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The resumption of wolf-hunts in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming illustrates why citizens must continue to oppose such unnecessary and senseless slaughters. The wolf-hunts are predicated upon morally corrupt and inaccurate assumptions about wolf behavior and impacts that is not supported by recent scientific research. State wildlife agencies pander to the lowest common denominator in the hunting community—men who need to booster their own self esteem and release misdirected anger by killing.

Wolf Hunts Morally Corrupt

The resumption of wolf-hunts in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming illustrates why citizens must continue to oppose such unnecessary and senseless slaughters.

The wolf-hunts are predicated upon morally corrupt and inaccurate assumptions about wolf behavior and impacts that is not supported by recent scientific research. State wildlife agencies pander to the lowest common denominator in the hunting community—men who need to booster their own self esteem and release misdirected anger by killing.

Wolf-hunts, as Montana Fish and Game Commission Chairman Bob Ream noted at a public hearing, are in part to relieve hunters’ frustrations—frustration based on inaccurate information, flawed assumptions, and just plain old myths and fears about predators and their role in the world.

Maybe relieving hunter frustration is a good enough justification for wolf-hunts to many people. However, in my view permitting hunts to go forwards without even registering opposition is to acquiesce to ignorance, hatred, and the worse in human motivations. Thankfully a few environmental groups, most notably the Center for Biological Diversity, Wildearth Guardians, Alliance for Wild Rockies and Western Watersheds had the courage and gumption to stand up to ignorance and hatred.

All of the usual justifications given for wolf-hunts are spurious at best. For instance, one rationale given for hunting wolves is to reduce their presumed affects on big game populations. Yet in all three states, elk and deer populations are at or exceed population objectives for most hunting units.

For instance in Wyoming, one of the most vehement anti wolf states in the West, the 2010 elk population was 21,200 animals over state-wide objectives, and this did not include data for six herds, suggesting that elk populations are likely higher. Of the state’s elk herds most were at or above objectives and only 6 percent were below objectives. Similar data is found for Idaho and Montana elk herds as well.

However, you would not know that from the “howls” of hunters who characterize the elk populations as suffering from a wolf induced Armageddon. And Fish and Game departments are loath to counter the false accusations from hunters that wolves are somehow “destroying” hunting throughout the Rockies.

Experience in other parts of the country where wolves have been part of the landscape longer suggests that in the long term, wolves while they may reduce prey populations in certain locales generally do not reduce hunting opportunities across a state or region. Despite the fact that there more than double the number of wolves in Minnesota (3000+) as in the entire Rocky Mountain region, Minnesota hunters experienced the highest deer kills ever in recent years, with Minnesota deer hunters killing over 250,000white-tailed deer during each of those hunting seasons – an approximate five-fold increase in hunter deer take since wolves were listed under the ESA in 1978.

Another claim made by wolf-hunt proponents is that hunting will reduce “conflicts” with livestock owners. Again this assertion is taken as a matter of faith without really looking into the veracity of it. Given the hysteria generated by the livestock industry one might think that the entire western livestock operations were in jeopardy from wolf predation. However, the number of livestock killed annually by wolves is pitifully small, especially by comparison to losses from other more mundane sources like poison plants, lightning and even domestic dogs.

For instance, the FWS reported that 75 cattle and 148 sheep were killed in Idaho during 2010. In Montana the same year 84cattle and 64 sheep were verified as killed by wolves. While any loss may represent a significant financial blow to individual ranchers, the livestock industry as a whole is hardly threatened by wolf predation. And it hardly warrants the exaggerated psychotic response by Congress, state legislators and state wildlife agencies.

In light of the fact that most losses are avoidable by implementation of simple measures of that reduce predator opportunity, persecution of predators like wolves is even more morally suspect. Rapid removal of dead carcasses from rangelands, corralling animals at night, electric fencing, and the use of herders, among other measures, are proven to significantly reduce predator losses—up to 90% in some studies. This suggests that ranchers have the capacity (if not the willingness) to basically make wolf losses a non-issue.

However, since ranchers have traditionally been successful in externalizing many of their costs on to the land and taxpayers, including what should be their responsibility to reduce predator conflicts, I do not expect to see these kinds of measures enacted by the livestock industry any time soon, if ever. Ranchers are so used to being coddled; they have no motivation or incentives to change their practices in order to reduce predator losses. Why should they change animal husbandry practices when they can get the big bad government that they like to despise and disparage to come in and kill predators for them for free and even get environmental groups like Defenders of Wildlife to support paying for predator losses that are entirely avoidable?

But beyond those figures, wolf-hunting ignores a growing body of research that suggests that indiscriminate killing—which hunting is—actually exacerbates livestock/predator conflicts. The mantra of pro wolf-hunting community is that wolves should be “managed” like “other” wildlife. This ignores the findings that suggest that predators are not like other wildlife. They are behaviorally different from say elk and deer. Random killing of predators including bears, mountain lions and wolves creates social chaos that destabilizes predator social structure. Hunting of wolves can skew wolf populations towards younger animals. Younger animals are less skillful hunters. As a consequence, they will be more inclined to kill livestock. Destabilized and small wolf packs also have more difficulty in holding territories and even defending their kills from scavengers and other predators which in end means they are more likely to kill new prey animal.

As a result of these behavioral consequences, persecution of predators through hunting has a self fulfilling feedback mechanism whereby hunters kill more predators, which in turn leads to greater social chaos, and more livestock kills, and results in more demands for hunting as the presumed solution.

Today predator management by so called “professional” wildlife agencies is much more like the old time medical profession where sick people were bled. If they didn’t get better immediately, more blood was let. Finally if the patience died, it was because not enough blood was released from the body. The same illogical reasoning dominates predator management across the country. If killing predators doesn’t cause livestock losses to go down and/or game herds to rise, it must be because we haven’t killed enough predators yet.

Furthermore, most hunting occurs on larger blocks of public lands and most wolves as well as other predators killed by hunters have no relationship to the animals that may be killing livestock on private ranches or taking someone’s pet poodle from the back yard. A number of studies of various predators from cougars to bears show no relationship between hunter kills and a significant reduction in the actual animals considered to be problematic.

Again I hasten to add that most “problematic predators” are created a result of problem behavior by humans—for instance leaving animal carcasses out on the range or failure to keep garbage from bears, etc. and humans are supposed to be the more intelligent species—though if one were to observe predator management across the country it would be easy to doubt such presumptions.

Finally, wolf-hunting ignores yet another recent and growing body of scientific evidence that suggests that top predators have many top down ecological influences upon the landscape and other wildlife. The presence of wolves, for instance, can reduce deer and elk numbers in some places for some time period. But rather than viewing this as a negative as most hunters presume, reduction of prey species like elk can have many positive ecological influences. A reduction of elk herbivory on riparian vegetation can produce more song bird habitat. Wolves can reduce coyote predation on snowshoe hare thus competition for food by lynx, perhaps increasing survival for this endangered species. Wolves have been shown to increase the presence of voles and mice near their dens—a boon for some birds of prey like hawks. These and many other positive effects on the environment are ignored by wolf-hunt proponents and unfortunately by state wildlife management agencies as well who continue to advocate and/or at least not effectively counter old fallacies about predators.

Most state agencies operate under the assumption that production of elk and deer for hunters to shoot should have priority in wildlife management decisions. All state wildlife agencies are by law supposed to manage wildlife as a public trust for all citizens. Yet few challenge the common assumption that elk and deer exist merely for the pleasure of hunters to shoot.

I have no doubt that for many pro wolf-hunt supporters’ predators represent all that is wrong with the world. Declining job prospects, declining economic vitality of their rural communities, changes in social structures and challenges to long-held beliefs are exemplified by the wolf. Killing wolves is symbolic of destroying all those other things that are in bad in the world for which they have no control. They vent this misdirected anger on wolves– that gives them the illusion that they can control something.

Nevertheless, making wolves and other predators scapegoats for the personal failures of individuals or the collective failures of society is not fair to wolves or individuals either. The entire premises upon which western wolf-hunts are based either are the result of inaccurate assumptions about wolf impacts or morally corrupt justifications like relieving hunter anger and frustrations over how their worlds are falling apart.

I applaud the few environmental groups that had the courage to stand up for wolves, and to challenge the old guard that currently controls our collective wildlife heritage. More of us need to stand up against persecution of wildlife to appease the frustrations of disenfranchised rural residents. It is time to have wildlife management based on science, and ecological integrity, not based upon relieving hunter frustrations over the disintegration state of their world.

For on predator studies and management see

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and former hunting guide with a degree in wildlife biology

About George Wuerthner

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

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  1. George…”Friends of the Clearwater” was another group that stood up for them.
    Great piece, and so true.

  2. Yes, thanks to all those groups listed above that stood up and continue to stand up for wolves.
    Shame on Defenders of Wildlife and the others that sold them out.

  3. Fantastic article! Thank you for being so honest and bringing light to such a ridiculous argument… For the wolves and the wilderness.

  4. Good! Couldn’t have said it much better myself. Thanks George. Wish some state gov’ts would pay attention to this argument.

  5. So are you back up or not?

    I have notheard “little barry coe” or “truck stop chandie” crying in quite a while, among other losers.

  6. Most politics are based on fear, loathing and propaganda rather than facts and actual evidence. Why would you expect that Wolf politics would be any different?

  7. George, could you please explain why the 2009 huntin in ID actually decreased depredation in 2010 by 40%……..

  8. Reality22, just so that you know, wolves lived in Oregon and Montana long before you and I. Wolves and other predators are not the enemy, they were created by god for a purpose, which you seem to have forgotten. They were the top apex predator of the American West before we humans exterminated them. The extermination of any species is just plain wrong to me. I actually kind of agree with bigsky, to a certain extent. Although I do agree with some of what you say, and sympathize with the plight of ranchers, we have to find a balance, or middle ground. In other words, the solution is figure a out way that humans can coexist with the wildlife in existence. Your not going to agree with this, but coexisting to me means not continuing to encroach on their land with huge mega ranches. It also means keeping wolves wild, and teaching them to not encroach near human habitat. Its a hard controversial issue, but we can figure this out and get it right.

  9. TG for Ron Paul, Wolves will never never never live in harmony with livestock…..if they do you would call the wolf a dog! If Ron Paul were to be President, would he gut the USFWS & send most of what they do back to the states!?
    Please enlighten me …. has there been any major changes to the Private vs Public land composition in the last 40 years in states like MT & OR?
    As long as you bring up God …others have different views than yours.…I believe God created the wolf to keep game herds in check in the absence of man! If it were anything different than that they would live in relative harmony with us but they don’t. The 800 wolves in Wisconsin do 15 times (or more) as much damage as the 33,000 black bears that live in Wisconsin! NOT QUITE living in harmony is it! When you figure out a way to stop the wolf from crossing the fence & killing the farmers calves please do tell us all….. the balance and middle ground you talk about is allowing ranchers and farmers to shoot the vermin that attack their livestock year round. Good luck finding a way to “co-exist”
    Don’t even try to bring up flaggery for it is a joke. A normal fence will keep a wolf out until they get use to it! Once a wolf gets use to flaggery it just part of going in & killing livestock and pets.

  10. Encouragement? How about a little decency for the people who lose livestock and loss of hunting opportunities for elk for local people? Perhaps they should go after real estate people next……

  11. There is good reason why our ancestors got rid of the wolves in the first place. They go unchecked, kill and deciminate other species.

  12. George had a similar article of late over at the anti hunting web site, Wildlife News, which was really great. Great in the sense of propaganda and misinformation. It could have been written in 2004 when it was useful to trot out all that claptrap, all the rewatering and beavers and ranchers and what not. I didn’t read the whole thing but George is great at preaching to the choir. I’m sure Ralph felt a tingling sensation in his leg, other, not so discreet cheerleaders were fawning and gushing. As usual Wuerthner pushed the boundaries of disinformation right up to the great big looming chasm of,,,, well,,,, beyond disinformation.

    But of course this is 2012, the denouement is at hand, and I’m enjoying watching the five stages of grief overtake howlers across the boards, message boards that is. Some are nearing the end of denial, many are completely at home with anger, a place they dwell wether grieving or not. What comes next, negotiation? Bargaining? Not likely to happen when people who want responsible management are called haters and fearfull, ignorant blood thirsty etc etc etc. How do they bargain with folks they’ve slammed the door on? Replace the Northern Yellowstone herd first?

  13. Yes, very good summary somsai. Now we can move on…….maybe.

    George will still rant about how its bad for the environment to remove trees, be it to thin or remove dead trees that could be used for roosting for birds, or graze any cattle anywhere on public land, even though putting bison there will create the same problems with no benefit for the people who live in those areas. He will explain why we cannot take oil out of the ground for any reason, or mine coal. I can’t say I disagree with him on all aspects, but it seems his rants have more to do with how many people he can sucker into paying him than any reality.

  14. bigsky, you’re on the money with the bison thing and somsia hit the nail on the head about Ralphs site. I saw some in-fighting there the other day Immer finally put the hammer to Mike one of the biggest haters…….

    I will go past the local bison farm in a few hours and have a chuckle at how they don’t “effect the environment” like cattle! It always amazes me how they estimate that we had millions of these herd animals & they never eroded anything in years gone bye! They want unregulated bison vs regulated cattle. I’m sure the some species benefit from river bank erosion ….. but, that won’t come out until they are fighting for more bison!

    I’m ready for some new round of law suits for the Great Lakes and Wyoming! If anything the suits will give Congresswomen Lummis more ammunition to put an end to the abuse of the ESA! Bring it on!

    Good to hear from you again….. it sounds like the NewWest may be coming out of hibernation…..have you heard anything?

  15. Reality, the reason I have been complaining (bitching?) about the wolves is because of the moose. I am 53 years old and have put in for moose tags since I was 12. I might have missed a year or two over the years, but I have drawn 2. One in 1984 and one in 1996. I harvest both and they were bulls, one about 3 miles from the nearest road but luckily I had 4 friends help me backpack it out. The other was only 100 yards from a road and I opted to shoot it due to convience.

    If I remember right, the number of bull tags in that area was 4 or 5 in the 70s-90s and there were something like 5 to 10 cow tags. In that same area, today they give one tag, for a bull only. I have relatives that live near Anaconda (north of the park about 100 miles or so near the pintlar range) and my brother (who travels alot and is an avid elk hunter and outdoorsman) has seen exactly one cow moose with a calf in three years! He tells me the only reason they have one tag is so the fish and game can make some money off of suckers like me who put in!

    My honest opinion is that the wolves they brought down hunted a larger prey species (larger moose) and our smaller moose (sirus or something like that) has to be easier to kill. The evidence lies in the fact that the moose are just about gone in the pintlars. They tell me you can see some in the lower valleys around ranches and such once in awhile but the moose in the mountains are gone.

    For what its worth, I grew up out there and have relatives and friends who have spent the last 30+ years hunting and fishing the hundreds of mountain lakes and streams and I hear the same thing from all of them. The moose are gone.

    Nobody in the fish and game talks about moose numbers. They have a gag order on employees but I know a few employees who have worked for them for years and they tell me its wolf predation, plain and simple.

    I did not realize that they cut out of state moose licenses in some areas. Heck, they auction off several special permits for thousands of dollars to the highest bidder. Must be something to address the backlash they are getting about selling our game to the highest bidder.

    We are going to trap wolves out here next year. We tried hunting them but cannot fill the quotas so trapping is next. It is going to be regulated to the max with no wolf snares as of yet. With the price of pelts up I am sure alot of folks will try it and I hope they do it right. We really need to knock the wolves down before the moose are gone completely. Funny how the elk in my area have changed. I can go to rock creek now and see elk from the highway, in peoples fields and around ranches. Its like they are afraid to go back into the hills. Before wolves they would only come down when the snows were really deep and only at night. I even had a friend who watched two wolves kill a mountain goat! The season on goats in the pintlars is closed now also.

  16. BigSky. I did some elk/deer hunting the season before last. We did not hunt the normal spot up Slough Creek north of Yellowstone. My cousins and I have seen the results of the wolves in that area….it makes me nauseous. We did hunt near West Bridger & had a good time saw a few bulls had a few in range but could not get a shot. Most of the elk were on private land especially later in the week we hunted.

  17. Nice to hear you can still get out. The area I hunt elk in is pretty remote and only a few get in there. I am still young enough in the legs to walk all day, but I pay for it after a couple of days. I have not seen the elk numbers drop in the pintlars much yet like around the park but I believe people have been putting the hurt on the wolves there for a long time. I know of at least one tagged lolo elk (from the disappearing herd above Missoula) was found in our area so I guess the wolves can really cause them to disperse. My area is remote and luckily I have two young nephews who can help backpack elk out for me if I get one. Many of the lower elevation areas I hunted in my youth are now leased or I don’t know the people who own them now. I would rather hunt the backcountry stuff anyway….time to get into pack horses, I guess. I do see one positive with these wolves….they might tend to push elk out of private land.