wolf hunt, is it a witch hunt?

I wrote a post a while back, simply titled The Wolf – my thoughts. It drew such passionate responses, and some very long responses, that some of them I had to move into the body of another blog post. Many by professionals in the field of wildlife biology. Educated discussions are awesome, we all learn something. People have something to say when it comes to the wolf.

Mothers Day 2010

We are, like it or not, very connected to the wolf. We may not share exact DNA, but throughout the written history of the world, we have, the wolf and human, been very much a part of each others lives and livelihood.

Think about it, when someone starts talking about the wolf, or a wolf, we listen carefully. Besides being raised on a diet of cautionary ‘big bad wolf tales’, the wolf, in and of themselves, are sexy, fascinating, wild, and powerful predators. A lot to stand in awe of. People from all over the world come to the Yellowstone area to hopefully catch a glimpse of a wolf, or if luck is in their favor, an entire pack. And while I believe the raven is a beautiful and cunning creature on this planet,  it’s not quite the same draw. I have yet to see people flock to Yellowstone to ‘hopefully’ catch site of a raven! The wolf garners attention, demands it really, simply by their presence on this earth.

Wolf hunting, and now trapping, are alive and well in the inter mountain area of the US. Fish, Wildlife, and Parks states, at every turn, that this is based on scientific evidence, and there are a certain number of wolves that need to be killed in order to maintain ecological balance. I believe the balance they are speaking about is based solely on the elk population in regards to elk numbers for hunting, by humans. The ‘certain number’ of wolves to be killed this year is in the several hundreds by the way. And this certain number is not limited to wolves or wolf packs that have been causing problems on ranches. The wolf hunt is indiscriminate, it simply means if you are a wolf you are a target.

This wolf hunt is more of a witch hunt, and that is undeniable. If you choose to deny that you are living in ignorance, plain and simple. The culling of wolves from our area is not based purely on science, if that were so than the wolf biologists in the Greater Yellowstone area would be supporting this cull, and they are not. The Predator Extinction Act in the early 1900’s was met with ecologists and biologists warning how this was not the way to increase deer and elk populations for human hunting, and they didn’t support it or recommend it. Let me be clear, it has never been supported or recommended by people/professionals that are actually in the field studying these animals, ever! And if anything in American History we should all learn from so it doesn’t repeat itself, it should be the very real cautionary tale from the witch hunts of the late 1600’s. People lost their lives, most in horrific, painful, and torturous ways, simply due to lapses in due process, mass hysteria, isolationism, and false accusations. Hmmmm, sounds like what is happening to the wolf today.


Every ounce of what you hear in the news today about the ‘science based’ approach to this new wolf hunting season is simply shrouded in politics. Anyone interested in the wolf, how they were reintroduced, the science and politics behind the reintroduction, and how hands were accidentally tied after the fact by bargains and agreements and the Endangered Species Act should sit down and read WOLF WARS. Many of the players during that whole process are still in our inter mountain area by the way.

I do believe if an animal is threatening your life or your stock, you should have the right to protect yourself. I do not believe in indiscriminate killing, killing for sport, or gloating about killing in any way. Taking a picture with an animal you just killed in any fashion, and smiling big, borders psychotic behavior in my book. Who smiles at death, especially if you made it happen? Taking an animal’s life for food and being grateful, I get that. Taking an animal’s life because you want to kill something, that doesn’t register as even semi healthy to me, on any level.

And then a friend sent me some disturbing information about wolves and the disrespectful way in which they were being killed and handled, and I came upon this gem of a facebook page Montana Wolf Hunting. It’s graphic, disturbing, disrespectful to life in any form, and it is simply about killing. Is this ALL of the wolf hunters in our area? I would seriously hope not, I would hope that some are ranchers that simply are trying to protect their stock, and purchased a wolf hunt license so they could do it legally. But this group is overt, and would like you to believe this is how all wolf hunters are, sad and scary. The ignorance, hate, and misguided judgment from some of the comments and photos is deeply disturbing. And to be very clear, these are some of the people who hold wolf trapping and hunting licenses sold by Fish, Wildlife, and Parks!

Wolves are predators, so are we. Nature has a way of taking care of itself, yet we seem to keep thinking we need to intervene and do it for her. Humans pollute, spread disease, we consume more than we need, destroy eco systems, kill, and hunt. I think we are more of a threat to this planet than the wolves.

Once again, I look forward to educated and passionate responses and discussions on this topic.


25 Comments Add yours

  1. mtwaggin says:

    I too will be interested to see your responses. I have to agree with you on general terms, I grew up in a hunting family and around ranchers….trophy hunting however is a whole different deal and I do not agree with it at all and trophy hunting is truly what most of those wolf hunters out there are doing. Those protecting themselves or their stock/animals should have the ability to do so. I cannot imagine that the wolves are adversely affecting elk herds enough to make a difference…it is balance. Those elk hunters looking for that healthy trophy bull….THAT makes a difference in the herds. Sigh…..

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Trophy hunters I will never ever understand.

  2. EmilyS says:

    it’s not “science” anymore than the bison hunts are “scientific”. Bison are massacred/restricted using brucellosis as the excuse. Bison do carry that disease, but the likelihood of transmission to cattle is remote and can only be through aborted fetuses… yet bull bison are killed. The actual “science” demonstrates that elk are the primary transmitters of brucellosis to cattle. But elk are allowed anywhere…

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Emily, it is true. I think wolves and bison fall under ‘bio politics’ and are used as bargaining tools more than anything. But I think what saddens me most is these animals lives hang in the balance of ‘who’ has the loudest voice at the time. There lives should not hang int eh balance of human politics, their lives should be outside of that and left alone.

  3. Cheryl Farmer says:

    Excellent article Nancy. Thanks for being honest about the psychotic killing behaviors you mentioned. Agreed. Had a good discussion Monday night at Sacajawea Audubon by Norm Bishop regarding the wolves. Norm worked to bring wolves to YNP. There were other biologists and Pat Flowers, regional director for MT FWP who commented. So, in case anyone was in doubt, realize that FWP is about hunting, not science nor environmental ecosystems. As Pat said, 75% of the funding for FWP comes from hunting and fishing licenses. The other 25% comes from gun sales. They skew to who pays them. Nuff said about that. He did say there are about 179 bills coming in Montana Legislature this year about wildlife, so there’s much more to come. Hard to believe the HB73 got passed so overwhelmingly! There is a huge fight, a huge effort, that has to be continued, without giving up, on behalf of the wolves and bison to allow wildlife to flourish without hunters and ranchers selfishly putting their needs and wants ahead of everyone else. (Yes, we need to consider loss of life or livestock, but there are programs already available.) These people have lots of money contributed to the state, and their own interests. Obviously lots of political clout. Advocates for wildlife and the environment have no funds in the state treasury to be of some persuasion. There’s a small non-game tax deduction but that fund is totally inadequate. We have to write legislators and convince them of some science, some monetary considerations such as tourism and waste of money (such as persecuting the bison). We have to contact all the local groups that want to advocate for wolves and wildlife and try to get enough support to fight these injustices. And on the trapping—we sure as hell better fight against that terrorism.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Cheryl this is so interesting. You are like a ‘warrior princess’ under that sweet and calm exterior. Please keep me posted, please post dates and times for meetings on our FB page too. I think the people who tend to ‘love the earth’ are the more silent ones, perhaps we need to get everyone a bit ‘noisier!’

      1. Cheryl Farmer says:

        Sigh–wish I were the princess that has the magic wand–then poof****.
        Here’s a couple of links Norm gave me: to send a message to Montana legislature go to: http://leg.mt.gov/css/sessions/63rd/legwebmessage.asp
        He said this is a link to the “loonies”: http://www.cascwild.org/identifying-and-dealing-with-the-anti-wolf-forces-pg-13/
        It is a blog from Oregon with a lengthy back and forth anti/pro wolf debate. They think we’re ignorant!

      2. Nancy Tanner says:

        warrior princesses don’t carry wands 😉

    2. Joan says:

      Please understand the funding for FWP (yes, from hunting/fishing licenses, gun sales, etc) ultimately goes towards the conservation of habitat and the flora/fauna they support. They are not “skewing” their decisions only for wolf hunting because I am pretty darn sure WOLF hunters have paid only a small percentage of those funds. I would say the majority of people who hunt and fish have no desire to hunt wolves. Is FWP in general skewed towards protecting and maintaining the specific species people want to hunt and fish? Sure. But realize in doing that, other species/habitats are protected as well.

      I have great respect for the MT FWP scientists/biologists and the work that they do. They are science-based but do give consideration to their various stakeholders (as any good public agency). If I’m not mistaken, all of their biologists have their Master’s or PhDs. They monitor wildlife and fisheries populations and work on a great number of restoration projects. They help to protect much of the lands YOU want to hike through and enjoy. Without people who pay money to hunt and fish, who is going to pay up the money to protect our public lands and wildlife? Hikers??? Kayakers?? Birdwatchers?? As of right now, the majority of those “non-consumptive” users are not paying much (if any) money into maintaining the places they recreate on.

      And finally, what a lot of people don’t understand is the greatest threat to wolves (and pretty much all other fish/wildlife/plant species) is loss of habitat, not the (proportionately speaking) small number of individual animals hunted.

      One of my pet peeves are people who decide to build homes out in the middle of nowhere and displace a lot of wildlife in the process. Wolves and other wildlife, for the most part, avoid people. Along with further development from our expanding human population, it reaches a point where it’s just plain hard for wolves (and all other wildlife) to get away from people. When they inevitably come in contact/conflict with humans, they get killed. Whereas if we work harder to maintain large enough tracts of wilderness/forests for the wolves and other wildlife to live, they will all happily avoid humans. So, are we then willing to all clump together and live in giant metropolises to protect wildlife habitat? Hmmm…

      1. Nancy Tanner says:

        Hi Joan, while some of FWP have degrees it does not mean they get to exercise what they know to be correct. And the current wolf hunt season really is not based on loss of habitat all, it is based off of elk populations and/or the decline there of, which still is up in the air depending on who you talk too and what you read. Politics follow the wolf and visa versa, to state otherwise would be closing one eye so to speak. There has not been a single decision made on a wolf, wolves, or a pack since as far back as forever that didn’t have a political agenda. Go look at what all of the agencies including the parks decided on int he 1910’s during the predator extermination period. Scientists who knew better were never given a voice, or their reputation was crushed, choose either one and it played out over and over. IF this wolf hunt were truly science based, which it is not, then they would NOT have allowed trapping so close to the park, and they would NOT have allowed collared wolves to be hunted. The collared wolves are in fact part of a legitimate science study. Now knowing that 12% of the YNP wolf population has already been killed during this hunting season is beyond sad. And the hunt season is during their mating season. Guess how this is going to effect the spring pup population.

  4. Laurie Reden Bachar says:

    Thank you…very well written my dear friend! I understand the need for some folks to protect their property and livelihood. But those who get a thrill from glorifying their kill, and the kill has no other purpose than a spot on their wall and a story, are IMHO not right in the head. From interactions we’ve had with them on these pages, they somehow think there’s something wrong with us. Perhaps they need to evolve a bit more to know that their disrespect for another living being doesn’t get you very far in life.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      evolving is always a good thing…!

  5. Kim says:

    Nancy, I can’t wait for a day where you and I can have a cup (or pot!) of good coffee and have great conversations about topics like this…totally near and dear to my heart. But alas, the topic is to close to my job to comment publicly…just now. I’m loving the discussion though!

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      rats, and I love when you chime in! ok, happy lurking 😉

  6. Joan says:

    In regards to the collared wolves, FWP DID try to close the areas north of Yellowstone NP in response to collared wolves being hunted. Unfortunately, this was challenged and a district court judge reopened those areas.

    And I agree – it all depends on who you talk to. The funny thing is, the opposite side ALSO views FWP as using junk science. They claim that wolves are actually killing more big game than reported and that there are way more wolves than what they state in their reports. They also claim governmental agencies were/are being paid off by environmental groups to not allow wolf hunting. So…the wolf hunters say not enough wolves are being killed…and anti-wolf hunters say too many wolves are being killed. Both sides of the issue present convincing arguments about who is right, but how do you determine who is actually presenting accurate information and facts??

    You bring up a very good point about the biologists – they can’t always act on what they believe to be true. Unfortunately that’s an issue all government employees have to deal with and they do the best they can. As a public agency, they try to meet the needs of multiple users/stakeholders, though my impression is they have more power to outright close harvests when they have reason to do so. Ultimately, it will be about conserving/protecting the wildlife species, no matter what public/private interests are funding them. They cannot knowingly allow wolf (or any other managed game) harvests to endanger the populations. Nothing is static and harvest quotas will change with updated information. This year the wolf quota may be in the hundreds but next year it might be 20. We don’t know just yet.

    I don’t personally believe the wolf harvest quotas are primarily based on maintaining elk populations for hunters. FWP have stated in their reports that wolves are not significantly impacting the *overall* distribution/populations of elk. Therefore, it would make no sense for FWP to expect elk populations to increase significantly by culling wolves. When they want to significantly increase elk numbers, they will reduce the number of elk tags (to all the hunters’ dismay). I suspect it’s the pro-wolf hunters/hardcore obsessive elk hunters who are spreading rumors around that wolves are killing all the elk. No, in certain areas it’s the hunters who are significantly impacting elk populations – FWP knows this and states this. It’s a fine balance to juggle between maintaining viable wildlife populations, while meeting the needs of the public and private stakeholders. But all of this is very new and I believe FWP is still adapting to HOW to manage for wolves while allowing for the “peaceful” co-existence between all of us (hunters, ranchers, general public, wildlife).

    This all being said, it does pain me to see those wolves on that Facebook group. I love wolves and have permanent ink marks on my body to show it (sorry, different generation;). I actually haven’t followed the controversy too closely because I honestly feel like both sides put out a lot of half-truths and skewed facts. Everyone wants to make out the biologists/scientists as the evil ones, when they’re really not and they just want to do their jobs. It is frustrating to see important wildlife and habitat management/restoration work not happening because agencies are stuck in frivolous lawsuits (brought about by people who have no clue what they’re talking about) and/or have lost funding because the government deems them unimportant. But we are no longer in the 1910s 😉 and the biologists are most certainly NOT managing with the significantly less knowledge we had back then.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      as Kim said in a previous wolf discussion, many of the meetings are filled with the extremists. Retired hunters/ranchers and/or environmental extremists groups. They have the time to attend the lengthy meetings and all of the hearings, their voices are the loudest, but it doesn’t mean they are the only voices out there. Regular people, who live on this planet, work, eat, drink, sleep, need to attend them too. While time is a factor, these are the unheard or silent voices.

      I do not believe, on any level, that this wolf hunt is based on science, if it is science it would not hold up outside of this setting with these particular people involved. I stand by this being driven by politics, with wolves, historically, it always is. They have become the bio political bargaining chip so to speak.

      We aren’t living int he 1910’s yet we keep repeating the same mind set. There is a large number of people in Montana, most all of Idaho, and most of Wyoming that want to see wolves eradicated once again. They are a large group, loud, ranching ties, political ties, and they are heard often.

      To say it is about habitat is nice, and fits nicely into the environmental non profit system, creating corridors, the same. I understand this important work, but with wolves, honestly, that is the last thing on the plate. Check out the Outfitters/Guides group and their push to hunt more wolves, so there are more elk for their clientele. The elk issue is directly tied tot he wolf issue.

    2. Nancy Tanner says:

      FWP tried to close the areas around YNP after the collared wolves were being trapped and Doug Smith was interviewed. not before

      1. Joan says:

        Yes that’s true and probably a huge oversight on their part – but I don’t know because I’m not at their planning meetings. 😉 I think YNP also didn’t anticipate those particular wolves would venture far out of the park because they normally didn’t? I believe Doug Smith had stated that somewhere. I think the important point is FWP then tried to address it by closing those areas and unfortunately was not successful. I’m certainly not debating that there are politics involved (apparently a necessary evil in all gov’t agencies;). Sadly it is also the case with every charismatic and/or game animal out there. And the bison topic…I think it’s tough for many of the people in all agencies involved.

        I may have “mis-wrote” earlier when I said they aren’t managing primarily to maintain elk for hunters. That is an important part (and is probably why FWP exists) but I meant more that I don’t believe the quota numbers are completely unfounded. There is science behind it and the numbers were not made up purely to satisfy elk hunters (assuredly it would be much higher if that was the case). The intent of the wolf hunt may largely be influenced by elk hunters but that does not mean there isn’t science backing it. As I said earlier, hunters themselves are often the major influence on elk and when necessary I believe FWP can and will limit elk tags to manage the elk population. That will happen whether or not wolves are present. There are many honest and educated elk hunters who understand that. I just don’t believe FWP can/will allow complete eradication of the wolf simply to ensure elk hunters get their elk.

        I don’t see a problem with wolf management, with the assumption that they are working to maintain that balance between healthy and viable populations for all species concerned, as well as maintaining the game populations for hunters (who happen to be paying for a bulk of the overall conservation/protection of natural resources). The wolf management plans were developed to not allow wolves to reach a point where they need to be listed again. And why not manage wolves, just as bear and mountain lions are managed? Doug Smith and L. David Mech are not opposed to wolf hunts, so not all wolf bios are opposed either.

        On a different note I would much rather have wild game be hunted and managed (with subsequent carnivore management) than have factory farmed animals all over since people will always eat meat!

        I hope no one is taking my comments as offensive or anti-wolf because I’m not trying to be. I can’t say I’m particularly passionate about this issue and I’m mostly stating generalized points of view in wildlife management as I understand it. This is an interesting issue that I haven’t thought much about before. So thank you, Nancy. 🙂

      2. Nancy Tanner says:

        Joan I think thats the rub. As far as viable numbers, quotas and such. They don’t know for sure, there is quite a bit of guess work int here, and some of the numbers are absolutely positively to satisfy ranchers and hunting groups. Because we lived, in this area, almost 80 years without a viable wolf population, no one is for sure, since the reintroduction what a viable number is, what is sustainable. As of today 12% of the YNP wolves have been killed in this years hunt. The problem with that is a ‘pack’ is a familial unit, and each member important to the viability of a pack. With members taken here and there the fracture in structure and health, and balance will be long lasting and significant. It’s not just killing a ‘lone wolf’ it’s killing a family member, potential mothers, the father or leader. This hunt will be studied for some time I have no doubt. Doug Smith isn’t opposed to wolf hunts for wolves that have been causing problems, I don’t believe I have ever heard him raise his hand in agreement to indiscriminate killing. And I’m pretty sure after the collared wolves were trapped and killed it was a massive blow to him , the park and the program, professionally and personally. One of the first collared wolves to be killed was a very important female that was responsible for the most healthy off spring to date.

  7. Cheryl Farmer says:

    Well, I want to believe the biologists and scientists who study and work with wolves and ecosystems in Yellowstone and other places. The contrary studies I’ve seen are written by pro hunters, usually elk hunters, and what I call wolf haters. I want to see where, how the study was done and was it peer reviewed. But, just excluding the elk controversy, and who you believe has the correct facts, you should also be looking at wolves in the ecosystem. You can look at any of the agencies and scientists who studied the wolves for varied information. I have a great article by Norm Bishop here, who was instrumental in returning wolves to Yellowstone. He’s outlined a numerous number of studies. Here’s one I have in front of me: by “Mark Hebblewhite and Doug Smith who documents that wolves change species abundance, community composition, and physical structure of the vegetation, preventing overuse of woody plants like willow, reducing severity of browsing on willows that provide nesting for songbirds.” Also by Mark Hebblewhite is his study of wolves on the population dynamics of large ungulate prey and the effects on mountain ecosystems. As wolves are a keystone species, without which ungulate densities increase, vegetation communities become overbrowsed, moose and beaver decline, and biodiversity is reduced. But as elk decline, aspen and willow regeneration are enhanced. Just in this context, wolf predation should be viewed as a critical component of an ecosystem management.” There are many peer reviewed studies by specialists in these matters regarding wolves: on climate change, habitat shifting, carcasses (pre and post wolf), chronic wasting disease, slowing disease among elk, wolves divert more food to raptors, foxes, and weasles, wolves promoted biological diversity affecting 20 vertebrate species, and 445 species of beetles. In some regard to elk predation in Yellowstone, Bob Crabtree and Jennifer Sheldon noted before wolves were returned to YNP northern range, “17 mountain lions killed 611 elk per year, 60 grizzly bears killed 750 elk calves annually, and 400 coyotes killed between 1100 and 1400 elk per year.”

    The hunters are reducing the positive effects of these predators in the environment, not to mention stealing the collared wolves, ruining research and shattering packs. You do realize that 12% of Yellowstone wolves have been killed this season. Wolves are hunted on every side of the park. The fewer the number of wolves increases the severity of the wolf collapse and less genetic diversity. What I think are wolf haters don’t care about this. And they say so. It is so short sighted. A reference to the past would make us all learned we made some big mistakes. It’s time to see the whole picture, the whole ecosystem we all belong to.

    And yes, it’s a big concern than non game species, hunting concerns, trapping, are not funded into the state’s treasury. But, re: the “skewed” comment, Pat Flowers told a room full of people that FWP is definitely going to be influenced by the hunters, fishers, and gun buyers because they fund the agency. That just seems wrong. I know dedicated and smart people in FWP and I think they think it’s wrong too. It’s money. It’s politics. It’s selfish people that want to hang a wolf pelt on their wall. And Pat did tell us that if we people want to do something about wolves (advocate for) “you darn well better get your act together.” I think he’s darn well right!

    1. joan says:

      I completely agree!! Money talks and that’s the sad part!! Historically and and presently hunters and fishers pay the most money into overall wildlife and habitat conservation. It’s not a bad thing as long as agencies are allowed to manage and sustain viable animal populations. But if more of the non-consumptive users can find some way to fork out the money to pay towards management and conservation then yes they can have more clout. Considering there are always and increasing budget uncertainties, it is unrealistic that they can attempt to completely satisfy the non-consumptive users especially because they don’t pay much money in and/or waste agencies’ time and money by tying them up in lawsuits. 😦

    2. Nancy Tanner says:

      One of my bigger concerns is the ‘pack’ or familial unit. While they may say they are only going to allow XYZ numbers for the harvest, breaking up a pack or taking some of the vital members will have a more long term effect, instability will rain.

      1. Joan says:

        Very true Nancy. I think they are also taking into account the number of breeding pairs when developing the quota? Sorry, I don’t actually know or understand everything that goes into it. But that sounds like something to look up!

        Wildlife management is not easy and the outcome is not always 100% predictable, but if none of that was in place, well, we probably wouldn’t have ANY animals left to fight over, elk or wolf! Tragedy of the commons!

  8. Cheryl Farmer says:

    You are so right Nancy—pack collapse, losing vital members of the pack will result in devastation.

    Thank you Nancy for bringing the wolf hunt issues available here for discussion. I would like to hear from other followers of yours also. Do people care enough to pursue this important issue? We need discussion and need help to solve the problem of wolf extermination.

  9. Such a difficult topic, not the least because so many people make wolves a kind of sacred animal, and forget about the rest of the nature. Or don’t care about the rest. I so much agree with the blogger that writes that loss of habitat is the greatest threat to wolves. And all nature. So is the growing world population.

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