Saturday, February 16, 2019

A Brief History of Wolves and Humans, Part 3 of 3

How to Build a Culture that Respects Wolves

I will start with a story about a country that took its culture from wolf respect to wolf hatred. Though that’s the opposite direction of where we must go, buried in that tragic tale of rejection are lessons we can use to build the acceptance of wolves that is needed now more than ever.

The story, told well by Brett Walker in his book The Lost Wolves of Japan, begins around 1600 when the Japanese regarded wolves as deities and worshipped them at shrines. Farmers accepted the wolf as a partner that killed boar and deer that ate the grain crops on the small farms that were the cornerstone of Japanese agriculture.

During the 1700s, Japan’s population swelled and people encroached on wolf territory. Rabid wolves killed some Japanese. Hatred stirred; bounties were placed. (This progression is similar to what happened in Europe a few hundred years earlier, as described in Part 2 of this series.) 

But Japanese citizens continued to hold the wolf in high esteem. That changed in 1868 when a new Japanese government vowed to modernize the country’s economy. As part of that modernization, Japan would create a large-scale livestock industry similar to that in the U.S. The government wrote policy that demoted small-scale grain farming and promoted livestock production on huge new ranches carved, of course, from wolf territory.

Five years later, the Japanese government took another step and hired an American rancher, Edwin Dun, to help build the livestock industry and eradicate wolves. Dun knew about industrial poisoning with strychnine, and when he arrived, the war on wolves erupted. 

The government helped by portraying wolves as monstrous killers that preyed on almighty livestock. They even used taxidermy—stuffed snarling wolves—to transform reverence to fear. The government created a bounty system that provided financial incentive to kill animals once seen as essential partners.

Statue of Honshu-wolf via GNU

By 1905—just thirty-two years after this war began—wolves were extinct in Japan. The key was that government-sponsored campaign to its citizens’ image of the wolf from deity to demon.

This story reveals how a government has the power to convince citizens to do the unthinkable: annihilate an animal they once revered. Our government might use such power to do something almost as unthinkable: convince those who want to annihilate wolves to respect them instead. 

Let’s consider a few steps that Japan used for the bad that the U.S. can use for the good.

The Japanese government used financial incentives—bounties—to overwhelm centuries-old reverence and to make wolves more valuable dead than alive.

We must value wolves in a way that encourages protection. But now the opposite happens. For instance, Idaho hunters and trappers who kill wolves legally can be reimbursed up to $1,000 per dead wolf. The organization behind this bounty system claims that wolves have decimated Idaho’s elk herd. However, statistics from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game show that the statewide elk harvest now is similar to the harvest prior to the reintroduction of wolves. This same organization is trying to get a bill passed in the Montana legislature that would make a bounty system legal in Montana too. 

Montana legislators are also considering two bills that devalue wolves. One would add a wolf hunting tag to a resident’s hunting license for only $10. A second bill would allow non-resident deer and elk hunters to receive a FREE wolf tag. Both these bills aim to use financial incentives to increase wolf killing.

On the other hand, financial incentives have been used elsewhere to actually improve attitudes toward wolves. A 2011 study took place in a part of Sweden where livestock producers living in wolf territories received subsidies for installing predator-proof fencing. Scientists found that those who had received the subsidies tolerated wolves better than those who had not, regardless of the number of wolf attacks on sheep or dogs.

photo from WRWP website

Fencing is just one kind of nonlethal deterrent that keeps wolves and livestock separate and alive. For an excellent example of how nonlethal deterrents can work in the U.S., look at the Wood River Wolf Project in Idaho. Since 2008, this project has been succeeding with nonlethal deterrents. During the first seven years, documented sheep losses to wolves in the project area were 90% lower than losses to wolves in the rest of Idaho. The Project states on their web site, “Using nonlethal methods reduces management costs and social conflict while maintaining the wolf’s important ecological contribution.” The Wood River Wolf Project also proves that groups that often fight one another—ranchers, wolf advocates, scientists, county officials, and federal agencies—can work together to benefit wolves and livestock.

Given the power of nonlethal deterrents to protect wolves and livestock and improve attitudes toward predators, all wolf states should provide significant financial incentives to use nonlethal deterrents. States should also require that realistic nonlethal deterrents be used before ranchers can be reimbursed for losses due to wolves.

Japan’s government wrote powerful polices that led to the eradication of wolves in only thirty-two years.

A policy in the U.S. harms wolves as well. A little-known Department of Justice guideline referred to as the McKittrick policy has existed for years. This policy evolved from a 1995 Montana case in which Chad McKittrick was convicted under the Endangered Species Act for killing Wolf Number 10—one of the first wolves released into nearby Yellowstone National Park. McKittrick argued that he was not guilty because he thought he was shooting a wild dog. He appealed his conviction and lost. 

photo of coyote and wolf by Rick Lamplugh

Even though the the Department of Justice prevailed, DOJ administrators adopted what became known as the McKittrick policy. This directed DOJ attorneys to not prosecute unless they could prove that the accused knowingly killed a protected species. The McKittrick policy is why the hunters who killed federally protected gray wolves dispersing to Iowa, Colorado, and the Grand Canyon were not prosecuted; the shooters claimed to have misidentified the wolves as coyotes.

In June of 2017 WildEarth Guardians and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance won a four-year-long lawsuit against the McKitrick Policy. A U.S. District Court Judge found for the groups and ruled that the government does not have to prove that a defendant who kills an endangered animal knew that the animal was endangered. Unfortunately, a little over a year later, The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the District Judge’s finding.

The McKittrick policy continues to tell hunters that wolves don’t matter. That even though wolves are endangered there are no consequences for killing them. Policies such as these must be abolished if we are to say that wolves’ lives matter.

The Japanese government hammered home to its citizens the message that wolves were demons to be destroyed, not deities to be worshipped. Citizens complied. 

Our federal and state governments also send important—and deadly—messages. Wolf states have federally approved wolf management plans that define protecting wolves as keeping a certain number of breeding pairs alive. Some of those states’ plans allow, even encourage, the legal killing of “surplus” wolves. 

Those plans endanger wolves in two ways. First, the animals die in legal hunts. Second, government-sanctioned killing can increase poaching. If the government says it’s acceptable to hunt wolves, then citizens figure it’s acceptable to poach them—as happened in Yellowstone National Park with the alpha female of the Canyon pack. 

Canyon alpha female photo by Rick Lamplugh

A study in Wisconsin looked at the connection between legal killing and illegally poaching of wolves. Published in 2015 in the journal Biological Conservation, the study examined atttitudes and inclinations to poach among farmers and hunters living in Wisconsin’s wolf range. The results of the study suggest that “lethal-control measures, in the short term, may be ineffective for increasing tolerance of wolves.” The scientists write that this result is important because for many years scholars “have predicted that poaching would decline if other forms of lethal management were legalized.” That’s not the case.

Idaho has sent to its citizens a deadly message about wolves. The state government committed to spending $2,000,000—most of it from taxpayers—over a five-year period to fund the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board and eradicate wolves. The money is spent only on lethal methods, and in fiscal year 2018 Wildlife Services was paid to kill 83 Idaho wolves. (This is in addition to the 312 that hunters and trappers took in fiscal 2018.)  Currently, the Idaho legislature is considering making the board permanent. A message such as this can only increase the prevalence of the shoot, shovel, and shut up mentality.

Every state with wolves should write policy and enact legislation which sends the message that killing wolves should be the last resort, not the first.

The Japanese government built modernization the need to abolish wolves into the country’s education system. 

Today, more than a century after their eradication, wolves are still vilified in Japan. 

Education changes—one mind at a time—how people view predators. One study found that the acceptance of bears, for example, increased when people were given two pieces of information: how bears benefit the ecosystem and how to reduce risks posed by bears. But if people were told only about how to reduce risks and not about how the ecosystem benefits, acceptance decreased. 

Grizzly and wolf photo by NPS

With that in mind, try this: study the wolf management plans of the wolf states. You will likely find that each plan describes how to reduce the risk of wolf-human or wolf-livestock encounters. But you will not likely find a plan that promotes any meaningful information about the benefits wolves provide to the ecosystems in which they are allowed to survive. By focusing only on risks and not on benefits, wolf management plans can actually reduce the acceptance of wolves. 

The federal government should implement a curriculum to teach how little risk wolves present and how much ecological benefit they provide. A number of curriculums already exist. One for students in K-12 was produced by National Geographic and Living with Wolves. These curriculums provide educators with activities that enrich students' understanding about the wolves. The activities dispel common myths and prejudices and encourage youth to get involved in conservation efforts. 

Our hatred and disrespect of wolves is centuries old and will not change quickly or easily. 

Here are four steps that can start building a culture that respects wolves:

1. All wolf states should subsidize nonlethal deterrents and require their use before reimbursing ranchers for losses due to wolves.
2. The McKittrick policy must be abolished.
3. Every wolf state should write policy and enact legislation which requires that killing wolves should be the last resort, not the first.
4. The federal government should implement a curriculum to teach how little risk wolves present and how much ecological benefit they provide.

To learn more about the Wood River Wolf Project 

To Read Part One of this series

To Read Part Two of this series

Indie author Rick Lamplugh writes to protect wildlife and preserve wild lands. 

His bestselling In the Temple of Wolves is available signed and on Amazon

The award-winning sequel, Deep into Yellowstone, is available signed or on Amazon.

The new prequel, The Wilds of Aging, is is available signed or on Amazon in paper or eBook.

Wolf photo at top of post by Eric Kilby via CC BY-SA 2.0

Saturday, February 9, 2019

A Brief History of Wolves and Humans, Part 2 of 3

Any partnership hunters and gatherers may have had with wolves soured after our ancestors became herders. Once we owned land and raised livestock, we came to hate wolves and treat them as unwanted competitors. Our history degenerated from a tale of two species partnering to a sad story of one species with a powerful arsenal—and few thoughts of long-term consequences—waging war on another. 

To understand this war, let’s use the Middle Ages (5th-15th century) as a starting point. That was a time when horrifying rumors—some true—about rabid wolves killing humans spread across Europe. Governments declared war on wolves. In France in the 800s, the government hired an elite corps of hunters to control the wolf population. In England in the late 1200s, King Edward ordered the extermination of wolves in some parts of the country. In 1427, James of Scotland passed a law requiring three wolf hunts a year, even during denning season.

Those European wolf wars were not waged in a vacuum; Europeans were struggling with numerous deadly challenges. A Little Ice Age chilled Europe, and some experts believe it began as early as the 1300s and lasted until the mid 1800s. During that Little Ice Age, temperatures fell, snowfall increased, and the growing season shrank. This reduced harvests and created painful shortages of crops and livestock. 

Europe in the 1300s. Map public domain

Also during the early 1300s, and perhaps due to the Little Ice Age, the Great Famine struck, killing 10 to 25 percent of the population of many European cities and towns. 

To make matters worse, in the mid 1300s, the Black Death peaked. That plague eventually killed at least a third of all western Europeans.

With families and friends starving and dying, few would accept wolves taking livestock. I can imagine the war cry spreading across the countryside: Protect our families! Protect our livestock! Kill all wolves!

Once the Black Death subsided, western Europe’s population rebounded and doubled by the early 1600s. According to Jon T. Coleman, author of Vicious: Wolves and Men in America, more Europeans meant more mouths to feed. More food meant more land for livestock and crops. And less open land for wolves. 

As Europe’s population grew and spread, wolves had to go. By the early 1500s, wolves had been hunted and trapped to extinction in England. They were eradicated from Scotland by the late 1600s and from Ireland by the late 1700s.

Wolf Hatred Sails to the New World

Increased European population also increased colonization of North America. When colonists disembarked in the New World, wolves probably watched from the woods; an estimated two million roamed most of North America, though colonists rarely saw them since wolves avoided humans. Nevertheless, another war on wolves was about to erupt. 

The New World siege started quickly. By 1625, colonists were using tactics refined in the Old World to stop predation, according to Barry Lopez in Of Wolves and Men. They also had firearms and could kill from a distance. They hired wolf hunters and passed bounty laws—the first in Massachusetts in 1630. Other colonies followed including New Jersey in 1697.

Photo by Mary Strickroth

Wolf Hatred American Style

The often told story says Old World wolf hatred begat New World wolf hatred. Even though most colonists had never lost livestock to wolves, had never seen or heard wolves, they stepped off the boats hating the predators.

But historian Coleman argues that these immigrants and their descendants—our ancestors—added an American twist to wolf hatred. Given the colonists’ Old World view of wolves as monsters, you would expect New World settlers to have avoided wolves. Yet Coleman discovered records from as early as 1621 that show just the opposite. A settler, in one example, stumbled upon wolves at a deer kill, chased the wolves away, and swiped the meat. Records also document colonists encountering wolves and the frightened animals turning tail.

If wolves were such cowards, why did colonists treat them so viciously? Religion was partly to blame, says Coleman. “The biblical version of wolves with its focus on greed, corruption, and theft flourished in New England…” Colonists thumped the Bible to rationalize wreaking havoc on wolves for the crime of killing livestock.

Yet settlers aided and abetted the predators’ crimes by grazing livestock in wolf country without proper supervision. Coleman found colonists entrusted their herds to teenage boys “short in stature and attention span.” Wolves—hungry and struggling because settlers had overhunted their natural prey—took some livestock. This scenario moved west with civilization: Everywhere settlers killed off wild game and brought in livestock, wolves came to dine. Settlers fought back. But they didn’t just kill wolves; they ravaged them, Coleman says, because Euro-Americans fantasized…”to overpower savagery one must lash out savagely.”

Lashing out included creating fantasies that were the opposite of reality. Colonists portrayed wolves preying on humans. Reality: humans preyed on wolves. Colonists described howling wolves surrounding humans and inducing panic. Reality: humans surrounded and panicked wolves. This belief in a savage wolf—a figment in minds fed with fantasies—prompted vicious eradication of wolves. By 1840 wolves were extinct in Massachusetts and vanishing elsewhere. 

Wolves didn’t fight back. Their natural intelligence, speed, strength, and teeth were no match for our big brains and big arsenals. By the mid 1800s, that arsenal included more effective rifles and strychnine. By poisoning a carcass, hunters could kill an entire pack.

By Gustave Dore (1883). Public Domain

Wolf Hatred in Literature

But eliminating wolves wasn’t enough. Even as these essential predators vanished from the countryside, we kept wolves alive, feared, and hated in literature, especially in children's stories.

Take Grimm's Fairy Tales, for example. Though wolves were almost eradicated in Germany by 1812 when that book was published, it contained "Little Red Riding Hood," with its infamous wolf.

Around the same time—on a continent almost devoid of wolves—Europeans resurrected two thousand-year-old Aesop's Fables. Those stories contained "The Boy Who Cried Wolf," with its wolf destroying the flock of a lying boy, and “The Dog and the Wolf," with its wolf refusing to give up its freedom to become a collared, well-fed pet.

In 1886—more than three hundred years after the wolf was eradicated in England—“The Three Little Pigs" was published in The Nursery Rhymes of England. In that tale, a wolf with an insatiable appetite manages to eat two of the pigs before the third kills and eats him.

Stories such as these taught new generations to fear and hate wolves that didn't even exist.

Map by Vucetich, Bruskotter, Nelson

Stopping the War

The real danger for wolves today lies in this anti-wolf propaganda and hatred that sailed from the Old World to the New, underwent an American twist, and became imbedded in our culture.

This propaganda was institutionalized in the early 1900s by the U.S. Biological Survey—our government’s first wolf-killers. That agency and their prodigy, Wildlife Services—today’s secretive and out-of-control wolf killers—almost cleared the Lower 48 of wolves. Thanks to the Endangered Species Act, wolves have made a comeback. But even after seventy years with few wolves in the Lower 48, the propaganda, the lies, and the fantasies survived and today breed intolerance of wolves and spawn vicious anti-wolf acts.

Wolves suffer most where they are no longer federally protected, where states have the final word.  In states with powerful livestock industries, “wolf management” is a vow to kill all wolves except the minimum number required by a state’s federally approved wolf plan. Plans like those do nothing to reduce wolf hatred or wind down the war on wolves. Worse yet, they give the false impression that wolf survival is just a biological issue, a matter of the number of surviving breeding pairs. 

Looking only at numbers obscures the truth: To protect wolves, we must transform our nation’s culture from one that wages war on wolves to one that respects wolves. Wolf hatred was centuries in the making and will not succumb to reason quickly. Until then, wolves need federal protection from hunting and trapping. Wolves need a national wolf recovery plan.

(This post based on a chapter for In the Temple of Wolves.)

To Read Part One of This Series

Indie author Rick Lamplugh writes to protect wildlife and preserve wild lands. 

His bestselling In the Temple of Wolves is available signed and on Amazon
The award-winning sequel, Deep into Yellowstone, is available signed or on Amazon.

The new prequel, The Wilds of Aging, is is available signed or on Amazon in paper or eBook.

Wolf photo at top of post by ODFW

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Fact Check: Have Wolves Depleted Elk Herds?

I was recently directed to the website of the Foundation for Wildlife Management, an Idaho group that reimburses hunters and trappers up to $1,000 per wolf for their costs of legally killing Idaho wolves. The website’s headline: TIRED OF WOLVES DESTROYING YOUR WILDLIFE? Under the “Wolf Facts” tab: “Idaho is in danger of losing its rich diversity and ample numbers of deer, elk, moose, and wild sheep" [to wolves]. 

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation gave $25,000 to this group for each of the last three years. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game also gives the group money.

This same group is trying to get a similar program voted into law in Montana.  

Is it true that wolves have depleted elk herds across Idaho? Wyoming? Montana?


In August 2018 Idaho Department of Fish and Game issued a press release that forecasted hunting opportunities for the upcoming season. It revealed:

“Idaho elk hunters are having some of the best hunting of all time, and there’s no reason the current streak can’t eventually compete with all-time highs…”

Since 2014, elk harvests have been consistent with the record-breaking harvests that occurred before wolves were reintroduced in 1995.

Most of Idaho’s elk herds and harvests have been at or near historic highs in recent years and well above long-term averages. Hunters should see similar numbers in the 2018 season.

In 2017, elk hunters had an overall success rate of 24 percent and took 22,751 elk, IDFG stated. The 2017 elk harvest ranked second-highest in the last decade and sixth of all-time. It’s 30 percent above the 50-year average elk harvest.

Idaho’s elk population remains so strong, IDFG writes, because elk have experienced less mortality due to winter’s harsh weather. In a recent winter, for example, two-thirds of all elk calves survived statewide, and that’s above the long-term average. (Since wolves often prey on elk calves, I interpret this IDFG statistic as showing that wolves had little effect on elk calves statewide.)

But, the press release does reveal that something is different. “While Idaho is reliving some of its glory years for elk hunting, the location of the animals has changed. During record harvests in the 1990s, Central Idaho’s backcountry and wilderness areas were major contributors. They are less so these days, but other areas have picked up the slack.” Elk have moved from the wilderness and backcountry toward the safer interface between forest lands, agriculture, and rural areas. 

IDFG urges elk hunters to go where the elk are.

My Conclusion: Statewide, hunters in Idaho are experiencing some of the best elk hunting of all time and taking as many elk now as they did in the record-setting years just before wolf reintroduction. Wolves have not depleted Idaho’s elk herd statewide but have changed how elk move around in some areas.


I studied a report from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department that provided a 2018 forecast for all eight elk-hunting regions in Wyoming. Six of the eight regions are at or above elk population objective levels set by WGFD. Two of the six present challenges for hunters. In both those regions, Jackson and Sheridan, the problem is that elk are more frequently migrating to or remaining on private land. The solution: “Hunters who can gain access to hunt or cross private lands are expected to have high success.”

A September 2018 article in the Casper Star adds the following:

Elk hunting is expected to be good across wide parts of the state. Elk numbers should not be the limiting factor. The number of elk in the state is 31 percent above WGFD objectives.

Elk hunters had a success rate of 43 percent, a figure considered high for big game, and took 24,535 elk in 2017, according to WGFD. The agency expects hunters to harvest more than 25,000 elk in 2018 as it works to bring populations down and closer to objective.

But, as in Idaho, something is different for some elk hunters. “The resurgence of predators in Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks and the prevalence of private-land safe zones have helped upset the advantages once enjoyed by hunters. An increasing portion of the Jackson Elk Herd has abandoned familiar long-distance migration routes and spends time in areas shunned by grizzlies and wolves or where those predators have been removed or discouraged — areas that are often difficult to access or off-limits to most hunters.” While not migrating as far, the Jackson Elk Herd is very near the population objective of 11,000 according to WGFD.

My Conclusion: In most of Wyoming the elk population is above the set objective and hunting is expected to be good. While the presence of wolves has changed the migration patterns of some elk, and hunters may not find success where they once did, wolves have not depleted Wyoming’s elk herd statewide.


In August of 2018 Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks issued a press release that forecasted hunting opportunities statewide. Their release revealed:

These are good times for elk hunters in Montana. Elk populations continue to be strong across most of the state. However, in many hunting districts access to private lands can be difficult. This can reduce hunting success since many elk are staying on private lands.

MFWP analyzed elk hunting opportunities for all seven regions of the state. Elk hunting looks good in four of the seven. However, In the northwest corner of Montana, the last two winters have brought harsh conditions and deep snowfall that is hard on big game populations. (This is Region 1 where the groups that want wolf trappers reimbursed are scapegoating wolves for poor elk hunting. MFWP blames harsh winters.) In western Montana, elk counts were down slightly this spring, due to a combination of factors including a good harvest last hunting season and difficult conditions for counting elk during the annual flights. Finally, in northeast Montana elk hunting opportunities are limited. 

In 2017 hunters took 30,348 elk in Montana.

In December 2018 the Billings Gazette reported that in 2016 only 12 percent of Montana’s elk hunters were successful.

My Conclusion: Elk hunting can be good in Montana with elk numbers strong across most of the state. However, as in Idaho and Wyoming, elk are staying on private land and this makes taking those elk more difficult for hunters. In none of the three areas with challenging elk hunting opportunities were wolves noted as causing the problem by MFWP. Wolves have not depleted Montana’s elk herds statewide.

To Explore this Further Read:
Empty Handed Elk Hunters Can Learn from Wolves

Other Fact Checks:
Has the U.S. Wolf Population Recovered? 

Rick Lamplugh writes to protect wildlife and preserve wild lands. His bestselling In the Temple of Wolves and the award-winning sequel, Deep into Yellowstone, are available signed from Rick or unsigned on Amazon in paper, eBook, or audio book formats.

Rick's new book, The Wilds of Aging, is the prequel to In the Temple of Wolves and is available signed or on Amazon in paper or eBook.

Top photo of Idaho wolf by IDFG