves on December 4 and, eliminating the existence of the Hog Heaven Pack, the remaining nine wolves were killed on December 5.  These wolves killed over the course of 3 days represent 8% of all the Northern Rocky Mountain wolves killed so far this entire year.

According to a wolf management specialist with Montana Department Fish, Wildlife and Parks, radio collars enabled monitoring the pack's movements as far south as Little Thompson drainage making it likely Hog Heaven wolves were responsible for the depredation of 2 more llamas and a 2-year-old grown bull in that area.  MTFWP and U.S. Department of Agriculture officials were prompted to authorize USDA Wildlife Services to schedule the elimination of the rest of the Hog Heaven Pack determining this was enough to qualify removal due to "chronic" dependence on domestic livestock.  Kent Laudon, state wolf management specialist for Northwest Montana, described the pack's ability to take down a grown bull as "indeed unusual."

Prior to this incident, 8 additional members of the Hog Heaven Pack lost their lives gradually beginning in October and took what was believed to be the responsibility for 3 llamas, 3 calves, and 2 breeding-stock heifers in 8 separate incidents.  A federal trapper shot the wolves from a helicopter even though there was no way to determine which of the wolves were involved.  MTFWP's Wildlife officials hoped eliminating wolves individually would reduce the pack's nutritional demands and hunting capabilities but was cited as stating their incremental approach wasn't working.

The 27-member pack is the seventh entire pack to be destroyed in Montana this year.  Within days, calls of protest descended upon the MTFWP offices from around the country including the State's own residents over the brutal response underscoring the term "aggressive control action."  Articles peppered the media with unanswered critical questions regarding the wolves' killings as well as questioning the tallies of depredation figures in the state.  A coalition comprised of a Stevensville farmer, other Montana residents and wildlife protection organizations condemned MTFWP and the federal Wildlife Services for killing the entire wolf pack west of Kalispell calling the agencies' decision "unnecessary and outrageous" and that the public must be given specific information about the killing of so many wolves.

The Hog Heaven Pack occupied Northwest Montana outside of the reintroduced experimental non-essential NRM gray wolf population where management is to be conservative first for the naturally recovering wolves.   Documented with wording such as relocating wolves and non-lethal control methods deterring wolves from livestock using measures such as livestock-guarding dogs, night penning, etc.  Concerns are that simply killing wolves in the area only opens opportunity for another pack to claim the territory recreating the same poor results for the wolves and the livestock.

Disturbing enough for animals on the endangered species list lies the fact that 2007 FWP reports on the Hog Heaven Pack listed its membership at six and two litters were born within the pack this year.  As many as 15 of the wolves that were killed are estimated to be too young to hunt on their own and probably not involved in livestock depredations.  Countering defense for the wolves, reportedly wolves from this year's litter were almost a year old, weighing in at more than 80 pounds and were actively participating in livestock depredations.

Genetic diversity is essential to wolf recovery and mandatory for all wolf management plans both federal and state.  It played a major role in the court ruling that returned the wolf to the endangered status after being delisted earlier this year.

In numbers, the loss of livestock is menial.*  Managing wolves with an eye for an eye, any eye then ending with the lives of more than two wolves is extraneous.  This places an enormous amount of pressure on an animal listed as endangered species and is a huge risk to their population numbers as well as their genetic diversity.

*The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) recently reported the causes of cattle loss in the lower 48 States.  Nationally, health issues such as respiratory problems, digestive problems, calving complications and disease were overwhelmingly the most significant causes of cattle death in 2005.  (The year for which we have the most recent detailed data.)

Only 0.11% (about 1/10 of 1%) of all cattle losses were due to wolf predation in 2005.  Coyotes killed more than 22 times more cattle than wolves killed that year.  Domestic dogs killed almost 5 times as many cattle, and vultures killed almost twice as many cattle as wolves did in 2005.  Theft was responsible for almost 5 times as many cattle losses as were lost by wolf predation.

Data are not available for the exact number of cattle losses due to wolf predation for each state (except Wyoming:  wolves 23, coyotes 1,300 calves, mountain lions 400 calves, dogs 100 calves, digestive problems 7,000, respiratory disease 10,900, birthing problems 12,800, lameness and injuries 1,700, harsh weather 11,300, poisoning 1,100...).

In a 2005 NASS report, wolves are grouped into an "other predators" category along with bears, vultures, mountain lions and other carnivores.  However, even in States with wolf populations, cattle loss due to predation by "other predators" is negligible.  Overall, predation by "other predators" accounts for .7% (less than 1%) of cattle losses in the lower 48 States that contain wolves.  The average number of cattle losses specific to wolf predation in these States is less than .7%.  This compares to an average of 1.6% of cattle losses due to predation by coyotes and an average of 90% of losses due to non-predator related causes such as health problems and disease.

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