Tom Ross

Tom Ross

Tom Ross: Routt County residents soon may debate wolf management

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Tom Ross

Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Tom here.

— Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?

I am, after viewing photographs of people who have shot gray wolves in legal hunting seasons in the northern Rockies.

I’ve always imagined that if a lone wolf was pestering me, I probably could discourage him on my own. Not any longer.

If one types the words “wolf hunt” into a search engine, a collection of photos will pop up near the top of the list. There are several images of men holding up their trophies with their arms wrapped around the animal’s chest just below the forelegs. The wolves appear to be as long as a man is tall, and with their bushy coats, they appear to be much heavier. But what is really stunning is how large a full-grown wolf’s head is. In the photographs, they appear to be three times the size of a human head.

“My," Little Red Riding Hood said, “what big teeth you have!”

According to the National Wildlife Federation, the average male gray wolf is 73 inches in length and ranges in weight from 70 to 145 pounds. I can only conclude that much of what I’m seeing in the photographs must be fur. Still ...

The closest I’ve come to a wild wolf was during a backpacking trip in Isle Royale National Park more than 30 years ago.

At the time, the wolves of Isle Royale (it’s an island in Lake Superior) were in near perfect balance with a population of moose that was afflicted with a lung parasite. The wolves tended to prey on the weakest moose and effectively acted as wildlife managers, culling the weakest animals from the herd.

I didn’t actually see a wolf on Isle Royale; we only heard them howling one night in the distance, and the sound was faint.

I guess if I were determined to set eyes on a grey wolf, I would travel to Gardiner, Mont., in January and drive into the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park, where wolves have helped to restore the health of the native range by thinning an overpopulation of elk.

As of Oct. 20, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks was reporting that hunters had killed 12 wolves this season. The harvest appeared to have been spread around the portions of the state where wolf packs roam — the wolves had been taken from six different management units, and three wolves were shot in two of those management units.

In Wisconsin, the only state to allow hunting wolves with dogs, the inaugural timber wolf season began Oct. 15 and runs through February. The state is thought to have a population of 850 wolves or more, according to a story in the Wisconsin State Journal, and 1,160 licenses are available with 638 of those purchased as of this month. However, the total harvest is limited to 201 animals. And the Humane Society has filed suit to block hunting the wolves with dogs.

In the past few years, two dead wolves wearing radio collars have been found. And a wildlife biologist found numerous scat samples and tracks northwest of Grand Junction that bore all the signs of a wolf.

More dramatic was a 2007 wolf sighting just across the Park Range. You can find a video of the wolf sighted north of Walden and a form to fill out if you think you’ve seen a wolf yourself at the website of the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife.

It’s only a matter of time until Coloradans are confronted with managing wolves, and Northwest Colorado, with its close proximity to resident packs in Wyoming, is sure to be in the thick of things.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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