It’s no secret there’s never-ending controversy brewing across the West regarding predators and predator management. But why?
All you need to do is take a look at the northern Yellowstone elk herd that bounces between the national park and southwest Montana. It took a 24-percent dive in 2011 and another 10-percent dive going into 2012. Some of that was due to winter, but since the reintroduction of wolves in 1992 the herd has been diving like a kamikaze suicide diver.
South Dakota is now experiencing a crash in its elk herd, specifically in the Black Hills and the famous Custer State Park herd. Numbers are also falling off the charts and, instead of wolves, fingers are being pointed at mountain lions. Last year a team of researchers sedated elk from the air. While one elk was being prepped, a team moved to a second sedated elk waiting close by. By the time the team reached the second elk, a mountain lion had killed it for the start of a daytime snack.
That odd event couldn’t happen a second time, could it? Are you sitting down? Yes, it did. This year another sedated cow elk was attacked by a mountain lion right after being darted. Fortunately, the helicopter crew did some Magnum P.I.-type flying and scared the lion from the bleary-eyed elk.
I’m not a rocket scientist, but I think the research is conclusive: There are a lot of mountain lions in the Black Hills. End of discussion. Of course, if you’ve followed the mountain lion hunting season that was recently opened in the region, you already knew that fact. Without dogs, hunters in the state have filled quotas consistently—without effort and in record-setting time.
Predators are a great addition to the landscape, East or West. But so are our rich big-game populations that we as hunters have paid dearly to return to the landscape. I feel a strong connection every time I see a lion or bear print in the mud while I’m hiking, but I still want to see more deer and elk tracks than paw prints.