Apr 8

Killing Wolves: A Hunter-Led War Against Science and Wildlife

In this post from his blog, From the Wild Side, long-time backcountry hunter and western outdoor writer David Stalling strongly criticizes recent state-sponsored wolf-killing programs in Idaho.

“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.” — Aldo Leopold, 1949

We Americans, in most states at least, have not yet experienced a bear-less, eagle-less, cat- less, wolf-less woods. Germany strove for maximum yields of both timber and game and got neither.”  — Aldo Leopold, 1935

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”– Aldo Leopold, 1949

2014: Idaho Fish and Game recently hired a bounty hunter to try and eliminate two packs of wolves in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, one of the largest wilderness areas in the United States. Idaho hunters have organized wolf-killing competitions and killer co-ops to pay trappers to kill wolves. The state legislature and governor declared wolves a “disaster emergency” and have allocated $2 million to killing wolves. More recently the department conducted secretive aerial shootings of wolves from helicopters with no public knowledge or input and spent $30,000 to kill 23 wolves. Idaho Fish and Game is doing this and more in an ongoing effort to appease many ranchers and hunters to protect livestock and maintain artificially high and unhealthy numbers of elk for hunters to shoot at.

One of the cornerstones of our “North American Model of Wildlife Conservation” — which hunters and hunting-based organizations love to tout and claim to support — is that wildlife, all wildlife, be managed based on good, sound science.  That good, sound science shows that the return of wolves to much of the western United States has resulted in significant overall, long-term benefits to wildlife and the habitat that sustains them — including the species we love to hunt. (Check out: “How Wolves Change Rivers.”)

Credit USFWS

Credit USFWS

Elk populations are increasing in most of the West. In Idaho, the fish and game department is expanding elk hunting to reduce elk populations while simultaneously killing wolves under the guise of protecting and boosting elk numbers. Where elk populations do appear on the decline there are plenty of factors to consider in addition to wolves: Changes in habitat; the previous existence of artificially high elk populations at levels beyond the viable carrying capacity of the land; lack of mature bulls and low bull-to-cow ratios in herds (often resulting from early season hunting and too much hunting pressure on bull elk) which influences the timing of the rut and breeding behavior, the timing of spring calving, and often results in increased vulnerability of elk calves to predation; influence of other predators including mountain lions, black bears and grizzlies; unanticipated impacts of various hunting regulations and hunting pressure, and changes in behavior and habitat use by elk in the presence of wolves. And more.

Where I hunt, the growing presence of wolves has changed the behavior and habits of elk. Elk bunch up more for safety, and move around more to evade and avoid wolves. They are a lot more wary. I have adapted and adjusted to these changes and have no problem finding elk.This is part of the beauty and value of hunting within wilderness — to adjust, adapt and be part of the landscape; to be, as my friend David Petersen put its, part of the “bedrock workings of nature.”  We render the wilds a diminished abstract when we alter it to suit our own needs and desires and, in the process, make it less healthy and whole. There are those who espouse the virtues of backcountry hunting and yet seem apathetic or supportive towards the destruction of backcountry integrity. Those who understand the wilds know how critically important predators are to the health of the land; to remain silent about the nonscientific, politically-based killing of wolves in the wildest of places is to be complacent towards the degradation of what we claim to cherish.Yet hunters, in general, hate and blame wolves for pretty near anything and everything including their own lack of skill, knowledge and effort in hunting elk. Science is shunned and ignored. David Allen, the executive director of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation,  a national hunter-based conservation organization, claims wolves are “decimating” elk herds and calls wolves the “worst ecological disaster since the decimation of bison” despite research funded by the organization that shows otherwise. Most of what many hunters claim to know and understand about wolves and wolf and elk interactions is based on myths, lies and half-truths; they rapidly and angrily dismiss logic, facts and science as coming from “anti-hunters,” “wolf-lovers” and “tree-huggers” from “back East.” Most hunter-based conservation organizations and state agencies avoid the topic for fear of being pegged “one of them.” Many actually help perpetuate the lies and half-truths to boost and maintain membership. Some try to come across as reasonable by stating that they think wolves should be managed just like other wildlife, such as elk.

Credit NPS

Credit NPS

But wolves are not elk; being a top predator they have altogether different, and self-regulating, reproductive and survival behaviors and strategies. “Other” wildlife, such as elk,  are managed based on science — based on what we know about behavior, ecology, breeding behavior, habitat use and selection and other factors. Wolves are being managed purely based on politics driven by ignorance and hate.  Many hunters and others in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho long advocated for the delisting of wolves from the Endangered Species Act and turning management over to the states. It happened. And now these states — particularly Idaho — are doing what they can to kill as many wolves as possible, science be damned.

Idaho is proving over and over that their state cannot handle the scientific, sustainable management of wolves. No public agency should have the power to decide such things as Idaho Fish and Game is doing with so little public accountability and oversight. They are acting on behalf of a small, but politically-influential segment of our population based on pure politics, lies, myths, misconceptions and half truths about wolves and ignoring what we do know about wolf biology, ecology, behavior and interactions with and impacts to elk.

Credit NPS

Credit NPS

As an avid and passionate hunter in Montana (who has killed and eaten 26 elk over the years) I am absolutely disgusted that no hunter-based conservation organization — most of which claim to support and defend sound, science-based management of wildlife — are speaking out against this slaughter which is a clear violation of the North American model of wildlife management these organizations claim to uphold. At best, many hunters and hunting-based organizations are remaining silent for fear of being ostracized; at worst, most hunters and hunting organizations are supporting this. More and more I feel like an anti-hunter who hunts. It’s embarrassing, appalling and outrageous.

Even groups I support and respect, including Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and National Wildlife Federation are ignoring and avoiding this clear violation of science-based wildlife management and our North American Model of Wildlife Conservation they claim to uphold and defend — I can only assume as to not upset their membership base. As Aldo Leopold so aptly put it more than 50 years ago: “The sportsman has no leaders to tell him what is wrong. The sporting press no longer represents sport; it has turned billboard for the gadgeteer. Wildlife administrators are too busy producing something to shoot at to worry much about the cultural value of the shooting.”

I am growing increasingly disgusted and angry towards my so-called fellow hunters, and most hunter-based organizations, for continually talking “Aldo Leopold” and the “North American Model” out of one side of their mouths while ignoring or even supporting this sort of political, nonscientific “management” of a critical keystone, umbrella wildlife species that plays a critical role in shaping, maintaining and influencing healthy wildlife and wildlife habitat for all species — including the species we love to hunt and the habitat that sustains them.

This is one of the flaws of our current and mostly good system of wildlife management in which states generally have full authority over managing their wildlife. State fish and game departments, such as Idaho Fish and Game, are overseen and controlled by state politicians and game commissioners (who are often ranchers and hunters) appointed by politicians — and the hunting and ranching industries have more influence over state decisions than others. Aldo Leopold, widely considered the “father” of modern wildlife management, warned against such things more than 50 years ago. A recent report about the flaws of the North American Model summed it up this way: “The scientists also express concern that the interests of recreational hunters sometimes conflict with conservation principles. For example, they say, wildlife management conducted in the interest of hunters can lead to an overabundance of animals that people like to hunt, such as deer, and the extermination of predators that also provide a vital balance to the ecosystem.”

It needs to change.

More than half a century ago Leopold wrote: “I personally believed, at least in 1914 when predator control began, that there could not be too much horned game, and that the extirpation of predators was a reasonable price to pay for better big game hunting. Some of us have learned since the tragic error of such a view, and acknowledged our mistake.”

We still haven’t caught up to Leopold.

If we hunters truly believe in sound, science-based wildlife management, the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, and the ideas and principles preached and promoted by the likes of Aldo Leopold, then it is time to speak up.

You can read more of David’s writings at his blog, From the Wild Side.

39 Comments on Killing Wolves: A Hunter-Led War Against Science and Wildlife

  1. I hope that Stalling’s well-reasoned, urgent and heartfelt message will be read, appreciated and acted upon by the individuals and agencies whose job is it to concern themselves with the well-being of our wild places.

  2. Scott Snow Wolf says:

    Humans are such a disappointing species! We rape this planet, kill its life forms without regard and never learn from history. This sick and depraved state of Idaho is a shining example of everything that is wrong with humanity. The entire population of that state combined still would not add up to a triple digit IQ so its no surprise that the real science of this issue is way above their collective heads! This toilet of a state is why the Wolf must be kept on the ESA list and those found killing wolves illegally need to face federal felony charges.

    that walking pile of excrement that calls himself governor is a sociopathic moron unfit to govern a cat box, let alone a state. I live in Washington state and have totally boycotted Idaho and have urged my friends and family to do likewise. When enough right thinking Americans with morals cut off all economic support of that disgusting state, maybe legislative change will begin. Do not give Idaho any tourism, boycott their goods and totally sanction them economically!

    wolves, cougars, bears and other targeted creatures have more right and serve more purpose than any human living in Idaho!

    • I live in Idaho and fight for the wolves the best I can. Some of these people here are so misguided and truly believe wolves are vermin. The first year wolves were delisted there were 25,868 tags sold to kill wolves here in Idaho. Otter was the first to buy a tag. He leads this to keep popular among ranchers and hunting outfitters. People have complained because Otter would much rather spend so much money to kill wolves than put money into our schools. Some people don’t say much about protecting wolves because they are worried about retaliation from hunters and ranchers. These hunters get really violent on the conversation. Been there and done that with these wolf haters. These people lack so much empathy when it comes to all predators not just wolves. This includes hawks, eagles, coyotes, badgers, and Otter just approved 100,000 dollars to kill 4000 ravens because they are classified as predators and they eat the eggs of sage grouse. Hunters claim it’s the ravens fault that there are less sage grouse. So they will poison them, then this will in return poison many other species of wildlife.These people don’t understand the necessity of predators. As far as elk, only certain areas is their population low and it is not caused by wolves, people over hunt and take the best and leave the sick to re-breed and make more sick, so their numbers drop. And lets not forget the overgrazing cows do on wild lands, that should be for wildlife only. Lazy ranchers who don’t want to do it the right way. They have no clue on how to manage any wildlife here, so I so truly agree with you on their stupidity. I fight on a daily basis for the wolves here in Idaho, and yes I do get a lot of flack for it, but I believe in what is actually right. They are so wrong in their mind sets. Nature is nature and humans need to stop trying to control what is allowed to live in it, this is what will destroy our world. When you destroy nature you are essentially destroying all forms of life. Eventually it will show.

    • Dangkhoa says:

      Humans kill wolves and for what, games? These hunters said they want to kill wolves because these wolves are vicious and kill other animals for fun, aren’t we the same!? They hunt for survivals, they avoid human’s appearance and some whose called themselves humans still want to find and hunt wolves? Creating hunting games on the name of protecting the wildlife? Humans have came too far and they’ll regret of their actions someday!

  3. Good morning,sorry but i’m french and i don’t speak very well the english! Lol,but i want to say,we MUST save the wolfs!!!! VERY IMPORTANT!!!!! Beautiful and the
    y are wonderful and marvelous!!! THANKS

    • rick says:

      Just like the eco terrorists that brought them back in, you don’t have to live with them. If you and all like yourself would take that into consideration, you would hate the disease riddled vermin as much as those that DO have to deal with them. Watching wildlife herds it took years to build be decimated, to have to get up in the morning and see a calf, sheep, lamb, pet dog, horse, or a pasture littered with dead animals of any kind, is a horror I wish upon you. Live with the devastation or shut up.

  4. Thank you both for your courage and integrity to speak out against this tragedy unfolding in Idaho. I hope that your leadership will inspire others like you to reject the persecution of wolves here. I’ve spent the last 26 years working to restore wolves here and, in the early days, Idaho hunters supported the restoration of wolves because they largely understood and valued the role that wolves fill in culling disease and weak animals from our wild ungulate herds. Having a weapon and a hunting permit does not make someone a true hunter. To me, the wolf is a true hunter and doesn’t need an ATV, high powered rifle, and GPS to prove it. And killing off 60 percent of our wolves in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness is a flagrant abandonment of any ethical wildlife management principles. Elk are not cattle and should never be treated the same way.

  5. Thank you for this brave and insightful article. The way we treat wolves reflects the way we treat the natural world. If we cannot treat the wild wolf with respect, we cannot treat the wilderness with respect.

  6. Julie Callahan says:

    David, thank you for this well written and comprehensive post. Hopefully, those individuals and groups responsible for wolf management will listen. The people of the nation have clearly let our state and federal representatives know that it’s not time to delist wolves. They clearly still need federal protection.


    Unfortunately, the Az Legislature is taking up the stupidity of Idaho and trying to kill of our highly endangered Mexican Wolves of which there are only about 35 in this whole freaking state. Its disgusting what money will buy.

  8. Kimberley J. Boester says:

    I have always believed that hunting is a privilege, and a badge of honor earned. The hunter must have the upmost respect for the wilderness, the animal being hunted, and the animal just being viewed. Hunters should be eyes and the ears of the forest along with other outdoor enthusiast who can report back what is happening instead of force what they want to happen. We are all only visitors and should not change natures balance to encourage a need of one animal over another. David has truly earned his badge. I hope that someday these other hunting groups that David has mentioned will be brave enough to have a voice to right this wrong.

  9. Gordon Mckee says:

    Only us and could cause the destruction and extermination of animal species. We should be conserving all life big or small and their habitats have an impact on our planet.

  10. Mark Rockwell says:

    As a former hunter and current avid fisherman, I fully support the insight shown by David Stallings. When you’ve spent many weeks in the outdoors, as I have, you begin to realize that all creatures have their place, and are there for a purpose. Beyond that, as I get older, I realize that we humans are part of a grand system that is both beautiful and balanced. Idaho has lost its way, and is being driven by people who simply don’t understand, both the beautiful place they live in, and the important role wolves play in their state. Hunters generally are good people, but they lose sight of the balance between prey and predator, and support policies that will ultimately cause them credibility loss. Hunters need to realize they, too, are predators, and they need to be more willing to let other predators exist along with them. If they don’t, society will stop them from doing what they love. The end of ungulate hunting might be a positive step for wildlife.

  11. Lori from Idaho says:

    Anyone who lives in a state with wolves knows the truth about the devastation that the overpopulation of wolves has brought to our neighborhoods. The Frank Church Wilderness is destroyed, wolves are killing everything and 80% of them have Hydatid disease. If you don’t live here how can you judge this disaster? This is not a Disney movie …I am not a hunter, but I will not accept wolves threatening my family, horses and dogs lives….

    • FireInside says:

      I think it’s a shame that people haven’t evolved enough to know that all this killing of OUR wildlife has been fruitless and devastating. If only people would educate themselves and stop believing what ignorance they have come to know through whatever or whomever keeps telling lies about the natural world.

    • Lyn Beyer says:

      Lori, I live in a state where wolves were repopulated due to their endangered status. Now Wisconsin has what should be a healthy wolf population. Sadly, what i see here and in many other states is the purposeful encouragement of wolf growth so that hunting could resume. Over 100 years ago we hunted the North American wolf population to near extinction and now we have successfully re-introduced the wolf for the purpose of killing them again. Time and again research has proven wolves are not mindless killers and, in fact, provide a significant ecological balance to nature. Wake up and see the beauty of nature as something we must steward and live in balance with.

    • Paul says:

      It is humans that are overpopulated – 7 billion and counting. We are encroaching on Wolves’ as well as other animals’ habitats. We as a species need to learn to live with them. It is laughable that you think a few thousand is overpopulated. What is next, are we going to start building floating cities in the future and start killing more sharks than we already are?

  12. Corina says:

    @Lori from Idaho, do you know that Hydatid is not a disease but a tape worm infestation. For the tape worm to mature it needs to go thru a canine be it wolf coyote or dog then thru a ruminate. The only way you will get this zoonotic infestation is if you handle or eat shit. … so make sure you wash your hands and consult with your vet if your dog in contact with feces or carcass so you can have a good deworming program. Additionally since I haven’t heard of wolves rampaging neighborhoods I am pretty sure they’re not running down your street. And last but not least when has Disney ever shown wolves in a good light… Watch Beauty and the Beast and more recently Frozen.

  13. Nichole Ferrara says:

    Lori, it is sad that you feel that way. If you looked at the hard science there is no evidence of wolves destroying anything. That is the exact kind of thinking that is being discussed in this article. There are many people that live in wolf zones that speak up for wolves, and speak up for the science that should be behind their management. Wolves are not overpopulated. There are under a few thousand wolves in the entire western region, and when you compare their numbers to other predator numbers it doesnt even come close. I would encourage anyone that is doubtful to do the research and find out what science is saying.

  14. We the humane, the caring, the compassionate must continue to sign petitions, write letters and send emails to our legislators, and demonstrate peacefully to speak out for the animals, the ocean, the forests, and our beautiful Earth! We need to talk to our family and friends to increase our numbers. It is our responsibility because we see and cannot ignore what is happening around us.

  15. Garry Summers says:

    Although I am completely against any kind of hunting I agree with what David says in this article. Somehow “hunters” have lost their way, become completely disconnected from what they say they cherish – the earth, the outdoors – and we must ask why. Is it a changing psychological make up of the human being as we know it? Is this segment of the human population (hunters) so empty of soul that they feel the need to kill to satisfy that emptiness? Is this in turn fuelled by the media with those ghastly hunting shows that glorify killing for the sake of killing, to prove your manhood, to get a trophy, claim your prize before they’re all gone, anyone can do it, after all it’s your land, your right? Is it just plain ego, greed and narcissistic arrogance? What the h is going on?

  16. Mario Rimoldi says:

    I don’t see how anyone could kill these beautiful creatures some of them look like a German Sheppard.I think that there certain individuals that have weapons and just can’t wait to use them they want to kill anything , the real sport would be for them to hunt each other man with a gun against man with a gun the poor wolf or animal doesn’t have one

  17. Marybeth Jarubas says:

    My children see all this mass killing and ask me Why! How do I answer that? I happened upon this web site and had to comment. Some hunters they can’t tell a wolf from a coyote anyway, so just kill. It seems like we are back in the dark ages or something here. No, I don’t live out west on a ranch, no I don’t know about having livestock but what I do know is it is out of control and needs to stop. Seems we just like to slaughter what we don’t understand. I had the opportunity to look into the captive eyes of a she wolf. There was no menace just a haunting wildness. We wiped out the buffalo, exploited the native american, kill our wildlife, we can’t even do right by our fellow humans.

    We need to pay attention to what we have before its gone.

  18. Robert Farnsley says:

    I do live near one of these reintroduction ranges not as close as I would like but still close enough to see effects from it. These animals are important for keeping down the population of other animals that give us problems like sick foxes and coyotes and diseases from deer and other hunted animals leaving healthier animals in the regions. And why can’t we regulate the population like we do with deer and other game animals. you can’t just go shoot which ever one you feel like or else they all disappear.

    • kelly schueman says:

      Educated people and wolves can co exist perfectly. Wolves do not see us as prey. It’s ranchers and trophy killers who are the problem. Get healthy. Stop buying cattle and sheep products. Grow a heart and kick thrill killers out.. and there will not be a problem.

    • Steve says:

      Probably where you live used to be WOLF COUNTRY. So maybe you should think about moving somewhere not in North America.

    • Kit Krassel says:

      There is little more to say. It has been proven that wolves are GOOD for the environment. Trophy hunting is a useless ego gratifying activity that causes harm to the environment and especially the wolves and other animals that are already threatened by irresponsible, shortsighted selfish people many of whom are engaged in another worse greed driven atrocity called factory farming and ranching. It must stop. It is the only way forward. Thank you.

  19. Annie says:

    What is wrong with some people that they like to shoot and kill animals? That is not a sport. It is despicable! And don’t get me started on “…but we eat the meat so it’s OK.” We don’t need to eat meat at all! Besides, it’s never considered OK when an animal kills a human even in self-defense or defense of their young. No, we go after it and kill it, because it might now be a “man-eater”—even though humans are not on any animal’s list of favorite foods. We have treated animals with so much injustice over the centuries. We move in, take their land, take their food/prey, and kill them, simply because we can. Animals have shown much more tolerance, patience, mercy and justice toward us than we have toward them. Nature has balances and self-corrects—as long as humans don’t interfere. “Wildlife management”? What qualifications have we shown that we humans are capable of doing this effectively? If wolves managed us, they would be more fair, and probably more tolerant.

  20. Luke says:

    This article is hypocrisy at its finest. You complain about the lack of science driven management, when in fact, this is science driven management. Your article wreaks of emotion. Calling out the conservation organizations that stand for science-based management does nothing to further your agenda than to show your emotion based perceptions and pre-conceived notions on management issues.

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