Done playing nice

Politics didn't play much into last Saturday's fundraiser for Montana Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife. About 450 members celebrated the nonprofit's first birthday at the Missoula Fairgrounds, with a pig roast, a silent auction, and a bouncy house for the kids. Director Bill Merrill says they intentionally took a break from discussing gray wolves.

That might come as a surprise to anyone familiar with SFW's anti-wolf lobbying over the past year. Their campaign relies on graphic images of wolves downing a moose, bloody elk carcasses, and mutilated deer.

Merrill makes no excuses for the lurid depictions. The truth is the truth, he says. "That's what we want it to be, because it's going to wake the public up that this is a major issue."

While SFW enjoyed a night off from the wolf wars, a Hamilton family suddenly found itself in the thick of them. Jason Ekin awoke early Saturday morning to the sound of dogs barking, and when he checked on his three hunting dogs, he found a wolf standing in his backyard. "He said that this wolf had attacked his dog, and he shot and killed it," says Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks warden Lou Royce. "He said that he was sleeping and he heard his dogs fighting with something, going crazy."

Royce says one of the dogs had clear bite marks on its hindquarters. Even if Congress hadn't delisted wolves earlier this month, Ekin would have been legally justified in killing one to defend his pets.

Ekin lives less than a mile outside Hamilton's city limits. Merrill points to the incident as clear evidence that, while wolves deserve a place on the landscape, such predator populations can't go unchecked. Merrill says he doubts public hunts will actually happen this year. In light of recent legal challenges to the delisting, he says, "we're done playing nice...They're coming right into town, and people don't understand the type of problems that we're heading for. It could have been a little kid playing out in the backyard."

Royce said he knew of no incident in modern times when a wolf attacked a human in Montana.

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