Interviewer Martin, tell me your name and where you live.
Martin Davis I'm Martin Davis. I live in Paradise Valley, Montana.
Interviewer How have wolves affected your outfitting business?
Martin Davis The wolves have affected our outfitting business rather heavily. These last few years our population of elk has plummeted. The Northern Yellowstone Park elk herd that we used to enjoy, a two-month season of a late hunt is no longer there. We have no late hunt anymore because of diminished elk numbers. Our regular season elk hunting in late fall; we've watched the population of elk fall off there. So booking hunters has been rather hard these last few years.
Interviewer How have wolves affected your outfitting business?
Martin Davis The wolves have affected our outfitting business rather immensely. We've watched our elk herd diminish greatly in these last few years. The Northern Yellowstone Park elk herd numbered high into the thousands, the tens of thousands, and now they're way under that. And so we've watched our late hunting season disappear completely, and our regular season elk season has… The numbers of elk are way down there also.
Interviewer One of the biologists we interviewed said there are more elk in the world now than in its history. Do you agree?
Martin Davis Not at all. In the Yellowstone area there is no way. I've talked to biologists that said there was upwards of 30,000 elk in that Northern Yellowstone elk herd 15 years ago. Today there's four. So maybe elsewhere in the world maybe there's a few more, but certainly not here by any means.
Interviewer Why do you think that is?
Martin Davis There's only one reason that we can put on that those elk are no longer in those great numbers, and that's depredation from the wolf pack. Early on when the wolves were first introduced, we saw populations of cow elk migrate out of the park, and there's be 300 head of cow elk with like two calves for like 300 head of cow elk. Well the population can't take that kind of depredation that many years before we have no elk at all.
Interviewer What has happened to Yellowstone's elk herd?
Martin Davis What's happened to those elk is exactly what we were just talking about--wolf depredation. Some people will claim, "Well ya there's grizzly bears too, and there's mountain lions." We had grizzly bears and we had lions before. Certainly those numbers are up a little bit, but the only other thing added into it are those wolves, and they're just detrimental to the elk herds.
Interviewer Do you agree that wolves have been beneficial to tourism?
Martin Davis I really don't believe that. We have a tour business. We take people horseback riding all summer and we talk to a lot of these people that have been in Yellowstone Park. The majority of them are there to see wildlife, not just wolves. And they're quite disappointed when they only see a little handful of elk, or a little handful of deer, and absolutely no moose anymore, and so we feel that the majority of those tourists that come to Yellowstone are there to see wildlife. Certainly there's some that come strictly to see a wolf, or maybe most of them hope to see a wolf, but the majority of them are there to see wildlife, not just the wolf.
Interviewer Are there too many wolves?
Martin Davis I believe there are absolutely too many wolves. In Yellowstone Park itself there is no way to control them there, and even though they're detrimental to the population of elk there. But once those wolves come out of the park, we feel that larger hunting seasons are very necessary to keep that expanding population of wolves down.
Interviewer Should they be hunted?
Martin Davis Absolutely they should be hunted, and hunted far more than they have been in the last few years.
Interviewer Should wolves be hunted and why?
Martin Davis The wolf should be hunted because of their… They're running uncontrollably right now. Their populations are expanding far faster than I think even a biologist ever thought they would. And we've got to get those wolf populations into check because of the detrimental affect on our wildlife herds and for the ranching community.
Interviewer Why are wolves so controversial?
Martin Davis** The wolves are so controversial I think because they're mythical maybe. And people think of them as maybe being warm and cuddly. However, us folks here in the West, our ancestors grew up with them and were scared to death of them. Possibly that wolf was after your saddle horse instead of you 150 years ago, but they were still frightened because if they did get your horse you were as good as dead anyhow back then. And we hear the stories of our ancestors that were chased into their cabins with shredded clothes because the wolves were on them that close, so I think we have a different view of them here than they maybe do elsewhere in the world for sure.
Interviewer What is there about wolves that people just don't know?
Martin Davis** Well I think what people don't know about wolves is a lot of times is how they kill. I've heard people say, "Well they only kill as much as they can eat," which is totally false. We've seen where they have killed whole herds of; I shouldn't say a whole herd. I've seen it when they've killed eight or ten elk in one group and eaten part of three or four of them. They just enjoy the kill so much. And that is definitely very hard on wildlife populations.
Interviewer Wolf advocates were alarmed when members of the popular Cottonwood pack were killed last year. How would you respond?
Martin Davis** I feel that any of those packs that are killed off are rejuvenated by other wolves so quickly that they have no need to worry about these packs. We've had packs here in the valley that were taken out, and within a few months other wolves took their place. So I feel that we have wolves now, and we'll have wolves on into the future, even with hunting seasons, because back in the days when we got rid of them, when we pretty close came to eradicating them back in the old days, we were able to use those terrible poisons that we'd never want to use this day and age. So I feel that even with hunting them, we've got wolves now, and we're going to have wolves.
Interviewer Do you see any common ground between hunters and wolf advocates, and what needs to happen?
Martin Davis Common ground between… Early on hunting circles didn't have a whole lot to say about the reintroduction of wolves. Mostly it was the ranching community that was a little concerned. As time has gone on with the depletion of our game herds now the hunting circles are starting to show their voice and say something has to be done because of the depletion of our game herds.
Interviewer Is there any common ground between outfitters and ranchers and wolf advocates?
Martin Davis I really don't see a lot of common ground between the wolf advocates and ranchers and the hunters. I really don't see a lot of common ground there.
Interviewer Why should ranchers have the ultimate say when it's public land?
Martin Davis Well the ranchers should have the say because that's their private cattle out, and they might be on a public land, but that's rancher's cattle out there. And some people don't think those cattle should be there on public land, but they have been for the last 100 years, and we've taken care of that property with controlled grazing. And when that's your private property out there you should be able to have some say on it.
Interviewer Tell me about what you think there with the analogy compared to the Florida gators?
Martin Davis** I don't know a thing about alligators, and so I don't feel like I should go and tell Floridians what to do with their gator population. Maybe it should be the other way around. Floridians do not know what we are going through here. They don't know. They haven't been out on the ground like we are, so maybe that should be the other way around. Maybe the rest of the country shouldn't be telling us what we should do with our country here, and wolves.
Interviewer You were talking about the species of wolf from Canada.
Martin Davis** When wolves were reintroduced here we were concerned because we had different people tell us that the wolf that we used to have here was a smaller wolf compared to this mega-Canadian wolf. People said that our elk population used to get along, used to survive with our wolf population that we had here at one time. But now we have this mega-Canadian wolf, and maybe our elk herds cannot handle this bigger wolf than we used to have. And that's one thing that we haven't been able to get the answer to.
Interviewer You were talking about the species of wolf from Canada being a different type than the wolf that was here.
Martin Davis Historically the wolves we had here were a smaller wolf than the wolf that we now have from Canada, so we are concerned that this mega-Canadian wolf is something that our elk herds cannot cope with. Certainly they did with the smaller wolf from back in history, but now can they, with this larger Canadian wolf?
Interviewer And then you were talking about the elk range here and the numbers. What has happened to that land where they had many more elk?
Martin Davis Back in the early '90s I believe it was, Forest Service, Fish and Game, and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation purchased three different ranches up the valley here for elk wintering range for the migrating elk herd that comes out of Yellowstone. Back then there was 6,000 plus elk that wintered on that winter range. Today there is four to six hundred head that winter there. The grass that was once eaten off by those wintering elk is now waving in the wind, and they hardly graze any of that anymore. So it's kind of ironic that what they purchased for elk wintering range is now hardly used by elk any longer.
Interviewer You were talking about… well some of the effects on cattle might not be just depredation. They could be weight loss from harassment, for example. Discuss that just a little bit.
Martin Davis In our ranching business we have found that our weaning weights have fallen off because of the presence of wolves. Our bottom line is pounds of beef in the fall, and what we have found is that our weaning weights have dropped because of the wolf...
Interviewer You were talking about the harassment issue. It's a little more subtle than depredation, not quite as obvious, but still affects the weight of our cattle.
Martin Davis We have been quite fortunate compared to some of our neighbors as far as depredation on our livestock. We haven't lost too many. But what is worse for us is our weight loss. Our bottom line is pounds of beef come fall when we sell the calves. And what we have found...
Martin Davis We are very fortunate in our ranching business not to have had too much depredation from the wolves on our livestock. However, what we have had happen is lower weaning weights. Pounds of beef in the fall is our bottom line, and we have witnessed smaller weaning weights because of the presence of the wolves. We find where our cows have stood for long periods of time in rings on the ground where they have been, like they've been fenced in, and those wolves apparently aren't terribly hungry because they don't depredate on the cattle. But what they're doing is holding the cattle off of the grass so those calves aren't gaining the weight that they need to.
Interviewer You were saying that the Davis's have never killed wolves, and then you mentioned the 15 wolves that you have seen there, and the harassment that they were doing on your cattle, which led to reduced weights.
Martin Davis*** I can honestly say that the Davis's have never killed a wolf. We've been playing by the books, probably couldn't say the same for some of our neighbors, but we have played by the rules. Just like a year ago our cows were not in the pasture. They were down below. We had to push them back up the mountain. As we entered our pasture there were 12 wolves standing there looking at us on our private property. We had to, more or less, shoo those wolves away. The cows did not want to stay there because they were scared. And that brings up the point about the harassment that those wolves put on our cows makes for a smaller weaning weight for us. Weight is our bottom line when these calves come out of the hills, and when we have less weight to sell, that's right out of our pocket. And with this harassment we have found our weaning weights are down, and that's something a lot of people don't realize.