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Know the West

Hunters cry: too many predators

  A booming wolf population around Yellowstone National Park has local sportsmen up in arms. More than 2,500 people have sent in a dollar to join the newly formed Friends of the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd, according to founder Robert Fanning. The group wants to take wolves off the endangered species list and give the state of Montana control over any that cross over the park's boundary.

"Our fathers and grandfathers got rid of wolves for a reason," fumes one letter writer. "The outfitting business and hunters who put meat on the table are being shortchanged."

The number of elk in the park's northern herd has dropped dramatically, from around 17,000 during the 1994-95 season to 11,700 last spring, according to park biologist Wendy Clark. But she says hard winters and elk hunters, not wolves, deserve much of the blame, and adds that fluctuations are normal.

"There's this sentiment bordering on hysteria that suddenly predators are overrunning the landscape," says David Gaillard of the Bozeman-based Predator Conservation Alliance.

Gaillard says hunters may just be reacting to the return of predators, including lions. "But really it just means we're making progress in restoring balance to the region."

* Andrea Barnett