Washington leaped this week to a contentious milestone in the early stages of its modern wolf management era.
The state Fish and Wildlife Department has killed the first gray wolf in more than 70 years in response to attacks on livestock.
Get used to it.
The ongoing litany of wolf depredation cases in Idaho and Montana suggests that many more wolves are going to be killed in Washington.
The latest Montana wolf management weekly report indicates that 65 wolves have been killed so far in 2012 in response to threats or attacks on pets or livestock. That’s in addition to 45 wolves killed in the 2012 half of the state’s wolf hunting season. And the state still has more wolves than it had last year.
Others people are angry to hear the state killed a wolf – listed as a state endangered species – to protect cattle grazing on national forest land.
The scariest position in the wolf reintroduction debate is trying to take the middle ground. But that’s the unsettling territory the Sportsman Channel is heading into next Thursday.
“On Your Own Adventures,” with Montana host Randy Newberg, will air a two-episode documentary featuring the Lower 48’s first wolf hunt filmed for a television audience.
“I didn’t want another show to grab this and make it another fringe topic,” Newberg said Wednesday as he waded through a barrage of emails, ranging from hate to praise, prompted by the network’s show promotion.
Newberg, 47, a hunter and conservationist, joins Matt Clyde as they try to outsmart a wary, intelligent predator in Montana, which reintroduced wolf hunting last year.
As in the rest of his shows focusing on other big game, Newberg self-guides his wolf hunt on public land.
“If I hunted elk as hard as I hunted wolves for those 11 days, I probably could have filled four or five bull tags,” he said.
“We’d never hunted wolves before. That was the No. 1 challenge. We did our research, talked to biologists, went scouting – but it was still mostly learn as you go.”
Wolves have huge territories. Although they may return to a rendezvous site, they might be 20 miles away for three or four days.
Newberg was hunting for a known pack of 17 wolves that covered tens of thousands of acres.
The terrain was serious and the weather extreme, he said as he recalled shivering and breaking snotsicles off his face during a day of minus-0 temperatures.
“But all of that made the hunt even more rewarding,” he said. “We learned a lot about the game and ourselves. It was unforgettable for that reason.
“I don’t hate wolves. I’m glad they are here and never want wolves to disappear. But they need to be managed and brought in somewhere close to the numbers promised when the Feds reintroduced the wolves.”
That’s a point lost in many debates. When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed reintroducing wolves to the Northern Rockies under provisions of the Endangered Species Act, it was never in the plan to let wolves boom to unlimited numbers.
“Everyone agreed that Montana and Idaho could have their own management plan and maintain at least 150 wolves at 15 breeding pairs,” he said. “But then the lawsuits came and the wolf numbers soared. Montana has around 700 and Idaho has more than 1,000.
“We can’t stand on the sidelines. As hunters, we must do our part to help manage wolves, the same as we manage every other species. We are giving viewers the facts behind the issues and hope it’ll provide insights.”
Wolf hunting seasons soon will open again in Montana and Idaho while Minnesota and Wisconsin will open their first seasons for delisted wolves this winter.
Hunting is part of the agreement with states that allowed wolves to be reintroduced in the Northern Rockies, he said.
“Hunting is an essential management tool of any game or wildlife species and we don’t view wolves to be any different,” said David Allen, president of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
Sportsman Channel executives are aware that airing a wolf hunting program is certain to ignite controversy.
“We are a network featuring hunting, fishing and shooting, so we incite passions every day,” said Michelle Scheuermann, communications director.
“We talked about it, of course, but it was never not going to happen because wolf hunting is happening and we want to show it for that reason. It needs exposure. There are thousands of books on hunting whitetails, but none on wolf hunting.
“We want people to see what it’s about and make their own educated decisions.”