Wild horses and wolves, oh my

Photo courtesy of Return To Freedom
Photo courtesy of Return To Freedom

I recently came across a few most excellent multimedia presentations on two of my favorite topics: canines and equines.

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Screen grab from opening of NPR’s Wolves At the Door.

Earlier this week, NPR did a good radio report on the wolf situation in the West, paired with a great online presentation. After being stripped of federal protection under the Endangered Species Act several years ago, wolves in the Northern Rockies are now in the hands of individual states in that region. Meaning Idaho, Montana and Wyoming now have wolf hunting seasons. The Humane Society says methods of killing wolves include steel-jawed leghold traps, hunting over bait and even using packs of dogs to chase down and kill them.

The chart I did below shows wolf population and hunting, aka “harvesting,” since the hunts began in the Northern Rockies states. At the end of 2012, about 1,700 wolves resided in that region. Long-term, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service aims to maintain a population of about 1,000.

The numbers below are estimates that I cobbled together from the Humane Society and the states’ various fish and game departments, so don’t take them as gospel. I know from my last job that gathering data like this is always a challenge. Hunting seasons straddle two calendar years, and population figures are always estimates anyway. For example, the 2013 population figure I show for Montana accounts for the wolves killed in 2013 and so far in 2014, but doesn’t account for other deaths. But you get the idea.

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Needless to say, it’s a contentious issue pitting animal lovers and environmentalists against ranchers and hunters in states where wolves reside. Ranchers say wolves kill their livestock, and hunters claim they decimate the elk population (something that was recently found not to be true). NPR does a great job of outlining the debate and updating us on the issue.

The other great media presentation I came across this week was from Oregon Public Broadcasting on the issue of wild horses in the West. Horse preservationists say mustangs are a vital part of the West’s open spaces, while ranchers and others think there are too many horses vying with their Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 7.41.50 PMlivestock over grazing land.

Wild horses have been protected under the federal Wild Horse and Burro Act since 1971. Since then, their numbers have increased, and the Bureau of Land Management manages the population by periodically culling the herds through public adoptions. Removed horses are adopted or end up in holding facilities. In 2013, the 49,500 horses and burros in long-term holding facilities surpassed the estimated range population.

Now, I’m totally against the “harvesting” of wolves, and clearly something needs to be done to protect wild horses competing for grazing space. The BLM hasn’t exactly done a bang-up job of managing the situation. I highly recommend the two multimedia presentations here. To find out more about the gray wolf — which USFSW is proposing to remove entirely from the threatened and endangered species act — read up on the issue and have your say. Public comment is being reopened starting Mon., Feb. 10 and you have til March 27 to make your voice heard.

Funny how public broadcasting is doing such a great job covering these Western issues in mulitimedia form compared to other major print media outlets. With the exception, of course, of the New York Times’ fabulous Avalanche At Tunnel Creek multimedia project in 2012, which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing.

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