Montana

Wildlife advocates see wolves as ‘best natural defense’ against wasting disease

By Brett French / The (Billings, Mont.) Gazette

Wolves are the perfect animal to help reduce the spread of chronic wasting disease among elk, deer and moose, wolf advocates told the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission on Friday during the board’s meeting in Helena, Montana.

“And it doesn’t cost us anything,” said Marc Cooke, president of Wolves of the Rockies.

Cooke’s comment was later endorsed by former Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Gary Wolfe, who was once the program leader for the CWD Alliance, which tracks and provides information on the fatal disease.

“I would have to agree that wolves can be an effective control,” Wolfe said. “They are the best natural defense Montana has.”

The comments come as the Montana Legislature is considering Senate Joint Resolution 9, introduced by Sen. Mike Phillips, D-Bozeman, that would request a study of the potential impacts of and methods to prevent chronic wasting disease in Montana. The measure already passed the Senate and is now moving through the House.

Phillips also introduced SJ8, which would have asked Wyoming to discontinue artificial feeding of elk, a place where diseases like CWD could quickly spread. That resolution was tabled in the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee after clearing the full Senate with a unanimous 50-0 vote.

Meanwhile, the disease continues to spread in Montana’s neighbor to the south. In late March, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department reported officials had detected CWD in a female mule deer found dead near the Pinedale airport in February, the first case of CWD found in Sublette County, which is home to 13 elk feedgrounds.

“This deer was found in Deer Hunt Area 139, where CWD has not been previously discovered, and is not adjacent to any other positive CWD deer, elk or moose hunt areas,” according to a WDGF news release.

Could wolves become an unexpected ally in protecting Montana’s most popular big game animals? That would be a hard reality to swallow for some hunters and hunting groups who have long opposed the large canines’ reintroduction to Yellowstone and spread into Montana.

“I encourage the department to make sure wolves are considered in the management of CWD,” Wolfe said.

Montana has an estimated population of about 600 wolves. Yellowstone is home to about 100 wolves whose main diet is elk.

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