MISSOULA, MT — The U.S. Forest Service is being asked to move aggressively to stop the killing of wolves being drawn out of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks to their deaths, lured by the calling and baiting of local hunters and trappers. More than three dozen organizations and individuals are urging the quick approval of a 5-mile buffer zone near park boundaries where no hunting or trapping would be allowed, to protect wolves, residents and visitors from bullets, traps and snares. “This insanity of allowing the slaughter of national park wolves and endangering the public was enabled by Governor Gianforte and our legislature and must be stopped by the federal government,” said Stephen Capra, executive director of Footloose Montana. “It is time that they assume their rightful control over these federal forest lands, to protect wolves and all who come to witness their beauty and importance.” Initiated by Footloose Montana, the organizations and individuals requesting urgent attention to this proposal have sent a letter to Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture; Deb Haaland, U.S. Secretary of Interior; Charles Sams III, Director of the National Park Service; Randy Moore, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service; Cameron Sholly, Superintendent of Yellowstone National Park; Palmer “Chip” Jenkins, Jr., Superintendent of Grand Teton National Park; and to regional U.S. Forest Service supervisors for the north region and the five national forests surrounding both national parks. Their request notes that Yellowstone guides take wolf watchers on the same popular trails into the parks that armed hunters and trappers use to line up on the boundary. The potential for conflict and random bullets from hunters shooting at wolves is high. Hikers could also step into a wolf foothold trap or even a snare and not be able to get out. Any one of those possibilities could be fatal. Eliminating wolf trapping in this transition zone will also reduce human-grizzly bear conflict and mortality in important core grizzly habitat, furthering the shared goals of wildlife managers across jurisdictions. “A five-mile no wolf hunting zone around Yellowstone National Park is a no-brainer under these dire circumstances,” said Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense. “It’s high time Secretary Vilsack stands up and does something other than catering to the livestock industry. Without immediate action all Yellowstone wolves that step over the Park’s imaginary boundary line are at extreme risk.” Recent actions by Idaho and Montana state legislatures allow for extreme measures to collectively kill more than 2,000 wolves, destroying wolf populations in both states. Outside of Yellowstone in Wyoming, wolves have already been decimated. During the first weeks of Montana’s hunting season six wolves in Yellowstone’s most-viewed wolf pack were killed. Fifty percent of the wolves killed by hunters so far are in Wolf Management Units that directly border Yellowstone. Hunters are using electronic callers to lure wolves out of the park to kill them, which wolf advocates argue is not sport, but slaughter. “This year’s legislative agendas in Montana and Idaho have proven that the states are incapable of properly managing gray wolves,” said Jocelyn Leroux, Washington and Montana director for Western Watersheds Project. “The five-mile hunting and trapping setback is a common sense move that the Forest Service can take to ensure Yellowstone wolves retain protections that the states callously removed.” The four U.S. National Forests bordering the parks are Custer-Gallatin, Caribou-Targhee, Bridger-Teton and Shoshone. This five-mile setback is an important step in recognizing the importance of keystone species such as wolves and the cooperative relationship between the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service. Allowing the killing of wolves on park borders can also seriously harm the economies of surrounding communities. Tourists come from around the world come to see the iconic wolves of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. They contributed $500 million to local economies in 2020 alone, according to the National Park Service, and a recent analysis estimated revenue from the wolf-watching industry at $65.5 million annually. # # #
Footloose Montana is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 2007 that promotes trap-free public lands for people, pets and wildlife. Predator Defense is a national nonprofit advocacy organization championing essential native predators with science, sanity, and heart since 1990. They are also devoted to ending America’s war on wildlife and helping people learn to coexist with wild animals.. Western Watersheds Project is a nonprofit environmental conservation group founded in 1993. They work to protect and restore western watersheds and wildlife through education, public policy initiatives, and legal advocacy.
Very dark days lie ahead for us, for our state’s reputation, for tourism, for our state’s economy, and particularly for wolves and other animals. The wildlife and beloved family pets will pay the ultimate price in this unethical, indiscriminate, and unnecessary war declared on wolves in Montana.
In support and collaboration with some of our closest allies, Plan B to Save Wolves, Wolves of the Rockies, The 06 Legacy, and the Apex Protection Project, Trap Free created this action alert, below, focused on the Yellowstone Wolves. We did not make this decision lightly. The Yellowstone wolves are the poster child of wolves. They are both deeply valued and deeply despised. We do not want to put them in further jeopardy. However, they are the trophies, wolf haters, and outfitters will target. They have no quota, anymore, on the number of Yellowstone wolves who can be killed, and these wolves are clueless. Their deaths will be heard worldwide and felt through the heart and the wallet. We cannot sit back, wait, and watch. As WOTR founder once said to us, “If we cannot save Yellowstone wolves, we cannot save any.”
Please take action below and make the calls. With enough pressure we should be able to at least stop this pending targeted slaughter we know will be on the prized Yellowstone wolves and the foreseen annihilation of hundreds of unknown wolves will not be muted!
YELLOWSTONE WOLVES NEED YOU NOW
If you are a fan of Yellowstone, a future or past visitor, or a business owner who benefits from Yellowstone National Park, then WE ARE IMPLORING YOU to be a voice for Yellowstone Wolves.
This is an EMERGENCY. In Montana, killers will be targeting Yellowstone wolves as a badge of honor, for revenge, and for the ease now in killing them. The fascination and love of wolves viewed and watched by millions in the park, annually, have habituated many wolves into thinking that humans will cause them no harm. However, they are about to be seriously betrayed.
The Montana Fish & Wildlife Commission removed the quotas outside the park, so those who hate wolves CAN NOW KILL countless Yellowstone wolves as they cross the imaginary park boundary lines.
Effective August 20, 2021, in sync with the Montana 2021 legislature’s passing of anti-wolf bills, here is how wolves in Montana can legally be killed:
1. By outfitters, landowners, and others with landowner permission, enticing wolves with bait onto private land so they can also shoot them at night using artificial light or night vision scopes.
2. With baited unattended indiscriminate massive secreted leghold traps and countless cheap snares.
3. With archery beginning September 5, guns September 15, and trapping and snaring as early as November 29. The Montana wolf season closes on March 15 during the wolves’ latter stage of pregnancy and birthing.
4. And with monetary reimbursements ~$1,000, a bounty, from an Idaho based organization for Montana wolf killers.
The Yellowstone wolves have significant intrinsic and extrinsic value:
They are the poster child of wolves. These wolves are known, observed, photographed, studied, and treasured.
They will represent the secreted and disturbingly unethical, cruel fate that will befall all the unknown wolves in Montana and in which the recent overwhelming majority of 25,000 submitted public comments opposed.
Tourism is Montana’s second and fastest-growing industry. Many come here for wildlife, and especially to Yellowstone to see wolves.
In 2005, 10 years after wolves returned to Yellowstone, a study estimated wolf-centered ecotourism generated > $35 million in the park’s surrounding gateway communities.
In 2019, Yellowstone National Park reports tourism generated a cumulative economic benefit of $642 million for local economies near the park.
Years of scientific research and educational discoveries will be lost with this pending slaughter.
Montana Fish & Wildlife Commission’s approval of these wolf “hunts” has nothing to do with hunting, or as anti-wolf bills’ sponsor, Rep. Paul Fielder said, fair chase. They will become culls, potentially decimating, even eliminating entire naive Yellowstone packs.
PLEASE, TAKE A FEW MINUTES, now to try to stop this, using your own words, and being respectful, do the following:
1. Contact MONTANA OFFICE OF TOURISM AND BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT and tell them that you are demanding protections for wolves as a patron of Yellowstone, a tourist, or a relevant business owner. 1-406-841-2870 / Toll-free 800-847-4868 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Online contact: https://www.visitmt.com/contact.html
2. Contact MONTANA GOVERNOR GREG GIANFORTE about the negative economic impact this will have; the economic benefit in 2019 from tourism to local Yellowstone Park communities was an estimated $642 million. 1-406-444-3111, or online https://svc.mt.gov/gov/contact/shareopinion
3. Contact SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR, DEB HAALAND and urge her to protect Yellowstone wolves, save the Northern Rocky Mountain region wolves from this unethical and unnecessary slaughter, and move to a federal emergency listing of all wolves to prevent the imminent eradication of the species. 1-202-208-3100 email: email@example.com or online https://www.doi.gov/contact-us
4. Contact PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN and insist he put the wolves back on the endangered species list as the states have demonstrated their inability to manage wolves responsibly and through science; and this is not what the American public supported for wolf reintroduction and recovery.1-202-456-1414 (Switchboard) 1-202-456-1111 (Comments) or online https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/
Now that the heinous legislation SB 1211 allowing the slaughter of 90 percent of Idaho’s 1,500 wolves has become law effective July 1, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game is seeking public comment on regulations to align with SB 1211 and allow wolves to be killed with traps, snares, dogs, and in dens along with pups.What we are witnessing is a return to an old form of brutal wolf hatred and it is clear that Idaho is on a warpath to eradicate wolves by any means. We must speak out against this hatred. Even if you don’t live in Idaho, you can still speak up. This action will take less than a minute and the deadline is June 13, so please take action NOW! Tell Idaho Fish and Game You Stand with Wolves!1. Go to this ID Fish and Game page and scroll to the bottom.a. Indicate whether you are a residentb. Select NO for the second question.c. Complete the contact information (all fields are required).2. Email the Director of Idaho Fish and Game, Ed Schriever, and the Commission, using the talking points below and copying the following emails:firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, MagicValley.Commissioner@idfg.idaho.gov, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com. Sign our Petition and share this action alert and infographic with friends and family and on social media!Talking points to craft your message (and please personalize):If you are from or currently live in Idaho, state your town. If you don’t have connections to Idaho, explain why you will not spend your tourism dollars in a state like Idaho that wantonly slaughters wildlife.These currently proposed regulations, including night hunting with spotlights and thermal imaging and no motorized vehicle restrictions and no weapons restrictions on private land, violate fair chase and any sense of ethical hunting principles.Using dogs to hunt wolves is unsporting, state-sanctioned dogfighting and endangers domestic dogs. Hunting wolves over bait increases the chances of conflict, disease transmission and also violates fair chase.The expanded use of trapping and snaring endangers other imperiled species, including Canada lynx and grizzly bears.The state’s elk numbers are at all-time highs and in no danger from wolves. The elk population has been experiencing what ID Fish and Game calls the “second golden era of elk hunting” for the last six years or more and, as of last March 2020, was estimated to be at least 120,000.Wolves cause less than 1% of cattle deaths and any depredation can be effectively managed with non-lethal methods.Killing wolves at this rate will only support decisions to relist them with Endangered Species Act protections.Wolves alive and thriving bring value to Idaho in many forms, including ecosystem services and tourism dollars.The majority of Idahoans and Americans support wolf recovery at levels where wolves can fulfill their ecological functions. Almost no one supports wasting tax dollars to recover wolves, just to exterminate them again.
BOISE – The Idaho Fish and Game is seeking public feedback on a proposal to extend wolf hunting and trapping opportunities and enhanced methods of take. The proposed changes relate to Idaho legislative action that will take effect July 1, 2021.
Senate Bill 1211 recently passed into law and extends wolf hunting and trapping with foothold traps to year-round on private property with landowner permission. The law also expands the legal methods of take for wolves to include methods currently legal in Idaho for taking other wild canines, such as coyotes and foxes, but closed for taking other big game species.
While the recent law establishes a year-round foothold trapping season for wolves on private land and provides the ability to allow expanded methods of take, the expectation of the Legislature was for the Fish and Game Commission to set seasons for snaring and expanded methods of take through proclamation.
Fish and Game proposes no change to the wolf snaring seasons currently in place on public and private land, and it also proposes no change to the foothold trapping seasons on public land.
The proposal allows expanded methods of take on private land year-round, provided landowner permission. The proposal also allows expanded methods of take for hunting on public land from Nov. 15 through March 31 in areas with a history of chronic livestock depredation, or where elk herds are below management objectives, including units 4, 4A, 6, 7, 9, 10, 10A, 12, 14, 15, 16, 16A, 17, 18, 19, 20, 20A, 22, 23, 24, 26, 27, 28, 29, 31, 32, 32A, 33, 34, 35, 36, 36A, 36B, 37, 39, 43, 44, 49, 50,62, 64, 65, 67.
Wolf hunting and methods of take would remain unchanged from currently established seasons on public land between April 1 through Nov. 14 in those same units. Wolf hunting seasons and methods of take on public land in all other units (those without a history of chronic livestock depredation or that are currently meeting biological management objectives for elk) will also remain unchanged.
On Jan. 4, the gray wolf (Canis lupus) was officially delisted from the Endangered Species Act, or ESA, resulting in the reemergence of the war on wolves.
Wolves are a keystone species, meaning they are vital to the health and function of ecosystems, and their absence can be very detrimental. In response to the delisting legislation, National Geographic storyteller and founder of SeaLegacy, Cristina Mittermeier, says, “Just because the interests of a handful of people collide with the existence of wolves, does not mean the rest of humanity and the health of entire ecosystems should suffer the consequences of their extermination.”
Mittermeier goes on to say that “Wolves matter. … They have every right to exist. … They were here before humans and Western civilization arrived and they are absolutely necessary to maintaining the vast range of ecosystem services we all require to survive.”
While the fate of wolves in the United States is uncertain, their delisting offers a unique opportunity to reassess the complex relationship between humans and wildlife and how wolves came to occupy such a contentious space in the political arena.
[ I ]
Context: The wilderness is a social construct
What we think of today as “the wilderness” is a relatively new concept. According to historian William Cronon, 250 years ago people did not really venture through remote corners of the planet seeking what we today call “the wilderness experience.” For a long time, the word “wilderness” was synonymous with desolation, as Cronon explains, a place far from God with connotations that were “anything but positive.”
All things associated with the wilderness — wild beasts and Indigenous peoples — were deemed savage, untamed and a threat to the civilized.
In short, it was a place to be feared and avoided. “Whatever value it might have,” Cronon writes, “arose solely from the possibility that it might be ‘reclaimed’ and turned toward human ends.” Because of this sentiment, it was necessary to protect the “reclaimed” lands from possible intruders, including wolves that prayed on the livestock brought over by European settlers.
“Whatever value it might have,” Cronon writes, “arose solely from the possibility that it might be ‘reclaimed’ and turned toward human ends.”
Then something changed. By the end of the 19th century, those fearsome wild places were suddenly revered. Popular thinkers such as Henry David Thoreau and John Muir suggested that the wilderness was Edenic, divine, deeply valuable and in need of protection. Sure enough, national parks and protected lands popped up around the country. Niagara Falls, Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, the Catskills, etc., each deemed worthy of being saved from the encroachment of humankind.
These places were cast as wildernesses –– fierce, benevolent and pure — raw nature untarnished by human hands. This notion, of course, is a great falsity (some might even call it a bioirony) that delegitimizes the Native American presence in and impact on their traditional homelands. It also diminishes the extremely significant relationships Native tribes have with the natural world.
During the formation of these parks and protected areas, Native tribes were removed and displaced while large carnivores such as wolves faced extirpation, or intentional local extinction. This shows just how invented, how curated “the wilderness” really is.
Today, wolves still suffer the consequences of the othering of the wild, arguably more so than most wildlife.
To put the wolf story into greater perspective, here is a brief timeline of recent U.S. wolf history.
1933: Wolf populations in the lower 48 states all but decimated.
1970: First Earth Day, emerging conversations about ecology and protecting the environment.
1973: Following the momentum of the Earth Day success, the ESA was passed.
1974: Wolves are listed as “endangered” under the ESA
1995: Wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone National Park begins
2003: Wolves reclassified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, or USFWS, as “threatened”
2003-2019: State delistings, relistings, wolf hunts and various legislative actions for and against wolves
2020: Wolf delisting from ESA in lower 48 states proposed by the USFWS
2021: Wolf delisting goes into effect, wolves lose federal protections, all wolf protections now under the discretion of state governments
[ II ]
The ESA, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, “provides a program for the conservation of threatened and endangered plants and animals and the habitats in which they are found.”
In the summary of the final rule to delist wolves, the USFWS stated, “We are taking this action because the best available scientific and commercial data available establish that the gray wolf entities in the lower 48 United States do not meet the definitions of a threatened species or an endangered species under the Act.”
Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles is currently in the process of suing the federal government over the delisting rule. In the official Gray Wolf Delisting Complaint, Boyles writes, “FWS once again attempts to justify delisting by myopically focusing on wolves in a particular, limited geography (in this case, the Midwest) in order to justify delisting across the entire country. In doing so, the final rule selectively combined populations, ignored available historical wolf habitat, and disregarded relatively new wolf populations outside the Midwest as ‘colonizers’ unnecessary to the survival and recovery of wolves in the Midwest.”
“We are taking this action because the best available scientific and commercial data available establish that the gray wolf entities in the lower 48 United States do not meet the definitions of a threatened species or an endangered species under the Act.”
Since 1974, federal ESA protections for wolves enabled their populations to steadily increase over time. While wolves do not populate anywhere near their historic range, as Boyles noted in the complaint, they have made significant progress.
Arguably, the goal to recover wolves to their historic range would cause more harm than good. Avery Shawler, a doctoral candidate working in the Middleton Lab at UC Berkeley, says attempting to do so “would be really unfair to those wolves.”
According to Shawler, the popular thematic goal of conservation — going back to a pristine nature — is problematic. “It erases Indigenous peoples’ effect on the land,” Shawler says, adding that, “We have to deal with the fact that the landscape has changed and focus conservation efforts on what’s actually possible.”
The ESA is far from perfect. Not only is the science of conservation very complex — it is difficult to know everything about how the removal or reintroduction of a species will affect it or the community around it — the ESA itself is, according to Shawler, “a huge piece of legislation that has become so politicized, subjected to public opinion in a way that delegitimizes the science behind it.”
Still, immense effort is required to protect the ESA. For Boyles, the ESA is central to her work. “I spend all my time defending the ESA from people who want to decrease its power,” Boyles says, adding that, “There is a problem with the ways we protect wildlife in general. We wait until a species is either threatened with extinction or endangered with extinction — those are two points along the downward spiral that are hard to recover from.”
The delisting of wolves from the ESA is already having significant consequences. Now that wolf protections are under the discretion of state jurisdictions, the new war on wolves is underway. The ESA is not a perfect piece of legislation, but it is vital for the protection of politically controversial species such as wolves.
[ III ]
The wolf wars
Since the federal delisting of wolves from the ESA went into effect in early January, the war of wolves has reemerged with a vengeance.
Over the course of three days in February, Wisconsin lost 216 wolves, far exceeding the set quota for the hunting season. The buildup to this hunt reflects the political strife wolves find themselves in.
From 2012 through 2014, Wisconsin’s wolves were temporarily delisted from the ESA. During this time, explains Amaroq Wiess, wolf expert from the Center for Biological Diversity, the state held constant hunting and trapping seasons. “Once the wolves were relisted,” Weiss says, “the state legislature passed a law mandating a wolf hunt once they are federally delisted.”
This is a controversial move. Not only is there a law mandating a wolf hunt, but it allows the hunt to run from early November through the end of February, which is both breeding season and the time when biologists need to count the wolves. More than this, Weiss explains, the law allows the hunting of wolves with dogs among other questionable tactics. Lastly, the law mandates that hunting zones can only be closed after 24 hours’ notice, in addition to the 24-hour period granted hunters to report a kill. These factors combined led to a gross overhunt during the February breeding season, the effects of which are yet to be known.
This did not need to happen. Originally, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, or DNR, planned to hold the first hunt in November 2021. According to Boyles, this would have allowed time for a long-overdue calculation of wolf numbers. More than this, waiting would have allowed ample time for consultation with the Native American tribes, for whom the wolf is sacred, and their treaty rights in regards to hunting.
Not wanting to wait until November, “an out-of-state hunting group, Hunter Nation, sued the state to force the hunt,” Weiss explains. “The lower court judge — who is a member of Hunter Nation — ruled in favor of the hunt going forward,” Weiss says, adding that, “The president of Hunter Nation is the former CEO of Americans for Prosperity, a Koch Brothers group.”
This was just the beginning.
The Idaho State Senate approved a bill to kill 90% of the state’s wolves. According to a recent report in The New York Times, “The bill would give the state’s Wolf Control Fund an additional $190,000 to hire contractors to kill wolves — on top of $400,000 previously allocated toward killing wolves in Idaho.”
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a series of bills that establish the intent of wolf hunting and trapping seasons to reduce the state’s wolf population to a minimum of 15 breeding pairs. The bills authorize the use of dogs while hunting, as well as imply permission to kill rather than relocate bears that cause conflicts outside of federal recovery zones and more. All of these mandates not only have severe consequences for wolves and bears but will ultimately impact the ecosystems around them.
[ IV ]
The human-wildlife conflict: Where it gets complicated
The wolf issue is situated in what is known as human-wildlife conflict. According to geographer Jeff Vance Martin, human-wildlife conflict and the question of how to solve it, is not as simple as it sounds.
“A lot of ink has been used on this question,” he says, “because on the surface it sounds pretty straightforward. But then you think, are humans and wildlife actually in conflict? More often, it is humans in conflict about some issue related to wildlife.”
Wolves have become a sign of federal overreach. Shawler explains that for many years, “The wildlife managers in the government were killing wolves, bears, coyotes and mountain lions. The focus of wildlife management was to protect desirable species, which back then were elk and deer. That’s what they wanted to hunt, and that’s what people wanted to see in the parks.”
But then you think, are humans and wildlife actually in conflict? More often, it is humans in conflict about some issue related to wildlife.”
However, the removal of carnivores caused an elk boom, which led to overgrazing and damaged ecosystems. The extirpation of a species is no small matter, and the realization of this misjudgment in wolf management led to conservation efforts such as the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone.
The back and forth of “wolves are bad, hunt them,” to “no, wolves are good, save them,” is certainly frustrating for the people who live in the landscape. According to Christine Wilkinson, a doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley, “The human-wildlife conflicts are reflected in the urban-rural divide.” That is because, according to Martin, “There are real costs of living with wildlife, costs that are unevenly borne. Wolves come back to rural counties, and it’s the urban counties that are happy to have them.”
“The persecution and extermination of wolves is bound up with that process of transforming the landscape from one in which indigenous people lived perfectly content alongside wolves and other species, to what has been converted into private property — into the capitalist production of livestock and the desire to eliminate both material and symbolic threats to that,” Martin explains.
Livestock depredation is one of the main reasons why wolves are hunted and is a central component in the human-wildlife conflict. Over the 20th century, ranching has drastically changed. According to Martin, “You have far fewer operators, because of international, competitive pressures, as well as the shifting regional economies and patterns of rural gentrification in certain areas that raise tax burdens.”
Over time, “the ‘highest and best’ economic use for land is no longer producing livestock — it’s development.” This, Martin continues, puts a lot of pressure on folks in the ranching industry because livestock producers regard wolves as a threat to their livelihoods. “Producers look at wolves and say, well, this is the last straw. This is going to be the loss that breaks me,” Martin continues. While wolf depredation is not as common as it is made out to be, “It is understood within a broader context of threats and pressures on staying in business, and staying on the land,” Martin says.
On another note, some people hunt wolves to feel connection with the land. According to Randy Johnson, the large carnivore specialist at the Wisconsin DNR, “Many people value the opportunity and challenge inherent in pursuing a wolf, and this opportunity can exist while maintaining sustainable and ecologically functional wolf populations.”
Shawler echoes this sentiment, explaining that, “There are a lot of ethical hunters out there who do it because they want to feel connected to the land, want to have their own game meat and want to feel a connection to the animals they eat.” While wolves are not usually hunted for game meat, “People have a lot of respect for wolves, and having this rare opportunity to kill one is something that some people value,” Shawler says.
Conversely, and unignorably, there are those with a clear vendetta against wolves. The driving forces behind the historic and reemergent war on wolves are inherently political. “Wolf harvest/trophy hunting seasons are for the most part, as they’ve been implemented, politically driven rather than based in the best available science,” Martin says.
Wiess adds that, “Hunters comprise about 5% of the U.S. population, yet have such outsized power through the NRA, Safari Club International, through the groups we just saw in Wisconsin (Hunter Nation) and others.” The political incentives behind these groups are difficult to understand, Weiss continues, “I’ve always said, there is a congressional sportsmen’s caucus. We need a congressional ‘I prefer my wildlife alive’ caucus, and I don’t know why we don’t have one.”
No amount of political strife will supersede the work necessary to enable a peaceful coexistence with wolves. This, however, is much easier said than done.
“Essentially,” Wilkinson says, “Policies and socioeconomic and cultural context can lend to (or directly lead to) inequities, misunderstandings and lack of cross-stakeholder listening –– all of which can exacerbate conflict. This context-specificity, along with the fact that we have very little empirical evidence for which physical or management tools actually work for alleviating conflict, is why it’s difficult to give a clear answer about what will and what will not work for solving human-wildlife conflicts.”
A key question Martin asks is, “What does it take to coexist, to share landscapes, and who’s willing to pay those costs?” The biggest conflict with wolves in the United States is between the major sources of opposition: livestock producers, hunters, environmental activists and Native tribes.
“For some folks,” Martin says, “Any wolf in the state is too many, one calf killed by a wolf is too many. For others, any wolf killed, or hazed even, is too many. So it’s very hard to find a middle ground between those positions.”
Finding this middle ground is what Johnson deems the primary job of wildlife managers. “Many, if not all, species will regulate their own population levels through the biological carrying capacity. However, the other piece of the puzzle is the collective human tolerance for a species given their impacts. This is often called social carrying capacity,” Johnson explains, continuing to say that the “primary job of wildlife managers is to find the balance.”
Balance can be achieved in other ways as well. Organizations such as the Wood River Wolf Project in Idaho take “a collaborative approach by including community members, livestock producers, wildlife NGOs, and federal agencies working together to use proactive, nonlethal deterrents to minimize conflicts between livestock and wolves,” according to their website.
“For some folks,” Martin says, “Any wolf in the state is too many, one calf killed by a wolf is too many. For others, any wolf killed, or hazed even, is too many. So it’s very hard to find a middle ground between those positions.”
Some of these nonlethal deterrents, explains Shawler, who worked with the Wood River Wolf Project, include a mix of increasing human presence around livestock, guardian dogs, sound devices, the use of foxlights and fladry, or a string of flags that wave in the wind. “A lot of what we were trying to do,” Shawler explains, “is train the herders who are on the ground to use the tools. Anything to make it seem like there is human presence will scare the wolves off because they are naturally wary of humans.”
These tactics work differently for different species of livestock of course — sheep are easier to herd than cattle — but the method itself is valuable. Not only does this approach enable communities and multiple stakeholders to come together and work through human-wildlife conflict, but it also promotes coexistence by requiring a deeper understanding of both the land and the wildlife that inhabit it.
“There is value in thinking about and relating to a species that has a lot in common with us,” Martin says. Wolves are one part of a greater community that — now especially due to climate change — require innovative approaches to not only the human-wildlife conflict but to the environmental crisis at large. It is necessary to depoliticize wildlife, depoliticize the climate crisis and begin to collaboratively work toward sustainable coexistence.
“Globally,” Wilkinson says, “There are myriad examples of admirable compromises and hard-fought socially just solutions when it comes to human-wildlife conflict. Without people with diverse views, needs and concerns creating structure and space for listening to one another (and for resolving past injustices that contribute to or are interrelated with conflict), any attempt at a sustainable solution is futile.”
New bill would allow for 90 percent of wolves in the state to be killed
PHOTO BY JACOB W. FRANK/NATIONAL PARK SERVICE VIA APBY LINDSEY BOTTS | MAY 3 2021
For the Idaho legislature, it seems, the only good wolf is a dead wolf.
In late April, the Idaho legislature passed a bill that would allow hunters to kill up to 90 percent of Idaho’s wolf population. The legislation is now awaiting Governor Brad Little’s signature. If it’s signed into law, hunters and trappers will be able to kill as many wolves as they’d like, without restrictions.
The Idaho legislature’s savagery does not stop at doing away with hunting limits. The law would permit hunters to run down wolves with motorized vehicles and hunt in the dark using night-vision equipment (nearly all states restrict hunting to daylight hours). It would also extend the trapping season on private property to year-round, even during the breeding season, and allow hunters to trap or shoot as many animals as they want on a single tag. The law would also allow the state’s Wolf Predation Control Board to hire private contract killers to take out wolves, and it would increase the board’s annual budget from $110,000 to $300,000.
The proposal, which was fast-tracked through the state legislature in less than a week, represents the latest development in a chilling trend of Republican state lawmakers trying to eradicate wolves. From Wisconsin, where hunters pushed the state into allowing the slaughter of 20 percent of the population, to Montana, where trapping associations successfully lobbied lawmakers to bring back bounties, wolves face a level of persecution not seen since the turn of the 20th century.
Suzanne Stone, director at the International Wildlife Coexistence Network, says passage of Idaho’s SB 1211 could “absolutely” warrant federal officials reviewing whether it’s time to return wolves in the Rockies to the endangered species list. As a part of the federal rule that removed wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains from the endangered species list over a decade ago, Idaho agreed to maintain a population of at least 15 breeding pairs and 150 wolves. But this is a floor, not a ceiling. Idaho Fish and Games estimates there are currently about 1,500 wolves in the state. The race to kill most of those animals could and should trigger federal oversight, says Stone, who has worked in wolf conservation for over 30 years.
“It’s like [lawmakers] don’t have any fear that the federal government is going to step back in and take over management if they betray their agreement,” Stone says. “There will definitely be people who pursue this not only from litigation but from new legislation as well.”
According to thedelisting agreement, there are four scenarios that could warrant wolves being returned to Endangered Species Act protection: if wolf populations drop below 10 breeding pairs or 100 individuals; if the population falls below 15 breeding pairs and 150 individuals for three consecutive years; if increased human pressures “significantly threaten” the wolf population; and last (specific to Wyoming wolf management), if the wolf population outside Yellowstone National Park falls below seven breeding pairs for three consecutive years. Stone says the new law would make it easy for Idaho to meet the first three of those criteria.
Violating the agreement with the federal government isn’t the only thing that could jeopardize the current state management of wolves. If the bill becomes law, Idaho could be in danger of violating its commitment to manage wolves as a game species, said Jonathan Oppenheimer, external relations director at the Idaho Conservation League, when he testified against the bill.
LIKE WHAT YOU READ? SIGN UP FOR DAILY UPDATES FROM SIERRA MAGAZINE.SIGN UP
As a source population for wolves in other western states, Idaho’s wolves are vital to the success of overall wolf recovery in the West. In fact, the most recent federal delisting for wolves outside of the northern Rocky Mountains relies on thriving populations there to justify removing federal protections in other regions such as the Great Lakes. If wolves in the Northern Rockies become scarce, that could undermine the argument for further delisting, Stone says.
“The federal delisting is already being litigated. So it’s very possible that Idaho and Montana will now fall under that review because of major changes in the regulatory mechanisms that were in place to help guarantee that the wolf populations here would be stable,” Stone told Sierra.
Even though the wolf-killing bill passed the legislature in a lopsided 58–11 vote, opposition to the proposal has come from many directions—including some surprising ones. Conservation groups including the Idaho Conservation League and the Idaho Sportsmen issued statements rebuking SB 1211 for its disregard of ethical hunting principles. Last week, almost 30 former state, federal, and tribal wildlife biologists sent a letter to the governor urging him to veto the bill over similar concerns. And during the Senate committee hearing, Senator Michelle Stennett, a Democrat from Ketchum, raised concerns over the law’s risk to state management and called out the lack of federal inclusion.
“I’m a little disturbed,” said Senator Stennett in her closing remarks. “US Fish and Wildlife wasn’t consulted. . . . I understand those that are interested parties putting this together, but in the end, we do still have to work with the Feds in order to keep this agreement together.”
For his part, bill sponsor Senator Van Burtenshaw, a Republican from eastern Idaho, has been clear about the groups he’s hoping to please. “We had the sheep men, the cattlemen . . . we had [the] Farm Bureau, we had outfitters and guides, as well as trappers at the table,” said Burtenshaw. “They put together a piece of legislation that was sponsored by the industry and agreed upon by the industry. And that’s how this came about.”
Not coincidentally, these interest groups are extensions of the same constituencies that exterminated wolves in the United States a century ago. The rush to oblige them now means lawmakers prioritize killing and eradication over non-lethal measures.
Yet research tells us that not only are lethal measures ineffective but also that the fears they’re based on are overblown. A 2019 report from the US Humane Society found that wolves account for less than 1 percent of cattle and sheep deaths in Idaho. “They have demonized the wolf to the point where they’re trying to legislate controlling the demon that is simply in their imagination,” Stone told Sierra.
Meanwhile, hunters argue that wolves are gorging on elk and deer, leaving them with fewer opportunities to hunt. Idaho Fish and Game employees, however, have referred to the recent spate of successful elk harvests as the “golden age of elk hunting.” Elk reports show that the state is meeting its harvest quotas in 16 of the 22 hunting zones, and the current population stands at approximately 120,000—just 5,000 animals below the all-time highest count.
For Andrea Zaccardi, senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity in Idaho, the Idaho legislation is a prime example of what happens to wolves when they lose federal protections. The state already has a very permissive hunting season that allows the killing of wolf puppies, allows year-round hunting in some areas, and permits a single person to kill up to 15 wolves, including via the use of chokehold snares.
“I think Idaho is setting the exact bad example that everyone has been afraid of in terms of what state management of wolves may look like,” Zaccadi told Sierra. “This is the first step in terms of Idaho just usurping authority from state management, making political decisions that are not scientifically based, and just goes to show the state is not responsible enough to manage wolves.”
BOISE, Idaho — A conservation group is asking the U.S. government to cut off millions of dollars to Idaho that is used to improve wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation opportunities because of legislation that could lead to 90% of the state’s wolves being killed.
The Center for Biological Diversity sent a letter Monday to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, saying states may be deemed ineligible to receive federal wildlife restoration money if states approve legislation contrary to that goal.
Idaho received about $18 million last year in that funding, which comes from a tax on sporting firearms and ammunition. States can use it to pay 75% of the cost for projects including acquiring habitat, wildlife research and hunter education programs.
The conservation group’s request is a reflection of the long-simmering tension between ranchers and those seeking to protect wolves in the American West. About 1,500 wolves are in Idaho, with disagreement over whether that is too many or not enough because the predators are known to attack cattle, sheep and wildlife. Ranchers say they lose hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to those attacks.
The Idaho legislation, backed by the agriculture industry, allows the state to hire private contractors to kill wolves and opens up ways the predators can be hunted.
Those methods include hunting, trapping and snaring an unlimited number of wolves on a single hunting tag and allowing hunters to chase down wolves on snowmobiles and ATVs. The measure also allows the killing of newborn pups and nursing mothers on private land.
“We won’t stand idly by while federal taxpayers are forced to fund Idaho’s wolf-slaughter program,” said Andrea Zaccardi, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Idaho is entrusted with protecting its wildlife for all Americans, and its failure to do so should be met with serious repercussions, including the loss of federal funding.”
Idaho lawmakers have approved the legislation. Republican Gov. Brad Little, whose family has a long history with sheep ranching in Idaho, hasn’t said whether he’ll sign the measure.
Last week, nearly 30 former state, federal and tribal wildlife managers sent a letter to Little asking him to veto it, saying the methods for killing wolves would violate longstanding wildlife management practices and sportsmen ethics.
The Idaho Fish and Game Commission also opposes the bill because it removes wildlife management decisions from the commission and its experts and gives them to politicians.
Supporters say the changes could help reduce the wolf population from about 1,500 to 150, alleviating attacks on cattle and sheep. The Idaho Cattle Association said it supports the measure because it allows the free-market system to play a role in killing wolves.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game, using remote cameras and other methods, reported in February that the wolf population has been holding at about 1,500 the past two years.
About 500 wolves have been killed in the state in each of the last two years by hunters, trappers and wolf-control measures carried out by state and federal authorities.
Idaho’s wolf conservation and management plan calls for at least 150 wolves and 15 packs. Supporters of the measure say the state can increase the killing of wolves to reach that level.
According to the plan, if Idaho’s wolf population fell to 100, there is a possibility the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could resume management of the predators in the state.
This week, Idaho governor Brad Little is expected to sign into law a bill that calls for the extermination of 90 percent of the state’s 1,500-strong wolf population. Proponents say wolves are ruining the livelihoods of ranchers and hunters. Opponents say the wolves are necessary to a healthy ecosystem.
“They’re destroying ranchers,” said Republican senator Mark Harris, one of the bill’s sponsors, during a debate in the Idaho statehouse. “They’re destroying wildlife. This is a needed bill.”
“The politicians behind this bill lack science, ethics, and fact,” Amaroq Weiss, senior West Coast wolf advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, told Outside.
After being eradicated earlier in the 20th century, wolves were reintroduced to Idaho in 1995. Initially protected by the federal government under the Endangered Species Act, the state legislature worked to establish political control over management of the species. The Idaho Wolf Conservation and Management Plan was passed in 2002, creating a blueprint for the state’s Fish and Game department to take over management of the species upon delisting from the ESA, which took place across the northern Rocky Mountains in 2011.
That original plan, written by the legislature, not Fish and Game, called for a minimum population level of 15 packs. Given that wolf packs in this part of the world average about ten members, that roughs out to a population of about 150 wolves. That number was determined by the legislature to be the population size that would allow the species to remain sustainable in the state—without creating conflict with ranchers and hunters. Wildlife biologists, in contrast, argue that wolves must return to the entire portion of their historic range that’s currently able to support the species before their population can be considered sustainable.
This new bill, SB 1211, calls for Idaho’s wolf population to be reduced from its current estimated size of 1,556 back to that politically determined level of 150 wolves. To achieve that, it devotes $590,000 to hire contractors to exterminate the animals and removes any limits on the number of wolves hunters may harvest, while freeing them to use any method currently legal in the state, including trapping, the use of night vision equipment, shooting from vehicles, and baiting.
Here are the reasons the bill’s proponents argue such extraordinary action is necessary—and how they compare to science.
The Claim: Wolves Kill Livestock
“A cow taken by a wolf is similar to a thief stealing an item from a production line in a factory,” Cameron Mulrony, executive vice president of the Idaho Cattle Association, told The Guardian.
And in the debate at the statehouse, Idaho’s Senator Harris called wolf livestock depredation a “disaster.”
The Reality:The Number of Kills by Wolves Is Exceptionally Small
In 2018 there were 113 confirmed wolf kills of cows and sheep. In 2019 that number was 156, and in 2020 it was 84. That gives us a three-year average of 113 wolf kills per year in the state. There are currently 2.73 million head of cows and sheep in Idaho. That means confirmed wolf-caused losses amount to 0.00428 percent of the state’s livestock.
According to a study published in 2003 and widely cited by the agriculture industry, variables like terrain can sometimes make it hard to find dead livestock, so the true number of wolf-related losses may be up to eight times greater than the official tally. Assuming that worst-case scenario applies universally, wolf kills may account for as much as 0.02 percent of the state’s livestock.
“We need proper management to keep Idaho ranchers in business,” wrote Cameron Mulroney, vice president of the Idaho Cattle Association, in an opinion piece published by the Idaho Statesman. He goes on to call for taxpayer-funded wolf culling and increased wolf hunting opportunities for members of the public.
The Reality: Healthy Packs Prefer Natural Prey
“Multiple state-sponsored studies have concluded that large-scale wolf removal through public hunting or significant lethal control does not substantially reduce livestock losses to wolves in areas of recurring conflict,” Zoë Hanley, a representative of Defenders of Wildlife, wrote in a letter to Idaho lawmakers.
Many biologists believe that, because wolves function in packs, destabilizing and weakening those packs by killing members of them forces the wolfs to seek easier prey. “The odds of livestock depredations increased four percent for sheep and five to six percent for cattle with increased wolf control,” said a study that tracked livestock depredations across Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming between 1987 and 2012.
The study does confirm that culling wolves to the point of removing them from an ecosystem can be demonstrated to reduce depredation.
The Claim: Wolves Decrease Hunting Opportunities
Wolves are “destroying wildlife,” said Senator Harris in the debate. Hunters complain that they must compete with wolves for their natural prey, elk and deer, and that wolves push those animals out of traditional hunting areas, while reducing their outright numbers.
“The old place where you took your Dad or your dad takes your son, you can’t go there anymore because the elk are gone,” wrote Benn Brocksome, executive director of the Idaho Sportsman’s Alliance, in an opinion piece. “There’s one or two deer where there used to be hundreds, they’ve really pushed the elk and deer populations around, and really diminished the populations in different areas.”
The Reality: Wolves Create Healthy Ecosystems
Despite all those pesky wolves, elk populations in Idaho are actually at or above management objectives. The outright number of elk in the state currently stands at 120,000, just 5,000 fewer than the all-time high of 125,000. That’s also 8,000 more elk than were counted in 1995, the year wolves were reintroduced to Idaho.
As of 2019, the population of bulls (male elk) was above management objectives in 41 of Idaho’s 78 elk-hunting zones. According to Idaho Fish and Game, 2019 saw the 14th-highest elk harvest of all time in the state. In fact, the biggest problem elk populations in Idaho face is a lack of hunters prepared to hunt tough terrain. “One of the challenges we face in managing elk populations is getting enough hunters to hunt hard for and harvest antlerless elk in areas where we are working to bring elk herds back to the population objectives in the statewide elk plan,” Rick Ward, the department’s deer and elk program coordinator, said in a statement.
Mule deer aren’t fairing quite as well. “The three-year stretch of winters spanning from 2016 to 2019 was tough on many of Idaho’s mule deer herds, largely due to poor-to-average fawn survival,” according to Idaho Fish and Game. Still, 24,809 mule deer were harvested during the 2020 hunting season, with 28 percent of hunters finding success.Below average, but far from the lowest.
It doesn’t appear that wolves decreased populations of ungulates, and the predators may even play an important role in protecting them: chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a contagious neurological disease that degrades brain tissue in deer and elk over time, leading to emaciation and eventually death. CWD has not yet reached Idaho, but it has been found just over the border in southwest Montana and in Wyoming. There is currently no known cure and no effective tool for preventing its spread.
At least that’s what researchers thought until they began a research project into CWD’s spread in Yellowstone National Park. There, preliminary results suggested that wolves may be effective at slowing its spread by killing infected animals. Wolves cannot be infected by the disease.
“Wolves wouldn’t be a magic cure everywhere,” Ellen Brandell, the Penn State University researcher leading the project, told The New York Times. “But in places where it was just starting and you have an active predator guild, they could keep it at bay and it might never get a foothold.”
Gary J. Wolfe, a wildlife biologist and the former president and CEO of hunting advocacy group the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, agrees. “While I don’t think any of us large carnivore proponents are saying that wolf predation will prevent CWD, or totally eliminate it from infected herds, it is ecologically irresponsible to not consider the very real possibility that wolves can slow the spread of CWD and reduce its prevalence in infected herds,” he said in a statement released by the Sierra Club. “We should consider wolves to be ‘CWD border guards,’ adjust wolf hunting seasons accordingly, and let wolves do their job of helping to cull infirm animals from the herds.”
SB 1211 isn’t going to save livestock and won’t help hunters, but ultimately it may pose one major problem for anti-wolf Idahoans: if it causes the state’s wolf population to fall below ten packs, the bill could eventually lead to the state losing the ability to manage wolves within its borders. The 2002 Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, written by Idaho’s own legislature, calls for wolf management to revert to U.S. Fish and Wildlife control if the state’s population falls below ten packs.
“In the unlikely event the population falls below ten packs … wolf management will revert to the same provisions that were in effect to recover the wolf population prior to delisting,” according to Idaho’s management plan. That’s the Endangered Species Act.
Today the Idaho Legislature passed SB 1211—a heinous bill that would allow the slaughter of 90 percent of Idaho’s 1,500 wolves by any means: traps, snares, aerial shooting, running over with snowmobiles—and even wildlife killing contests. There will be no bag or tag purchase limits or seasonal respite from trapping. The bill seizes wildlife management authority from the Idaho Fish and Game Commission and supports the hiring of contract killers with an additional $190,000 from the Idaho Wolf Control Fund, which already receives $400,000 to kill wolves. Read this Guardian article to see international coverage of the issue.Our last chance to stop this all-out war against wolves in Idaho is to urge Governor Brad Little to veto this bill. Even if you don’t live in Idaho, you can still speak up. Idaho needs to know the world is watching! Urge Governor Little to veto SB 1211 TODAY!Here’s how you can help:Call Governor Little at 208-334-2100 now and follow up with an email to firstname.lastname@example.org urging him to veto SB 1211, using the talking points below.Share this action alert and infographic with friends and family and on social media! Talking points to craft your message (please personalize):If you are from or currently live in Idaho, state your town. If you don’t have connections to Idaho, explain why you will not spend your tourism dollars in a state like Idaho that wantonly slaughters wildlife.Over 76% of Idahoans believe wildlife belongs to all citizens and that management decisions should be made without political influence by the Idaho Fish and Game Commission – whose members oppose this bill 5-2.Taking authority away from the Commission and the agency biologists that inform them is not science-based management and sets a dangerous precedent for the management of other wildlife.Wolves cause less than 1% of cattle deaths and any depredation can be properly managed without this bill.Killing wolves at this rate will only support decisions to relist them with Endangered Species Act protections.Wolves alive and thriving bring value to Idaho in many forms, including ecosystem services and tourism dollars.The majority of Idahoans and Americans support wolf recovery at levels where wolves can fulfill their ecological functions. Almost no one supports wasting tax dollars to recover wolves, just to exterminate them again.
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a bill Friday allowing the use of private funds to reimburse wolf hunters or trappers for their expenses — reminiscent of bounties that widely exterminated the species in the last century.
Hunting and livestock groups, and their Republican allies in the legislature, contend not enough of the 1,200 wolves in Montana are being killed by hunters to limit their impact on big game outfitters or cattle and sheep producers.
Last week, Gianforte signed bills to allow the snaring of wolves, in addition to trapping; and another one to extend the wolf hunting season.
Lawmakers have also forwarded to the governor a bill to allow individuals to kill an unlimited number of wolves, hunt at night with artificial lights and night vision scopes and use bait to lure wolves into traps.
In Idaho, a bill that would allow the state to hire private contractors to reduce the wolf population from about 1,500 to 150 is quickly moving through the legislature. It allows the use of night-vision equipment to kill wolves as well as hunting from snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles, among other changes.
Backers cite cattle and sheep deaths that cost ranchers hundreds of thousands of dollars, while opponents say the legislation threatens a 2002 wolf management plan involving the federal government.