The Backward Truth About Wolves and Grizzlies

Black Wolf in Spring Snow

Most people nowadays are well aware that wolves and grizzly bears are controversial species. Regular readers of this blog know that I am passionate about the well-being of these predatory animals. Most people think that all the controversy stems from them potentially eating ranchers’ cattle stock. The truth is, that’s just a scapegoat. The real motive is money that goes beyond ranching.

While wolves may in fact get into ranchers’ stocks and feed on a cow or calf every now and then, the claims are widely overblown thanks to fear and hatred perpetuated by corrupted politicians holding office in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, three states who rely heavily on hunting for valuable revenue. The simple fact is hunting brings in money to the states that they feel is much more important than the well-being of animals that are proven to be beneficial for regions found all over each of these states. If you can foster a feeling of hate and fear against an animal, it makes hunting them that much easier. Besides, there’s no money in conservation, is there? Let’s look closer.

One of the biggest animals hunted in these three states is elk. Without a doubt, it’s a huge market. It’s even so big in Wyoming that Grand Teton National Park allows elk hunting within its borders every fall season. Tourists admire the scenery of Schwabacher Landing as they confusingly see an orange-clad hunter carrying firearms walking right by them. It comes as quite the surprise for people who never imagined a national park would allow hunting animals within its boundaries to have hunters walking right by them while they’re trying to escape to a “pristine” natural landscape.

The Jackson Elk Herd migrates into the National Elk Refuge every winter where they are artificially fed, having been diverted off of their natural migration route from a location that is now dominated by the oil and gas industry and currently threatening pronghorn, who still use that route. While it may appear on the surface that they’re simply trying to take care of a species that can’t handle the cruelties of a winter in Jackson Hole, the fact is they have done just that for millenia, since some had always stuck around before the establishment of the town of Jackson. The more underlying fact, however, is that the National Elk Refuge is nothing more than an elk factory of sorts, created to fuel a successful hunting season each and every year in Grand Teton National Park and the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

Complications arose once wolves were reintroduced and grizzlies began to repopulate the region. Both predators began to naturally manage elk herds, as they had done for millenia prior to human intervention. Landscapes became healthier and wildlife everywhere began to flourish thanks to their assistance in doing a maintenance job better than any human bureaucrat or even scientist could conclude. Realizing money would be lost from valuable hunting licenses, the states began to push wolves off of the endangered species list disguising it as a victory for the animal so they could open them up to hunting. Backed by false illusions of anger and fear, as well as propaganda movies like The Grey, it became open season in the Northern Rockies.

Now, as if hunting elk within Grand Teton National Park isn’t bad enough, wolves are to be targeted within the John D. Rockefeller Preserve, a subsection of the park, that would catastrophically cut off a connection between wolves of Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park. Since the area lies right in between the two, this is a solid, back-stabbing move on wolves to cause more damage to them than any open hunt in wilderness.

Many anti-wolf advocates will say that if left unchecked, wolves will virtually drive elk to the point of extinction. It’s evident on bumper stickers that say things like “Save 100 elk. Kill a wolf.” This is so ridiculously false that it barely even warrants an explanation. If there were any truth to that at all, elk would have been extinct long before any European settlers even sailed to America. Assuming there were any truth to that scenario, bison as well would have been extinct with elk. Yet before the west was “discovered,” all animals were thriving wonderfully in perfect balance with each other. Humans were the ones that killed bison nearly to extinction and thanks to killing off wolves in the lower 48, elk became sick all over the west because there weren’t enough natural predators to keep their numbers under control, causing widespread overpopulation illnesses. Thus, the annual elk hunt went into effect, and while wolves attacked weak, sick, and young elk, hunters attack the biggest and strongest of the elk, thus making the herd weaker than wolves or grizzlies would.

What about ranchers and their stock? Over and over again in past blog posts, I’ve linked to proven and simple methods that ranchers can adopt that keep wolves from attacking their stock. A simple Google search will yield all kinds of results. I don’t ask ranchers to care about wolves, I simply ask them to educate themselves in simple and safe ways to live with them, rather than letting politicians get into their head, convincing them that they’re an evil animal. Put simply, there is no such thing as an evil animal in nature. Each animal has its own rightful place in helping other aspects of nature thrive.

So, the big question remains, how do the states keep money coming in that would be lost from hunting if they were to let wolves roam freely and do their job that they’re passionately trying to remind humans that they’re here to do? It’s simple. Yellowstone National Park has been doing it successfully for over 140 years now. People want to see wildlife. People from cities all over the world want to escape their stresses and daily lives to see the ease and delicately complex simplicity of nature. The opportunity to come face-to-face with a predatory animal, such as a wolf, is a draw that’s been proven to lure people in from any location around the world. The money that the states could make from tourism to protected lands would vastly and practically instantly outweigh any money that hunters could produce. The combined revenue made from hunting, even over an entire decade, would seem like a complete joke in a matter of years compared to proper marketing of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and beyond. Protected lands with wildlife of all varieties flourishing around each and every corner of this area and more would attract not just wildlife enthusiasts and those wanting to escape the daily grind, but also outdoor enthusiasts such as hikers, backpackers, campers, general road trippers, and many more. It all starts with just a bit of education, and right now, we have people in power of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho that both aren’t educated, and have no desire to be. Get in touch with them and let them know your thoughts on where the real money waits.

This Post Has 21 Comments

  1. Well written as always, Mike!!!
    You do a great job of researching this subject – from reading various news articles I was under the impression that the enteri northwest corner of Wyoming would be off limits to the wolf hunt…. I am confused, the Rockefeller Preserve – normally anything called a preserve is off limits to any hunting – are they making a special exception to the wolves at this time?
    I also agree with you about the tourist revenue – it is funny you say that as I just told my husband that we would lose tourists if we proceeded to kill off the wolves again…. thank you for taking the time to share all this with us!!!

    1. Thank you, Angelique! 

      They are trying to move forward with the John D. Rockefeller Preserve area because, if I had to guess, they don’t consider a full national park, even though it bears all the same rules and regulations in terms of protection. Therefore, it would fall in what’s known as the “Flex Zone”, which is basically a free-for-all shooting spree on wolves. It would be disastrous for tourism to Flagg Ranch and especially for the wolves themselves.

      1. It’s not actually a ‘Preserve’; technically it is a ‘Memorial Parkway’. http://www.nps.gov/grte/jodr.htm Just like Teton Park, when the ‘Memorial Parkway’  was created in 1972 there were some ‘provisions’ in the legislation that allow for hunting under certain circumstances. I can’t remember the specifics, but there was a JH N&G article a few months back that explained it. I’ll pass it along if I can find it.

        1. Thanks for the clarification, Andy! For some reason I always thought it was a preserve, but that’s probably from misreading something in the past.

          1.  Either way it is completely absurd, along with Wyoming’s entire wolf ‘management’ plan.

          2. Kind of like any wildlife “management” plan.

  2. Well written as always, Mike!!!
    You do a great job of researching this subject – from reading various news articles I was under the impression that the enteri northwest corner of Wyoming would be off limits to the wolf hunt…. I am confused, the Rockefeller Preserve – normally anything called a preserve is off limits to any hunting – are they making a special exception to the wolves at this time?
    I also agree with you about the tourist revenue – it is funny you say that as I just told my husband that we would lose tourists if we proceeded to kill off the wolves again…. thank you for taking the time to share all this with us!!!

  3. Mike, thanks for the post. 
    The management strategy you describe is the same in Wyoming as it in here in Oregon. Our elk herd in the NW is small by comparison, but we have and hunt them all the same.I’ve talked to locals in central Oregon towns along HWY 26 who literally curse the DOW for their management practices, where the wilderness areas and refuges have seemingly been designed and arranged for hunting. It’s incredible once you see it – one tiny wilderness area after another, the boundaries of which mirror the bounds of viable elk habitat in that part of the state, that literally serve as islands of safety for the herds. The Columbia River is much the same. This river and its estuaries are vital for hundreds of migratory bird species. Many “protected” areas along the river are in fact closed to all activity for about half the year…except to hunting, and it’s an utter disgrace. Go out to Sauvie Island, north of Portland, on a December day and what you’ll hear sounds like a war zone. In the air, dozens of geese and ducks flocks that would otherwise be feeding and resting as necessary to complete their migrations, and a staccato beat of shotgun blasts.

    I’ve hunted in the past. I lived in Colorado for 13 years and bow hunted elk (in wilderness areas) with my brother. It was incredibly challenging physically and in terms of skill. Getting within 40 yards of a wild elk grazing in the Rockies at an elevation of about 12,000 feet (approximately treeline), or field dressing and packing an elk out of the high country, is tough. For me personally, killing an elk was always bittersweet. I hated the death of an animal but when I considered it in the context of the hardship we endured, and the fact that we packed our freezers with food, and that I could avoid purchasing farmed and packaged meat at the supermarket, and I was able to accept it.

    This is a far cry from trophy or even rifle hunting. It’s a far cry from hunting predators simply because you can. I’m sure you’re aware that Idaho recently legalized the killing of wolves, anytime, anywhere, for any reason, to ‘protect prey species’. Seeing how things happen here in Oregon, I can agree with your sentiment that revenue is at the core of such rhetoric. 

    I’d also suggest – as you do in your post – a deep-seated misconception about the relationship between predator and prey in the wild. The wolf, in particular, has been persecuted in the US and elsewhere throughout history (read Barry Lopez’s amazing tome Of Wolves and Men to better understand the historic, cultural and religious undertones to this). It’s one thing when a handful of hunters carry these misconceptions. It’s another thing when entire communities do this, and a very troublesome challenge to confront.

    1. Thank you very much for the great comment, Wesley!

      I tend to come off as an anti-hunter, which I’m not. I just feel that it’s so incredibly poorly handled at the moment that I’m more against the ways hunting is conducted. If you’re hiking around 12,000ft and hauling out an elk on your own to provide yourself and your family with food, that’s perfectly fine by me. Here in Grand Teton National Park though, there are “hunters” who literally sit in their parked, but running cars, with the heat on as they wait for an elk to come into sight. Then, once they spot an elk nearby, simply to meet park regulations, they’ll hike roughly a half-mile from their car, shoot it, and then get a horse to tow it out. If you’re ever here in November, a simple drive out to Kelly in the southeast corner of the park will give you all the evidence of this you’d ever need.

      I wasn’t aware of how bad it is in Oregon either. It sounds incredibly unfortunate. The only thing that keeps me optimistic is that conservation is contagious and there seem to be more and more conservation-minded people realizing this every day until eventually, they’ll outnumber the resources that average hunters have. At that point, I look forward to a change in policy and getting some real leadership from those in office.

      Thanks again!

  4. Mike, thanks for the post. 
    The management strategy you describe is the same in Wyoming as it in here in Oregon. Our elk herd in the NW is small by comparison, but we have and hunt them all the same.I’ve talked to locals in central Oregon towns along HWY 26 who literally curse the DOW for their management practices, where the wilderness areas and refuges have seemingly been designed and arranged for hunting. It’s incredible once you see it – one tiny wilderness area after another, the boundaries of which mirror the bounds of viable elk habitat in that part of the state, that literally serve as islands of safety for the herds. The Columbia River is much the same. This river and its estuaries are vital for hundreds of migratory bird species. Many “protected” areas along the river are in fact closed to all activity for about half the year…except to hunting, and it’s an utter disgrace. Go out to Sauvie Island, north of Portland, on a December day and what you’ll hear sounds like a war zone. In the air, dozens of geese and ducks flocks that would otherwise be feeding and resting as necessary to complete their migrations, and a staccato beat of shotgun blasts.

    I’ve hunted in the past. I lived in Colorado for 13 years and bow hunted elk (in wilderness areas) with my brother. It was incredibly challenging physically and in terms of skill. Getting within 40 yards of a wild elk grazing in the Rockies at an elevation of about 12,000 feet (approximately treeline), or field dressing and packing an elk out of the high country, is tough. For me personally, killing an elk was always bittersweet. I hated the death of an animal but when I considered it in the context of the hardship we endured, and the fact that we packed our freezers with food, and that I could avoid purchasing farmed and packaged meat at the supermarket, and I was able to accept it.

    This is a far cry from trophy or even rifle hunting. It’s a far cry from hunting predators simply because you can. I’m sure you’re aware that Idaho recently legalized the killing of wolves, anytime, anywhere, for any reason, to ‘protect prey species’. Seeing how things happen here in Oregon, I can agree with your sentiment that revenue is at the core of such rhetoric. 

    I’d also suggest – as you do in your post – a deep-seated misconception about the relationship between predator and prey in the wild. The wolf, in particular, has been persecuted in the US and elsewhere throughout history (read Barry Lopez’s amazing tome Of Wolves and Men to better understand the historic, cultural and religious undertones to this). It’s one thing when a handful of hunters carry these misconceptions. It’s another thing when entire communities do this, and a very troublesome challenge to confront.

    1. Thank you very much for the great comment, Wesley!

      I tend to come off as an anti-hunter, which I’m not. I just feel that it’s so incredibly poorly handled at the moment that I’m more against the ways hunting is conducted. If you’re hiking around 12,000ft and hauling out an elk on your own to provide yourself and your family with food, that’s perfectly fine by me. Here in Grand Teton National Park though, there are “hunters” who literally sit in their parked, but running cars, with the heat on as they wait for an elk to come into sight. Then, once they spot an elk nearby, simply to meet park regulations, they’ll hike roughly a half-mile from their car, shoot it, and then get a horse to tow it out. If you’re ever here in November, a simple drive out to Kelly in the southeast corner of the park will give you all the evidence of this you’d ever need.

      I wasn’t aware of how bad it is in Oregon either. It sounds incredibly unfortunate. The only thing that keeps me optimistic is that conservation is contagious and there seem to be more and more conservation-minded people realizing this every day until eventually, they’ll outnumber the resources that average hunters have. At that point, I look forward to a change in policy and getting some real leadership from those in office.

      Thanks again!

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