Political animals

 

In a recent op-ed, Denver Bryan, a self-described "hunter, conservationist, and also a supporter of wolves taking their rightful place in the West," fell in step with the backlash politics of Western wildlife policy. (See Denver Bryan's Writers on the Range opinion piece in fullhttp://www.hcn.org/wotr/yes-to-wolves-but-not-so-many.) He began by declaring that legitimate conservation groups are trying to "placate their city-based members" and "don't care what it is like for those of us who live closer to the land." He repeats claims of falling big game populations, writing that wolves "kill even healthy adult bull elk and moose with regularity," as if to reveal the signature evil of true predators. For some hunters, an adult bull elk has value because it has commodity value. It is sad to hear knowledgeable members of the hunting community adopt the carefully designed rhetoric of commercial interests threatened by sound conservation.

I am also an avid hunter and backcountry horseman, and have for the last five seasons been elk hunting shoulder-to-shoulder with wolves. Wolves have made me a more mobile and adaptable hunter. I have harvested elk every year since I have hunted wolf country and believe they make hunting easier. Elk in wolf country spend more time moving as a herd throughout the day, making them more likely to be seen than a herd bedded down in the timber.

The elk regions that are supposedly being depopulated by wolves were in the midst of a long-term decline due to habitat factors long before the reintroduction of wolves. In other locations, elk populations were already above what available winter range could support, and may have been limiting mule deer populations.

The Sagebrush Rebellion left wildlife professionals reeling. They were ordered to take a more submissive stance when in conflict with local natural resource industries, which bred a culture of deference to commercial interests that has outlived its usefulness to sound wildlife policy.

I have come to believe in the necessity of advocating for wildlife in more black-and-white terms: There are those that believe wildlife has intrinsic value, and those that see wildlife as having only commodity value. There are those who recognize that native wildlife should be held in the public trust, and those who believe in privatization. We need more hunters and wildlife advocates willing to be unequivocal in their support of wolves and other wildlife facing political backlash.

John Goodell
Missoula, Montana