May 28, 2008
It has now been exactly 60 days since wolves in the Northern Rockies were removed from the protection of the Endangered Species Act. To date, 16 wolves have been legally killed in Wyoming, where wolves may be shot on sight. That’s an average of one wolf killed every four days. Four of these wolves were shot in Wyoming during the first weekend after delisting, with local bloggers bragging about their success on the Internet. One “hunter” went so far as to chase a wolf to exhaustion astride a snowmobile before shooting it.
To be clear, these are not wolves that have been killed by wildlife managers for eating cows or sheep. These wolves were shot by people just for sport; their only “crime” was that of, well, being a wolf.
Although gray wolves have been delisted throughout the Northern Rockies, most of the killing of wolves continues to occur in Wyoming. That’s because, of all three states in the region, Wyoming has the most egregious plan for wolf management. Whereas Montana and Idaho intend to manage wolves as a game animal, which will eventually include regulated public hunting, Wyoming has classified wolves as a “predatory animal” in 85 percent of the state. What that means is that, with the exception of Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone and a small buffer area surrounding them, wolves may be shot on sight in Wyoming – anytime, by anyone, without even a hunting license.
Now, it seems to me that the term hunting implies a number of principles, among them, the doctrines of Fair Chase and conservation. When you buy a hunting license, your license fees go to the state fish and game agency to support wildlife conservation. Indeed, the North American Wildlife Conservation Model, extensively celebrated among sportsmen, is implemented via the collection of these license fees. The Wyoming wolf shooters, however, do not buy a license for the privilege of shooting a wolf, and thus their actions contribute neither to wildlife conservation per se, nor to the long-term sustenance of the species. Moreover, the shoot-on-sight policy fails to uphold another principle of the Model – scientific management – since unlicensed hunting, by definition, does not even provide wildlife managers with accurate data on the number of hunters killing wolves.
Aldo Leopold is widely considered to be the father of modern wildlife ecology. After shooting a wolf while working for the U.S. Forest Service in Arizona, Leopold wrote of seeing a “fierce, green fire” extinguish in the dying wolf’s eyes. In that moment, he realized that all species were important, and later concluded that conservation requires us to live in accordance with the natural world around us, including all species that live upon it. Wrote Leopold: “Harmony with land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left. That is to say, you cannot love game and hate predators.”
I don’t know what Leopold would think about the regulated wolf-hunting, so soon after the return of the species from the brink of extinction, but I have no doubt he’d frown upon Wyoming’s 19th Century wolf management policy that treats wolves as pests to be exterminated rather than an integral part of the web of life.