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WILTZ: Of mountain lions and wolves


The Daily Republic

Since 2005, resident South Dakotans have had a mountain lion hunting season. While unlimited licenses are available for statewide use, the Black Hills operates on a quota system. This year, Black Hills lion hunting will come to a halt when 100 lions or 70 females have been killed.

For reasons not completely understood, our Black Hills elk population plummeted and continued falling about the same time we began hunting mountain lions. With speculation about the fall of the elk population rampant, many blamed an alleged over-population of mountain lions. Most will agree that the lions played at least a part in the elk decline.

Because responsibility goes along with writing this column, I must be careful about drawing conclusions. I will say this. In 2007, I hunted elk in Custer State Park. I saw mountain lions, and elk were scarce. On my particular hunt, only 37 percent of the cow elk hunters killed an elk. That is a very low rate of success for CSP. I worked my tail off and killed a cow on my fifth day of hunting. In looking back, there should not have been a CSP cow elk hunt in 2007. CSP elk hunts have been limited since that time.

I believe that our South Dakota Department of Game, Fish & Parks has been right on in its handling of the mountain lion situation. However, our recent lion seasons have not been without criticism. In the June 2013 issue of "Predator Xtreme" magazine, John Laundre, a New York-based cougar biologist, had this to say in speaking about our Black Hills lions.

"It basically means the lion population has crashed. It has been over exploited the last two years."

Don't you love the way someone from New York becomes an expert on South Dakota?

How did we do "lion wise" in 2012? Our Black Hills lion quota was 70 lions. We reached it by March 1 even though the season was scheduled to run through March 31. Keeping in mind what Mr. Laundre had to say, it will be interesting to see how the 2013 season goes.

Our Minnesota and Wisconsin neighbors have their own predator concerns. We call them wolves. In 2012, both Minnesota and Wisconsin had their first-ever modern day wolf seasons. Minnesota's season ended Jan. 3 when its self-imposed quota of 400 wolves was met. Minnesotans actually killed 417 wolves before final tabulations were counted.

Wisconsin's wolves aren't as abundant as Minnesota's. With a Wisconsin quota of 115 wolves, the season closed on Dec. 23 -- well ahead of the actual February closing date. Like Minnesota, the "cheeseheads" killed a couple extra wolves before numbers were officially tallied. Also, Wisconsin's wolf tally went beyond the 115 wolf quota as reservation hunting was not a part of the regular season.

The two seasons finally came about when the Minnesota and Wisconsin wolf populations were delisted from the Federal Endangered Species list on Jan. 27, 2012. Most people have been pleased with the two Upper Midwest wolf seasons.

I used the word "most." As you may have noted in a recent Daily Republic article, the "howling for wolves" people are currently circulating a petition in an attempt to stop Minnesota's coming wolf season.

The wolves of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have proven that they can decimate an elk population. Though not elk, the most accurate figures available show that a single wolf will devour 25 to 50 deer a year. In certain areas of the above-mentioned states, only a token remnant of the elk population remains, and licensed outfitters have actually withdrawn from these areas. Wolves are capable of closing down recreational hunting seasons.

As I've mentioned in the past, wolves have cost friends and me two hunts that might have otherwise been successful in terms of game taken. The first was an Alaskan caribou hunt with Greg McCann and Ed Kniffen. The second was an elk/deer hunt in the Canadian Rockies with Doug Koupal.

On the Alaskan hunt, we flew out of King Salmon in a bush plane with Branch River Air. In mid-air our pilot told us he couldn't fly far enough to reach a huntable caribou herd. On the Jasper Wilderness hunt in the Canadian Rockies, our guide/outfitter reluctantly revealed that wolves had pretty much decimated the area's elk and deer herds.

I'd like to see a controlled wolf population just as we control our deer population. Hunting is by far the most efficient and economical way to control game populations. Regardless of how the ARK's feel (Animal Rights Kooks), wolves, like our other game animals, need to be managed.

Realistically, it will be trappers, not hunters, who control our wolves. In speaking of the recent wolf management success in Minnesota and Wisconsin, it was the trappers who deserve the credit. Minnesota had a split-wolf season. Most of the success came in the second half where 25 percent of the trappers and only 4 percent of the hunters were successful. Skill wise the trappers have forgotten more than I'll ever know about hunting. Much of my wolf information came from the June 2013 "Predator Xtreme" magazine.

Could I have ever killed a wolf with a rifle if I had one? Not counting wolves seen along Canadian highways (easy picking), I could have shot a Minnesota wolf. Tom, my son-in-law who lived in the Twin Cities at the time, went ruffed grouse hunting with a friend. They took me along as an observer, and we hunted in the Sandstone area.

My first reaction to the wolf was pretty dumb. I asked myself why a German Sheppard was running around in the woods. Well, it wasn't a dog.

See you next week.