For Montana Wolves, Politics Trumps Science
When it comes to hot button topics in Montana, wolves are near the top of the list.
I was going to begin this post with a picture of a dead wolf, but what would that accomplish? It seems, with this topic, most people have made up their minds, and images of bloody carcasses would only exacerbate the already heightened emotions on both sides of this issue.
A few days ago, in the Missoulian, it was reported that the Murie family has pulled an award from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation for their “all-out war against wolves.”
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has removed all references to its Olaus Murie conservation award after the researcher’s family objected to the group’s policy on wolves.
In a letter to RMEF President David Allen, Olaus Murie’s son, Donald Murie, said the organization’s “all-out war against wolves” is “anathema to the entire Murie family.”
“We must regretfully demand that unless you have a major change in policy regarding wolves that you cancel the Olaus Murie Award,” Donald Murie wrote. “The Murie name must never be associated with the unscientific and inhumane practices you are advancing.”
The Missoula-based RMEF has filed amicus briefs in federal lawsuits supporting the removal of Rocky Mountain gray wolves from Endangered Species Act protection. In March, it donated $50,000 to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to fund contracts with federal Wildlife Services for wolf-killing activity.
George Wuerthner—a former Montana hunting guide with a degree in Wildlife Biology—wrote a piece about the politics of the Montana wolf hunt, which appeared online at Counterpunch last Friday. In the article he touches on that pesky science stuff that the Murie family seems concerned isn’t informing the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s position on wolves. Here is how Wuerthner begins his article:
On July 12, 2012, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MDFWP) Commissioners voted 4-0 to increase wolf hunting in the state, expanding the hunting season and permitting the trapping of wolves for the first time as well. The goal is to reduce wolf numbers across the state in hopes that it will calm the hysteria that presently surrounds wolf management.
The commission’s decision to boost wolf hunting and trapping will likely lead to greater conflicts between humans and wolves because MDFWP’s management ignores the social ecology of predators.
Hunting predators tends to skew populations towards younger animals. Younger animals are inexperienced hunters and thus are more likely to attack livestock. Predator hunting disrupts pack cohesion, reduces the “cultural” knowledge of pack members about things like where elk might migrate or where deer spend the winter.
In addition, just as occurs with coyotes, under heavy persecution, wolves respond by producing more pups. More pups means greater mouths to feed, and a need to kill even more game—thus hunting and trapping may actually lead to greater predator kill of game animals like elk and deer.
Thus a vicious self-reinforcing feedback mechanism is set up whereby more predators are killed, leading to greater conflicts, and more demand for even greater predator control.
So why has MDFWP and the commission ignored the social ecology of predators? The answer lies in politics.
The rest of the article looks at the politics of wolves in Montana, and it’s probably a familiar story for most who have been either involved or have followed this issue. Wuerthner’s summary of the political landscape in Montana is definitely worth reading. He even has some “should have done” criticism for pro-wolf advocates who, Wuerthner claims, have lost the rhetorical debate.
I might even go so far as to suggest pro wolf sympathizers made some strategic mistakes. They failed to hammer over and over again that predator control is unnecessary, ethically suspect, and only leads to greater conflict. By not taking the high moral ground, they lost the political debate.
Many were unwilling to argue against wolf hunting in general—afraid that such a position would be unacceptable to most hunters and ranchers. By passively and in some cases, even agreeing that wolf control was needed, it legitimized the idea that wolf control was necessary. At that point the discussion just degenerates to a debate about how many wolves should be killed, not whether wolves should be killed in the first place.
Environmentalists should stated categorically there is no legitimate reason to kill wolves or any other predators for that matter, except perhaps for the most unusual and special circumstances such as the surgical removal of an aggressive animal.
Instead of arguing that wolves are part of the Nation’s wildlife patrimony that deserve to be treated with respect, appreciation, and enlightened policies, pro wolf activists lost the rhetorical argument by allowing anti wolf forces to define the limits of discussion and successfully frame the issue.
Political opportunism has successfully marginalized science when it comes to wolves in Montana. For a politician like Jon Tester, it no doubt appeared to be a political necessity to pander to the public’s fear any way he could, even if it meant using dubious riders on legislation and damaging the Endangered Species Act.
To achieve the arbitrary quota of bloody wolf carcasses, tortuous traps will now be used. What a despicable way of “managing” predators.
As the self-appointed stewards of wilderness, too many humans continue to prove themselves self-centered, irrationally fearful, and contemptuous of science. And to remain in power, too many politicians are happy to play along.