Hating Wolves

Jack Turner

In 1814, John James Audubon watched a farmer torture three wolves. The farmer had trapped them in a pit after they had killed several sheep and a colt. He jumped into the pit armed only with a knife, hamstrung each wolf as it cowered in fear, and tied it up with a rope. Then he hauled them out one at a time and set his dogs on them as the victim scuffled, crippled, along the ground. Audubon was astounded by the meekness of the wolves and by the glee with which the farmer went about his cruelty; but he was not distressed because both he and the farmer considered torturing wolves a “sport,” something both normal and enjoyable. The sadistic behavior did not warrant comment. Indeed: “Audubon and the farmer shared a conviction that wolves not only deserved death but deserved to be punished for living.” Carefully ponder and memorize that sentence.
     This story (and most of the language I’ve used to describe it) begins Jon T. Coleman’s award-winning book Vicious: Wolves and Men in America (Yale, 2004). After reading a few paragraphs, you realize that the word vicious in the title refers not to wolves but (Pogo, again)—to us. And by the time you finish this scholarly reckoning of our slaughter of hundreds of thousands—probably millions—of wolves, you cannot help but ponder Coleman’s questions, questions that haunt me: Why is it that for 400 years Americans were not content just to kill wolves? Why did we persecute and torture an animal that both science and history informs us is a rather shy beast? What is the source of this penetrating hatred and why has it persisted through the centuries when so many former targets of American hatred, prejudice, and violence —witches, Jews, Poles, Blacks, gays, women, communists—a long list—have been to some degree, though certainly not entirely, accepted, integrated, and treated at least with attempts at equality and respect.
     You don’t have to take Coleman’s word for the shyness of wolves. In his awarding-winning book Of Wolves and Men, Barry Lopez quotes many early sources on this issue. The historian Francis Parkman told prospective pioneers who were headed for the Oregon Trail, “There is not the slightest danger from [wolves], for they are the greatest cowards of the prairie.” A seasoned wolf hunter confirmed that he killed most of his trapped wolves with either a tomahawk or a club. Nonetheless, for ranchers, wrote another historian, “wolves were an object of pathological hatred.”
     Granted wolves killed livestock, but the reaction was out of all proportion to their predation, and we avidly killed them before we even had livestock. And we didn’t merely kill them. We fed them fishhooks so they would die of internal bleeding, we dragged them to death behind horses, we set live wolves on fire, we released trapped wolves with their mouths and penises wired shut. It is this disproportion between injury and persecution that justifies claims of our pathology, and Coleman, a professor of history at Notre Dame, documents it in sickening detail.
     When it comes to animals, the wolf is a special case. No other animal generates such intense emotions, and research demonstrates that these emotions derive not from science but a pernicious blend of agrarian folklore and children’s stories of precisely the kind that so often perpetuate intolerance and hate. They remain embedded in some of our citizens’ souls. America does not have a 400-year tradition of burning skunks alive, but pathological hatred of wolves still flourishes in Wyoming, as anyone reading newspapers and legislative reports can attest. Wolves remain uniquely hated.
     Which is why we should not classify wolves as predators. With predator status, Wyoming Game and Fish will be helpless to prevent inhumane treatment of the wolf by the many wolf haters in this state. Predator status will legitimize sadism directed at a species that cannot deserve it and that many of us love.
     Hence Vicious is perhaps the most important source for an informed conversation about the future status of the wolf in America, and in Wyoming. Unfortunately, the book remains virtually unknown. None of the three officials I contacted at Wyoming Game and Fish had heard of it. Six libraries in Wyoming have the book but in two of them it has never been checked out.
     Precious few Wyoming statutes address the inhumane treatment of our celebrated wildlife. There is a prohibi- tion against hunting with artificial lights at night; another against running down game with vehicles; and an admirable statue prohibiting the possession of wild animals such as bears, cougars, and wolves (including wolf/dog hybrids). But crucially, although Wyoming’s Cruelty to Animals statute prohibits causing undue suffering, or cruelly beating, injuring, or mutilating an animal, it exempts “hunting, capture, or destruction of any predatory animal …” from these prohibitions (Title 6, Chapter 3, Article 2).
     In Wyoming there will be nothing to prevent a trapped wolf from being burned alive, a wolf hater from pouring gas into a wolf den and torching the pups, or any other form of mutilation and humiliation they can dream up. Classifying the wolf as a predator will be shameful policy that, given the Jurassic nature of Wyoming politics, will be virtually impossible to monitor or to correct. Nearly 500 wolves have been killed in the Northern Rockies this year. And how many were tortured?
     The federal government must hold Wyoming’s citizens and elected representatives to a standard of decency greater than that which many can now conceive, and until they can so conceive, wolves must remain under the protection of the Endangered Species Act. Thirty years ago we fought to have wolves reintroduced to Wyoming; now we must fight to assure their decent, humane, and respectful treatment. Predator status is the first line in the sand. We can’t let it happen—even if we have to go to court for decades.


Integrating Values and Ethics into Wildlife Policy and Management: Lessons from North America

Camilla H. Fox and Marc Bekoff



Ethics in our Western world has hitherto been largely limited to the relations of man to man. But that is a limited ethics. We need a boundless ethics which will include the animals also…. The time is coming when people will be amazed that the human race existed so long before it recognized that thoughtless injury to life is incompatible with real ethics. Ethics is in its unqualified form extended responsibility to everything that has life. —Albert Schweitzer, 1924

In the United States, few animals provoke as wide a range of emotions as wolves. For some, wolves are icons of a lost wilderness; their return symbolizes the return of wild nature and the integrity of healthy ecosystems. For others, wolves are viewed as vicious predators with malicious intentions and are better off dead. Such deeply held beliefs about a large carnivorous mammal that was exterminated throughout most of its historic range in the conterminous United States in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has stirred an impassioned debate that is bound to become even more heated as the U.S. government considers removing wolves from the federal endangered species list and turning management over to the states.
     Prior to the arrival of European settlers in the 1600s, wolves existed throughout much of the North American continent. European colonists, however, sought to eradicate wolves and other large carnivores, viewing them as dangerous and bloodthirsty predators and an impediment to progress [1–4]. As early as the seventeenth century, bounties were placed on wolves by U.S. government agencies, and by the 1930s, gray wolf populations were extirpated from the western United States [2]. A small pocket of wolves remained in the Great Lakes region of Minnesota, despite concerted efforts to eliminate them with poisons, bounties, and intensive trapping efforts [2, 5]. Subsequently, public attitudes toward predators gradually changed, and in 1973 wolves received legal protection with the passage of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). With federal protection, wolves began to recolonize northwest Montana, and in 1995 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) began a controversial wolf reintroduction program in the Northern Rockies. In recent years, wolf numbers increased in the northern Rocky Mountains and in the western Great Lakes states of Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Deeming the gray wolf adequately recovered, in 2003, the USFWS reclassified gray wolves from endangered to threatened status in the lower forty-eight states (with the exception of the Southwest designated population segment, which remained endangered). The reclassification rule was considered the first step in the eventual elimination of all federal protections for gray wolves in the contiguous states. Animal protection and conservation organizations challenged the ruling, however, arguing that it was premature to remove federal protections for gray wolves and that the USFWS’s actions subverted the intent of the ESA to restore listed species to a significant portion of their historic range [6]. In 2005, a U.S. District Court ruled in the plaintiff’s favor and overturned the 2003 USFWS rule, restoring the endangered status to gray wolves (except in Minnesota, where they were listed as “threatened” under the ESA). Despite this ruling, the U.S. federal government, under the Bush administration, continued to seek delisting of gray wolves in the lower forty-eight states and animal advocacy and conservation organizations continued to challenge the proposed delisting, arguing that the federal government had failed to develop a comprehensive range-wide strategy for recovering gray wolves [6].
     Because the return of the wolf to the conterminous states is so laden with human values, attitudes, and beliefs, we argue that this historical moment presents a unique opportunity for reflection about the ethical issues involved in wolf restoration and the development of practical models for how humans can learn to coexist with wolves in an increasingly humanized landscape. By beginning with an ethical framework and dialogue that considers the interests and values of all stakeholders, including the wolves, who also are entitled to a point of view, we can ensure the process of wolf conservation and management is inclusive and democratic and better serves all affected. We also argue for less invasive and more humane methods of management and control when and where management and control are deemed necessary.
     Wolf recovery and conservation requires a sustained commitment toward building human tolerance for the presence of large carnivores. It also requires proactive outreach aimed at educating the public about the vital ecological role wolves [7] and other large carnivores play in maintaining species diversity and the integrity of ecosystems [8–10]. Wolves are the consummate keystone carnivore in North America.
     If those communities most affected by reintroduction and recovery efforts are to accept wolves and other large carnivores, conservationists must work toward public education and information dissemination to address real and perceived fears held by members of these communities. Integrating ethics into large carnivore recovery also mandates that we listen to community concerns and invest the necessary resources to build tolerance and dispel misinformation. Wolf conservation in general demands a collaborative process among parties who often do not speak to one another. A comprehensive wolf recovery and conservation agenda deals with animal protection, ecological concerns, and socio-political processes.


WOLVES—Government Sponsored TERRORISTS (bumper sticker from http://www.savethe-usa.com)

A crucial point is that good science rests on good ethics. What scientists do matters; it counts ethically. —Jickling and Paquet [11]

The whale in the sea, like the wolf on land, constituted not only a symbol of wildness but also a fulcrum for projecting attitudes of conquest and utilitarianism and, eventually, more contemporary perceptions of preservation and protection. —Kellert [12]

Wolves are a prototypical example of an animal whose reputation precedes them. They bring out extremes in human emotions from almost romanticized idolatry and reverence to blatant contempt and hate (as reflected in the bumper sticker slogan above) that have deep historical roots [1, 3, 4, 13]. Prehistorically, in oral tradition, human fears of wolves and other large carnivores were reflected in fairy and folktales such as Little Red Riding Hood, a story in which a wolf follows Little Red Riding Hood home, eats her grandmother, and, according to some interpretations, rapes her. This is a story that is still read to young children throughout the world. Historically, people have viewed wolves as threats to livestock and as competitors in the human hunt for food or sport [1]. As a result of such conflicts, humans are usually the most important cause of mortality of adult wolves and other large carnivores, even within protected areas [14].
     Ethical reflection is needed in attempting to recover wolf populations on lands where abundant domesticated prey (i.e., unprotected livestock on the open range) bring them into conflict with livestock [4, 5]. Can we really blame them for taking advantage of an accessible meal? Should we be moving predators around if we cannot let them be the animals that they have evolved to be, when recovery means intensive management, or when the areas into which we place them are increasingly developed, fragmented, and hostile? Can we call wolf recovery a success in the United States when we have confined recovery efforts to less than 5 per cent of the wolf’s historical range and when approximately 80 per cent of all known wolf mortalities in the tri-state area of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming are intentional removals by the U.S. federal government?


The authors’ guiding principles for how we interact with other animals are simple and straightforward: do no intentional harm, treat all individuals with respect and compassion, and recognize that all animals have intrinsic value or worth, irrespective of their utility to other animals, including humans. We recognize and acknowledge that our ethical principles and framework reflect not only our cultural backgrounds, biases, and education but also our deeper Greek-Roman ethical heritage dating back to Socrates, Plato, and even earlier to Indo-European cultures. Ethical positions within human societies differ profoundly across cultures and time. Hence, when we speak of our guiding ethical principles, we do so knowing that they reflect only a few cultural perspectives amongst a broad array of perspectives that come into play when discussing wolf recovery and conservation.
     While very few people in any culture attempt to cause intentional harm or delight in doing so in their efforts to conserve and restore ecosystems and biodiversity, the other principles that call for treating individuals with respect and compassion and recognizing an individual’s intrinsic value or worth are all too easily overridden because they are too difficult to consistently adhere to regardless of cultural biases. In some cases, while it clearly is not one’s intention to cause harm to other animals, the very design of some studies or perhaps the very reality of some conservation efforts means that inevitably some animals will suffer or die. We must ensure that we do everything we can to minimize pain and suffering and cause the least amount of harm.
     The recognition that wolves and other individual animals have intrinsic value demands that we consider ethics when we conduct projects and practices that impact them. When we use the term “ethics,” we are referring to Socrates’ notion of “how we ought to live” [15]. Hadidian et al. [16] also note: “ethics is a conversation about the moral values that inform (or should inform) our thoughts and actions … ethics is not only a critique of who we are as individuals and a society today, it is a vision of what our future may be if we act with ethical sensibilities in mind … ethics is meant to help us refine our knowledge and action, to distinguish better from worse arguments, methods, data and facts.” While many agree that ethics must play a central role in any project involving the use of animals [11, 16–18], it is interesting to note that in many books on human–animal interactions and carnivore conservation there is often no mention of ethics. This needs to change.
     We assert that recovery and conservation efforts for wolves and other carnivores should be firmly rooted in ethical principles. And yet, when we look at current wolf management in the United States, consideration of ethics is largely ignored. For example, as we write this, the United States Forest Service is planning to ease restrictions on killing predators in protected wilderness areas within the western United States, allowing expanded use of aerial gunning and certain poisons [19]. And the USFWS recently issued lethal control permits to the states of Wisconsin and Michigan that authorize officials to kill up to fifty-four gray wolves annually if the wolves are perceived as threatening livestock or pets [6]. However, animal and environmental organizations sued to stop the killing and in August 2006 the federal court ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor, stat- ing that the issuance of lethal kill permits violates the ESA. The state of Wisconsin argued the kill permits were “necessary to maintain social tolerance for the wolves” [20]. In her court decision, the judge responded by saying, “The recovery of the gray wolf is not supported by killing 43 gray wolves” [20].
     Furthermore, there are examples of “Judas wolves” [21], individuals who are collared and then followed back to their pack so that other pack members can be located. The Judas wolf, having unknowingly betrayed its pack-mates, is then killed along with the entire pack, including pups. Despite the fact that gray wolves remain federally listed under the ESA, more than three hundred have been killed by the U.S. federal government since 1987, most for preying on livestock [21]. Lethal removal of wolves continues while we know, and have known, that eliminating predators does little to increase economic gains for livestock ranchers [22] or to reduce attacks over the long-term [23].
     Discussions about ethics and animals can make people uncomfortable. Surely, they exclaim, there are more important things to talk about. While ignorance may be bliss, ignoring questions about our ethical responsibilities to animals not only compromises their lives and our integrity but also can compromise the quality of scientific research. More and more students and practising scientists recognize that asking questions about ethics is in the best interests of “good science,” and increasing numbers of non-researchers are also keenly interested in animal well-being [24–32]. Wildlife managers and scientists are under growing scrutiny by a concerned public who not only question how funds are used to support wildlife management practices and various scientific research projects but also want wildlife managers and scientists to be less arrogant and authoritarian and more accountable to those who support them [12, 26, 29, 32–34]. Furthermore, science, including conservation biology, is not value-free [11, 18, 32, 35]. Soulé [35] argued that con­servation biology must be based on a set of ethical axioms. Personal views held by scientists influence funding and the dissemination (or withholding) of certain results. Indeed, dealing with personal sentiments and emotional conflicts makes questions about what we ought to do extremely difficult. Complicating the situation is the fact that values and sentiments change with time and are sensitive to demographic, political, and social-economic variation, as well as to personal whims. However, regardless of changes in values and sentiments, if we remain loyal to doing no intentional harm, treating all individuals with respect and compassion, and recognizing that all animals have intrinsic value and worth irrespective of their utility (the authors’ guiding principles expressed above), we will ensure high ethical standards in our discussions on interaction with other species and in our actions which impact them.


As we try to repatriate and restore wolves to the landscape, we have a duty to consider the broad impacts of such efforts from all angles: on the wolf packs, the populations and eco­systems from which they are taken, and on the human, animal, and ecological communities in which they are placed. In discussing the social dynamics affecting wolf conservation in Yellowstone National Park, for example, Clark et al. [36] aptly state, “Understanding the human participants is essential to understanding what has happened, why, and what is likely to happen.” While it is imperative to consider and negotiate differing perspectives and values amongst various human stakeholder groups in wolf recovery efforts, we contend one viewpoint is often missing in this discussion: the wolf’s. This chapter focuses on under-represented perspectives in wolf-recovery efforts (e.g., the wolf’s viewpoint) and does not attempt at understanding the viewpoints of all interest groups. The growing body of literature on animal cognition and emotions demonstrates undeniably that animals have interests and points of view [29, 30, 34, 37]. Like us, they avoid pain and suffering and seek pleasure. They form close social relationships, cooperate with other individuals, and likely miss their friends when they are apart [29, 34, 37, 38]. Emotions have evolved, serving as “social glue,” and playing major roles in the formation and maintenance of social relationships among individuals [37]. Emotions also serve as “social catalysts,” regulating behaviors that guide the course of social encounters when individuals follow different courses of action, depending on their situations [29, 30, 34, 37, 39]. If we carefully study animal behavior, we can better understand what animals are experiencing and feeling and how this factors into how we treat them.
     Recognizing that wolves and other animals have emotional lives forces us to consider their needs and interests as individuals, as families, and as members of a community. Because the wolf is a species with complex social struc- tures and tight family bonds, we must consider the ethical implications of our actions when we disrupt family packs through management and control programs. We need to consider the wolf’s point of view in our overall conservation and recovery efforts.


Consider the case of the Mexican wolf reintroduction program. Mexican wolves once ranged from central Mexico up into Arizona and New Mexico [40]. They were exterminated throughout most of their historic range by the U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey and its successor agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal Damage Control program (now called “Wildlife Services”) [41]. In 1976, the subspecies was placed on the endangered species list and a reintroduction effort was initiated in 1998. While approximately 90 captive wolves were reintroduced over the course of eight years in New Mexico and Arizona, as few as 35 (estimated range: 35–49; mean estimate: 42; USFWS 2006c) wolves remained in the wild population by the end of 2005 [42]. From 1998 through 2005, illegal shooting (23), lethal agency control (3), vehicle collisions (9), and capture complications (1) accounted for the human-caused deaths of 36 wolves; and 83 wolves were captured and either removed or translocated at the agencies’ discretion for management purposes, which included 31 wolves involved in livestock losses (Adaptive Management Oversight Committee AMOC [42–44]). High wolf “failure rates” (mortalities + removals) are precluding population growth, causing population declines in 2004 and 2005, despite continued releases of wolves during those years [43, 44] The program has been criticized for poor management, bureaucratic processes that hinder effective recovery, and unrealistic political boundaries that do not allow wolves to colonize public lands outside of the defined recovery zones [5, 40]. Moreover, ranchers are not required to improve or alter their livestock husbandry practices to reduce predation even after a wolf is removed or killed (which is the case throughout the United States, not just in the Mexican wolf reintroduction program). And, in July 2006, the USFWS announced its acceptance of a set of recommendations that, if implemented, will allow the government, tribes, and private individuals to trap or kill Mexican wolves with few restraints when the combined populations in New Mexico and Arizona exceed 125 wolves [44], a cap that cannot be considered either viable over the long term or ecologically effective for the region [10, 28]. We simply must ask, “What are we doing and why are we doing it?” This sort of bureaucratic mismanagement and shameless killing must be stopped if we are ever to extricate ourselves from the persecute/eliminate/try-to-recover-­the-species cycle. How can we get out of this loop and constructively facilitate coexistence with this sentient, social mammal?


In conservation biology, the interests and rights of individuals are sometimes traded off against perceived benefits that accrue to higher levels of organization: populations, species, and eco­systems. Animal protection advocates who prioritize the welfare of individual animals are often marginalized because their perspectives are perceived as obstacles to conservation efforts. Estes [45] poignantly and succinctly gets to the heart of the matter in his discussion of whether or not to rehabilitate oiled wildlife, specifically California sea otters (Enhydra lutris):

The differing views between those who value the welfare of individuals and those who value the welfare of populations should be a real concern to conservation biology because they are taking people with an ostensibly common goal in different directions. Can these views be reconciled for the common good of nature? I’m not sure, although I believe the populationists have it wrong in trying to convince the individualists to see the errors of their ways. The challenge is not so much for individ­ualists to build a program that is compatible with conservation—to date they haven’t had to—but for conservationists to somehow build a program that embraces the goals and values of individualists because the majority of our society has such a deep emotional attachment to the welfare of individual animals…. As much as many populationists may be offended by this argument, it is surely an issue that must be dealt with if we are to build an effective conservation program.

     Some of the main issues concerning trade-offs among individuals, populations, species, and ecosystems are highlighted when considering reintroduction programs. Such efforts raise questions about when and whether it is permissible to override an individual’s life for the good of its species —when can individuals be traded off for conservation gains? Consider the reintroduction of gray wolves into Yellowstone National Park (YNP). All of the wolves who were reintroduced into YNP were translocated from Canada. Some were separated from their family packs; some died shortly after their release [4]. Currently, those that venture out of the protective zones of YNP may be lethally removed if they prey on livestock. Our view is that individuals count and that jumping among different levels of organization is not as seamless as some make it out to be. We believe that carnivore recovery programs are essential to restoring ecosystem integrity and diversity, but we also believe that in so doing we must be rigorous in the questions we ask, mindful of the individual animals we are translocating and of their progeny, and ethical in the way we conduct such programs. Researchers have an obligation to attempt to fully understand the effects of reintroduction programs on life history strategies, demography, behavior, and animals’ lives [18].


Recovering native species through reintroduction programs requires massive human effort and large sums of money. Humans and human society are major factors in what goes right or wrong, and people who are most affected at the local level are sometimes resentful and hostile at having to share land and space with a large predator that their forefathers purposefully eradicated. This is easy to understand especially when they have been living their lives and making their livelihoods in the absence of these predators. Moreover, the myth of the savage wolf persists and this also makes it difficult for some people to accept their presence. Fear is a powerful motivator, so those who advocate the reintroduction of wolves must work toward alleviating unfounded concern about their danger, allocate the necessary resources to build tolerance for wolves through public education and outreach programs, and help reduce conflicts where real conflicts exist.
     Natural recovery of wolves also presents challenges as seen in Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin; but perhaps more people would be open to the presence of wolves if they return on their own. Those less receptive would be given more time to get accustomed to the fact that wolves are on the way, and those who dislike government intervention might be open to wolves if there were less bureaucratic interference. Yet there’s no denying that wolves—whether from reintroduced or naturally recolonizing populations—face tough odds when attempting to venture beyond the political boundaries in which they’ve been confined. For example, in September 2006, a wolf likely dispersing from one of the Yellowstone or central Idaho packs was found dead in a leghold trap on private land in Utah [46]. Four years earlier, another wolf was discovered in the state—also found in a leghold trap [46]. In Maine and Vermont where gray wolves historically roamed, at least three wolf-like canids believed to have dispersed from Canada have been shot or trapped before their presence in the states was even acknowledged [47]. So a high tolerance level among the general public does not necessarily translate to safety for wolves if a few key humans (e.g., trappers, hunters, ranchers) have low tolerance; thus, dispersing wolves often find a lethal human environment where basic survival becomes a challenge. While there is certainly no guarantee that natural recovery will increase tolerance for wolves over reintroduction programs, the costs and benefits of both should be weighed before recovery efforts are implemented.
     We also need to reconcile the disparity in the status of wolves who are reintroduced and those who appear on their own. The former are granted “experimental, non-essential status” under section 10(j) of the ESA and are subject to being killed for being the predators that they are (when they predate livestock), whereas naturally occurring individuals are ostensibly granted full protection under the ESA. While some argue reducing federal protections for reintroduced wolves was a necessary concession to garner acceptance from the ranching community [4], we must ask if it is acceptable to continue to designate wolves “experimental, non-essential” and then kill them when they prey on livestock while not requiring ranchers to take some responsibility to reduce losses by removing livestock carcasses and improving their animal husbandry techniques. Caring properly for livestock is and should be one of the costs of doing business and should be reflected in the price of meat at the supermarket. Unfortunately, the current system in the United States externalizes the costs of livestock predation, and it is the American taxpaying public that bears these costs through subsidies for government predator control programs and livestock grazing subsidies. The wolves also pay with their lives when they are lethally “removed” for preying on livestock.


In the United States, as the federal government evaluates the opportunity to delist wolves, we can expect the debate about wolf conservation and management to intensify with ethics and human–wolf conflict mitigation moving front and center to the debate. When delisting occurs, wolves will no longer be federally protected under the Endangered Species Act; management will revert to the states and tribes [Edi- tor’s note: wolves were officially delisted January 27, 2012]. Heated debates have already begun about how wolves will be managed and whether traditional forms of management, including trophy hunting and commercial and recreational fur trapping, will be allowed, as they are for some species of large carnivores. For example, Minnesota’s state management plan would allow wolves to be killed to protect domestic animals, even if attacks or threatening behavior have not occurred, and eventually allow for the commissioner to “prescribe open seasons” on wolves, thereby legalizing trophy hunting and fur trapping (MNDNR) [48]. The Minnesota state law also allows for paying “certified gray wolf predator controllers” $150 for each individual killed (see ­Section 97B.671 Predator Control Program of Minnesota State Law for details).
     Wyoming’s proposed management plan calls for wolves to be classified with “dual status” (Wyoming Game and Fish Department [WGFD] 2003, more details can be found at http://www.sublette.com/examiner/v2n34/draftwolfplan.pdf), allowing them to be managed as trophy game in national parks and wilderness areas and as a “predatory animal” outside of these designated areas, allowing them to be killed at any time. The USFWS, however, has rejected Wyoming’s plan, stating it is inadequate to ensure long-term viability of wolf populations [49]. Despite this, in January 2007, the Wyoming legislature introduced a bill that would authorize the killing of almost two-thirds of the wolves in the state. Wildlife and animal advocates have already begun to challenge both the delisting process and the state management plans, which has served to increase public debate about the future of wolf management in the United States [6].
     One need only look at Alaska to see why there is signifi­cant concern about how wolf management may unfold in the lower forty-eight states. In Alaska, wolves are not considered endangered and receive none of the legal protections under the ESA that their counterparts do in the rest of the United States. They can be legally trapped, trophy hunted, and aerially gunned where they are chased to exhaustion by low-flying aircraft and then shot. Between 2003 and 2006, more than 550 wolves have been killed through aerial gunning in Alaska, despite the fact that Alaskans have twice voted to ban the practice (1996 and 2000) in statewide bal- lot measures (the Alaska legislature then overturned those bans). In some areas, the Alaska Board of Game has approved the killing of up to 75 per cent of the wolf population, ostensibly to boost moose and caribou populations for big-game hunters. In 1998, a citizens group called “Alaskans Against Snaring Wolves” sought to prohibit the use of snares for capturing wolves through an unsuccessful public ballot initiative after photos of severely injured snared wolves were published in local and national media outlets. The grassroots effort and the ensuing public debate it generated on the use of snares and other control methods supported by the Alaska Board of Game highlighted the growing controversy over the ethics of wolf management and individual management techniques, and the way that management decisions are made.
     Some have argued that decisions made in Alaska regarding wolves cannot be compared to decisions made in the lower forty-eight states. However, when states like Idaho take an official position that the federal government must forcibly remove all wolves from the state (adopted as House Joint Memorial No. 5 in 2001) and Wyoming wants to declare open season on wolves, it becomes apparent that a similar, firmly rooted anti-wolf sentiment amongst some sectors of the public is not limited to Alaska.


While strong anti-wolf sentiments persist in some areas of the United States, particularly in more rural regions, such attitudes are rapidly changing as the populace becomes more urban and educated [12, 50]. Over the last century, we have seen a shift in the public’s attitudes toward wildlife and nature, moving from a primarily dominionistic/utilitarian valuation toward one that is more humanistic/moralistic oriented [12, 50, 51]. With this shift in public values has come an increased demand for humane, socially acceptable, and ecologically sound management strategies for addressing conflicts between people and wild animals [52–55]. One national study on public attitudes toward wildlife management concluded that a majority of Americans favor the use of non-lethal methods over lethal in managing wildlife [55]. In this study, survey respondents were asked to rank the importance of factors to be considered when selecting management techniques; human safety, animal suffering, effectiveness, and environmental impacts ranked highest. Less important was monetary cost, suggesting a willingness amongst the public to invest more money to develop methods that ensure public safety and mitigate animal suffering. If lethal controls must be employed, the public would like those methods to be humane and selective [52, 55]. Yet one study that looked at lethal carnivore management programs across the globe found that between 30 and 81.3 per cent of the carnivores killed in control operations bore no evidence of involvement in conflicts [56], despite the efforts to target so-called “problem animals.”
     Strong objections to U.S. government-funded lethal predator control programs have also been expressed by professional scientists with the American Society of Mammal­ogists (ASM). In 1999, the ASM passed a resolution stating that the “common methods of predator control are often indiscriminate, pre-emptive, lethal measures, particularly in relation to state- and federally-funded livestock protection programs … and often result in the needless killing of animals that are not contributing to the problem, as well as many non-target species” [57]. They called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services Program and other federal and state wildlife management agencies to “cease indiscriminate, pre-emptive, lethal control programs … and to focus on the implementation of non-lethal control strategies, compensatory measures, and sound animal husbandry techniques” [57].
     If ethics, societal values, and animal welfare are not fully vetted and incorporated into wildlife management policies and programs, what are some potential consequences? Increasing use of the public ballot initiative process is one possible outcome if a large segment of the public contin- ues to feel their values and opinions are not considered in decision-making processes. Similarly, if wolf opponents feel their concerns and values continue to go unheard, we may see an increase in illegal killings as have been documented in Idaho where a number of wolves were intentionally poisoned with the deadly poison Compound 1080 after wolves were reintroduced in the region [43].
     A first step toward mitigating reactionary responses to wolf conservation policies and practices is for state and federal wildlife agencies to create greater opportunities for public participation in the decision-making process. In the United States, many state and federal wildlife management agencies have been criticized as operating in bureaucratic, self-serving ways that ensure their continued control and power over wildlife management while largely excluding the public from meaningful participation [36]. These institutions often fail to change strategies and policies to reflect new and more holistic ecosystem approaches to wildlife conservation that incorporate adaptive management practices [36, 40]. They also tend to shun discussion or consideration of ethics, public attitudes, and values by deeming such concerns as unscientific and contrary to traditional approaches to wildlife management. The current problems with the Mexican wolf reintroduction program reflect this bureaucratic institutional system that largely disregards public input, particularly from the conservation and animal protection communities, and fails to ensure transparency in its processes, policies, and practices [5, 40].
     So, what is the solution to this entrenched systemic problem? As Clark et al. [36] state, “Expanding confused bureaucracies is not the answer, although this is what we often do…. To improve wildlife conservation, especially large carnivore management, bureaucracies must be reformed.” A first step toward wildlife management agency reform is to create models and processes that promote integration and inclusion—where people feel heard, where they feel their values are considered, and where they feel they can have a meaningful say in the matter. Such civic-minded processes will also help foster mutual understanding and common ground and counter the dominant wildlife management paradigm in the United States that tends to promote divisiveness instead of cooperative problem-solving [36].


In addition to new modes of civic processes that foster inclusion and integration, we also need practical on-the-ground carnivore coexistence model programs that promote large carnivore conservation and cooperative community-based problem solving. Clark et al. [36] call this “practice-based improvements,” the application of which use actual experience and adaptive management practices to address site-specific conflict areas rather than theoretical principles as the basis for making improvements. Musiani and Paquet [58] argue that such efforts should focus on rural areas where human–wolf conflicts are more likely to occur. We argue that such programs should also incorporate ethics and humane concerns. Globally an increasing number of “practice-based improvement” models provide examples of practices that foster large carnivore conservation and promote coexistence. For example, in Bulgaria, non- governmental organizations have implemented a program aimed at reducing conflicts between livestock and wolves non-lethally and building tolerance for the presence of wolves by supplying shepherds with Karakachan guarding dogs [59]. They have also conducted a broad public awareness campaign that includes outreach to ranchers, students, and the general public [60]. In Sweden, a government-run program provides ranchers with financial support to implement electric fencing and other non-lethal predation deterrents [61]; ranchers are compensated for the presence of carnivores on their property at pre-determined rates, fostering better animal husbandry and carnivore conservation [62]. To date, the program appears to have been successful in reducing losses and building tolerance for the presence of wolves and other large carnivores [61, 62]. In Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Program employs people from the local communities to protect the wolf, conducts outreach to ranchers to improve livestock and agricultural practices, vaccinates domestic dogs to help prevent the spread of canid diseases, and has an extensive educational program aimed at building local understanding of the important role that the wolf plays in the Bale mountain ecosystem [63].
     Isolated models of carnivore coexistence programs that integrate ethics and ecological concerns are beginning to appear in the United States as well. For example, in Marin County, California, a non-lethal cost-share program funded by the county provides qualified ranchers with financial assistance to implement non-lethal deterrents including guard dogs, llamas, improved fencing, and lambing sheds [64, 65]. A cost-share indemnification program was later added to the program to compensate qualified ranchers for verified livestock losses resulting from predation; to qualify for compensation, ranchers must participate in the cost-share component of the program and have at least two non-lethal deterrents in place. Importantly, the program was adopted as a result of public opposition to the use of poisons, snares, and other lethal methods employed by a taxpayer-subsidized government trapper under the USDA Wildlife Services program [66]. The debate centered around ethics, animal welfare, and the use of taxpayer monies to support the killing of native carnivores to protect ranching interests. The program has garnered national attention, and initial data from the County Agricultural Commissioner’s office indicate it has been effective at helping to reduce livestock losses for some ranchers [67–69].
     Hence, new models of predator/livestock coexistence strategies combined with traditional techniques that historically proved effective in many parts of the world, such as shepherding and the use of guard dogs, have the potential to improve wolf conservation efforts globally [58, 62, 70].


As conservationists struggle to stem the hastening global biodiversity crises, we face many ethical challenges. How do we balance the urgent need to restore ecosystem health through large carnivore recovery with our obligation to consider ethics and animal well-being? These are difficult questions with no simple answers. Nonetheless, serious ethical reflection, public education, and dialogue are needed before deciding to restore a previously extirpated species such as the wolf. Ultimately, it is unlikely that a quick fix is the best way to proceed, especially when a lack of understanding of the complex and interrelated sociopolitical, economic, and ecological variables involved can make or break a recovery project. For example, the very early stages of Canada lynx reintroduction into southwestern Colorado were marred by the death of four reintroduced individuals soon after they were released because there was not enough food [18]. Some state officials, independent wildlife biologists, and animal advocates had argued that the available data suggested that the habitat was unsuitable to support viable lynx pop­ulations; yet lynx were released using what some called a “dump and pray” strategy [18]. The hasty and politically motivated “quick fix” clearly did not work; however, when reintroduction protocols were changed and attention was given to the scientific data concerning food availability and habitat suitability, fewer deaths by starvation resulted, and ultimately some of the reintroduced lynx went on to breed.
     As we attempt to restore wolves and other large carnivores in a human-dominated world where fragmentation —environmental and spiritual—and accelerating urban sprawl threaten to undermine such efforts, it would beho0ve us to look back on history and gauge where we have come from and where we are going. Less than sixty years ago, the last remaining Mexican wolves in Mexico were eliminated by the very same agency that is leading the wolf recovery effort in the United States today; less than thirty-five years ago, wolves were hunted without restrictions in many states [2]. What have we learned since then?
     Aldo Leopold, considered by many to be the father of wildlife conservation in North America, had an epiphany watching a wolf die (after having slaughtered this one and many others himself), and for the first time connected with an individual wolf in a way he had never experienced before. Through this experience, Leopold stepped beyond seeing the world through a myopic anthropocentric lens and recognized that another species had its own wants and needs—its own intrinsic worth—and a desire to live free and unfettered. Out of this and other experiences, Leopold [71] developed what he termed “The Land Ethic.” In his words:

The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land—and it affirms the right of all to continued existence. The extension of ethics to land and to the animals and plants which is an evo­lutionary possibility and an ecological necessity. In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.

     Ultimately Leopold’s Land Ethic was a call to action to create a new paradigm for the way we interact with and coexist with native carnivores—indeed all living beings—one that recognizes the ecological importance of these other species and life forms as well as their intrinsic value. As we struggle to rectify the wrongs of our past and as we gauge our almost limitless power to both create and destroy—and then recreate, restore, and recover other species and ecosystems, we must, like Leopold, take a long moment to reflect upon our actions. We must be willing to ask difficult ethical questions and learn from our past mistakes. Ultimately, we must always challenge ourselves: should we be doing what we are doing and, if so, can we do it better?
     Michael Soulé, a founder of the field of conservation biology, perhaps said it best:

We’re certainly a dominant species, but that’s not the same as a keystone species. A keystone species is one that, when you remove it, the diversity collapses; we’re a species that when you add us, the diversity collapses. We can change everything, dictate everything and destroy everything [72].

     Soulé is right. As big-brained and often self-centered and arrogant mammals, we can do anything we want anywhere, anytime, and to any other beings or landscapes. We must recognize that this unprecedented power comes with enormous and compelling ethical responsibilities to do the best we can. Let us remember that in most cases we can do better; and in all cases we have an obligation to strive to do better than our predecessors.


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Acknowledgments: We thank Dave Parsons, Michael Soulé, and Bonnie Fox for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.


Radio Telemetry

Devin Johnston

Under rain
your whip antenna with
a solar cell
rotates, listening for
something winter
meant to say:
far north
desperate joy
without remorse
wakes and tilts
across the swale;
a slow wave
pours away.
Sifting bleeps
and bearing lines
sniff the air.
What pertains?


Wolf Wars

Nick Jans

On a cold afternoon in 2006, my wife Sherrie and I stood in the foyer outside the Nome, Alaska post office, clipboards in hand. Out on Front Street, snow spattered on a blustery west wind. I’d just come from three days in Kotzebue, where I’d spent hours at a time outside at 15 below, rotating a half dozen pens from an inner pocket, trying to keep each from freezing long enough to scratch a signature. By comparison, this was Miami Beach.
     A steady stream of people, all on missions that didn’t include talking to us, bustled past. A grizzled gold miner type in worn Carharts held my eye and nodded politely—the sort of guy I’d have a beer with. And, for the umpteen hundredth time in two days I nodded back, stepped forward, and said, “Excuse me, would you like to sign a petition to help stop the state’s program of shooting wolves from planes?”
     He stared back incredulously. “Stop it? Jesus, if I had a plane, I’d like to get a few of the bastards myself! They’re eatin’ all our moose!” I stood there, watching the greasy back of his jacket recede, feeling like an idiot. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Sherrie approach a grandmotherly Eskimo woman with an armload of packages. “Have you heard about our petition?” Meanwhile, a young man with a toddler in tow ambled by. I sighed to myself, and heard my voice, tired at the edges, once more. “Excuse me …” The guy stopped, smiled, and took the clipboard from my hand. Thanked me, in fact. One more down. No, two, with Sherrie’s. Three hundred-something more to go in Nome, thirty-some thousand statewide.
     Don’t ask me how I got into doing something I loathed so much. I’m not talking about the cause, but about being political, and the idea of interrupting folks minding their own business and asking them to jump through some hoop. Bad enough in Juneau or Anchorage, but far worse in the bush, where the unwritten code is do-what-you’re-doing-and-mind-your-own.
     Not only was I gathering signatures. I’d somehow ended up co-sponsor of a statewide ballot initiative to limit aerial wolf control for the third time in a decade. Twice a majority of Alaskans had voted against the practice and banned it by law; and twice the governor-appointed Board of Game had reinstated the program as soon as a two-year statutory limit had expired, to be used as a management tool over broad areas. This time around, they were permitting private pilots to do the actual shooting.
     It didn’t take me long to re-confirm what I already knew: I might as well have signed up to sit on a lightning rod. Aerial wolf control has long been Alaska’s most controversial wildlife management issue, the sort of topic that leads to hard feelings, finger-jabbing, nasty letters to the editor, and occasional bar fights.
     Two opposing philosophies define the argument. (Ahem). Ready?
     Position A: wolves constitute a looming predatory menace to the game animals on which the people of Alaska depend—not to mention a threat to human safety. Keeping their numbers under control by whatever means (including shooting, snaring, leg-hold trapping, and shotgunning them from low-flying aircraft) is a common-sense necessity. Left to their own devices, wolves will multiply and Hoover every moose and caribou out of the country. People come first, and Alaskans have a right and a legal mandate to manage wildlife for their own maximum benefit. Any opposition to such a plan obviously comes from greenie-weenie, barely Alaskan, non-hunting city slickers and out-of-state radical, pinhead lackeys of PETA.
     Position B: wolves, as top predators, are a natural part of healthy, complex, self-regulating ecosystems that have evolved over millennia, and removing most of them (the plans call for up to 80 percent in certain management units) is only bound to screw things up. Without wolves, deer and moose numbers explode unsustainably, then crash, over and over. Wolves, too, are a valued resource on which trappers and subsistence hunters depend. Beside that, blasting wolves from airplanes is just plain wrong and reflects hor­ribly on the state’s image. Anyone who doesn’t see things that way is a nearsighted, beetle-browed, knuckle-dragging redneck.
     That’s just the CliffsNotes summary. The unabridged version gets far more nasty and multi-layered, replete with biologists, politicians, wildlife advocates, and hunters flinging mudballs made of statistics and rhetoric in each others’ faces. Add in the real extremists—old-schoolers who consider wolves four-legged cockroaches, and the animal-rights types who worship Canis lupus as imperiled uber-beings, and you have the makings of a full-scale brouhaha that spills over state and even international boundaries. Wolves, by virtue of their innate canine charisma and endangered status through most of their former range, are a big deal. People far away care what happens here—a fact that rankles many Alaskans, who believe wolf control is no one’s business but their own.
     Alaska’s wolves are unique in at least one respect. At the dawn of the 21st century, there’s still plenty of them—statewide, somewhere between seven and eleven thousand, according to state biologists. Thanks to the elusive, no-paparazzi nature of the species and the scale and roughness of the country, these are educated estimates at best, with a huge amount of slack (more than 50 percent the minimum figure) built in. Some biologists figure it’s more like five to seven thousand. But whatever the number, some folks—especially those associated with the big-dollar sport hunt- ing and guiding industry, who consider every bull moose a walking paycheck, and a few thousand rural residents living in relatively game-poor areas—figure it’s too many.
     I could run down the whole time line of Alaska wolf control, from federally sponsored bounties, government hunters and cyanide-laced baits of the territorial days through a period of more enlightened, ecosystem-based wildlife management, to the current tug of scientific evidence and ideologies, but that’s its own convoluted story. Somehow, though, all that led to us and dozens of others standing with clipboards all across the state, gathering signatures that would give voters a chance to reaffirm what they’d already decided twice: shooting wolves from the air wasn’t Alaskan or right.
     My own history with wolves isn’t what you might expect. One of the reasons I headed for Alaska 28 years ago was that wolves still roamed wild there, and I wanted to be part of that landscape. Naturally, I wanted to get close to them, interact somehow—which meant, to a twenty-something kid raised on Outdoor Life magazine, hunting. Not in a systematic, specific way, but wolves along with everything else, from grizzlies to Dall sheep. I launched my education as a packer for a big game guide, then honed my skills along- side the Inupiat hunters who were my friends and neighbors for 20 years. And with time, I got pretty good at hunting most things—enough so that after a few years I lost count of the wolf hides, even though I often passed up fresh trails and easy shots. The skins ended up as parka ruffs, decorations, and gifts to village elders. Meanwhile, I never saw any subsistence hunter who truly needed a moose or cari- bou go without.
     I stopped hunting wolves as a matter of personal choice, mostly because, through long familiarity, I started liking them much better alive. An empty hide didn’t have eyes that flashed yellow fire, didn’t flow across the tundra with effortless, loose-wristed grace, or play with ravens and sticks, howl unseen from a ridge, lead wobbly pups past camp, taunt grizzlies, and sometimes cavort with my dogs. Pull the trigger and all that was gone, reduced to a bloody pile of hair and meat. Dangerous? Potentially, sure. But in dozens of meetings, sometimes as close as 20 feet to healthy, wild, full-grown wolves from the North Slope to Southeast, I’d never had the least hint of trouble. Moose were one hell of a lot more risky.
     Not that I had any illusions about what wolves were, what they could do, and how they lived. I’d seen dozens of kills over the years—moose, caribou, Dall sheep—some so fresh the gutpiles were still steaming. Wild wolves struggled for dominance and often killed each other. They starved, died of mange, got their heads stove in by moose kicks, went days at below zero without eating, and got run down by hunters on snowmachines. The miracle was that they somehow managed to survive at all. And even when they were abundant, they were spread so thin over the land that most Alaskans have never glimpsed a wild wolf, or heard one howl. But they should have that opportunity, and not just in some national park. They and their grandchildren should be able to legally hunt and trap them if they want, too.
     Wolves, even unseen, fill up a landscape with wildness, define it. You’d think, after the mess we made elsewhere that people would know better, learn to value the last places where large-scale ecosystems without boundaries exist, complete with the predators that define and shape them. Am I overreacting? The Position “A” guys would say way worse than that—I’m ranting against nothing, fear-mongering, distorting, and promoting ballot-box biology. They just want to manage wolves, not eliminate them, and their science is good. There will always be wolves in Alaska. Couldn’t get rid of them if they wanted to.
     Sorry, guys, I’m not comforted. You don’t remove 80 percent of a population of social, pack-oriented animals without getting rid of them all. And sure, just in some game management units for now, but the working plan is to expand predator control areas, not reduce them. Check the minutes of recent Board of Game meetings. Think we lack the technology and will to exterminate wolves? Compare a map of former with current wolf range worldwide and get back to me. As for science, there’s plenty of respected biologists on the Position “B” side, specifically questioning that “good science” behind the state’s program, poking holes in faulty data and methods, and pointing to issues of sustainability. I try to imagine big chunks of Alaska essentially wolfless and Pennsylvania-like as some would have it, and three things happen. First I get unspeakably sad. Then comes the anger. And then I head for the post office.
Author’s note: The ballot initiative did make it to the statewide ballot in 2008, but failed by a few percentage points.


Forget Forest

Janet Kauffman

Fire into the sky, into the tall grass,
that’ll help at first, shoot the moon, the dog,
but then—stop—lop off the edges,
zero in, forget webs, forget forest,
take aim at one thing, one more,
you know the rule is whatever
walks or flies and does not say amen
or build or marry or join you at the ranch
bungalow garage mansion office
living-room kitchen bed, no room
for any weathering, wild-eyed, whatever
wolf, woman, child, bird, mother or father,
you can name them, all those things
outside day and night, you know, no need
for you, they live in unswept worlds,
you can’t live that way, you just can’t
walk by, let live, admire or even pay
homage, hell, what do you mean admire,
she just might turn and tear you apart
with teeth, her bare hands, you don’t know
how without tools or armor they can scare
the hellfire out of you but you do know
what it takes, you’re dressed, belted, geared,
you won’t break one fingernail
out of fear.


The Wolf Issue: What Science Suggests; the Players, and Our Role

Norman A. Bishop

I will briefly sample a few recent studies, many of which were enabled by wolf restoration, that may inform the issue of wolf management in the greater Yellowstone area. Then I’ll discuss the way the wolf issue is playing out in Montana, and how we can get involved.
     It may be useful to put three issues in perspective before we move on to the science that compels a fresh look at our relationship to wolves: livestock depredation, human safety, and effects on big game hunting.
     About 2.6 million cattle, including calves, live in Montana. Seventy-four killed by wolves in 2011 out of 2.6 million is less than 0.003 percent. Western Montana, where most wolves live, has fewer cattle than the east side of the state. As of 2009, there were 494,100 cattle there. Seventy-four of these animals were killed by wolves, or less than 0.015 percent of the western Montana cattle population. Similar percentages apply to sheep. There were approximately 33,000 sheep, including lambs, in western Montana in 2009. Wolves were documented to have killed 11 of these animals, or 0.03 percent, in 2011. In that same year, 64 wolves were killed in response, plus 166 were taken in the 2011 hunt, leaving 653 at year’s end (Mallonee, 2011). This is not to say that the loss of a teenager’s 4-H calf or a small operator’s animals are not devastating; just that the industry is not at risk. Keefover (2012) compares Montana cattle losses reported to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA, 2011) versus those verified by USDI Fish and Wildlife Service (USDI, 2011). NASS, 1,293; FWS, 87; a difference of 1486%. From 1987 to 2010, Defenders of Wildlife provided a wolf compensation program to reimburse ranchers for livestock lost to wolves. In 23 years, they invested more than $1.4 million in an effort to build trust and promote tolerance within the livestock community. The state is compensating now, using federal funds. Meanwhile, federal agencies spend at least $123 million a year to keep U.S. public lands open to livestock grazing, and Wildlife Services spends $126.5 million annually to kill wolves and other animals on behalf of agriculture.
     Another bogus issue is the danger that wolves pose to humans. During a four-year period last decade, livestock killed 108 people in four states, and this does not include people killed by vehicle and cattle interactions (CDC, 2009). During this same time period, wild wolves in the lower 48 states killed no one. In the last 80 years, two fatalities—one in Sas-katchewan and one in Alaska—may have been wolf-caused.
     As of 2012, the Montana elk population statewide was doing well, with numbers at an all-time high of 112,000. The state management objective calls for 90,000, so they are about 22,000 elk over objective.
     Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks researchers and several scientists from Montana State University have contributed to our knowledge of large predator effects on the Gallatin elk herd. Hamlin and Cunningham (2009) concluded:

Even where intensive data has been collected, there has been scientific and public debate concerning the impacts of wolf restoration on ungulate populations. Disagreement generally does not occur about the fact of declines in numbers of some ungulate populations, but disagreement about cause(s) or proportional shares of cause continues to exist.

And: “Nowhere are data adequate to ‘scientifically’ assign cause(s) for any declines that may occur.”
     There is no doubt that wolves eat elk, and that their predation lowers the numbers of elk on the landscape, besides affecting their behavior. But how does that affect hunting? In his masters thesis, The Impact of wolves on Elk Hunting in Montana, MSU graduate student Steven Hazen (2012) wrote,

Since wolves primarily prey on big game, Montana’s hunting industry will likely be impacted in various ways. Overall, wolves decrease hunter applications by 19.9% of the standard deviation in the southwest and 2.9% of the standard deviation in the west central region. This corresponds to 286 fewer applications in the southwest, but only 6 fewer in west central Montana … [U]sing the current data available wolves are not having a significant effect on elk harvest in Montana. On the other hand, they are shifting demand in the southwest region from areas in close proximity to the border of YNP to areas farther away.

     Now, what about hunting and trapping wolves along the borders of Yellowstone National Park, which contains the only unexploited wolf population in the region? You might say that the loss of fifteen wolves from the Yellowstone National Park population of 88 (now about 71–78) is not significant. But you would be failing to consider a number of important factors. Hardly insignificant is the cost to science of losing seven radio-collared wolves whose collaring cost Yellowstone Park Foundation donors about $21,000. Those wolves were integral to the longest continuous studies of wolf population dynamics and wolf-elk relationships in the world, all in a uniquely complete suite of naturally present carnivores. Those studies are reported annually by the Yellowstone Wolf Project and published in many peer-reviewed journals. They are yielding a wealth of information essential to managing the national park to preserve natural processes. Those studies also constitute a control or baseline of data to compare wolf/prey interactions between those of an unexploited population and those that are being hunted and trapped in surrounding states. No other area is large enough—Glacier and Grand Teton are too small to function that way. Are citizens of the tri-state greater Yellowstone area willing to sacrifice all that for a few hundred dollars in wolf license fees?
     Aldo Leopold (1944) recognized that Yellowstone National Park was not large enough by itself to conserve a wolf pop­ulation. In his review of Young and Goldman’s The Wolves of North America, he took the authors to task for asserting, “There still remain … some areas of considerable size in which … (wolves) may be allowed to continue their existence without molestation.” But then he asked, “Where are these areas? Probably every reasonable ecologist will agree that some of them should lie in the larger national parks and wilderness areas; for instance, the Yellowstone and its adjacent national forests.”
     Hunters plead for “scientific management” of wildlife in Montana. Yet, they choose to ignore peer-reviewed studies such as one from 2005; Vucetich and others wrote:

In the period following wolf reintroduction to YNP (1995–2004), the northern Yellowstone elk herd declined from ~17,000 to ~8,000 elk (8.1% yr). The extent to which wolf predation contributed to this decline is not obvious because the influence of other factors (human harvest and lower than average annual rainfall) on elk dynamics has not been quantified. According to the best model, which accounts for harvest rate and climate, the elk population would have been expected to decline by 7.9% per year … (C)limate and harvest rate are justified explanations for most of the observed elk decline.

     More recently, Arthur Middleton (2012) conducted research on elk and wolves in the Sunlight Basin area of Wyoming. He concluded that a reduction of elk forage quality in summer due to rising temperatures, combined with higher grizzly predation pressure (41% of calves killed by grizzlies) is responsible for a reduction in migratory elk herds in this area. There has been an astounding eight degree rise in July temperature in Yellowstone in the past few decades.
     Now, about that elk calf predation. In an ongoing University of Montana-MT Fish, Wildlife and Parks study, Mark Hebblewhite and Kelly Proffitt tagged 66 elk calves in spring 2011 in the southern Bitterroot. They found that, in the following six months, of the 49 that died or lost their tags, 22 were killed by cougars, 11 by black bears, and two by wolves. The fate of the others were undetermined. In 2012, 50 staff and volunteers collared another 76 elk calves. Of the 55 known-fate calves, 35 are alive and 20 are dead. Similar to summer 2011, lion predation continues to be the predominant source of calf mortality. Of the 20 documented mortalities, mortality sources include lion predation (6), black bear predation (4), wolf predation (1), unknown predator (3), natural non-predation causes (2), and unknown causes (4).
     Perhaps we should think about the effects of wolf resto­ration on something other than elk. In 2009, Prugh et al. wrote in BioScience that

Apex predators have experienced catastrophic declines throughout the world as a result of human persecution and habitat loss. These collapses in top predator [wolf] populations are commonly associated with dramatic increases in the abundance of smaller predators [coyotes, foxes, skunks, raccoons]. (T)his trophic interaction has been recorded across a range of communities and ecosystems. Mesopredator outbreaks often lead to declining prey populations, sometimes destabilizing communities and driving local extinctions…. mesopredator outbreaks are causing high ecological, economic, and social costs around the world.

     Eisenberg (2012) looked at three different densities of wolves (high, medium, and low) in elk winter range. She found elk numbers high in the three areas, regardless of wolf population level. She also found that wolves had a strong behavioral effect on elk, making them more wary. Elk avoided aspen stands that had burned. She found a trophic cascade relationship, in that aspen stands that had burned, which were being used significantly less by elk, due to predation risk factors, showed a strong release in herbivory and recruitment of aspen trees into the canopy. In her book The Wolf’s Tooth: Keystone Predators, Trophic Cascades, and Biodiversity, Eisenberg found that keystone predators in ecosystems worldwide have been identified as increasing biodiversity, making ecosystems more resilient to climate change and to the stresses on wildlife caused by a growing human popu­lation. Eisenberg et al. (2013) provide a critical review of trophic cascades involving wolves, elk, and aspen throughout the northern Rockies. While wolf effects varied from study to study, Eisenberg et al. concluded that the scientific evidence indicates that aspen management strategies should incorporate what we are learning about wolf-elk-aspen food webs. Wolves can have powerful effects in food webs. These effects have been linked to aspen recruitment. Therefore, applying the precautionary principle to create healthier, more resilient aspen forests suggests conserving apex predators.
     And how does all this affect birds? In a 2001 study, Joel Berger et al. demonstrated “a cascade of ecological events that were triggered by the local extinction of grizzly bears … and wolves from the southern greater Yellowstone eco­system.” In about 75 years, moose in Grand Teton National Park erupted to five times the population outside, changed willow structure and density, and eliminated neotropical birds: Gray Catbirds and MacGillivray’s Warblers.
     In Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley, the average number of ravens observed per carcass pre-wolf restoration was four. Dan Stahler (2000) reported 135 on one wolf-killed carcass. Eagles averaged one per four carcasses pre-wolf. Stahler saw 12 eagles and 65 ravens on one wolf kill.
     Mark Hebblewhite and Doug Smith (2010) listed species they observed on 221 ungulate prey carcasses between 1995 and 2000 that were killed by wolves. In Banff National Park, they tallied 20 species: most common were ravens (present at 96% of all kills), coyote (51%), black-billed magpie (19%), pine marten (14%), wolverine (8%), and bald eagles (8%); others, in descending order, were gray jay, golden eagle, long- and short-tailed weasel and least weasel, mink, lynx, cougar, grizzly bear, boreal and mountain chickadee, Clark’s nutcracker, masked shrew, and great gray owl. In Yellowstone, they noted twelve scavengers, of which five visit virtually every kill: coyotes, ravens, magpies, and golden and bald eagles. More species of beetles use carcasses than all vertebrates put together. Sikes (1994) found 23,365 beetles of 445 species in two field seasons at wolf-killed carcasses. No predator feeds as many other creatures as wolves do.
     Lisa Baril of MSU (2011) tells us that

After nearly a century of height suppression, willows (Salix<em. spp.) in the northern range of Yellowstone are increasing in height growth as a possible consequence of wolf (Canis lupus) restoration, climate change, or other factors … (T)he recent release of this rare but important habitat type could have significant impli­cations for associated songbirds that are exhibiting declines in the region. Bird richness increased along a gradient from lowest in suppressed to highest in previously tall willows, but abundance and diversity were similar between released and previously tall willows. Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) and Lincoln’s Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii) were found in all three growth conditions; however, Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia), Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus), Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii), and Song Sparrow (Melo­spiza melodii) were present in released and previously tall willows only. Wilson’s Warbler (Wilsonia pusilla) was found … to specialize on tall, dense willows.

     Some people ask, “Does Montana have too many wolves?” In 1884, Montana set a bounty on wolves; in the next three years, 10,261 wolves were bountied (Lopez, 1978). That’s 16 times Montana’s 2011 population of 653 wolves. Bergstrom et al. (2009) question that having gray wolves over 2% of their former range in the conterminous United States, and at a tiny fraction of their former number constitutes recovery. They wonder at the wisdom of reducing them just a decade or two after they have been back on the land. The large historic population size of about 380,000 gray wolves implied by genetic data provides a striking contrast to restoration goals in the western conterminous United States (Leonard et al., 2005).
      Is wolf hunting necessary? Cariappa et al. (2011) analyzed data collected at 32 sites across North America using linear and nonlinear regression and found that the evidence supported wolf population regulation by density-dependence as much as limitation by prey availability. The data suggested that wolf populations are self-regulated rather than limited by prey biomass by at least a 3:1 margin. They wrote: “In establishing goals for sustainable wolf population levels, managers of wolf reintroductions and species recovery efforts should account for the possibility that some regulatory mechanism plays an important role in wolf population dynamics.” What if we simply allowed wolves to regulate their own numbers, as they have in Yellowstone, going from 174 wolves in 2003 to about 80 in 2012?
     And, can hunting be overdone? Scott Creel and Jay Rotella (2010) wrote,

Following the growth and geographic expansion of wolf (Canis lupus) populations reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in 1995–1996, Rocky Mountain wolves were removed from the endangered species list in May 2009. Idaho and Montana immediately established hunting seasons with quotas equaling 20% of the regional wolf population. Combining hunting with predator control, 37.1% of Montana and Idaho wolves were killed in the year of delisting. Hunting and predator control are well-established methods to broaden societal acceptance of large carnivores, but it is unprecedented for a species to move so rapidly from protection under the Endangered Species Act to heavy direct harvest, and it is important to use all available data to assess the likely consequences of these changes in policy. For wolves, it is widely argued that human offtake has little effect on total mortality rates, so that a harvest of 28–50% per year can be sustained. Using previously published data from 21 North American wolf populations, we related total annual mortality and population growth to annual human offtake. Contrary to current conventional wisdom, there was a strong association between human offtake and total mortality rates across North American wolf populations. Human offtake was associated with a strongly additive or super-additive increase in total mortality. Population growth declined as human offtake increased, even at low rates of offtake. Finally, wolf populations declined with harvests substantially lower than the thresholds identified in current state and federal policies. These results should help to inform management of Rocky Mountain wolves.

     Stahler et al. (2012), using 14 years of data from a long-term study of wolves in Yellowstone, noted, “At the population level, litter size and survival decreased with increasing wolf population size and canine distemper outbreaks.” In the annual report (2011) of the Yellowstone Wolf Project, we read: “Intraspecific mortality was again the leading cause (of wolf deaths).” Flatly put, when wolf populations rise, wolves kill each other.
     Other consequences of killing wolves include the effects on the social dynamics resulting from the loss of key pack members: if an alpha female is killed, that pack is unlikely to reproduce that year. If a pack’s only big male is killed, that may result in diminishing the pack’s food base, because big males are key to killing prey located and chased down by other pack members (Smith, personal communication).
     Rutledge et al. (2010) wrote,

Legal and illegal killing of animals near park borders can significantly increase the threat of extirpation for populations living within ecological reserves, especially for wide-ranging large carnivores that regularly travel into unprotected areas.


Our results indicate that even in a relatively large protected area, human harvesting outside park boundaries can affect evolutionarily important social patterns within protected areas.

     The loss of these social patterns negates the value of Yellowstone as a control or baseline against which other areas, where wolf hunting is allowed, can be compared.
     Should we control wolves? Biologist Bob Hayes offers some thoughts about controlling wolves in his 2010 book Wolves of the Yukon:

I spent eighteen years studying the effects of lethal wolf control on prey populations. The science clearly shows killing wolves is biologically wrong … As I began to better understand the wolf, I developed a clear answer to my question about the effectiveness and moral validity of lethal wolf control programs.

     A decade after his retirement in 2000, Hayes wrote, “I can now say the benefits of broad scale killing of wolves are far from worth it—not to moose, caribou, Dall’s sheep or people. It should never happen again.”
     We should also consider the services that wolves provide, that can avert epidemics of wildlife diseases. Bruce L. Smith, in his 2012 book Where Elk Roam, warns us of the danger of concentrating elk on feed grounds, because of two serious diseases: brucellosis and chronic wasting disease (CWD). Noting that Wisconsin has spent $27 million depopulating its whitetail deer to curb CWD (and no CWD has been detected where wolves live), he traces the inexorable march of CWD across Wyoming. “Recent modeling suggests wolf predation may suppress CWD emergence in deer.”
     Wolves and other large carnivores are essential to the health of the ecosystems on which our game animals and we depend. Wolves have been shown to be capable of reducing or eliminating the spread of brucellosis and chronic wasting disease (Hobbs, 2006; Wild et al., 2011), in part by reducing density and group sizes of elk and deer. Wild et al. concluded, “We suggest that as CWD distribution and wolf range overlap in the future, wolf predation may suppress disease emergence or limit prevalence.” Cross et al. (2010) wrote,

(T)he data suggest that enhanced elk-to-elk transmission in free-ranging populations may be occurring due to larger winter elk aggregations. Elk populations inside and outside of the GYE that traditionally did not maintain brucellosis may now be at risk due to recent population increases.

     We risk losing wolves’ essential ecosystem services by continually inventing new ways to reduce their numbers to a socially-acceptable minimum. The goal of wolf management might better be to establish ecologically effective populations of wolves (Lee et al., 2012) wherever the absence of conflicts with livestock make that feasible.
     It may be timely to consider the ethical ramifications of our relationship with wolves and other large predators. Aldo Leopold was a 1909 Yale School of Forestry graduate; he was the father of wildlife management in America. Leopold thought of ecosystems, including all their inhabitants and processes, as “The land.” In 1949 he wrote, “We abuse land because we see it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” He also wrote,

If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.

     Jeremy Bruskotter and two other authors (2011) offer a way to rescue wolves from politics, by adopting wildlife as a public trust resource. They write,

In the absence of Endangered Species Act protection, wolf management reverts to states. Will states honor the substantial public investment made in wolf restoration or seek to dramatically reduce or even eliminate wolf populations, as opponents of delisting claim? ­The answer may depend on how states interpret a legal doctrine with roots dating back to ancient Roman and English common law (11). This doctrine, sometimes referred to as the “wildlife trust doctrine,” holds that wildlife, having no owners, are res communes, belonging “in common to all of the citizens” (12), and states have a sovereign trust obligation to manage wildlife resources for the benefit of their citizens (13). The wild­life trust doctrine is a branch of the broader “public trust doctrine,” which traces its legal roots in the United States back to the mid–19th century.

     Gibson (2013) writes,

By the 1990s, the northern Rockies had become a redoubt for America’s far-right wing extremist groups: paramilitary culture advocates who saw themselves as armed warriors facing federal tyranny, ranchers angry that they did not own the lands they leased from the federal government to graze cows, hunters who saw the region’s deer and elk as their private property, and those who hated all forms of environmental regulation. These groups created a common mythology, both resurrecting old forms of wolf demonization—wolves as evil, related to the devil—and inventing new ones: wolves as foreign invaders from Canada, wolves as icons of the federal government, wolves as disease-ridden with deadly tape worms, wolves as “killing machines” that would wipe out the region’s livestock, and in time, hunt people for food and sport.

     In his 1970 book The Wolf, L. David Mech wrote,

These people cannot be changed. If the wolf is to survive, the wolf haters must be outnumbered. They must be outshouted, outfinanced, and outvoted. Their narrow and biased attitude must be outweighed by an attitude based on an understanding of natural processes. Finally, their hate must be outdone by a love for the whole of nature, for the unspoiled wilderness, and for the wolf as a beautiful, interesting, and integral part of both.

     Meantime, legislators in Montana are demonstrating total ignorance of the public trust doctrine, wildlife ecology, conservation ethics, or anything related thereto. House Bill 27 would legalize silencers for wolf hunting. HB 31 would allow 12-year-olds and up to hold five wolf licenses, allow recorded sounds and calls, and would have set a wolf population cap of 250. HB 73 would amend Sec. 87-304 to read:

(7) In an area immediately adjacent to a national park, the commission may not:
     (a) prohibit the hunting or trapping of wolves; or close the area to wolf hunting or trapping unless a wolf harvest quota established by the commission for that area has been met.

     In other words, some legislators want to micromanage wolf hunting in total abrogation of fair chase standards; just kill wolves as efficiently as technologically possible. What’s next? Helicopter gunships, drones, nightvision goggles and infra-red scopes?
     Finally, why do state game departments hammer wolves, mountain lions, bears, and coyotes? Demand from their constituents: hunters who see predators as competitors, and ranchers. Hunters’ license fees pay the bills, and ranchers control private lands on which much hunting takes place, so they must be placated.
     We could spend months in a university class examining all these issues in detail, or you could simply read, for starters, Cristina Eisenberg’s The Wolf’s Tooth (Island Press, 2010). I also recommend reading the Yellowstone Wolf Pro­ject’s annual reports and the Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery 2010 Interagency Annual Reports. For updates on the wolf issue, go to the website of the Wolf Recovery Foundation, and see The Wildlife News. For an international view, visit the International Wolf Center’s website. You can also take a wildlife tour or trek in Yellowstone with wolf scientists Dr. Nathan Varley and Linda Thurston by contacting The Wild Side, or subscribe to daily reports on the Yellowstone wolves. If you want to support the Yellowstone Wolf Project, consider contributing through the Yellowstone Park Foundation. Defenders of Wildlife and WildEarth Guardians are both invaluable resources for all of us who are committed to conservation.


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Thinking Like a Mountain

Aldo Leopold

A deep chesty bawl echoes from rimrock to rimrock, rolls down the mountain, and fades into the far blackness of the night. It is an outburst of wild defiant sorrow, and of contempt for all the adversities of the world.
     Every living thing (and perhaps many a dead one as well) pays heed to that call. To the deer it is a reminder of the way of all flesh, to the pine a forecast of midnight scuffles and of blood upon the snow, to the coyote a promise of gleanings to come, to the cowman a threat of red ink at the bank, to the hunter a challenge of fang against bullet. Yet behind these obvious and immediate hopes and fears there lies a deeper meaning, known only to the mountain itself. Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf.
     Those unable to decipher the hidden meaning know nevertheless that it is there, for it is felt in all wolf country, and distinguishes that country from all other land. It tingles in the spine of all who hear wolves by night, or who scan their tracks by day. Even without sight or sound of wolf, it is implicit in a hundred small events: the midnight whinny of a pack horse, the rattle of rolling rocks, the bound of a fleeing deer, the way shadows lie under the spruces. Only the ineducable tyro can fail to sense the presence or absence of wolves, or the fact that mountains have a secret opinion about them.
     My own conviction on this score dates from the day I saw a wolf die. We were eating lunch on a high rimrock, at the foot of which a turbulent river elbowed its way. We saw what we thought was a doe fording the torrent, her breast awash in white water. When she climbed the bank toward us and shook out her tail, we realized our error: it was a wolf. A half-dozen others, evidently grown pups, sprang from the willows and all joined in a welcoming melee of wagging tails and playful maulings. What was literally a pile of wolves writhed and tumbled in the center of an open flat at the foot of our rimrock.
     In those days we had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf. In a second we were pumping lead into the pack, but with more excitement than accuracy: how to aim a steep downhill shot is always confusing. When our rifles were empty, the old wolf was down, and a pup was dragging a leg into impassable slide-rocks.
     We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes—something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.
     Since then I have lived to see state after state extirpate its wolves. I have watched the face of many a newly wolfless mountain, and seen the south-facing slopes wrinkle with a maze of new deer trails. I have seen every edible bush and seedling browsed, first to anaemic desuetude, and then to death. I have seen every edible tree defoliated to the height of a saddlehorn. Such a mountain looks as if someone had given God a new pruning shears, and forbidden Him all other exercise. In the end the starved bones of the hoped-for deer herd, dead of its own too-much, bleach with the bones of the dead sage, or molder under the high-lined junipers.
     I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades.
     So also with cows. The cowman who cleans his range of wolves does not realize that he is taking over the wolf’s job of trimming the herd to fit the range. He has not learned to think like a mountain. Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers washing the future into the sea.
     We all strive for safety, prosperity, comfort, long life, and dullness. The deer strives with his supple legs, the cowman with trap and poison, the statesman with pen, the most of us with machines, votes, and dollars, but it all comes to the same thing: peace in our time. A measure of success in this is all well enough, and perhaps is a requisite to objective thinking, but too much safety seems to yield only danger in the long run. Perhaps this is behind Thoreau’s dictum: In wildness is the salvation of the world. Perhaps this is the hidden meaning in the howl of the wolf, long known among mountains, but seldom perceived among men.