The impact of wolves on elk hunting in Montana
Hazen, Steven Robert.
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The controversy over gray wolves has been a continual debate throughout the American West since reintroduction in the mid 1990's. Hunter stances on this issue vary across the state since the true impact of these predators is unknown. Following wolf recovery, researchers have found game numbers decreasing in some regions while remaining steady in others. Areas with game reduction have been found to have higher populations of predators, including grizzly bear, cougars, and wolves. Recently, Montana wolves have been taken off the federal list of endangered species, allowing the state game agency to manage populations. The purpose of this thesis is to develop a method to analyze the impact of wolves on elk harvest and a proxy for hunter demand throughout three distinct regions. A system of equations derived from overall biological models was used to form the basis of the empirical models. The dependent variables that are developed assess the impact of wolves on the quantity of both elk harvest and hunter applications. The wolf variables included in the models capture the population of wolves and how their impact changes as hunting moves farther away from reintroduction areas. The time period considered is from 1999 to 2010. Data prior to 1999, when wolves were first reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park (YNP), has not been released by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MFWP), therefore limiting this analysis. The results from the empirical estimations suggest wolves are reducing overall hunter demand in both the southwest and west central regions. In particular, the southwest region is seeing a shift in hunter applications from areas less than 25 miles to YNP to areas ranging from 25 to 50 miles. No statistically significant regional effect of wolves on hunter harvest was found in any region analyzed.