Predator aversion


America's wolves have never had an easy go of things. Ranchers hate them for killing livestock, hunters hate them for killing game, and politicians hate them for pissing off ranchers and hunters. And ever since Congress delisted the American grey wolf last April, a move that transferred management of the animals to the states in which they occur, Canis lupis' situation in the West has become especially wretched.

The delisting quickly led to state-sponsored wolf hunts in Montana and Idaho that were supposedly aimed at responsibly reducing wolf populations to protect game species like elk. But for many wildlife conservation groups, the hunts have amounted to little more than the state-sponsored slaughter of a still-endangered species sacrificed for the sake of politics. Last year's hunts resulted in the deaths of 375 and 166 wolves in Idaho and Montana, respectively. Montana's population of 653 is still above its goal of 425; Idaho's is at least 570.

In a letter to Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, the Center for Biological Diversity's Executive Director Keiran Suckling wrote of the hunts, "We are sickened by the wholesale slaughter of an animal, the gray wolf, that, but for last year's wolf delisting rider, would still qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act in Idaho and elsewhere in the northern Rocky Mountains," reported the Environment News Service early this month.

Here's a look at a few other stories of wolf woe that have made headlines recently:

Wolf tortured in Idaho

The disturbing actions of a U.S. Forest Service employee in Idaho toward a wolf he trapped in March made national headlines this month.

The employee, Josh Bransford, posted an online photo of himself kneeling and smiling in front of an injured, but still living, wolf that he'd caught in a foot-hold trap. According to ENS, Bransford wrote in the since-deleted post:

“I got a call on Sunday morning from a FS [Forest Service] cop that I know. You got one up here as there was a crowd forming. Several guys had stopped and taken a shot at him already…The big, black male wolf stood in the trap, some 300-350 yards from the road, wounded – the shots left him surrounded by blood-stained snow.”

The Center for Biological Diversity claims Bransford's cruelty violates Idaho state law and has asked the Forest Service and Idaho's Attorney General to investigate the incident.

"These photos make plain that the trapping and hunting of wolves being allowed by the state of Idaho are less wildlife-management techniques than scapegoating of wolves," said the Center's Michael Robinson in an April 3rd press release.

A sportsmen's group wants Montana's wolves more vigorously controlled -- and they're willing to pay for it.

Last month, the Missoula, Mont.-based Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (which also produces the magazine Bugle) announced that it would offer at least $50,000 to Montana state wildlife officials to "get more aggressive about wolf control," to protect game animals, reports the Missoulian.

The Foundation wants Montana's Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to use the group's financial offering to contract with the federal Wildlife Services agency to kill not only more wolves, but bears, mountain lions and coyotes, predators that prey on game animals like deer, pronghorn antelope and elk.

“This is where this all starts to domino if you don’t keep predators managed,” said David Allen, the Foundation's president, in the Missoulian. “And the next step is the grizzly bear. We’ve got bear issues with elk calves in the spring – both grizzly and black bear. We can’t have all these predators with little aggressive management and expect to have ample game herds and sell hunting tags and generate revenue that supports FWP nearly 100 percent.”

"What a sad statement from a once-proud conservation organization," responds hunter and Montana Standard reporter Nick Gevock in his blog criticizing the predator-averse Foundation and it's offer. "But this isn’t Allen’s first time joining the predator-bashing chorus." From Gevock's blog:

"Maybe what the foundation wants are the good old days, when hundreds of elk poured out of the park’s northern boundary into a firing line of hunters. That wasn’t an elk hunt -- it was a disgrace."

As anyone who gets out of his or her vehicle and actually hunts knows, Montana has abundant elk. The hunting is a little harder in areas where wolves are. But when isn’t elk hunting tough?

Wildlife advocates condemn Liam Neeson thriller as anti-wolf

In case you missed the flare-up earlier this winter, Joe Carnahan, writer-director of the new movie, "The Grey", has been criticized by wolf advocates who worry the film unfairly portrays wolves as bloodthirsty man-killers.

In the movie, which came out in January, a group of oil roughnecks led by Liam Neeson fight to survive the elements and the attacks of a highly aggressive wolf pack that pursue the men after their plane crashes in the Alaskan wilds. Some conservation groups panned the film's "us versus them" depiction of wolves. PETA called for a boycott; others are using the film as an opportunity to educate the public. From the L.A. Times:

The Wolf Conservation Center is taking a different approach, using the film as a platform to raise awareness about the perils facing wolves in the wild and how their real-life nature diverges from the Hollywood portrayal.

"In reality, wild wolves are shy and elusive," the center's website says. "A person in wolf country has a greater chance of being hit by lightning ... than being injured by a wolf."

For his part, Carnahan says he didn't mean for the wolves to come across as the bad guys.  “I never intended [the wolves] to be the aggressor; I look at them as the defenders. I think these guys are in a very territorially sensitive place. [The humans] were trespassing and intruders,” he told the Times.

Marian Lyman Kirst is an intern at High Country News.

Images courtesy flickr user dibytes, John and Karen Hollingsworth for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and flickr user haglundc.

Marian Lyman Kirst
Marian Lyman Kirst Subscriber
Apr 16, 2012 11:22 AM
Update: Idaho Fish and Game say the wolf caught and shot at in Idaho was trapped legally--[…]5903-899f-1f28299fda17.html
Deb H
Deb H
Apr 16, 2012 04:14 PM
While Bransford's trapping of the wolf may have been legal, were his actions ethical? It is interesting that the story the he posted on and the story he told to investigators is different.[…]/

Secondly, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation seems to be forgetting one thing. In most states wildlife managers are required, by public trust doctrine, to manage wildlife for " the benefit of all residents of a state". While it may be correct that DOW's are funded largely by hunting fees and ammo sales, a few numbers change the picture. The 2006 USFWS Colorado survey states the following - Number of hunters = 259,000, Total spent by Hunters = $444,061,000.00 Number of wildlife watchers = 1,819,000, Total Spent by Wildlife Watchers = $1,387,621,000.00

Predators are an essential part of ecosystem management. They keep herds on the move, decrease herd size ( lower CWD infection), and help to cull out animals that the average hunter would not take. Killing predators JUST to falsely inflated ungulate herd size and to make hunting an easy pass time should not be allowed.
Robb Cadwell
Robb Cadwell
Apr 17, 2012 06:51 AM
"hate, hate, hate" on the plus side I didn't read the words genocide, Hitler, or balance of nature once. I did consider that with just a tiny bit of rewrite this entire article could be parody, kind of like that piece about the Tibetan cowboy. Is there a style book somewhere for outrage articles about wolves? Strunk, White, and Wolves?
Marian Lyman Kirst
Marian Lyman Kirst Subscriber
Apr 17, 2012 09:23 AM
Rob, I have to admit, even when they are critical, I always love your comments. For a more positive piece of wolf news, a "compromise article about wolves", if you will, here is a link to a story from Oregon about state-sponsored compensation for wolf-related livestock losses:[…]/oregon_begins_compensation_pro.html
Bruce Rocheleau
Bruce Rocheleau Subscriber
Apr 19, 2012 03:03 PM
I remember reading that one FWS wolf specialist believed that the delisting of wolves & the subsequent ability to hunt them would lead to more acceptance of them by hunters and others. I Is there any evidence of this? Based on these stories, it does not appear to be the case?
Deb H
Deb H
Apr 19, 2012 03:12 PM
Bruce - No it has not. Since delisting, more and more pressure is being put on by various hunting and ranching groups to kill them as fast as possible. They all know quite well what the minimum number is to keep them from being relisted, but they want them down to that number NOW. It is interesting because it is beginning to look like since hunting season the number of depredations has increased. This proves the correct theory that hunting breaks up the pack, thus removing the alphas ability to teach the young and control the pack unit. Without the pack structure, more wolves are on their own and going into areas where they would not have gone before. But, science no longer applies to wolf management............
Bruce Rocheleau
Bruce Rocheleau Subscriber
Apr 19, 2012 03:26 PM
The other point I wonder about is whether the rush to kill so many wolves is leading to any significant reaction from those who sympathize with wolves? Is there any evidence of political mobilization on behalf of wolves?
Robb Cadwell
Robb Cadwell
Apr 19, 2012 06:33 PM
It's too early to tell how delisting will affect attitudes of hunters. I don't live in one of the three states but I suspect if the animal herds that have been decimated recover, hunters will be fine with wolves. Mountain lions, and black bears are certainly accepted where I live, and I have to say they are also managed. America has been managing wildlife a long time, our system of doing so is the envy of the world.

Deb wolf populations actually increased this year, in the Northern Rocky Mountains and in Montana, more wolves equals more depredations. You can't forget that wolf populations doubled about once every three years since reintroduction, doubled even with severe pruning in areas with livestock. At the average of 20 elk per wolf you have to figure 34,000 dead elk per year until they get things under control.

Bruce any wolves killed at all sends wolf advocates into conniptions. They are motivated, vocal, angry, and steadily decreasing in numbers. Too many bridges burnt, allies offended, lawsuits litigated. The US Fish and Wildlife pronounced the fall hunts a stunning success and is looking to delist across the entire lower 48.[…]5912-8974-d630d5568092.html[…]/doc3978.%20lupus%205-YR%20review%20PDF.pdf

Not only is the US government out of the wolf business but if they were to do it all over again wolves probably wouldn't warrant an endangered listing as they are not threatened (and never have been) over a "significant portion of their current range", which is the current interpretation of the ESA.

Changing climate will no doubt cause many extinctions, I'd hope our government uses it's limited resources to save as many of the truly endangered species as it can. Alienating the oldest largest conservation group who also happen to be the ones paying the bills hasn't been real productive.
Tim Baker
Tim Baker Subscriber
Apr 20, 2012 05:52 PM
I'd actually like to see us move away from the idea of Endangered Species and start looking at Endangered Ecosystems because that's been the sort of bass-akwards way we've been using the ESA over the years and it's been a bit inefficient.

Wolves and other large predators are, or should be, without any scientific doubt, functional components of most ecosystems of the contiguous 48. If we begin consciously addressing ecosystem functionality rather than on individual species, we might be able to arrive at viable numbers for managing the components of these systems in ways that benefit us in the long run.

The biggest problem with this approach is that the complexity of an ecosystem doesn't lend itself well to legislation where focusing on a species does. However, the focus on species over ecosystems can end up with nonsense like declaring polar bears endangered but not addressing the causes of the decline in sea ice that they rely on.

My hope is that enough folks in the Northern Rockies will see the elk behaving like elk and willows and aspens returning as good things the wolves have brought about while the wolf fans will realize it's the nature of predators to eat and breed to the limit of their food supply unless other environmental factors, like disease or competition, limits them.

But then, I'm hopeful person, when I'm not being fatalistic about the average intelligence of humans.