Why Hunt Wolves?

George Wuerthner make so much sense on wolves.

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Are Hunters Stupid? The Unintended Consequences of Wolf Hunting

 

By George Wuerthner, New West Unfiltered 9-03-09

In my younger days I worked for the BLM in Boise, Idaho. A new range con, named Daryl, came to the district.  On Friday after work, we invited Daryl to a party so he could meet some of the local folks. I was talking to a couple of women when Daryl ambled up to us with a beer in his hand and big smile on his face. I introduced him and he started talking to the ladies.

I think on the whole he was making a good impression. Dressed in his cowboy boots and jeans, Daryl made a striking figure. After making some small talk for a while, Daryl made his move. He asked them if they wanted to go gopher shooting on Saturday.  “Gopher shooting” they asked incredulously?  “Yeah, he said, “gopher hunting—you know blowing away gophers.” They looked stunned and remained silent. So Daryl tried to recover and said, “The fun part is seeing the red mist rise in the air when you hit one. It’s an incredible rush,” he said with obvious enthusiasm.

Those women just looked at each other like they couldn’t believe what they were hearing.  He might as well ask them if they wanted to go the park and molest children. The women fled. Daryl was left baffled and standing alone. He just couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to go blow away gophers, especially when he offered to bring a spare rifle so they could join in the fun.
Poor Daryl had grown up on a farm in North Dakota, and more recently had worked in Burns Oregon. In his world, shooting gophers was considered a legitimate recreational pastime. But what passes for fun in rural America seems like senseless killing to most urban dwellers. 

Sometimes I think most hunters in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming are as clueless as Daryl. They can’t seem to comprehend how killing wolves baffles, if not outright infuriates, a lot of people. Wolf killing gives fodder to those who want to stop all hunting.  Sometimes when I see these rural rubes, strutting around celebrating the initiation of a wolf hunting season and talking about how it’s an “adrenaline rush” to shoot one, I have to wonder if they are brain dead or just incredibly naïve and ignorant about the rest of mainstream society’s values?  They apparently cannot imagine how much some forms of hunting, including the shooting of an icon like the wolf, turns off the rest of society to hunting.

Most people don’t hunt, so the perception of hunting and hunters is key to how society will tolerate and support hunting as a legitimate activity. Yet most hunters seem to take the knee jerk attitude that anyone who objects to any form of hunting or kind of hunting, no matter how barbaric, is either a member of PETA, or just doesn’t “understand” Nature. The truth is that many of those objecting to wolf hunting are neither ignorant of ecology nor members of PETA or any other animal rights organization. 

Americans are willing to accept some forms of hunting, typically if the animal is used for food and/or if there is a legitimate safety issue—say animals carry rabies. But they don’t support outright slaughter of animals for no reason other than someone thinks killing is fun or a challenge. I and many of my friends hunt—but we all eat the animals we kill, and we don’t kill animals unnecessarily or with malice against them. 

Furthermore, many Americans, including myself, consider spotting a wolf in the wild as a cherished event. Despite the claims by some hunters that there are “too many” wolves in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, the chance of seeing one of these animals in the wild is extremely rare. There are less than 2000 wolves spread over three of the largest western states. Imagine if there were only 2000 deer spread over all three states—would hunters think there were “too many?”

Plus, for many Americans, wolves are symbolic of a largely lost heritage of the wild, unfettered nature. And for some, such as myself, wolf restoration represents the best of American values—acknowledging the great ecological wrong we imposed upon the land when we extirpated wolves, and an attempt to heal the ecological wounds we created.  So the idea that any state would implement a policy to restrict or reduce wolves is something to strongly oppose.

As the ecologist Aldo Leopold noted years ago, wolves also play an important biological role as a top down predator that has many ecological ramifications across the landscape. Unfortunately most hunters have not yet developed the ability to “think like a mountain” as Leopold admonished. 

We do know that wolves select different animals in the herd from hunters. Wolves, while opportunistic, still tend to kill the young, old, and injured. They can keep herd animals free from disease and can sometimes have significant influence upon other animals and plants. For example, it’s theorized that hey alter habitat use by ungulates, for instance, moving elk out of riparian areas. Even when wolves severely reduce prey numbers, they are performing an important ecological function by providing plant communities respite from heavy browsing pressure.

Hunters by contrast, tend to kill the productive age healthy animals, and have less ecological influence upon prey species and habitat use than native predators.

Of course, some hunters rationalize killing wolves because they suggest the animals “need” to be managed. I hear that all the time, as if somehow the natural world had gone to hell in a hand-basket before Euro Americans arrived just in the nick of time to rescue Nature from imminent collapse.  Of course, the “need” to manage wolves is both a self-created and self-justifying excuse to kill animals that most hunters wish would just go away or at least believe should be kept at much lower numbers.

All this talk about the so called “need” to manage wolves is disingenuous at best.  Any good ecologist will tell you that wolves and other predators do not need to be “managed” since they are more or less self-regulating by prey availability and social interactions. The only reason one has to “manage” wolves is because state wildlife agencies want to sell more hunting licenses.  (There may be rare instances where lethal action is necessary where an animal may have become habituated to people and poses a safety concern, but that is entirely different than “sport hunting”.)

I doubt most agencies care about predator social interactions. They treat wolves and other predators like cogs in a wheel—interchangeable parts. Shoot some wolves. Not to worry, more will be born. But the interactions between wolves, prey, and humans are not so simple. Animals have real social lives that influence many aspects of their behavior.

Indiscriminate hunting, by disrupting these social relationships, can exacerbate the conflicts between wolves and humans.  Killing a large percentage of wolves in any area creates many of the so called “problems” that hunting is supposed to reduce. Indiscriminate hunting and reduction of wolves (as opposed to the surgical elimination of a particular animal or group) skews the local population towards younger animals which are less skilled hunters, thus more likely to attack easy prey like livestock.

Also with more young animals breeding, that produce more pups, you actually increase the total biomass requirements of packs so that even if they don’t prey on livestock, wolves are likely to need more prey—i.e. those elk, deer, and moose that hunters covet. Nothing will do more to create animosity and conflict towards predators than hunting. But you won’t hear this from any state wildlife agency since it’s not in their interest to worry about social interactions of animals.

Yet if you read hunting magazines and/or listen to hunters discussing the future of their favorite activity, you find a common theme is that predators are destroying game herds, and the “antis” are out to take away their guns. The “antis” are, of course, anyone else who doesn’t hunt.  Most hunters spend more time complaining about the “antis” than doing anything meaningful to protect the habitat that is central to all hunting.

The real threat to hunting doesn’t come from PETA or any other animal rights group, but from the habitat loss resulting from oil drilling, logging, livestock grazing, ATVs, sprawl, and all the rest of the development and degradation of natural landscapes that continues unabated daily.  Some hunters and some pro hunting organizations like the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, among others recognize this, and certainly most agency biologists are well aware of this threat, but the average hunter seems less interested in protesting against oil wells, expanding ATV use, and/or sprawl than complaining about the antis.

If hunters want to help realize their worst fears—that is fuel opposition to hunting by society–they could find no better way to do this than continue blowing away wolves. But if Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho want to signal to the world that they have entered the 21st Century and no longer hold archaic and outdated ideas about predators, they can begin to value wolves as essential for ecological diversity, as well as their role in the American imagination as symbols of what we are doing right to heal the ecological wounds we created. The way to do this is to stop the hunting of all predators starting with wolves. 

George Wuerthner is a wildlife biologist and a former Montana hunting guide.

http://www.newwest.net/topic/article/are_hunters_stupid_the_unintended_consequences_of_wolf_hunting/C564/L564/

Photo: Courtesy Kewlwallpapers.com

Posted in: wolf wars, wolves under fire  

Tags:  wolf recovery, wolf hunt

Published in: on September 29, 2009 at 9:56 pm  Comments (2)  
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Idaho Wolf Hunt….Fifteen Wolves Dead

This is going to be a long winter. Idaho’s wolf hunt has taken the lives of fifteen wolves and it’s only going to get worse once the state opens all areas on Oct. 1 and cold weather sets in. 

Does Idaho or Montana have any  idea what effect the hunts will have on pack cohesiveness  or how many wolf pups will be orphaned or killed or if the hunts will disrupt the dispersal of wolves into Oregon or Washington?  I guess they have other things to worry about.  Like how much money wolf tags generate.

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Idaho wolf kill count reaches 15

Story Updated: Sep 29, 2009 at 10:32 AM MDT

By KBCI Web Staff

BOISE – Idaho Fish and Game says a total of 15 wolves have been killed in Idaho since the start of wolf hunting season.
 Idaho Fish and Game says the 15 wolves have been killed in the designated hunting regions in the state – Lolo National Forest, Sawtooths in south central Idaho and the Selway and Middle Fork zones.

 One wolf has been killed illegally, Fish and Game says.

Witnesses told officers an Eagle man shot the wolf while standing in the road at the back of his pickup truck in the Sand Creek area in Valley County. Fish and Game says the man called the 24-hour wolf harvest reporting line and said he killed the wolf in the Sawtooths.

Wolf hunting will expand statewide Oct. 1. Hunters can kill 220 wolves this season.

 http://www.2news.tv/news/local/62601737.html

 black ribbon

Posted in:  Idaho wolf hunt, Wolf Wars   

Tags:  Idaho wolf hunt, wolf intolerance

Published in: on September 29, 2009 at 8:13 pm  Comments (4)  
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Of Wolves and Men…….

black-wolf-dominant retriever man dot com jpg

Nature Magazine examines reasons behind wolf hatred and the systematic campaign to remove them from the lower forty-eight. It merits repeating that for thousands of years Native Americans were able to live with wolves and bears, while settlers saw them as a threat. Even the famed naturalist James Audubon partook in torturing wolves, which was particularly shocking to learn.

As noted in Michael Robinson’s “Predatory Bureaucracy: The Extermination of Wolves and the Transformation of the West”, the federal government became the wolf killing arm for the livestock industry.

By understanding the roots of wolf prejudice it’s clear to see why wolves have been demonized in American culture. The wolf has paid dearly for these attitudes. Even though the same outdated beliefs exist today, we are moving forward to a clearer understanding of the important role predators play in maintaining healthy ecosystems.

Man cannot continue to play god, deciding which animals are good or bad. Predators do not have ulterior motives, they hunt because that is what they are born to do and by so doing contribute to the health and stamina of their prey.

The nexus of wolf wars is the continuing presence of livestock on the Western range. This has been and will continue to be the reason wolves remain caught in the crossfire.

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From Nature Online:

The Wolf That Changed America
Wolf Wars: America’s Campaign to Eradicate the Wolf

 Wolves have been feared, hated, and persecuted for hundreds of years in North America. Before the arrival of Europeans, Native Americans incorporated wolves into their legends and rituals, portraying them as ferocious warriors in some traditions and thieving spirits in others. European Americans, however, simply despised wolves. Many, including celebrated painter and naturalist John James Audubon, believed wolves ought to be eradicated for the threat they posed to valuable livestock. This attitude enabled a centuries-long extermination campaign that nearly wiped out the gray wolf in the continental United States by 1950.

Origins of Wolf Hatred

In the New World, two top predators – wolves and men – that otherwise would have avoided each other clashed over livestock. In Vicious: Wolves and Men in America, Jon T. Coleman writes:

Wolves had a ghostly presence in colonial landscapes. Settlers heard howls, but they rarely spotted their serenaders. The fearsome beasts avoided humans. People frightened them, and colonists knew this: “They are fearefull Curres,” reported Thomas Morton in 1637, “and will runne away from a man (that meeteth them by chance at a banke end) as fast as any fearefull dogge.”

Because humans and wolves frightened one another, they logically avoided confrontation, opening space between the species. But that space closed when European colonists brought horses, cattle, sheep and pigs with them over the perilous journey across the Atlantic. Without these animals – sources of food and transportation for the European settlers – the colonies would have failed. But because most early colonial communities were small, livestock often grazed on the periphery of the settlements with little protection. Their pastures abutted and bled into the wild, exposing the animals to hungry wolves in search of prey. Wolves quickly learned that docile cattle and sheep made easy meals. Suddenly, colonists found their livelihoods in danger, and they lashed out at wolves, both with physical violence and folklore that ensured wolf hatred would be passed down from one generation to the next.

Amateur and Professional Wolf Baiting

The campaign to eradicate wolves in North America began with private landowners and farmers baiting and trapping wolves. Often, colonists turned wolf baiting into both sport and protection for their livestock. Jon T. Coleman describes an incident that took place in the winter of 1814 deep in the Ohio River Valley, in which John James Audubon assists a farmer as he mutilates trapped wolves.

During the fall, a pack of wolves had robbed [the farmer] of “nearly the whole of his sheep and one of his colts.” For him, it made sense to devote his winter labor to digging pits, weaving platforms, hunting bait, and setting and checking his traps twice daily. The animals had injured him, and “he was now ‘paying them off in full.’” Audubon’s reaction to the slaying of the wolves is less understandable … The ingenious pit traps amazed him, as did the fearsome predators’ meek behavior and the childlike glee the farmer took in his work. The violence Audubon witnessed, however, did not shock him. Watching a pack of dogs rip apart terrified and defenseless animals was a “sport” both he and the farmer found enjoyable.

Further west, in Yellowstone National Park, wolf baiting and hunting had become a lucrative profession. Paul Schullery, in his guidebook to Yellowstone wolves (The Yellowstone Wolf: A Guide & Sourcebook), describes the profession and the devastating affect it had on the Yellowstone wolf population: “At least as early as 1877, ungulate carcasses in the park were poisoned with strychnine by free-lance ‘wolfers’ for ‘wolf or wolverine bait.’ By 1880, [Yellowstone National Park] Superintendent [Philetus] Norris stated in his annual report that ‘…the value of their [wolves and coyotes] hides and their easy slaughter with strychnine-poisoned carcasses have nearly led to their extermination.’”

In the Southwest, as settlers depleted bison, elk, deer, and moose populations – the wolves’ natural prey – the predators turned more and more to picking off livestock. In states like New Mexico where cattle ranching was big business, ranchers responded by turning to professional wolfers and bounty hunters. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports, “To protect livestock, ranchers and government agencies began an eradication campaign. Bounty programs initiated in the 19th century continued as late as 1965, offering $20 to $50 per wolf. Wolves were trapped, shot, dug from their dens, and hunted with dogs. Poisoned animal carcasses were left out for wolves, a practice that also killed eagles, ravens, foxes, bears, and other animals that fed on the tainted carrion.”

Government-Sanctioned Wolf Extermination Programs   

            

Government Trapper

Towards the end of the 19th Century, wealthy livestock owners increased both their demand for wider grazing ranges and their influence over policymakers in Washington, D.C. In 1885, the federal government established the U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey, initially chartered to research insects and birds. However, the livestock lobby quickly diverted the Bureau’s attention to wolves. Stockowners complained that their land was infested with wolves, calling them “breeding grounds.” They demanded the federal government secure their land for safe pasturage.

In 1906, the U.S. Forest Service acquiesced to the stockowners and enlisted the help of the Bureau of Biological Survey to clear cattle ranges of gray wolves. In other words, the Bureau became a wolf-extermination unit. Bruce Hampton writes in The Great American Wolf:

That same year [1906], bureau biologist Vernon Bailey traveled to Wyoming and New Mexico to investigate the extent of wolf and coyote depredations. Upon Bailey’s return to Washington, D.C., President Roosevelt invited him to the White House to see what he had learned. Although there is no record of their conversation, immediately following Bailey’s meeting the President, the Biological Survey recommended that the government begin “devising methods for the destruction of the animals [wolves].”

By the middle of the 20th Century, government-sponsored extermination had wiped out nearly all gray wolves in the Lower 48 states. Only a small population remained in northeastern Minnesota and Michigan. Yet the Bureau of Biological Survey was still disseminating anti-wolf propaganda as late as 1940. One poster from the time read:

According to estimates of stockmen [the Custer Wolf, pictured in the poster] killed $25,000 worth of cattle during the seven years he was known in the vicinity of Custer, South Dakota … A local bounty of $500 failed to secure his capture. A Department hunter ended his career of destruction by a skillfully set trap. Many notorious wolves are known to have killed cattle valued at $3000 to $5000 in a year. More than 3,849 wolves have been destroyed by the predatory animal work of the Department and its cooperators since the work was organized in 1915.

It was not until the late sixties, when a greater understanding of natural ecosystems began changing attitudes in the scientific community and the National Park Service, that the plight of wolves in North America began to improve.

In 1973, Congress gave gray wolves protection under the Endangered Species Act. According to Douglas Smith and Gary Ferguson, in Yellowstone National Park, where the last gray wolf was killed in 1926, “the entire [gray wolf] restoration program was guided by directives contained in the Endangered Species Act – a law created to ground a decades-old cornerstone of science that says the healthiest, most stable natural systems tend to be those with high levels of biodiversity.”

Since then, wolf populations throughout the country have increased. In 1995 and 1996, researchers in Yellowstone National Park released 31 Canadian gray wolves back into the wild. The event was hailed as a testament to the conservation movement’s efforts to revive wild wolf populations in America. Yet anti-wolf attitudes persist. Shortly after the release of the Yellowstone wolves a hunter shot and killed Wolf Number 10. Smith and Ferguson write about the incident: “As disturbing as the shooting itself was, more unsavory still was the reaction of a handful of locals who cheered the killing, calling it an act of heroism.”

Photos © Arizona Historical Society

Sources

Coleman, Jon T. Vicious: Wolves and Men in America. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2004.

Hampton, Bruce. The Great American Wolf. New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1997.

Robinson, Michael J. Predatory Bureaucracy: The Extermination of Wolves and the Transformation of the West. University Press of Colorado, 2005.

Schullery, Paul. The Yellowstone Wolf: A Guide & Sourcebook. Worland, Wyoming: High Plains Publishing Company, Inc., 1996.

Smith, Douglas W. and Gary Ferguson. Decade of the Wolf: Returning the Wild to Yellowstone. Guilford, Connecticut: The Lyons Press, 2005.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Gray Wolf Fact Sheet. [updated January 2007; cited November 2008]

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/the-wolf-that-changed-america/wolf-wars-americas-campaign-to-eradicate-the-wolf/4312/

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Photo:  Courtesy retrievermandotnet

Posted in: Wolf  Wars

Tags:  gray wolf, wolves or livestock, wolf intolerance

Published in: on September 29, 2009 at 12:13 am  Comments (2)  
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