Wolf Hunts Morally Corrupt
The resumption of wolf-hunts in Idaho,
Montana and Wyoming illustrates why citizens must continue to oppose such
unnecessary and senseless slaughters.
The wolf-hunts are predicated upon
morally corrupt and inaccurate assumptions about wolf behavior and impacts
that is not supported by recent scientific research. State wildlife agencies
pander to the lowest common denominator in the hunting community--men who
need to booster their own self esteem and release misdirected anger by
Wolf-hunts, as Montana Fish and Game Commission Chairman Bob
Ream noted at a public hearing, are in part to relieve hunters'
frustrations--frustration based on inaccurate information, flawed
assumptions, and just plain old myths and fears about predators and their
role in the world.
Maybe relieving hunter frustration is a good
enough justification for wolf-hunts to many people. However, in my view
permitting hunts to go forwards without even registering opposition is to
acquiesce to ignorance, hatred, and the worse in human motivations.
Thankfully a few environmental groups, most notably the Center for
Wildearth Guardians, Alliance for Wild Rockies and Western Watersheds had
the courage and gumption to stand up to ignorance and hatred.
the usual justifications given for wolf-hunts are spurious at best. For
instance, one rationale given for hunting wolves is to reduce their presumed
affects on big game populations. Yet in all three states, elk and deer
populations are at or exceed population objectives for most hunting units.
For instance in Wyoming, one of the most vehement anti wolf states in the
West, the 2010 elk population was 21,200 animals over state-wide objectives,
and this did not include data for six herds, suggesting that elk populations
are likely higher. Of the state's elk herds most were at or above objectives
and only 6 percent were below objectives. Similar data is found for Idaho
and Montana elk herds as well.
However, you would not know that from
the "howls" of hunters who characterize the elk populations as suffering
from a wolf induced Armageddon. And Fish and Game departments are loath to
counter the false accusations from hunters that wolves are somehow
"destroying" hunting throughout the Rockies.
Experience in other parts of the country
where wolves have been part of the landscape longer suggests that in the
long term, wolves while they may reduce prey populations in certain locales
generally do not reduce hunting opportunities across a state or region.
Despite the fact that there more than double the number of wolves in
Minnesota (3000+) as in the entire Rocky Mountain region, Minnesota hunters
experienced the highest deer kills ever in recent years, with Minnesota deer
hunters killing over 250,000white-tailed deer during each of those hunting
seasons -- an approximate five-fold increase in hunter deer take since wolves
were listed under the ESA in 1978.
Another claim made by wolf-hunt
proponents is that hunting will reduce "conflicts" with livestock owners.
Again this assertion is taken as a matter of faith without really looking
into the veracity of it. Given the hysteria generated by the livestock
industry one might think that the entire western livestock operations were
in jeopardy from wolf predation. However, the number of livestock killed
annually by wolves is pitifully small, especially by comparison to losses
from other more mundane sources like poison plants, lightning and even
For instance, the FWS reported that 75 cattle and 148
sheep were killed in Idaho during 2010. In Montana the same year 84cattle
and 64 sheep were verified as killed by wolves. While any loss may represent
a significant financial blow to individual ranchers, the livestock industry
as a whole is hardly threatened by wolf predation. And it hardly warrants
the exaggerated psychotic response by Congress, state legislators and state
In light of the fact that most losses are
avoidable by implementation of simple measures of that reduce predator
opportunity, persecution of predators like wolves is even more morally
suspect. Rapid removal of dead carcasses from rangelands, corralling animals
at night, electric fencing, and the use of herders, among other measures,
are proven to significantly reduce predator losses--up to 90% in some
studies. This suggests that ranchers have the capacity (if not the
willingness) to basically make wolf losses a non-issue.
However, since ranchers have
traditionally been successful in externalizing many of their costs on to the
land and taxpayers, including what should be their responsibility to reduce
predator conflicts, I do not expect to see these kinds of measures enacted
by the livestock industry any time soon, if ever. Ranchers are so used to
being coddled; they have no motivation or incentives to change their
practices in order to reduce predator losses. Why should they change animal
husbandry practices when they can get the big bad government that they like
to despise and disparage to come in and kill predators for them for free and
even get environmental groups like Defenders of Wildlife to support paying
for predator losses that are entirely avoidable?
But beyond those
figures, wolf-hunting ignores a growing body of research that suggests that
indiscriminate killing--which hunting is--actually exacerbates
livestock/predator conflicts. The mantra of pro wolf-hunting community is
that wolves should be "managed" like "other" wildlife. This ignores the
findings that suggest that predators are not like other wildlife. They are
behaviorally different from say elk and deer. Random killing of predators
including bears, mountain lions and wolves creates social chaos that
destabilizes predator social structure. Hunting of wolves can skew wolf
populations towards younger animals. Younger animals are less skillful
hunters. As a consequence, they will be more inclined to kill livestock.
Destabilized and small wolf packs also have more difficulty in holding
territories and even defending their kills from scavengers and other
predators which in end means they are more likely to kill new prey animal.
As a result of these behavioral consequences, persecution of predators
through hunting has a self fulfilling feedback mechanism whereby hunters
kill more predators, which in turn leads to greater social chaos, and more
livestock kills, and results in more demands for hunting as the presumed
Today predator management by so called "professional"
wildlife agencies is much more like the old time medical profession where
sick people were bled. If they didn't get better immediately, more blood was
let. Finally if the patience died, it was because not enough blood was
released from the body. The same illogical reasoning dominates predator
management across the country. If killing predators doesn't cause livestock
losses to go down and/or game herds to rise, it must be because we haven't
killed enough predators yet.
Furthermore, most hunting occurs on larger
blocks of public lands and most wolves as well as other predators killed by
hunters have no relationship to the animals that may be killing livestock on
private ranches or taking someone's pet poodle from the back yard. A number
of studies of various predators from cougars to bears show no relationship
between hunter kills and a significant reduction in the actual animals
considered to be problematic.
Again I hasten to add that most
"problematic predators" are created a result of problem behavior by
humans--for instance leaving animal carcasses out on the range or failure to
keep garbage from bears, etc. and humans are supposed to be the more
intelligent species--though if one were to observe predator management across
the country it would be easy to doubt such presumptions.
wolf-hunting ignores yet another recent and growing body of scientific
evidence that suggests that top predators have many top down ecological
influences upon the landscape and other wildlife. The presence of wolves,
for instance, can reduce deer and elk numbers in some places for some time
period. But rather than viewing this as a negative as most hunters presume,
reduction of prey species like elk can have many positive ecological
influences. A reduction of elk herbivory on riparian vegetation can produce
more song bird habitat. Wolves can reduce coyote predation on snowshoe hare
thus competition for food by lynx, perhaps increasing survival for this
endangered species. Wolves have been shown to increase the presence of voles
and mice near their dens--a boon for some birds of prey like hawks. These and
many other positive effects on the environment are ignored by wolf-hunt
proponents and unfortunately by state wildlife management agencies as well
who continue to advocate and/or at least not effectively counter old
fallacies about predators.
Most state agencies operate under the
assumption that production of elk and deer for hunters to shoot should have
priority in wildlife management decisions. All state wildlife agencies are
by law supposed to manage wildlife as a public trust for all citizens. Yet
few challenge the common assumption that elk and deer exist merely for the
pleasure of hunters to shoot.
I have no doubt that for many pro
wolf-hunt supporters' predators represent all that is wrong with the world.
Declining job prospects, declining economic vitality of their rural
communities, changes in social structures and challenges to long-held
beliefs are exemplified by the wolf. Killing wolves is symbolic of
destroying all those other things that are in bad in the world for which
they have no control. They vent this misdirected anger on wolves -- that gives
them the illusion that they can control something.
Nevertheless, making wolves and
other predators scapegoats for the personal failures of individuals or the
collective failures of society is not fair to wolves or individuals either.
The entire premises upon which western wolf-hunts are based either are the
result of inaccurate assumptions about wolf impacts or morally corrupt
justifications like relieving hunter anger and frustrations over how their
worlds are falling apart.
I applaud the few environmental groups that
had the courage to stand up for wolves, and to challenge the old guard that
currently controls our collective wildlife heritage. More of us need to
stand up against persecution of wildlife to appease the frustrations of
disenfranchised rural residents. It is time to have wildlife management
based on science, and ecological integrity, not based upon relieving hunter
frustrations over the disintegration state of their world.
predator studies and management see
George Wuerthner is an ecologist and former hunting guide with a degree in