‘Motivated by livestock and big game hunting interests, Idaho and Montana recently enacted a series of new laws that allow for the aggressive hunting of wolves’. Wow – big men in camo trousers !
Montana and Idaho Have Legalized Killing Wolves on a Massive Scale
The two Republican-controlled states have passed laws that could decimate the wolf population and endanger a major conservation success story.
Gray wolves (Canis lupus) have been persecuted in the U.S. since the arrival of Europeans. By the 20th century, they had been driven to near-extinction. Narrowly pulled back from the brink by endangered species protections and reintroductions in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in the 1990s, they are one of North America’s greatest conservation success stories.
Wolf recovery has had huge cultural resonance. Most Americans love wolves. Gas station t-shirts and tchotchkes featuring the species have become a fixture of kitsch Americana—a testament to our collective love for these charismatic canids.
Still, antipathy has persisted in some quarters. Now, state legislation threatens the Northern Rockies population, concentrated in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming with smaller numbers dispersed across California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Utah.
Motivated by livestock and big game hunting interests, Idaho and Montana recently enacted a series of new laws that allow for the aggressive hunting of wolves. Supporters erroneously claim that the predators threaten the livelihood of ranchers and wreak havoc on elk herds.
“[People] don’t understand the truth of what wolves do. It’s not their fault. The universities and media have brainwashed them at so many levels,” insists Steve Alder, executive director of Idaho for Wildlife, a controversial hunting advocacy organization.
Conservationists counter that this sort of antagonism is rooted in a superstitious, ideological dislike for wolves that doesn’t square with the reality of their impact. Data strongly indicates that the complaints by hunting and agricultural interest groups are exaggerated.
Predation on livestock by wolves is relatively low and elk populations are stable. In Idaho, between July 2019 and July 2020, there were only 102 confirmed livestock kills, with 28 more considered probable. Montana saw 238 confirmed kills in 2020. Both states host millions of cattle, sheep, and other ruminants, and compensate ranchers for each confirmed loss. Elk herds are thriving, with around 136,000 animals in Montana and 120,000 in Idaho. Most hunting districts meet or exceed their population goals.
“There are no data that would suggest that conflicts exist at such a level that a massive massacre of gray wolves is indicated,” said ecologist Mike Phillips, who headed the early efforts to reintroduce wolves to Yellowstone National Park and later served as a Democratic senator for Montana. “They’re ecologically illiterate.”
“Wolves have self-regulated their populations for millennia based on prey availability, habitat, and competitors,” added Michelle Lute, a conservation manager with Project Coyote, an organization that works to promote coexistence between humans and wildlife. “We just don’t need to manage them.”
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