Wolves worry outfitters

  Gray wolves transplanted to Yellowstone National Park and Idaho wilderness areas three and a half years ago are multiplying fast - but so are the concerns of Idaho hunting guides, who say the wolves are killing too many elk.

"If the wolf recovery program goes on unchecked, it will put us out of business," said Scott Farr, the owner of Wilderness Outfitters in Challis, Idaho. "Ranchers and sportsmen may have to unite and remove the wolf."

His comments received a standing ovation at the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association conference in Boise in early January.

There are now more than 200 wolves in Yellowstone and Idaho, up from the 14 animals transplanted from Canada in 1995. Wolves feed on elk about 80 percent of the time, and they are thriving in Idaho, which has the second-largest elk herd in the country after Colorado.

The shrinking elk herds may cost the state's hunting outfitters as much as $1 million a year, says Ed Bangs of the Fish and Wildlife Service. But he adds that wolves have been an economic windfall to the area, estimating that wolf-recovery efforts will buoy tourism in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho by $20 million each year.

Kerry Murphy, a biologist at Yellowstone National Park, told outfitters at the conference that elk populations will eventually bounce back as wolf numbers begin to level off.

Still, Idaho big-game manager Lon Cook says resentment among outfitters is on the rise. "Before we had wolves, hunters didn't have anyone to blame except themselves if they didn't get an elk," he says. "Now they can blame the wolf."

* Steve Stuebner

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