With Wolves, Wyoming Keeps Shooting Self In Foot
It was during the latter half of the 1980s in a conference room at Snow King Resort in Jackson Hole. The topic was restoring gray wolves to the greater Yellowstone ecosystem and to a wider swath of the intermountain West.
Ronald Reagan was in the White House and William Penn Mott, Jr., Reagan’s director of the National Park Service, made a trip to Wyoming to talk about why wolves deserved a second chance.
Western lawmakers didn’t know what to do about the elderly Mr. Mott who proved to be more wiley than themselves.
Privately, behind the scenes, they furiously made calls to the president’s staff, demanding that Reagan fire the small old man with snow-white hair for speaking what they claimed was cultural blasphemy. Part of the (short) oral tradition of their kin folk in the West was based upon demonizing wolves; it united them against a common bogeyman.
Reagan refused to capitulate to those who wanted Mott muzzled or ushered down the road into a nursing home, in part because he knew Mott from their days working together in California. Reagan tapped Mott to look after the country’s national parks because he trusted Mott would speak the FACTS.
What I remember most about interviewing the gentle, soft-spoken Mott was that under one arm he carried the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s wolf recovery plan—making the scientific case for wolf conservation— and with an index finger extended on his other hand, he politely instructed: “Young man, you shouldn’t listen to the kooks.”
In the years since Mott came to Jackson, the internet was invented and it transformed society; America also put probes on Mars; the human genome is being mapped; and the base of human knowledge has broadened.
In another triumph over ignorance, wolves also were able to roam wild again so successfully that they are being delisted from federal protection in several states. Thanks to science, Little Red Riding Hood has been moved out of the non-fiction book section of public libraries.
But what hasn’t changed is how Wyoming still clings to its ignorant frontier attitude toward wolves when one would hope the state’s politicians—including the top politician who has a law degree—should know better.
Last month, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it is preparing to remove wolves from federal protection, except for Wyoming because of its refusal to drag itself into the 21st century with an enlightened wolf management plan.
Now that it’s been shown in state after state that wolves don’t drive farmers and ranchers out of business, the new desperate argument from Gov. Dave Freudenthal, his Game and Fish Commission and so-called “sportsmen’s groups” is that wolves represent a grave and imminent danger to the state’s big game herds.
For a second, look past Wyoming’s neighbor to the north, Montana, which has plenty of wolves and in most areas where wapiti still roam, more elk than state wildlife managers know what to do with in a regular hunting season.
Ignore, too, the state of Minnesota which has THOUSANDS of timber wolves, a white-tailed deer population that is as large as ever and thousands of farmers co-existing with wolves.
What’s lacking there is lobo hysteria. Most Americans see through Wyoming’s backward attitude and the gleeful posturing in Cheyenne (as well as in the state capital of Boise, Idaho) over the prospect of gunning down wolves from aircraft and placing them in the same “management” category as ground squirrels and rats.
And most Americans, who make cross-country trips to see wildlife in Yellowstone and Grand Teton, find Wyoming’s (and Idaho’s) approach to be repugnant.
If lawmakers in those states are truly concerned about protecting big game herds, here are a few dire concerns that stand out and have nothing to do with wolves:
- With chronic wasting disease—a cousin of Mad Cow— rapidly advancing toward the National Elk Refuge on the edge of Jackson, what is the state going to do when CWD reaches the wapiti and mule deer of northwest Wyoming and causes a panic among hunters concerned about the safety of the meat? What will happen to the multi-million dollar outfitting industry? What about the elk ranches in Idaho? Game farms across North America have shown themselves to be cess pools of disease and as last year’s episode in Idaho shows, captive elk can, and did, escape.
- With the energy industry about to punch in thousands of new gas wells into the Pinedale Anticline, and the BLM admitting there will be impacts to wandering game herds and their winter range, where are the so-called sportsmen’s groups when you need them? President Bush now says he wants to spend millions of dollars protecting big game range but only after the federal government sacrificed range that should have been better protected. And if one wants a lesson in absurdity, what about the Forest Service and BLM leasing lands for drilling over huge citizen protest and now, after the fact, deciding that maybe those lands should be protected but because they were leased, taxpayers now have to buy out the leases from energy companies to avoid the appearance of a takings?
- And what about the so-called elk “overpopulation” problem? Remember that? Just look south to Rocky Mountain National Park where sharpshooters are being brought in to reduce the size of the elk herd because of concerns about “overgrazing.” The same claims were made during the 1990s by people in Montana’s Paradise Valley who crowed that there were too many elk and that the wapiti were eating their pasture grass. It got to the point where the state of Montana had to intervene with a drastic winter elk hunts” on the lands just north of Yellowstone. Critics of the park said Yellowstone as being managed as an elk feedlot. Today, with elk numbers reduced, those same people—including the infamous Robert T. Fanning, Jr., are twisting numbers and distorting science to say that Yellowstone is being turned into an “biological wasteland”. Oh yea, prove it.
The rabidness of the wolf and federal-government haters—how can it be construed as anything other than pure shameful “hate”?— defies logic, reason, science, and patriotism. Since when it is okay for citizens to get weepy over being American, wrapping their rhetoric in the flag and touting the contributions of the proud and brave men and women serving in uniform in the military yet spew venom, hostility, yes, hatred, toward the men and women who wear the uniforms of the homefront as civil servants working for agencies caretaking our public lands and wildlife?
Since when it is alright to condemn terrorism, as it rightfully should be condemned, yet condone the vigilantes in Idaho who boasted of posting wolf-poisoning techniques on the internet, encouraging wolf haters to take matters into their own hands? Two summers ago, if you recall, criminals acted on those impulses and set out poison baits around Jackson Hole with the intent, investigors believe, of killing wolves, but ended up killing and sickening dozens of peoples’ pet dogs. If a child had picked up those tainted, Temik-laced hotdogs and eaten them, it would have been murder. How is that not domestic terrorism and a contradiction of the rule of law and tenets of Democracy that U.S. soldiers are losing their lives for over in Iraq?
Agriculture in the West is in trouble for reasons that have nothing to do with lobos. Wolves affect only a tiny fraction of producers and among those they account for a tiny fraction of livestock losses compared to other factors (disease, weather, other predators, accidents, rustlers, etc), and where big game herds are concerned, wolf packs can only exist where there are healthy big game herds to sustain them.
In other states where wolf delisting is proceeding, citizens enjoy an aggressive program that targets wolves which prey on livestock and soon there will be a professionally managed sport hunt.
Remember these words: Professionally. Managed. Sport. Hunt.
Run By The States.
Based On Sound Science.
Based On The Fact That Most Americans And Citizens In Those States Want Wolves Back.
Based On The Fact That Most Americans Support A Compensation Program for Livestock Killed By Wolves On Property Property.
Based On The Fact That Most Citizens Do Not Want To Go Back In Time To The 19th Century When Any Creature That Was Not A Cow Or Sheep Was Treated As A Predator Or Competitor For Grass. (Predators That Were Eradicated Wantonly Included: Native Americans. Bison. Grizzly Bears. Wolves. Elk. Deer. Bald Eagles).
America Does Not Want To Relive The Era When Hatred Toward Nature Ruled The Range.
What a professionally managed sport hunt of wolves means is that trained wildlife managers—not cowboys enlisted from the state Department of Livestock or vigilantes— will administer the taking of wolves. It will be done in the spirit of providing sporting opportunity for hunters, managing the wolf population in a sustainable way, generating income for state agencies, methodically eradicating wolves or entire packs that create conflict with farmers and ranchers, and balancing the harvest of wolves with the desires of tourism promoters to provide opportunity for locals and outsiders, who bring millions of dollars into the states to see wolves in the wild.
This is as it should be, just as William Penn Mott Jr. and famous wolf biologist L. David Mech, promised it would.
Part of the bargain that was made with Americans for bringing wolves back was professionally managing them once they were recovered.
Mott, the Republican political appointee of Ronald Reagan, was right long ago when he warned against listening to kooks who do not have science behind them. Where wolf haters in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana fall into that description, you be the judge.
By Todd Wilkinson [Reprinted with permission of the author. Original article appeared on NewWest.net)