Wednesday, April 02, 2008


Last Friday the Endangered Species Act protection for the gray wolves was lifted in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. The management of wolves is now the responsibility of individual states. The amount of protection for wolves in each state varies with Montana providing a little legal protection, Idaho near zero, and Wyoming has a shoot on sight policy anywhere outside of the national parks.

The day after the protection was lifted the extermination began. I received word last night that famous wolf #253m was killed on the Elk feeding grounds in Wyoming.  Apparently for no other reason that fun. The coward didn't even bother himself with a hunt. He just went to the elk feeding grounds and started killing. Wolf 253 and a female companion were killed.

Upon hearing the news I was outraged! I expected this to happen, I knew it would happen, but that still didn't prepare me for knowing that it was NOW happening. I sat in front of the keyboard wanting to type this message.  I wanted to type that the coward that shot the wolves should himself be shot.  I wanted to type that the politicians who successfully won the right to re-exterminate the wolves should be shot.  I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, "haven't we learned anything in the last 100 years!" I sat there for an hour, but no typable words came out. I tried to read, but I couldn't.  I tried to watch TV, but I couldn't.  I tried to sleep, but I couldn't.  I hoped this was an isolated incident, but I know that it's not.

Wolf #253m was the famous beta male of the Druid peak wolf pack in Yellowstone National Park. He had an injured rear leg that caused him to walk with a significant limp, unless he was on a hunting chase. In a chase he ran through the pain with all four legs. He once traveled over 500 miles in a week to be caught in a trap in Utah. When Druid Pack Alpha male #21m was killed while trying to bring down a bull elk, 253 tried to take over the alpha spot. He was challenged by another which caused a separation within the pack into two groups. 253 and his group moved out of the park. Since then he has kept a low profile and stayed out of trouble. In the winter the State of Wyoming feed elk in a huge feeding ground operation. Wolves go where the Elk go, so 253 has regularly visited the elk feeding grounds. This is where he was apparently shot.

Alpha 21m, Beta 253m (center black wolf), and Alpha 42f
howling in Yellowstone National Park (Feb 2003)

Wolf 253 holds a special place in my heart.  He was within the first group of wolves I ever saw in the wild. He and the alpha pair of the Druid pack (21m and 42f, both killed naturally), helped formulate who I am today. While I was always interested in wildlife, watching wolves in the wild triggered my deeper interest in wildlife, birds, eco-systems, etc. They started the motivation to create this blog.  They were the seeds of my interest in going back to school to study biology. My life, my interests, my motivation, have all been transformed by their presence.

Now we have state sponsored wolf extermination in progress. Is it due to the wolf's  effect on elk, no. Elk populations have not suffered under their presence. Is it due to their impact ranching, no. There are many effective ways to prevent livestock predation by wolves and predation levels have been insignificantly small compared to other much larger issues. Is it for personal safety, no.  There have been no wolf attacks on people or near attacks in the years since re-introduction. Is it simply political, absolutely. Many people in Idaho are opposed to any regulation that governs their behavior. They are opposed to clean water regulations, they are opposed to clean air regulations, and they are of course opposed to any restrictions imposed by the endangered species act.  They fought re-introduction of wolves, not because of wolves, but because the result is that the federal government was enforcing restrictions on their behavior.

It comes as no surprise that the current Secretary of the Interior, under which the ridiculous state management plans were approved, was one of the most vocal opponents to the re-introduction to begin with. He has essentially approved state management plans which will reverse all of the ecosystem value that we have received thus far and negate the intent of the endangered species act.

I have stated before that if a reasonable management plan was produced that ensured stable and reasonable sized wolf population, the issues would go away on both sides. Instead we have let the pendulum swing back to the other extreme providing wolves less protection than any other species in state! This will ensure that the wolf issue stays in the forefront for decades to come.

Update April 2: The killing continues - Pair of wolves shot in Idaho.

Update April 8: Four more wolves killed in Wyoming, bringing the total to 9 that have been reported. This accounts for nearly one third of all wolves in Wyoming outside of the national parks.

Update April 10: A total 10 wolves have been now been reported as killed in Wyoming outside the protected zone (1/3 of the expected population). Rancher receives permit to kill 4 more inside the protected zone.

Update April 12: People shouldn't be alarmed, but the Wyoming kill total is up to 13. "If that pace were to continue, all of the known wolves in the Cowboy State's new wolf predator management area would be dead in fewer than three weeks"

Update April 17: Two more illegally shot in Idaho. These were absolutely illegal as they weren't near any livestock, domestic animals, and they weren't reported.

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Anonymous said...

Good to see wolf management is finally in the states hands and sustainable hunting has commenced. Great post! I hope to hunt wolf here in Idaho soon also.

Anonymous said...

I hope the population will be brought down to a reasonable level. I supported (and still do support) the wolf reintroduction but for us to argue that wolf hunting is going to cause their extirpation again is ridiculous. Is this really about keeping a healthy population of wolves or do some of us try and impart our own ethical objection to wolf hunting. As a pro wolf advocate I hope we follow science and not force our personal values on others.....

wolf21m said...

Anonymous1 & Anonymous2 - The question that I have for each of you is what is your definition of "sustainable" and "reasonable". This is the point on which everyone differs. Some believe the definition might be - do wolves exist, yes or no. Another definition might be whether they are allowed to act like wolves. i.e. create strong family units, raise and educate young, etc. Greater still would be are they allowed to continue their millenia old process of co-evolving with elk. Or the most important question to me is are they allowed to return to their critical role in improving our eco-systems by applying pressure as the keystone predator. Wyoming's shoot on sight policy outside of the national parks will not support any of these objectives. Idaho's management plan might be somewhere in the middle if they do what they say they will do publicly. The bottom line is I don't trust them to do that. I hope that I am proven wrong. The science does not yet exist to answer the questions of what is "sustainable" or "reasonable". Thanks for stopping by an engaging in the discussion.

Anonymous said...

Actually "sustainable" is very scientific and fairly easy to determine using a population viability analysis which factors in demographic and environmental stochasticity. Once the growth and harvest rates are factored in a probability of declining to a certain threshold or probability of increasing to a certain threshhold can be derived.

For example, once the data is input we may have a 90% probability of remaining above 300 animals if we harvest 20% per year. We may have an 80% probability of remaining above 300 animals if we harvest 25% per year and so on.

As far as "reasonable" goes, of course their is no "scientific" basis for determining "reasonable"-- it is an ethical judgement. Often times the wolf debate gets mixed between science and ethics-- they are like comparing apples to oranges. For example, their is no scientifically tested hypothesis that has ever tested to see if elk are "obligated" to having wolf predation within their community. Certainly evidence suggests it-- but thereby reintroducing wolves based on "suggestive" evidence now falls back to an ethical argument (one in which I agree) but not a "scientific" one. Two active members of the debate on wolves (the 'pro wolf' people and the 'anti-wolf' people) often present science when it it is really ethics and vice versa.

I believe wolves are an important resource to have in our Rocky mountain ecosystem but we (humans) have a responsibility to take actions which maintain an ecological balance (as best as we humans can) taking into account prey-carnivores-scavengers-humans-vegetation-nutrient cycling processes--- all things. Defenders of Wildlife, Humane Society of the US and PETA are just as wrong as the Cattlemans Associations, Rancher Associations etc. None of those groups uses science-- they all use politics and media campaigns to sway the public for the benefit of their own political agendas-- and profit.

wolf21m said...

Anonymous3, I agree with your scientific definition of sustainable and I agree that ethics and scientific arguments, in addition to political arguments, regularly get mixed together, making this is no win argument for anyone involved. With that said, I am going to respond to a number of the implications in your message (probably with a mix of science, ethics, and politics).
First, while there is a scientific definition of sustainable, there is no science to support the assumptions around the probabilities. Thus, the formula that you expressed may sound scientific, but in reality it is not as it is completely driven by the non-scientific assignment of probabilities. The formula is more successfully used on species without culture, where the interaction dynamics and stress dynamics have less influence on the reproductive, learning, and success rates of the individuals. If you have the scientific foundation for the assumptions that take into account pack culture, I would love to see it (actually, I would love to even see the assumptions).
Second, It would be great if any of the state's management plans even took into account the sustainability formula that you present above. The Wyoming shoot on sight plan has no safegaurds, no minumums, no probabilities, etc. The Idaho plan also lacks numbers and formulas. In addition, the Idaho legislature has just passed a bill giving individuals vague and far reaching criteria under which they can kill wolves. No numbers, no sustainability formula, etc. The lack of data and specifics in the management plans simply builds dis-trust on both sides of the argument.
Third, you argue that we humans have a responsibility to take actions to maintain an ecological balance. In general I challenge this argument, but due to human influences, it is likely true. In all my time on this issue, I have not seen a scientific definition of where the ecological balance point is. The point at which further pack growth would be a problem for the ecosystem. As we have seen in Yellowstone, the balance point was reached without human "management". What I see in Idaho is all the political hype that there are too many and they must be reduced. What I see in Wyoming is that they all must be killed. What if science were to say there should be 2000 in Idaho. That we will never know.
Thanks again for stopping by. This is a good discussion.

troutbirder said...

"Anonymous" says it all. These people are cowards. They also have a naricistic self-indulgent streak which allow them to view anything that impedes their behavior as illegitimate regardless of it effect on others. Whether it be a group, a nation, or the nature. Walking up to a "baited" elk herd to kill an animal whether elk or wolf, chasing a wolf 35 miles on a snowmobile to kill it etc. shows what little class they have.
Our state, Minnesota, was the only state in the lower 48 that has always had a sustainable wolf population. With proper regulation and control their has been little conflict, if any about, wolves. They are part of our heritage as much a farming. I would not in the least be concerned here about the future of wolves in our state. I am also glad to see evidence that Montana appears to be showing some restraint on this subject. Speaing of the political movivation behind this "deregulation" process, should we be suprised about Wyoming?? After all they are the people who sent up that well-known "killer & hunter" Dick Cheney