Recently the Montana Dept of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MDFWP) commission approved a new “Wolf Conservation Stamp”. The purpose of the stamp is ostensibly to get non hunters to pay for wildlife “management”, especially the “management” of wolves. The stamp would be voluntary. Despite the fact that I support the idea of non-hunters/anglers paying to support wildlife agencies, I do so only with the caveat that the agency changes their entire philosophical approach to wildlife.
The details of this wolf stamp proposal demonstrates to me that MDFWP still has the same unscientific and unethical attitude towards predators as it has always demonstrated. Without a change in its overall philosophy, all this stamp will do is help the Department perpetuate the same old myths and misinformation about predators that it currently dishes out—only wolf supporters will be helping to fund it. According to MDFWP, funding from the stamp would cover the following three areas.
- One third would be made available to Montana livestock owners to help pay for nonlethal ways to protect their animals from predators like wolves, bears and mountain lions. By keeping both livestock and large carnivores alive, this would be a good deal for ranchers and wolves alike.
- Another third would be used to pay for studying wolves, educating the public about wolves, and improving or purchasing suitable wolf habitat. This would benefit everyone, by increasing our knowledge about wolves, ensuring the public has access to accurate information about wolves, and securing habitat in which wolves and other wildlife can thrive.
3. The final third would be used to hire additional MDFWP wardens—essentially, wildlife police—in occupied wolf habitat. This would enhance enforcement of our wildlife management laws as they pertain to wolves and other species, and reduce incidents of poaching, trespassing, wasting animals, unlawful use of or failure to check traps, and other violations. This is something every Montanan and every American—hunters, non-hunters, property owners, public land users, agency officials, recreationists, and wildlife enthusiasts alike—should encourage and support.
RESPONSE TO PAYING FOR NON-LETHAL MEANS OF LIVESTOCK PROTECTION
One has to ask what is MDFWP thinking. Let’s see we will help ranchers with non-lethal means of protecting livestock so we can allow hunters and trappers to blow away more wolves? That is essentially what they are suggesting. As long as MDFWP has a vindictive and unethical attitude towards predators, there is no reason to “save” any of them—just so someone else can shoot them. Asking predator supporters to pay ranchers to adopt non-lethal means of protecting livestock is analogous to asking those who cherish clean air to pay for air pollution devices on coal fired power plants.
Ranchers have EXTERNALIZED the cost of their operations through predator control.
Ranchers should pay to protect their own herds—it is part of the cost of doing business—a cost that they have successfully avoided for a century because they were able to get the government to kill off most predators from the landscape. Just as the coal power plants must install pollution control devices or get out of business, ranchers must practice better animal husbandry. It is not the responsibility of wildlife supporters to subsidize their business. Ultimately the additional costs should be borne by those who want to eat beef, just as the users of electricity from coal-fired power plants should pay more per Kilowatt Hour to reduce air pollution from power generation.
The last part of this is that wolves are simply not a big deal for ranchers. Last year in Montana fewer than 60 cattle out of 2.5 million in the state were killed by wolves. If MDFWP were truly interested in educating the public it would be countering the myth that wolves are “destroying” the livestock industry.
Basically livestock depredation is a non-issue and even giving it credibility by pretending that wolves are somehow a significant cost for ranchers is nothing less than deceptive. I think the real reason MDFWP wants non-hunters to pay for non-lethal livestock protection is to reduce ranchers’ hostility towards the department so that more ranches are left open to hunting, not because MDFWP has any goal of helping wolves.
Worse the livestock industry has many negative impacts on predators besides simply lethal killing. Every blade of grass consumed by cows is that much less for elk, deer, and other wildlife. Not to mention that the mere presence of cattle, often socially displaces other wildlife like elk. In effect, there are numerous “costs” to livestock that the ranching industry externalizes.
RESPONSE TO FUNDING WOLF STUDIES AND EDUCATING THE PUBLIC
The second part of the proposal to use stamp funds to study wolves, educate the public about wolves, and purchase suitable wolf habitat I seriously object to the way MDFWP has “educated’ the public about wolves already.
The problem is that MDFWP doesn’t even use the existing scientific information it has available to ecologically and ethically treat predators. So why should I or anyone else believe more studies would result in “better” outcomes.
Indeed, I fear giving MDFWP more funds to “educate” the public about wolves. They have repeatedly demonstrated that they are unwilling to counter mythology and misinformation. And they will promote the idea that we “need” to “manage” predators. Predators do not “need” management. They need to be left alone. They are perfectly capable of self regulating, primarily because of social intolerance among packs helps to reduce and limit wolf numbers.
Paying MDFWP to “educate” the public about wolves is like handing over more money to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to educate the public about wolves. For those of you who are unfamiliar with RMEF, they promote the idea that wolves are “destroying” elk herds, and “need to be managed like other wildlife.”
If MDFWP were using science, it would be “educating” the public that wolves pose little threat to big game herds as proven by their statistics. For instance, elk numbers have risen in Montana from 89,000 just prior to wolf restoration to 150,000 animals now. Most elk management units are “over objectives”.
They would manage for social stability rather than having kill quotas based on nothing more than the idea that fewer wolves will mean more elk and deer—as if that should be the goal of wildlife management. MDFWP like all agencies has a mission to promote all wildlife not just the ones that hunters like to kill. But the philosophical bias of the agency, like all state wildlife agencies, is grossly skewed towards promoting animals that hunters like to shoot.
Furthermore, MDFWP when it does discuss wolves sees them only as a “problem” instead of educating the public on the many benefits associated with wolves and other predators like a reduction in disease spread in ungulates, reduction in some herbivory pressure in some places due to a reduction in elk numbers and/or changes in habitat use, and changes in predator effects on other species like a reduction in coyotes that in some cases has lead to an increase survival of pronghorn. And these are only a few of the benefits that the department could be extolling.
As far as buying wolf habitat, there is nothing special about wolf habitat. It’s basically anyplace where there is sufficient prey for wolves to eat. You don’t buy “wolf habitat”, you buy wildlife habitat. I have no problem with buying wildlife habitat, and if this stamp only did that, I would support it. But I fear this will be a minor effect of the stamp.
RESPONSE TO HIRING MORE WARDENS AND MANAGEMENT
Finally, the third part of the stamp receipts would go to fund more wardens to enforce wildlife management laws. The problem isn’t with poaching or any other illegal activities. The problem is what is legal. MDFWP legal actions towards predators are archaic, vindictive and unethical. The agency says its new wolf stamp will prevent, among other things suggested, the “wasting” of wildlife? Huh? What is more wasteful than shooting predators just for fun or worse out of vengeance?
If the Department were truly interested in avoiding “waste” it would call for the ethical treatment of wildlife and outlaw the killing of all predators except for very special situations like an animal that is habituated to humans.
As for poaching, much of the poaching of predators is done because hunters and others believe that wolves are “destroying” hunting opportunities—a perceptive that MDFWP does little to counter. If MDFWP were doing its job, and using scientific findings to educate hunters, it would at least be saying to hunters that wolves haven’t caused the sky to fall.
DON’T SUPPORT MORE ‘MANAGEMENT” OF WOLVES AND OTHER PREDATORS
We don’t need more management of wolves and other predators. What we need is to leave them alone. There is simply no reason to “manage” predators. The science is clear on this—they have many ecological benefits to ecosystems. The idea that we should manage predators is a throwback to the early days of wildlife management—it’s time for MDFWP and other wildlife agencies to enter the 21st Century and start treating predators as a valued member of the ecological community instead of a “problem” that needs to be solved—usually by killing them.