Editorials: Doing wolves no favors

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 1995:

Experts estimate the world wolf population never exceeded 500,000. Humans
have had wolves outnumbered and on the run since Neanderthal times. Those who couldn’t
be killed were pushed into the most inhospitable corners of the globe––for if there’s one
thing a human hunter can’t stand, it’s the idea that something else might kill his game, his
livestock, perhaps even his family if he fails to “keep the wolf from the door.”
If there’s another thing hunters hate about wolves, it’s the reminder wolves con-
vey that predatory skills and a strict dominance hierarchy do not equate with fitness for sur-
vival in the human-made world. Most fears about wolves are unfounded––North American
wolves have never eaten people––but to your average hunter no other animal so symbolizes
male inadequacy. The men with guns are now more frightened than ever. In Alaska, gov-
ernor Tony Knowles on February 4 made permanent his December 3 suspension of prede-
cessor Walter Hickel’s campaign to kill wolves in order to make more moose and caribou
available to human hunters in the region southwest of Fairbanks. In Yellowstone, the like-
lihood that wolves will soon thin out an estimated 60,000 elk, 30,000 deer, and 4,000
bison, after a 60-year absence, deals a political blow to the hope of the hunting lobby that
they might open the National Parks to hunting––the only federal lands that now exclude
hunting, and therefore the last refuge of many beasts with trophy-sized horns.

Knowles agreed with animal protection groups that the wire snares Alaskan offi-
cials set to kill wolves were “an unacceptable way to treat any animal.”
Of the 134 wolves caught in the 1,735 snares deployed, 27 were found alive after
enduring days of pain, hunger, and exposure. The snares also killed 78 other animals,
including 35 moose and four caribou, the species the wolf-killing was supposed to benefit.
“The Governor’s decision deserves great praise,” editorialized The New York
Times, “but he has one more task––to persuade his Board of Game to end the equally bar-
barous practice known as ‘same day land-and-shoot.’ This practice, begun last year,
allows anyone with a $15 trapping license to track wolves by aircraft, run them to exhaus-
tion, land the aircraft, and open fire.” Technically, land-and-shooters aren’t supposed to
chase wolves with planes, and are supposed to walk at least 300 feet from the plane before
opening fire, but in the vastness of Alaska, the odds are against enforcement. Last winter
the lax rules allowed hunters to kill 1,600 wolves in Alaska, the most in the 20 years since
aerial gunning for sport was federally outlawed, from a population of circa 6,000.
Knowles’ action ended boycotts of Alaskan tourism called by activist groups in
protest of the wolf-killing program, but a lawsuit filed against same-day land-and-shoot by
Defenders, the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, and Wolf Haven International continues. The
plaintiffs hold that the practice violates the federal Airborne Hunting Act––which the
framers, the Alaska Board of Game, seemed to have in mind all along.
In Yellowstone, meanwhile, 14 wolves including one with a rare “blue” coat are
to be released from holding pens in Yellowstone more-or-less as ANIMAL PEOPLE
reaches you––if the case for reintroduction prevails in the 10th Circuit Appellate Court on
February 28. Another 15 wolves have already been released in nearby parts of Idaho.
Upstate New York hunting columnist Bob Henke recently noted the irony that in
this instance “animal rights activists are not protesting but rather demanding a wildlife man-
agement technique consisting of capturing wolves in steel-jawed leghold traps and then
dumping the beasts in a strange environment, complete with invasive research equipment.”
No doubt most activists were unaware that the 29 wolves included in the first phase of the
planned 3-to-5-year restoration plan were not purpose-bred, nor relocated from Alaska
(which solicited such a transfer), but rather radio-collared by Alberta fur trappers at $2,000
apiece, up to a maximum of $5,000 per trapper. The radio-collared wolves were then
retrapped and tranquilized for transport when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was ready
to take them. It was the best payday in at least a decade for the 15 or so trappers involved,
who killed 399 wolves last year. The fur trade called the episode a vindication of leghold
traps, since the trappers nabbed 30 wolves without admitting to killing any or breaking any
bones––but if any were killed or injured, there was nothing to stop trappers from selling the
pelts as usual, with no one the wiser.
Of the 30 wolves trapped, one female was killed when shot through the lungs with
a tranquilizer dart by a wildlife biologist. Despite efforts to keep packs united, some were
broken up––not that the wolves themselves didn’t try to restore order. Three of the first four
wolves released at the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho immediately
headed north. Within four days one had entered Montana, apparently going home. The
first casualties were identified after seven more Idaho releases. One was shot as she ate a
calf. Of the other, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said, “A previously unidentified,
naturally occurring wolf was accidentally killed during routine predator control activities,”
i.e. trapping by the Animal Damage Control unit of the USDA.
In other words, wolves were nearby, as had been known for several years, and
didn’t necessarily need competition. They sure didn’t need to be removed from Endangered
Species Act protection, a condition of the reintroduction that enables ranchers to kill any
wolves who are caught attacking livestock. In effect, wolves are being reintroduced not to
restore the species so much as to keep the ADC from wiping it out. But the ADC has been
cooperative. Since aerial gunners can’t tell wolves from coyotes, the Montana division of
the ADC suspended coyote-strafing from January through March––and leased its plane to the
California ADC, which commenced coyote-strafing in the Coast Range.
Last October, readers will recall, ANIMAL PEOPLE traced the ADC war on coy-
otes to the need of an ancestor bureaucracy to find a new mission after extirpating wolves
from the continental U.S. Before that, coyotes were not considered serious predators; yet
because they resemble wolves, they were easily blamed for the woes of the livestock indus-
try during the Dustbowl and Great Depression years. This created guaranteed lifetime
employment for a generation of sadists, since coyotes, unlike wolves, adapted well to life
under the gun. Fleeing persecution, coyotes have now claimed former wolf habitat and
other vacant ecological niches, regardless of human presence, even in the Bronx, where
the discovery of a roadkilled female beside an expressway on February 8 touched off a city-
wide search for the mate presumed to have accompanied her.
Also in October, we pointed out the irony that many proponents of wolf restora-
tion now claim hunters and farmers should welcome wolves because they may kill or drive
out coyotes––a self-defeating argument because people who can’t tolerate one aren’t likely
to tolerate the other, either. Proving the point, on January 10, a week after losing a U.S.
district court bid to halt the Yellowstone reintroduction, the American Farm Bureau
Federation and Mountain States Legal Foundation filed the appeal to be heard on February
28 and won a restraining order that kept the 14 wolves newly delivered to Yellowstone in
their aluminum transport boxes for 55 hours––without food, water, or a way for attendants
to remove excretia. Barred from opening the doors, the attendants pushed chipped ice
through air holes to help the wolves hold off dehydration. Eventually the order was amend-
ed to allow the wolves out into one-acre holding pens. A flurry of bounty proposals from
wolf-hating politicians came next, undeterred by the reward of $500 that Friends of
Animals posted for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone who kills a
wolf in violation of federal law. The Wyoming House actually approved a $500 wolf boun-
ty on February 2. At deadline it was unclear how far Alaska senators Bert Sharp, Robin
Taylor, and Mark Miller would get with an attempt to place a bounty of $400 on wolves,
authorizing their killing “by any method or means without restriction.” Sharp had also
introduced a bill to require the Alaska Board of Game to do more predator control. The
effort of Arizona state representative Jeff Gipscost (R-Mesa) to place a $500 bounty on
wolves, directed at proposed Mexican wolf restoration, was considered largely symbolic.
Give wolves and coyotes a break
Better news came from Wisconsin, where 29,000 residents voted by mail and at
the state fair for their choice among 60 possible symbols to grace a special license plate, to
be sold to benefit the state fund for endangered species. The inclusion of state fair ballots
stacked the count toward farmers––but Alanna Thays’ rendition of a timber wolf won, with
an overwhelming 12,755 votes. The health of the Wisconsin dairy industry might have had
something to do with it: wolves aren’t being blamed for anything. Nor must wolves be rein-
troduced to Wisconsin, whose wild wolf population is now circa 50. Humans and perhaps
2,000 wolves coexist in neighboring Minnesota; Michigan, where a 1974 reintroduction
failed but a small native population is up from 17 to 57 since 1990; and northwestern
Montana, where 70 native wolves attract little attention despite the hullabaloo to the south.
If the Republicans newly ascendant in Congress were serious about axing govern-
ment boondoggles, we’d expect good news for coyotes as well, since nearly 80 years of
ADC coyote-killing have been as fiscally unjustifiable as they have been unecological and
inhumane. The Recisions Bill being prepared by the House Appropriations Committee to
roll back federal spending should dismantle the $27-million-a-year ADC. But we haven’t
seen a hint that it will. Instead, House Public Lands and Natural Resources Committee
chair Don Young (R-Alaska), backed by Helen Chenowyth (R-Idaho) and Barbara Cubin
(R-Wyoming), are expected to ask the Appropriations Committee to cut off all funding of
wolf reintroduction. Chenowyth is already on record as favoring hunting in Yellowstone.
The Yellowstone restoration is now budgeted at $6.7 million; $12 million has
already been spent by concerned parties on related litigation. Although the reintroduction is
expected to generate revenues, principally in tourism, of $23 million, perhaps it would be
better to let the wolves handle the situation without government help that seems to have
made them more enemies than friends––and has stripped them of their only protection
against any wise-use wiseguy with a gun.
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