Wolves Are the Only Management “Tool” Necessary

I didn’t mean to set off a pissing match in my last blog post by quoting a group’s recent statement to the Missoulian, “We at Wolves of the Rockies understand and acknowledge the importance of hunting as a tool for managing wolves, and we stand beside the ethical hunter in doing so.” I’m sorry if I misinterpreted that statement, but I thought it made their position on wolf hunting pretty clear: they support it.

And I think it’s obvious what they’re saying with the lines, “We are not advocating the end of wolf hunting. We have only asked for a slight modification to the state wolf management plan to accommodate other legitimate values in this specific locale. Remember, Montana’s wildlife is owned by ALL the people, not just hunters.”

It sounds to me like they feel that wolf “management” through hunting and trapping is acceptable, as long as it doesn’t conflict with another “legitimate value” some other human being has placed on the canines. I would argue that wolves themselves have intrinsic value, as individuals and as a species.

While I whole-heartedly applaud this group’s part in getting a buffer zone closed to hunting and trapping implemented around Yellowstone National Park in Montana (“only for this year,” according to the Montana Wildlife Commission chair Bob Ream), I have to question whether anything is worth legitimizing wolf hunting and trapping as “management tools” like they did in their articles to the press. When the back-patting and back-pedaling are over, it’s time to bring the focus back on the real problem—the fact that wildlife are considered “property” of the states, to be “managed” as they see fit.

Commissioner Ream said they made the closure because of the “particular and unique situation” of collared Yellowstone wolves being shot. He assured hunters and ranchers that the closure will not affect the goals of the commission for the overall Montana wolf hunt and trapping season in any significant way because this is such a small area, and one with almost no winter livestock.

Still, it could have a big effect conserving Yellowstone’s small and shrinking wolf population, now down to only about 80 wolves. The park’s wolf population of 170 wolves three or four years ago began to drop when inter-pack rivalry and low surviving pup numbers took their toll. Clearly, wolves have self-regulating population control systems which kick into play before their numbers get too far out of hand (which is more than can be said for hunters and trappers).

Wolves play an important part in nature’s narrative, a role that has served both predator and prey for eons. Rightful kings returning from exile, wolves are far from new to the Yellowstone ecosystem. Their 71-year absence was the result of a heartless bounty set by the real newcomers to the fine-tuned system of checks and balances that has regulated itself since life began.

New to the scene are cowboys on four-wheelers with their monoculture crop of cows and ubiquitous barbed-wire fences. New are pack trains of hunters resentful of any competition from lowly canines, yet eager to take trophies of wolf pelts, leaving the unpalatable meat to rot. And new is the notion that humankind can replace nature’s time-tested order with so-called wildlife “management,” a regime that has never managed to prove itself worthy.

Unmatched manipulators, modern humans with their pharmacies, hospitals, churches, strip malls, sporting goods stores, burger joints and fried chicken franchises have moved so far beyond the natural order that population constraints, such as disease or starvation, are no longer a threat to the species’ survival (as long as society continues to function). Hunting is no longer motivated by hunger. Twenty-first century sport hunters are never without a full belly, even after investing tens of thousands of dollars on brand-new 4X4 pickups, motorboats, RVs and of course the latest high-tech weaponry.

But wolves can’t afford to be acquisitive; if they run low on resources, they must move on or perish. Theirs is a precarious struggle, without creature comforts or false hopes of life everlasting.

~ From the book, Exposing the Big Game: Living Targets of a Dying Sport

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2012. All Rights Reserved

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2012. All Rights Reserved

Yesterday’s Body Count

First the good news: the emaciated sea lion I reported on in my last post is no longer on the beach, suffering and lying helplessly in fear of getting run over. 

At least as of yesterday.

Although no one actually saw her make it to the water and swim off, the official theory is that she somehow suddenly snapped out of it and had a miraculous recovery. The main problem with that happy ending explanation is that she had lost so much strength and body fat that she’d have an extremely hard time battling the waves and avoiding the threat of hypothermia in the cold North Pacific waters. (One of the reasons weakened seals and sea lions sometimes haul out on the sand is for the warmth it provides.)

But I can imagine her using her last bit of energy to get back to her ocean home, thinking she would rather die in familiar aquatic surroundings than out on an exposed (which doubles as a highway), vulnerable to dogs, birds and any other scavenger that came along. Her body had lost buoyancy, being devoid of every last ounce of blubber, so, unfortunately, it seems probable she would drown and sink to the bottom when she had no more stamina to stay afloat. 

But at least she’s not still out there unprotected—a living obstacle for every passing monster truck or SUV.

Instead of finding her there, as was the expectation when we headed to the beach yesterday, we found the place virtually strewn with the bodies of other dead marine mammals in various stages of decay. Among the fallen were four other California sea lions—one of whom was a very young pup—and a harbor seal. Additionally, there were two dead porpoises who likely drowned in fishing nets. The seal and the three adult sea lions were all probably shooting victims; the newborn may have followed her dying mother and either starved from lack of milk or died of hypothermia. 

 

All in all, a high price to pay for that seafood dinner.

It always amazes me how fishermen out there (so utterly dependent on burning diesel fuel just to stay afloat) feel such a sense of entitlement to the fish in the ocean that they take sport in playing “cowboy,” shooting at highly evolved and incredibly adapted marine mammals whose historic claim to pelagic resources supersedes theirs by millions of years.