Thursday, January 17, 2019
Breaking News
Home » Rockies » Idaho » Boise » Why State Fish and Game Agencies Can’t Manage Predators
Without exception, state game and fish agencies do not treat predators like other wildlife. Even though state agencies are no longer engaged in outright extermination of predators, persecution and limited acceptance of the ecological role of predators is still the dominant attitude. State wildlife agencies only tolerate predators as long as they are not permitted to play a meaningful ecological role.

Why State Fish and Game Agencies Can’t Manage Predators

In the past month or so, helicopters with gunners skimmed over the Alaskan tundra and forests shooting wolves to “protect” caribou herds. In Nevada, the state Fish and Game agency wants to kill more mountain lions to increase mule deer numbers. In Idaho, the Idaho Game and Fish wants to kill more than a hundred wolves in the Lolo Pass area to benefit elk. In Maine, the state agency encourages hunters to shoot coyotes to reduce predation on deer.

Without exception, state game and fish agencies do not treat predators like other wildlife. Even though state agencies are no longer engaged in outright extermination of predators, persecution and limited acceptance of the ecological role of predators is still the dominant attitude. State wildlife agencies only tolerate predators as long as they are not permitted to play a meaningful ecological role.

In general, they seek to hold predator populations at low numbers by providing hunters and trappers with generous “bag” limits and long hunting/trapping seasons. For some predators, like coyotes, there are often no limits on the number of animals that can be killed or trapped. The attitude of many hunters towards predators is not appreciably different than what one heard a hundred years ago, despite a huge leap in our ecological understanding of the role top predators play in the ecosystem.

Beyond the general hostility towards predators that many hunters hold, state wildlife agencies are not the objective, scientific, wildlife managers that they claim to be. Wolves, mountain lions, bears, and other predators are a direct threat to state wildlife budgets because top predators eat the very animals that hunters want to kill. Because state wildlife agencies rely upon license sales to fund their operations, maintaining huntable numbers of elk, deer, moose, and caribou is in the agencies’ self interest.

Before anyone accuses me of being anti hunter, I want to make it clear that I hunt, and most of my close friends hunt. We value the wildlife success stories created by past and present wildlife agencies actions. And to give credit where credit is due, hunters and anglers have been responsible for many successful wildlife recovery efforts, and through their lobbying efforts, sweat, and money, they have protected a considerable amount of wildlife habitat across the Nation for many wildlife species, not just the ones hunted. Well known early conservationists and wilderness advocates like Theodore Roosevelt, George Bird Grinnell, Charles Sheldon and Olaus Murie were all hunters. But that doesn’t mean hunters are beyond criticism when it comes to wildlife management policies, particularly when it comes to predator policy.


With the delisting of wolves by the Secretary of the Interior Salazar, several states are poised to begin managing wolves. Proponents of wolf control suggest that Americans should let state wildlife agencies manage predators “just like other wildlife.”

The problem is that top predators are not “just like other wildlife.” Indeed, they play a crucial ecological role in maintaining ecosystem stability and integrity. In addition, predators, more than most other species, have well developed social structures that demand a much more nuanced approach to human/wildlife relationships than most wildlife agencies are prepared to deal with, much less even acknowledge.


Much recent research has demonstrated many ecological values to predators. As top-down regulators of ecosystems, predators like wolves, mountain lion, and bears help to reduce herbivore numbers to slow or reduce over-browsing or overgrazing of plant communities.

Perhaps more importantly, predator shift how prey animals use their habitat. For instance, it is well documented that the presence of wolves in Yellowstone has changed how elk use the landscape, with less browsing on riparian vegetation as one consequence.

But wolf-induced habitat shifts by elk has had other benefits as well. Since the road system in Yellowstone tends to follow the river valleys, movement of elk away from streams to adjacent uplands increases the likelihood that a certain percentage of the animals will die further from a road. This has important consequences for grizzly bears that have been shown to avoid feeding on carcasses located close to roads. Finding even one more elk carcass in the spring in a place that is “safe” for feeding is like winning the lottery for, say, a mother grizzly with several cubs to feed.

Some scientists have even postulated that wolves may ameliorate the effects of climate change on scavenger species by providing carrion throughout the year.

Predators can also limit the effects of disease, like chronic wasting disease found in elk, deer, and moose since infected animals are more vulnerable to predators.

The presence of a large predator has a cascading effect on all other predators as well. For instance, the present of wolves results in fewer coyotes. Since coyotes are among the major predators on pronghorn fawns, presence of wolves, has led to higher pronghorn fawn survival.

And because of the single-minded bias of state wildlife agencies for maintaining large numbers of huntable species, they fail to even ask whether predation might have a positive influence on ecosystem sustainability.

For instance, in certain circumstances, top predators like wolves, bears, and mountain lions will hold prey populations low for an extended period of time, especially if habitat quality is marginal for the herbivores. These “predator sinks” provide the long term “rest” from herbivory pressure that plant communities may require on occasion to reestablish or recover from past herbivory pressure. Almost universally when predators begin to “hold down” prey populations, state agencies want to kill them so the targeted populations of moose, caribou, elk, deer, or whatever it might be can “recover.” That is the justification, for instance, for the proposed slaughter of approximately 100 wolves near Lolo Pass by the Idaho Fish and Game.

Unfortunately for predators if their numbers are sufficiently high for them to have these ecological effects on other wildlife as well as the plant communities, state wildlife agencies tend to view them as too high for their “management objectives.”


I won’t dwell on it here, but top predators have sophisticated social interactions that state wildlife agencies completely ignore in their management. For the most part, state agencies’ management of predators is based on numbers. If there are enough wolves or mountain lions to maintain a population, and they are not in any danger of extinction, than management is considered to be adequate.

The problem is that top predators have many social interactions that complicate such crude management by the numbers.

Many social animals pass on “cultural” knowledge to their young about where to forage or hunt. Researcher Gordon Haber has found that some wolf packs in Denali National Park have been passing on their prime hunting territory from generation to generation for decades. Loss of this knowledge and/or territory because too many animals are killed can stress the remaining animals, making them more likely to travel further where they are vulnerable to conflicts with humans.

For instance, predator control can shift the age structure of predator populations to younger animals. Since younger animals are less experienced hunters, they are more likely to attack livestock than older, mature predators. (Young animals are more likely in rare instances, to even attack people. Nearly all mountain lion attacks are by immature animals.)

Furthermore, predator populations that are held at less than capacity by management (i.e. killing them) also tend to breed earlier, and produce more young, increasing the demand for biomass (i.e. food). Both of these factors can indirectly increase conflicts between livestock producers and predators.

Wolves, mountain lions, bears, coyotes, and other predators all possess such intricate social relationships. Yet I have never seen a single state wildlife agency even acknowledged these social interactions; much less alter their management in light of this knowledge.


Despite the self serving propaganda coming hunting groups that hunters are an adequate “tool” to control herbivore populations, research has demonstrated sufficient differences in the animals selected by predators compared to human hunters. In general, hunters take animals in the prime of life, while predators disproportionally take out the older, younger or less fit individuals. As poet Robinson Jeffers has noted, it is the fang that has created the fleet foot of the antelope.

Human hunting has other long term genetic consequences as well. As was recently reported in PNAS, sustained human hunting has led to universally smaller animals, as well as other suspected genetic impacts that may affect their long-term viability.


Despite the long history of hunter conservationists, when it comes to predators there are two major reasons for the failure of state wildlife agencies to adopt objective and biologically sound predator policies. The first is that most hunters are ecologically illiterate. Though there are some sub-groups within the hunting community who put ecological health of the land first and foremost, the average hunter cares more about “putting a trophy on the wall or meat in the freezer” than whether the land’s ecological integrity is maintained. The focus is on sustaining hunting success, not ultimately on the quality of the hunting experience, much less sustaining ecosystems as the prime objective. Such hunters are the ones using ORVs for hunting, use radio collared dogs to “track” predators, object to road closures that limit hunter access by other than foot, employ more and more sophisticated technology to replace human skill, and not coincidently they tend to be the hunters most likely to be demanding predator control.

On the whole, I have found most state wildlife biologists to be far more ecologically literate than the hunters and anglers they serve. In other words, if left to the biologists, I suspect we would find that agencies would manage wildlife with a greater attention to ecological integrity.

However, curbing such impulses by wildlife professionals are the politically appointed wildlife commissions. While criteria for appointments vary from state to state, in general, commissioners are selected to represent primarily rural residents, timber companies and agricultural interests—all of whom are generally hostile to predators and/or see it as almost a God-given requirement that humans manage the Earth to “improve” it and fix the lousy job that God did by creating wolves and mountain lions.

The other reason state agencies tend to be less enthusiastic supporters of predators has to do with funding. State wildlife agencies “dance with the one that brung ya.” Most non-hunters do not realize that state wildlife agencies are largely funded by hunter license fees as well as taxes on hunting equipment, rather than general taxpayer support. This creates a direct conflict of interest for state wildlife agencies when it comes to managing for species that eat the animals hunters want to kill. Agency personnel know that the more deer, elk, and other huntable species that exist, the more tags and licenses they can sell. So what bureaucracy is going to voluntarily give up its funding opportunities for “ecological integrity?”

Adding to this entire funding nightmare for agencies is the decline in hunter participation. There are fewer and fewer hunters these days. Many reasons have been proposed for this—a decrease in access to private lands for hunting, decrease in outdoor activities among young people, and fewer young hunters being recruited into the hunting population, a shift in population from rural to urban areas, and a general shift in social values where hunters are held in less esteem by the general public. Whatever the factors, state wildlife agencies are facing a financial crisis. Their chief funding source—hunter license tags sales are declining, while their costs of operations are increasing.

This creates a huge incentive for state wildlife agencies to limit predators. Most agencies are beyond wanting to exterminate predators, and some even grudgingly admit there is some ecological and aesthetic value in maintaining some populations of predators, but few are willing to promote predators or consider the important ecological value of predators in the ecosystem.

Yet these inherent conflicts of interest are never openly conceded by the agencies themselves or for that matter few others. It is the elephant in the room.


With the exception of killing predators in the few instances where human safety is jeopardized as with human habituated animals, or to protect a small population of some endangered species, I find little good scientific support for any predator management. Predator populations will not grow indefinitely. They are ultimately limited by their prey. Leaving predators to self-regulate seems to be the best management option available.

In general, predators will have minimum effects on hunting. Even now in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, most elk populations are at or above “management objectives.” Climatic conditions and habitat quality typically have a far greater impact on long-term viability of huntable species than predators.

Arguments that people will “starve” if they can’t hunt are bogus. Alternative foods are usually far less expensive and more easily acquired than a moose or elk. Furthermore, in our society where food stamps and other social security nets are available, no one will starve for want of an elk dinner or caribou steak.

In my view, we need to restore not only token populations of wolves to a few wilderness and park sanctuaries, we ought to be striving to restore the ecological role of top predators to as much as of the landscape as reasonably possible. While we may never tolerate or want mountain lions in Boise city limits, grizzly bears strolling downtown Bozeman or wolves roaming the streets of Denver, there is no reason we can’t have far larger and more widely distributed predator populations across the entire West, as well as the rest of the nation. But this will never happen as long as state wildlife agencies see their primary role to satisfy hunter expectations for maximized hunting opportunities for ungulates like deer and elk rather than managing wildlife for the benefit of all citizens and ecosystem integrity.

About George Wuerthner

George Wuerthner has published 36 books, including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy

Check Also

New West Daily Roundup for Dec. 5, 2016

Today in New West news: Colorado startup wrangles with economics of supersonic flight, an update ...


  1. So you got what you wanted. Wolves restored to survivable numbers. Now comes the mandatory liberal mantra.”More, More, More. It’s not enough. We want more.”

  2. Tom:

    You are correct. The question is whether maintaining wolves at levels so they don’t go extinct is consistent with maintaining ecological integrity. The issue is not unlike whether we should log all the forests so there only a few old growth trees, or whether we want to maintain the old growth forest ecosystem. The goal of wolf recovery ought to involve more than merely keeping the species from going extinct again. Top predators play an important role in ecosystem function and stability.

  3. Writing from the Wyoming experience only , I’ve long told folks that the term ” predator” means one thing to a biologist and another thing to a livestock producer, and something altogether different to a lawyer. I have to sincerely thank George for this article , which ties it all together and wraps it nicely . I honestly had no idea that predators were so universally abysmally managed everywhere else. I thought it was just a Wyoming neurosis that confused wildlife with game with a nuisance animal. Wuerthner has replenished my ammo stock in Wyoming’s war on wolves with this succinct essay . Wolves are , in fact, wildlife and a positive ecological force, not game for sport nor nuisance for annihilation. This essay also puts bears and cougar et al into the big frame nicely. Thanks George. You will be paraphrased mightily , if that’s OK.

  4. The real role of game management agencies is to manage the game to the satisfaction of a) those who foot the dang bill; and b) those who own the habitat, seasonal or otherwise, and understand how to do so.
    I understand there is a zoo faction in many wildlife agencies, and USFWS is a shining example, who are seeking “generalist” funding, part of THAT being that the general public actually contributes a shockingly small amount to wildlife upkeep. I mean, nobody from PETA or Audubon ever buys a duck stamp or bird tag…
    And when it came to Colorado’s nongame checkoff, averaged out the vigorish came to 32 bucks per gunnie, 16 bucks per fishie, and ten point four CENTS per kindhearted nonconsumptive animal loving member of the general public. Who carries the freight?
    If Defenders actually compensated wildlife agencies and ranchers for their actual losses, on the equivalence of each “tag filled” then we’d really see what the appropriate level of predators on the landscape truly is.
    George and company, I understand fully your deep-ecology desire to have predators be the dominant force on the wildlife landscape. After all, then game managers and the entire icky “sportsmen” infrastructure could disappear.
    But I don’t agree…and I can’t be alone on this.

  5. Dave— what planet are you writing from ? To your mind, is ” game ” a sub-set of ” Wildlife” , or is ‘game’ everything on four feet in the wild to you ? ( It’s not) Perhaps ” game” might be managed for them ‘ dang bill footers’ , by whom I think you mean hunting license buyers. But what about non-game Wildlife ? And who are these people you refer to that “own the habitat, seasonal or otherwise”… my county in NW Wyoming is 86 percent federal land , and that’s where most of the huntable Game is. Jackson Hole’s Teton County is 97 percent federal land. That means someone in Rhode Island has an equal share of its ” ownership” , seasonal or whatever. My state Game & Fish Department manages all the game and wildlife and fish and fowl for every bit or land not inside Yellowstone or Grand Teton National park , the Indian reservation, and a few sundry wildlife reserves. Wyoming people own the wildlife, including the game, within it’s state’s boundaries, and Game & Fish manages for all. The various federal agencies have cooperating agreements with Wyo Game and Fish to manage the habitat. but G & F runs the hunting and fishing. Even Yellowstone Park visitors are required to buy a Wyoming state fishing license.

    Were you aware that the Wyomng GAME and Fish Department gets 2/3rds of its revenue from the sale of fishing licenses , and uses much of that money to support its hunting program , which does NOT pay for itself ? Doesn’t even come close. That Wyo G & F spends $ 2-5 million per year on Non-Game species including Wolves and Grizzlies, and also takes in additional revenue from both the state by appropriation for both specific and non-specific uses, and federal funds in the form of grants for a wide range of defined purposes. Some of that money comes from an excise tax on sporting goods paid by everyone everywhere in the USA ( Wallop-Breaux ).

    If I’m hearing your right, You seem to think , narrowly , that wildlife are game and they exist solely to be hunted for sport or meat. Your allusion to ” satisfaction”. That notion could hardly be more wrong and still be on the same planet.

    I do not understand your paragraph on Defenders at all … the Defenders of Wildlife organization , who compensate ranchers for verfiable kills of livestock by grizzlies and wolves , I presume ? I’m one of those folks prrpedator kill of his livestock if he didn’t take adequate means to protect that animal , and no compensation whatsoever for a loss occuring on public land, regardless. Nobody owes ranchers a living. They have costs of doing business and risks, like everyone else. If they expect to be paid for everyc alf born , then that’s fine, so long as they pay full market price for every resource and service they use , instead of living on subsidies. But that is not the issue here.

    Game is wildlife, but not all wildlife is game. Not even close. And neither are here for your exclusive benefit and use . If you happen to have the privilege to hunt a bull elk in the fall on the National Forest, that is entirely secondary product of good ecological management of WILDLIFE, not the primary reason that elk is there in the first place. And hard as it may be for you to grasp, Wolves and Grizzlies and other carnivores have eminent domain and free range of their habitat, as much as we can provide them with, first and foremost.

  6. Dave:

    You are absolutely correct that most of the funding for state wildlife agencies is from sportsmen.

    For a host of reasons, I believe there needs to be greater funding of wildlife agencies by all citizens. As you no doubt know declining number of hunters means funding sources for state wildlife agencies are declining significantly. All citizens benefit from wildlife, and I think we should all contribute to wildlife funding.

    Some states have implemented ways of supporting state wildlife agencies using other methods besides license sales. Missouri, for instance, uses a portion of its state sales tax to support the wildlife agency. Florida has a tax on new car registration that goes to buy wildlife habitat–based on the theory that cars and highways destroy wildlife habitat, so those using cars should pay to compensate for these losses. But in general, most states still rely on hunter and angler tag sales to fund wildlife agencies.

  7. I applaud and commend the author for his excellent article. It is one of the best I’ve read on this topic. However, I wish he would have added some specific recommendations or insights on how we might successfully transition state Fish and Game agencies and commissions from where they are now to where they need to be. One obvious remedy is to break these agencies disproportionate dependence on consumptive user fees and taxes. Another would be to change the selection criteria and/or qualifications for future commission appointments (more biologists and ecologists, less campaign contributors and political cronies). Overall, I think that progress depends on state-level political and lobbying campaigns to reform how these agencies and commissions are managed and funded. After all, predators and other wildlife are supposed to be public resources that belong to all citizens, not just the relatively small minorities who are consumptive users. By the way, I am not anti-hunting or anti-fishing; I have done both in the past. I am only anti-management that is biased by placing user demands and budget pressures ahead of long-term ecological health.

  8. Richard

    Your ideas about changing the funding of state wildlife agencies is perhaps the best solution that I know about at this time. I suspect if there were more diverse sources of funding from all citizens, state wildlife biologists would feel free to move in a more ecologically sound management direction–at least that would be my hope.

    Secondly, it might change the way commissioners are appointed too. Right now, with few exceptions, commissioners are chosen based on criteria that–not surprisingly and perhaps rightly–strongly mirrors the perceived funding constituency–namely hunters, rural land owners and the like. A broader source of funding might lead to commissioners who have a broader constituency in mind.

  9. While the debate rages on, the wolves are moving into rural towns. At first the packs stayed a mile or so from town and killed dogs and horses, then last year they were a half a mile from town and killed dogs and horses. This year they are right in town killing dogs and so far only chasing the horses.

    Called the FWS, they referred me to F&G;who told me to call FWS. After getting passed around from department to department and put on hold numerous times, a person begins to wonder if anyone even cares about us? We already know that Defenders of the Wildlife doesn’t care about us (we are not ranchers.) Now before some smarty pants tells me that I should learn to protect our animals better, I recently showed someone a photo of our fence, and they remarked that it looked like a concentration camp! When we take the dogs out to pee in the yard, they are on leashes and we stand over them with flash light (and now a gun.)

    So the debate rages on and only the lawyers win, while we live like prisoners until denning season is over and the wolves move on for the summer.

  10. In Idaho, commissioners are chosen by the governor – who placates ranchers. The commission does as the governor says – as well as the legislature, who exert influence over rate fee hikes, etc. It would not matter where the money comes from (as much is currently provided via federal grants/research) because the political organization is such that the commission acts on behalf of ranchers and landed individuals – they will not make decisions to allow more diverse wildlife if that wildlife is perceived to conflict with those interests regardless of the funding. In Idaho – take a look at the IDFG interim policy on bighorn sheep as one example – bighorn bring in big dollars for the state, yet the IDFG (not just the state legislators – which ought be enough – IDFG is implementing the governor’s interim policy right now) is willing to shoot itself in the foot to bend over backward against its own interest (bighorn) to accommodate domestic sheep grazing on federal lands by implementing death zones around federal allotments. In addition, management of most of the lands (federal), and habitats that host wildlife are paid for by all of us, and the wildlife that persists are already commonly held by law.

    In a perfect world, I think it inappropriate that the department be funded by tag & license sales alone. But those are the costs of a permit to privately “take” publicly held fish & game. Let’s be clear, hunters & anglers pay to “take” – and it is not right that the public at large be led to believe that this ought diminish non-consumptive’ influence or amplify consumptive users’ influence over management. That discrepancy is important. It is wrong that a person who purchases a permit to take a resource be granted disproportionate influence over management when the law (in many states) clearly generalizes the trust across all citizens already. Should a rancher or logger have more a voice over public land management for paying a more direct fee associated with their consumptive use of a publicly held resource on public lands than the recreational user whose non-consumptive use does not deprive anyone else of potential for value ? Do we believe that the public only has right to comment and other statutory and regulatory influence/oversight as a function of appropriation – or is it a matter of law & interest ? Wildlife is already a public trust subject to such n- we already have interest in it, we shouldn’t need to pay for that – wildlife is a resource belonging to all.

    I can only speak for Idaho, as that’s where I’m at – but I do not believe that a budget supplemented via a more diverse set of users would influence management at all. IDFG has been collecting federal dollars for management and research of at least one federally listed species – wolves – (and other important species as well) yet their management has not been influenced in a positive way. In fact – they’re as subject to political influence as ever (if not more than ever). The problem is political – and in the west, that means Livestock.

  11. So what about public management of anything is not political in nature? The ESA is the result of a political process. Ecotopia is not yet a state, or even a province or territory. So the reality is that we have committee rule and that is not too efficient. And political appointments or elections of who makes the rules.

    There seem to be three entities that run America: Government, private for profit and private not for profit. It appears to this writer that right now we have a 2 to 1 majority of Government and not for profit running things on the public estate, and straining mightily to break out into governance of all things environmental on the private estate. Private for profit is at a great disadvantage, and struggles to maintain its viability. I suppose I should mention the academics, who are public and private, not for profit, except when endowments are sought and invested, which seems to demand their mascot be Dr. Doolittle’s Push me-Pull me animal. Or for technical schools, the Weathervane.

    Government has proven for two centuries that it is not the most able manager of anything. We do put too must trust and faith in the public process and governance. And when faith runs low, we appear to try to buy influence and direct government actions or lack of action. The Golden Rule of “he who has the gold, makes the rules” is alive and well in America, in both the private for profit sectors. As it stands now, too many views on predator management are buying a piece of the action, muddling the effort. That is either the genius of our system or its profound fault. But, by jerks and slips, it does get most of the job done, and perhaps we should be thrilled we do get somewhere with the process.

    As for how wildlife management is funded, it is by the selling of opportunities to kill. If there is no opportunity to kill, then the funding disappears. Coastal states have suffered greatly in the salmon issue for that very reason. They have no funding due to no harvest season or opportunity except for Native Americans. No licenses, no tags, no landing fees. Nothing. And there is no funding from people in Rhode Island who “own” a part of the public fisheries for salmon on the West Coast by way of the 200 mile limit and Federal administration and Federal fisheries management councils. And no funding for the rancher who lost a couple dozen lambs to wolves two weeks ago near Baker City, all caught on tape with a night game camera. Oregon has a more restrictive ESA listing on wolves than the Feds, and nobody from Portland or the urban voting majority has suggested paying for the lamb slaughter by those public wolves.

    In California, unfought wildfire now appears to be responsible for extensive health problems in people who live near the WFU and AMR fires that so benignly incinerate hundreds of thousands of acres of fuel and spew gases and particles in the air daily for months on end in a manner that the EPA would fine a business out of existence. The few suffer for the public benefit right now. You can rest assured a “down winder” lawsuit will arise. Unless they have the money to buy legislation or gain financial help from Congress, their suffering will go unabated. Like wolves, the beneficiaries of public management of public resources by people who don’t live nearby or have to endure the results of their policies. We learned in high school physics about the equal and opposite reaction to action. Push always comes to shove. Expect it. Therein lies the ying and yang of the political part of governance and public participation. All politics is local, and that does piss off people who believe their issue from afar must have equal weight. It will if you move to the affected area. In the meantime, suffer the local politics because that is how it works.

    George, your opinion is essentially about whose ox is being gored, or has been gored, and that is defined by law in arcane manners and you will find the government is never at fault no matter who owns the ox. This is the America. Go buy better protection for predators. That is how it is done. There is no free lunch. Even for school kids. You get indoctrinated along with the surplus cheese, fish, and glass of milk. Would you have it any other way?

  12. Bearbait:

    As usual, a wide ranging, philosophical posting.

    I agree with you that the political process is what determines things like commission appointments. However, in most states, the process favors a small minority rather than the citizens as a whole.

    So let’s look at the salmon issue. Did the Oregon Fish and Game do anything to stop the rape of the hills in Oregon that lead to the sediment in the rivers? Or did they sit back and keep quiet so as not to antagonize the timber industry and timber workers–many of whom were the same fishermen who saw the salmon runs decline year after year.

    Did the “locals” call for reform? Or did the reform–to the degree we got any–come from those who didn’t live in Oregon or work in the woods? The answer is pretty clear to me.

    The spotted owl, the listing of salmon, and so forth (all rather late in the game) are the only reason we have any old growth forest and salmon left at all.

    My reading of history is that most of the good things in conservation were not implemented locally. Sad as that may be, but generally local interests equals financial interest. Financial interest means that trumps all other interests unless one is forced to change. The South didn’t voluntarily give up slavery.

  13. George: I am reminded of the story attributed to Abe Lincoln about the young fella who runs up to his father in the garden and says “Poppa. Poppa. Sis is in the hayloft with the hired man and they’s dropped their drawers and it looks like they is gittin’ ready to pee on our good new hay!!!”

    Well, the father with son in tow, walking towards the barn, says to his young son: “Son, you have your facts right and that I believe. However, YOUR conclusion from the evidence and mine are somewhat different.”

    I think, without a doubt, having studied a whole lot about salmon needs and biologicals in answering Siuslaw NF timber planning assumptions, that overfishing was the cause of the decline of salmon, and we have yet to recover enough fish to obtain a wild fish critical mass that will sustain the fishery. The most noble aspect of a salmon’s life is that it dies soon after spawning, its body in the riverine and riparian ecosystems to feed myriad forms of life, all of which aid salmon young, and feed them to smolting time. Until there are enough dead salmon in the stream, it will not support prior numbers of fish. One of those which came first, the chicken or the egg. (If you fly fish for trout in Alaska salmon streams, you use a fly that looks like a piece of salmon flesh, or the old standby, the egg sucking leech.)

    The very act of redd building is an activity of sediment removal and spawning bed maintenance that only a continuum of fish can provide. Absent enough caudal fins of females building redds for a century or more, a stream is NOT good habitat because of the absence of salmon, not because of logging or road building. The sediment movement in the stream from a century of storms and floods will harden a gravel bed to where it is not useable to salmon. The innate sediment responses in the whole of the salmon spawning, egg rearing and alevin arrival and its leaving the gravel protection of the redd is based on sediment levels and oxygen levels. Salmon evolved with floods and sediment. We just have to have enough fish to maintain the gravel beds, to wash the sediment downstream, and keep the gravel loose and free of fine sediment. Fish tails do that a whole lot better than regulations.

    So you are absolutely correct. Both the commercial and sport lobbies sway political action, and both cannot exist without an every year salmon season, and until we don’t fish for one or two complete generational cycles, we are not going to have the critical mass. Alaska figured that out a half century ago with Bristol Bay and other fisheries. And recovered them. They had years with one or two day seasons. Halibut never got into trouble until the sport take rose like a breaching humpback whale. And did they every whine when put on the one fish a day per person limit. Not unlike the one fish per season limit for kings on the Kenai.

    But commercial and sports fishermen are not the only people who lobby for salmon seasons. Guides, equipment sellers, and managing government agencies all need a season so their income streams are whole. A fish and wildlife agency will lobby for some sort of season, even knowing it will further set recovery back, because they need the money to pay salaries and benefits to employees. Killing salmon ON PURPOSE has posed a far greater burden on the runs than has habitat issues other than total stream blocking or dewatering.

    California ran out of fish in the perfect storm of drought on land and southerly winds in the ocean for a couple of summers. The result is the young salmon on their way to the ocean ended up in irrigated strawberry and tomato fields, or slammed against pump intake screens, or ground into bits by the huge pumps sending northern California water south to keep the desert majority cool, with green lawns and full swimming pools. The citizens of California traded salmon for agriculture and comfort, and the easy life in the sun. But no end to the whine from there if someone shoots a cougar or a wolf in Montana. I saw no salmon in the pool when Dustin Hoffman was lusting over Mrs. Robinson on his floating air mattress. But one died for that water to be in that pool.

    California dewatered whole rivers and sent them to LA. Only yesterday was I reading about Owens Lake, now with a salty few inches of water in it to remedy the prior dust storms off the then dry lake bed, dewatered to feed LA fountains and toilets. The court mandated few inches of water has become an important migration stop for birds drawn to the brine shrimp in the salty water, and the algae that live there. (The story noted that the 60,000 acre feet of water used to keep Owens Lake not being a dust bowl is provided at a loss of $54 Million in annual revenue the water would bring–about $900 per household using it). A person or company cannot get a logging permit in California for their own land without a certified CA forest planner creating a document that costs about $50,000, and has a short life. Logging is not killing salmon, nor does it limit habitat. Hundreds of feet of vertical concrete in the stream bed does that pretty well, however. And then there is the Trinity River, a major tributary (half their combined flow) to the Klamath River, and the cold water tributary to boot. It is dammed, and holds 2.4 million acre feet of reservoir water, non of which was used to mitigate the warm water that killed all the Klamath river chinooks several years ago. Nope. That water goes to Fresno and south via the Sacramento River and canals. Until recently, over 90% of the annual flow was going through the mountain from the bumping reservoir below the dam, after hydro power was produced, and when the water comes out of the tunnel, it goes down penstocks to run further hydro generators, and into the Sacramento River. Babbitt forced the Cal farmers to put some water back in the Trinity, and now they can only divert 68% of the annual flow. Most of what gets down the river is released in April and May to address some fish issues. But you don’t read about that, do you? You read about greedy Oregon spud farmers taking water from fish. Hey. They don’t take it out of the watershed!!!! It does go to ground to come out somewhere else in the Klamath Basin as irrigation tail water, which is what waters the Tule Lake NWR…and while I rant about that Klamath issue, the Scott River, another trib, is dewatered every summer by irrigators in CA. But taking out the dams on the border will make it all whole again. Sure…and will that replace the missing water in the Scott river or the N. Fork of the Trinity? Not a drop!!!! Oregon has 7 members of Congress, and CA has 57 or some such number, including the Speaker and she has her Senate equal, the noted water thief of Nevada, Harry Reid, who would pass a law to steal your urine sample if he could.

    So, George, I do agree with your facts that wildlife managers are corrupted by politics and can only do what the law allows, even if that is not in the best interest of some critter or plant. I don’t agree with your conclusion that logging has had the greatest lasting impact on salmon. There are not salmon beyond the dams without fish ladders, and there are salmon in streams inside industrial tree farms. Dewatered streams don’t have fish runs, and streams with limited water do. Streams that don’t run through large cities have good fish runs, and the streams that do have weak runs. It appears that no end to pharmaceuticals and urban use pesticides end up in streams in storm water runoff and treated sewage water, all of which ends up in the river. The hormone in birth control pills is detectable in the Willamette River. Having salmon practicing safe sex will have dire results for population numbers. Ask the Italians.

    I believe I just read an article in the NY Times magazine (sunday last) that talked about the head of the Harvard University Forest saying that logging is part of how you save forests and wildlife. Paleobotanists (sp?) have been saying the same thing for a number of years…but their evidence is controlled burning and not logging. I have every confidence in humankind that if the technology were there for them, Native Americans would have built sawmills and logged long before the Europeans got here. There is too much anthropological evidence of aboriginal engineering and water diversion hundreds of years old to think any different.

    So, I agree that wildlife management and habitat protection is about politics, and suffers from inadequate funding mechanisms. I also don’t think any change is on the way. Too many people make their living out of the chaos of present management schemes and direction.

  14. Bearbait

    You’re good and a very well informed person. I love your comments.

    Yes, I think that loss of fish in the streams, and the nutrients they contributed, especially in nutrient poor headwaters is undoubtably a problem. Yet in Alaska where the habitat (outside of the Tongass) is still near pristine, the salmon runs have survived even with commercial, sport, and subsistence fisheries (not to suggest that they haven’t had an impact).

    And certainly other factors like ocean currents, dams, drought, and so on have their effects as well. Can’t blame it all on the timber industry, that’s for sure.

    Well Bearbait love your commentary. Always a pleasure to get your thoughts.


  15. George: Every stream, watershed, river, you name it, in Alaska has someone who counts the escapement. They don’t fish until they get escapement needed to sustain the runs. The lower 48 is mostly about a troll fishery in the commons, whereas Alaska is mostly about terminal net fisheries. Nets outside Alaska are hated by the public, a state of mind developed by sports fishing lobbies. Nets at the terminal areas are the most effective was to harvest surplus. I would go so far as to say the Columbia River should have commonly owned fish wheels for harvesting the surplus…a tender could return unmarked fish to the river in fine shape if the scoops on the wheel were scale friendly. And you would not need to worry about a marauding sea lion of either species. The wheel tender would keep them at bay one way or another.

    The way fish are caught is about politics, and so is where they are caught. Nevertheless, they are caught, and if too many are harvested, then sustainability is out the window. I do believe ODFW would sell at auction the chance to catch the last salmon..after all, what can one salmon do? Why not pad the retirement, pay for another seminar, decorate an office? I would add that some Japanese company would be there, or several would be, to buy the last salmon. They would sell it to some rich Chinese guy for his birthday party. cynic that I am…..

  16. Bearbait:

    You’re correct about the stream watchers on major streams counting fish, but there are still trollers on the sea capturing salmon–at least the kings are caught that way. And there’s plenty of netting going on both on the ocean, as well as at the shore along bays and so forth.

    But your ideas about the Columbia are intriguing.

    You’re the cynic alright. But perhaps with good reason.


  17. George: Alaska has a winter troll season and they get maybe 15,000 kings. but the off the boat price is close to $10 a pound, more and less. Makes it worth while.

    The big king salmon intercept fishery is the pollack fishery, a white fish caught by factory trawlers and catcher boats for shoreside and factory boat shares. They just got spanked for king by-catch, and are now on a limit not to exceed 60,000 kings a year, and there is a lower number, about 47,500, that is to not be exceeded in any three years out of five. The issue is Yukon and Kuskowin subsistence fisheries. Low returns to the native fishers. Also, there is a hot water problem high on the Yukon, and the NW Terr and Yukon Terr. temps are in the 60 degree range at the height of summer.

    The troll spring and summer fisheries are limited to about 225,000 kings. But they do have some terminal troll fishing for chums and kings around a couple of hatcheries, and they do land over a million coho each year, along with a sprinkling of reds, chums and I don’t know if there is still or ever was an Alaskan pink market for troll caught fish…

    Salmon fishing in Alaska is all limited entry. Most net licenses sell for around $75,000. Power troll right now is about $35,000 and hand troll $10,000. Those values reflect a healthy fishery that is sustainably regulated and enforcement is no laughing matter. Big fines in tens of thousands of dollars await scoflaws..

    Below Cape Falcon, north of Tillamook on the Oregon coast, there will be no commercial salmon season again this year due to the paucity of returns to California, and the range of CA kings is up to as far as Cape Falcon. So California does not fish, sport or commercial, again, and most of Oregon is down for commercial, with a big million fish Columbia River coho return in the ocean, which will allow sport fishing for coho only, any hooked kings returned to the ocean unharmed. Cal Ag has taken its toll, and so has the comfort of SoCal homeowners and residents. No salmon is the price for living in the desert on other people’s and animals water. Add the stormwater runoff of pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and cat shit parasites, and the ocean off the Central and Southern Cal coasts is being harmed by the mass of humanity living the good life. Those cat shit parasites are limiting sea otter expansion, and I can’t wait for parvo to kill off the sea lions and seals like it did on the European sea shores a few years back. Dog shit on the beach is the culprit there. The baby seals are left on the beach while mom fishes, and gets the dog shit on it, and takes it to mom and the rest of the outfit. So pet shit and the beach is not a benign event. It is doing great harm to marine mammals.

    For all of those who don’t like Sarah Palin, I will tell you that Oregon’s Kulongoski did not reappoint a very competent member to the Pacific Marine Fisheries Council because he was “luke warm” to the governor’s push to have his legacy be marine preserves inside the three mile limit. Democrat egos and sense of self importance can result in childish actions, too. It just happens that from the beach to out three miles is the Dungeness crab grounds and fishery, and that is well managed, and pot limited and not in trouble. No harm is being done, and to force a good fishery out of its place is not good governance. Thus, little support for Shorty’s Legacy…I suggested an Oompa Loompa named for him…no reply yet.

  18. Bearbait:

    Good stuff. I knew about the limited entry for fishing in Alaska–lived there for a while–but did not know about some of the other stuff you mentioned like the parvo in sea lions and so on.

    You should write your own column/blog. You have a lot of good information.


  19. Kathryn Cogswell

    Sirs: Reading what you all know is staggering to someone lacking such first-hand information. Would you know how people change their minds to permit (1) exchanges of knowledge to the long-term good of the largest and best possible solutions not merely for vested interests ? And (2) consolidation of efforts by the greatest holders of altruistic interest in Nature so change may come about for the sustainable long-term? I knew a hunter, once — a former soldier/Ranger. He said that one day he just said to himself, “I’ve killed just about one of nearly every living thing there is,” put away his guns and tackle and never picked them up again. In another instance, someone wrote ‘Ask Abby’ to tell her readership he hunted up to the day he shot one of some creature only to see its mate come to it from cover, shelter it as best it could and wait for the inevitable similar death. These creatures have sentient feelings, care for their young in their way, feel pain, exhibit altruism and have intrinsic value for their own sakes. Men hunting each other and other creatures seem not to see life as sacred in itself. Doesn’t mean it isn’t. Sincerely, Kathryn.

  20. Rhiana Macaya Mitchell

    Very well written, informative article – thank you George!
    I really appreciate the comments about the social interaction of predators. I have been attempting to familiarize those who are so ready to pull the trigger this fall in Idaho with the fact this hunting season may well backfire into more “problem” or “rouge” animals.
    Thank you again and to this great new population of wolves – especially in my state of Idaho – I wish luck and prosperity above and beyond the odds.

  21. Only one state wildlife agency (not “Game,” as in “Pennsylvania Game Commission”) is funded by all citizens, hunters and non-hunters alike. That is the Missouri Department of Conservation. Google those words to get all the details, but what it comes down is this: all Missourians contribute one-eighth of every cent they pay in sales tax to their state wildlife agency.

  22. Alan:

    Thanks for the comment. Yes, I knew that Missouri is unique in its funding mechanism. It would be interesting to see if that makes a difference in how wildlife is managed in that state. I don’t know enough about Missouri to have a viewpoint. It would make a good master’s thesis study for some wildlife student.


  23. George , your views are in direct conflict with the law here in Montana

    Constitution of Montana — Article II — DECLARATION OF RIGHTS

    Section 3. Inalienable rights. All persons are born free and have certain inalienable rights. They include the right to a clean and healthful environment and the rights of pursuing life’s basic necessities, enjoying and defending their lives and liberties, acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and seeking their safety, health and happiness in all lawful ways. In enjoying these rights, all persons recognize corresponding responsibilities.


    87-1-217, MCA, requiring the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks to manage large predators, including wolves, with the primary goals to preserve citizens’ opportunities to hunt large game species, to protect humans, livestock, and pets, and to preserve and enhance the safety of the public during outdoor recreational and livelihood activities

  24. George Wuerthner


    My point about the nuances of the law. My major point is that state agencies are incapable of managing predators based on ecological principles–and ignore the social relationships that exist in predator societies, the agencies cause more conflicts for humans. Since in justifying their actions, they claim to manage predators to reduce conflicts, their lack of ecological understanding means they fail to provide for positive outcomes for humans, and at the same time their agency policies degrade the larger landscape. Neither of which are their stated goals.

    If they were to say they did not care whether they created more conflicts for humans, and up front said they were ignoring ecological realities and science than I would find their actions to be more acceptable–though I would still disagree with them.

  25. George, few questions if you don’t mind. Do wolves self-regulate? Some claim that wolves don’t self-regulate, they just move on when they are done killing all of the prey animals in a particular area. Also, what are your thoughts on the claims that the wolves in Idaho, Montana, etc are a much bigger non native canadian wolf? What wolf species was native to Idaho and how much did they weigh on average? Do you buy into this wolves are killing all of the elk claim?

  26. George Wuerthner


    All predators are ultimately limited by their food base, but long before they eliminate all the prey, their social interactions lead to population limits. We are seeing that in Yellowstone right now. The population of wolves has declined from around 170 to just over a hundred–and though some of those wolves were shot during Montana’s hunting season, most were killed by other wolves and/or disease, and other natural causes of mortality.

    In a sense, then, predators are self limiting. They do not need to be “managed” in the sense that their population will grow endlessly.

    As for moving on after killing all the prey in one area, that isn’t possible if wolves are widely distributed because you will be moving on to another wolf pack’s territory. And those wolves will kill, if they can, any invading wolves. They have the home court advantage in that they know the territory better, and thus are more likely to defend their territories.

    Now if agencies persist in killing wolves indiscriminately to “manage” them, than there will always be vacant territories, and yes it is easier to “move on” to another area.

    The wolves in idaho and Montana were/are the same as wolves in Alberta and BC that were the source for wolf restoration.

    As for wolves killing all the elk, that is bogus. There are places where elk populations have declined. Such declines are, for the most part, a good thing because it gives plant communities a rest from heavy browsing pressure. But you will never get elk declines across an entire region due to predators. There will be some elk populations that are increasing, while others are declining. But elk are resilient. And if the elk population declines in a region so it can no longer support wolves, the elk numbers will quickly climb again.

    In most cases, but no all, declining elk are indicative of declining habitat quality. For instance, declining elk around Lolo Pass is due to the regrowth of forest that burned in several large fires back in the early part of the last century. The habitat for elk has declined.

    Look there are more than 3000 wolves in Minnesota and more than a million deer. The presence of wolves hasn’t lead to the elimination of deer hunting in Minnesota and wolves won’t mean no elk hunting in the Rockies.

  27. I’ve always thought that some animals had a tendency to produce more offspring when their population was stressed or competition was high, in order to assure enough numbers for surviving . I believe Coyotes and Wolves exhibit this. Conversely and more important to this discussion, when canines are well fed and there are not other packs or animals on top of them , the litters will be smaller. It’s not linear up and down in step.

    We have a saying in Wyoming: ” Kill a coyote, and two will take its place. ”

    Anecdotally , that jolly bunch of misguided outdoorsmen called Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife sponsors an annual bounty on Coyotes where I live in Wyoming. They think coyotes are hurting upland game birds and such . However, the net result of their coyote bounty is two fold: the remaining coyotes have huge litters tor eplace the lost population , and meanwhile other predators ike skunk, racoon, and red fox enjoy a temporary surge from lack of a chief competitor. In a couple years you have more coyotes and more complementary predators as well, the exact opposite of the goal of the bounty program in the first place. At least until the ” balance” is restored. To put it bluntly , human driven predator control …isn’t.

    I have one other analogy from firsthand experience when I was in Southeast Asia and Indonesia snorkelling : the insidious Crown of Thorns starfish infestations in some of the reefs . It’s agreed by everyone the CoT are a huge nuisance and destructive . BUT— when tampered, trapped, otherwise threatened or hunted , the starfish can release a cloud 50,000 eggs as a biological defense. So damned if you do , damned if you don’t. Kill one Crown of Thorns and hundreds take its place, some of which will mature.

    Nature always finds a way.

  28. Thanks Roy. What about wolves killing for the sport or for the fun of it and just leaving the dead animal there without eating it? Any truth to that? What are your thoughts on this much bigger non native illegal canadian wolf?

  29. ur an idiot read a little more instead of being in the situations wolves kill animals for fun! wolves are more wasteful than humans they sometimes dont even take bites out of prey. Also Hunters would kill young or weak if laws let you