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Opinion: From walleyes to wolves

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opinion Mitchell, 57301
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

While I enjoyed a Rotary conference at Chamberlain's Cedar Shores this past weekend, the place buzzed of walleye talk. The Shores was headquarters for a 100-team walleye competition, and flights of boats were released every 15 minutes. Most important, they were catching fish.

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Pierre is also a hotspot. Long-liners pulling silver and black Rapala Husky Jerks with non-stretch lines like Fireline are nailing salmon on the flats above the Oahe Dam.

This is easy, no-technique fishing. Ever have a salmon on the end of your light tackle? What a hoot! This salmon thing should be good for at least a few more weeks. Easy walleye limits, mostly 18-inch males, are coming from the middle of town below the railroad bridge.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The wolf controversy might be the single-greatest issue in wildlife management today. I have not talked about it since Montana and Idaho set wolf hunting seasons for the fall of 2009. I don't like wolves. Wolves ruined hunts I paid good money for in Alaska and Alberta, and I don't see them as being compatible with our caribou, deer and elk populations so long as they are protected.

About a year ago, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service removed the wolves in the northern Rockies from the endangered species list. After a series of courtroom hassles, Idaho and Montana set wolf seasons for the fall of 2009. Unfortunately for Wyoming, the Fish & Wildlife Service did not approve Wyoming's plan, and Wyoming is still fighting for a wolf season.

How did the 2009 Idaho and Montana wolf seasons go? Hunters killed 72 of Montana's 500-plus wolves, leaving officials pleased with the season. They now view hunting as a successful means of wolf control.

With Idaho's estimated population of 850 wolves, hunters appear to have fallen short of the 220 wolf goal the state had hoped for, but they were still working at it when these figures went to press. Idaho's Dept. of Fish & Game feels it is on the right track.

As you might guess, not everyone is happy with the new hunting seasons. While Ryan Counts was elk hunting on the Buffalo Plateau north of Yellowstone, he killed wolf No. 527. He later learned that ol' 527 was named "Bolt" by wolf watchers. Apparently the wolf had a Z-shaped marking on its hip.

Laurie Lyman, a wolf advocate, wrote this on her blog. "527 is gone. It is with a heavy heart that I write yet another obituary for a wolf that was part of our lives for seven years."

The wolves obviously have friends.

The RMEF, or Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, is tired of groups like Defenders of Wildlife filing a lawsuit every time a wolf is killed, while at the same time failing to recognize the decimation of elk herds. Since the reintroduction of wolves, the Northern Yellowstone herd has dropped from 19,000 elk to 6,000 elk. Yellowstone's Madison Firehole elk herd went from 700 to 108. The Gallatin Canyon elk herd went from 1,048 to 338.

What can one wolf do? During the winter of 2002-03, Fish & Wildlife did a study in Montana's Madison Valley. Wolves killed 125 elk per day. This translates to every wolf killing 23 elk from November to April. To avid elk hunters, wolves are killers. To wolf supporters, hunters are killers. Newspapers from more liberal climes have their opinions. Here's what The New York Times had to say last September.

Quoting the Times, "To us, the wolf hunt in Idaho and Montana seems indecent. Hunters want to kill wolves because wolves kill elk -- and the human hunter wants the elk. A second reason is a love of killing things."

Though I disagree, I understand the Times' point, although I abhor the notion that most hunters, myself included, love killing things.

Neither Idaho nor Montana wants to eliminate wolves. They want to control their numbers the way wildlife departments want to control deer numbers. Money is a part of the mix. Montana's 2009 wolf license revenue was $325,916. Last year, wildlife authorities had to eliminate 256 wolves that were preying on livestock. This cost money that could have been spent elsewhere.

I think wolves need to be controlled the way South Dakota controls mountain lions. Estimate the population, decide how many lions must be eliminated to keep deer and elk herds at manageable levels, and set a quota for the lions the same way a quota is set for the elk and deer. There is a solution to the western wolf problem that will appease both sides of the issue.

See you next week.

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