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.

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