Monday, October 11, 2021

We Must Monitor Montana's Wolf Hunting

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in September that wolves in the West may need a return to protection under the Endangered Species Act. Their decision comes in response to petitions from two coalitions of conservation organizations. 

While agreeing to begin a twelve-month study of the need for protection, the agency declined to immediately restore protection for western wolves on an emergency basis; wolf hunting continues.

Numerous Tribal nations have also called for emergency relisting of gray wolves and for the Biden administration to honor treaty obligations that require consultation with the Tribes on gray wolf management.

The USFWS stated that protecting wolves in the northern Rockies or across the western United States may be warranted now because new laws in Idaho and Montana promote such widespread killing of wolves.

So, sadly, the number of wolves killed during the current wolf hunting season in Montana and Idaho is a key factor in whether the USFWS decides to return surviving wolves to protection of the ESA. 

Even though watching the number of wolves taken is painful, it's essential to stay informed. I will regularly post data from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) on wolf kills in each of the Montana's wolf management units during the six months of hunting and trapping. (See table below.) 

The Danger to Yellowstone and Glacier Wolves 

Park wolves following elk and other food out of Yellowstone National Park can be shot once they step into units 310, 313, and 316. For over a decade Montana limited the number of wolves that could be taken in 313 and 316. Last year that quota was one wolf in each of the units. New rules abolished those quotas and so far SIX wolves have been killed in 313 and 316. 

Park wolves stepping out of Glacier National Park can be shot in units 110 and 130.  

Remember that most of these wolves were born and raised in parks where hunting is not allowed and humans do not represent danger. This makes them an easy target.

So far Yellowstone has reported three park wolves killed north of the park in unit 313. These are two female pups and a female yearling from the Junction Butte Pack.

In a news release, Yellowstone Park Superintendent Cam Sholly stated, “Yellowstone plays a vital role in Montana’s wildlife conservation efforts and its economy. These wolves are part of our balanced ecosystem here and represent one of the special parts of the park that draw visitors from around the globe. We will continue to work with the state of Montana to make the case for reinstating quotas that would protect the core wolf population in Yellowstone as well as Montana’s direct economic interests derived from the hundreds of millions spent by park visitors each year.”

The release adds: "Visitor spending within communities that are 50 miles from Yellowstone exceeds $500 million per year, tens of millions of which is spent by visitors coming to watch wolves and supporting Montana businesses in gateway communities."


Important information on the hunting and trapping season:

2021 Wolf Season Dates in Montana

Archery
September 4 – September 14

General 
September 15 – March 15

Trapping
Season dates for trapping wolves will be the first Monday after Thanksgiving to March 15 for the entire state. For those districts located in the federally designated Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone, Montana FWP will apply a floating open season date that could start the Monday after Thanksgiving (November 29, 2021), or any day thereafter as determined by the department based upon a real time reading of conditions. If the department does not select a date prior to December 15, then the season will open on December 15 and close on March 15. 

Hunters and trappers must call in their wolf harvest within 24 hours. If the hide and skull are retained, they must be brought in for inspection and pelt tagging at an FWP office within 10 days.

For more information on hunting regulations 

To report a dead wolf or possible illegal activity: 

contact 1-800-TIP-MONT (1-800-847-6668) or a local game warden.

Rick Lamplugh writes to protect wildlife and preserve wild lands. His award-winning books, In the Temple of Wolves; its sequel, Deep into Yellowstone; and its prequel, The Wilds of Aging are available signed. His books are also available unsigned or as eBook or audiobook on Amazon.

JOIN Rick in his latest writing adventure, Love the Wild, a free weekly letter to subscribers. You’ll enjoy a diverse selection of podcasts, photo essays, opinion pieces, excerpts from Rick's award-winning books, and more. All aim to excite your mind and warm your heart with stories about wildlife and wild lands. 

Photo Credit: Yellowstone wolf staring by Jim Peaco, NPS


Monday, October 4, 2021

A Brief History of Wolves and Humans, PART 4


In this fourth and final part of this series, I want to look at what we have learned--and not learned--in our long history with wolves. I will also explain why we need more that the Endangered Species Act to truly protect wolves.


While we may have had a mutually beneficial partnership with wolves long ago, that partnership unraveled once our ancestors claimed land and began raising livestock. Instead of partners, wolves were seen as unwanted competition to be eradicated. Colonists brought this attitude and the war against wolves to America. Before colonists arrived, as many as two million wolves roamed North America and northern Mexico. But by 1970 only 700 or so wolves remained in the Lower 48.


Gray wolves in the Lower 48 were eventually protected under the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966, the Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969, and the Endangered Species Act of 1973. With federal protection, the number of wolves slowly increased.


My annual analysis of wolf states' population reports reveals that about 4,050 wolves survive in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, including Isle Royale. Another 3,375 survive in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, Washington, and California. About 180 Mexican gray wolves survive in Arizona and New Mexico. In total only about 7,600 wolves survive and they use only a tiny portion of their historic range. 


Yet the US Fish and Wildlife Service says wolves have recovered and no longer need the protection of the Endangered Species Act. But that small wolf population, small range and limited connectivity between wolf populations do not support the USFWS decision.


In 2011, wolves lost endangered species protection in Montana and Idaho, the eastern third of Washington and Oregon, and a small part of Utah via a congressional rider attached by Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont) to a must-pass budget bill. Eventually delisted in Wyoming, wolves have been consistently killed in these states. With gray wolves now delisted from ESA protection across the Lower 48 wolf killing has expanded to Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin. And with no nationwide protection, naturally dispersing wolves can be shot when they leave their packs in search of mates and territory.


What’s behind our insatiable appetite for wolf killing?


History shows us that the kill-all-wolves attitude running amok in Montana and other wolf states is similar to the attitude that led to the wholesale killing of wolves in Europe in the Middle Ages. It is also similar to the attitude that led to that eradication of almost all wolves in the Lower 48 by 1970.


Wolves are seen as unwanted competitors by some ranchers and hunters. Though this anti-wolf group represents a very small percentage of Americans, they are politically connected and powerful. These wolf haters are behind the new anti-wolf legislation in Montana and Idaho. They are behind the cry to immediately kill lots of wolves in the Great Lakes states.


This anti-wolf group promotes myths, fantasies, and misinformation that portray wolves as killers. They claim that wolves take so much livestock that the livelihood of ranchers is threatened. They claim that wolves take so many elk that hunters go empty handed. They claim that wolf numbers must be reduced. There is no reputable science-based data to support these claims. 


But, as I have seen while attending the Montana legislature and Fish and Wildlife Commission hearings, lack of data is not a problem. Enough commissioners, representatives, and senators profess to believe false claims that they can create and implement legislation with the goal of gutting Montana’s wolf population. The same desire to use misinformation to ramp up the war on wolves can be seen in Idaho, Wyoming, Washington, Oregon, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan. 


What have we learned from our history with wolves? 


Montana and Idaho have passed laws that place a bounty upon wolves—though the backers of the new laws say that hunters are simply being reimbursed for expenses as they help the two states rid themselves of “unneeded” wolves. 


History shows us that bounties are nothing new. As soon as colonists arrived in North America they declared war on wolves and passed bounty laws—the first in Massachusetts in 1630. Bounties were instituted again in the mid- to late-1800s after ranchers complained about wolves taking some of their livestock.


Today in some states new legislation allows the use of all kinds of vicious tools to kill wolves. In Montana, for example, new rules allow night hunting, neck snares (along with foot traps), and baiting. The new rules extend the trapping season, allow each hunter or trapper to take up to ten wolves, and eliminate quotas. All of these rules aim to kill as many wolves as possible.


History shows us that this blood thirsty approach is not new either. It is reminiscent of how wolves were slaughtered in states in the late 1800s when shot, trapped, poisoned, hunted with dogs, and dug from their dens. Packs of wolves died after eating poisoned carcasses left for them. 


We have even institutionalized wolf killing. Since the early 1900s our country has had a federal agency that focuses on the killing of wolves by shooting, trapping, and poisoning. In 1905 that organization was called the Bureau of Biological Survey and in 1997 it became Wildlife Services—our nation’s secretive and out-of-control wolf killers that gets paid for killing wolves and even pups.


History shows us that we have learned how to make people believe that wolves are unwanted competition and merciless killers. We have learned how to pass legislation that increases the killing of wolves. We have learned how to make people hate and fear wolves even though in our long one-sided war against wolves, they have never fought back. 


What have we NOT learned?


We have not learned how wolves help ecosystems improve. We have not learned that wolves—whether we like them or not—have a place on this earth. We have not learned how to coexist with wolves.


We can teach how to coexist. We can teach how ecosystems benefit from wolves. We can teach that wolves have a place on this earth. But doing so requires more than protecting wolves under the Endangered Species Act. While ESA protection helps keep wolves alive and helps their population slowly grow, history reveals that ESA protection has not changed—and will not change—how a small group of people and their powerful lobbyists view wolves.


We need to devise, implement, and enforce a national wolf recovery plan. Such a plan would be based on science, not on the misinformation of a small group of hunters and ranchers. Such a plan could enable wolves to establish viable populations in areas that now have just small, recovering populations, including California, Oregon, and Washington. Such a plan could promote recovery in areas like the southern Rockies, Dakotas, and Adirondacks, which have suitable wolf habitat but no established wolf populations. Such a plan must include a national curriculum that teaches how wolves are essential and beneficial, not useless and harmful. 


I know that this sounds like a reach and it is. But if there is one thing that our history with wolves shows, we have worked at killing wolves for thousands of years. That’s who we have become. To truly protect wolves we must change our beliefs about wolves and behavior toward them. 


To Read PART 1

To Read PART 2

To Read PART 3


JOIN Rick in his latest writing adventure, Love the Wild, a free weekly letter to subscribers. You’ll enjoy a diverse selection of podcasts, photo essays, opinion pieces, excerpts from Rick's award-winning books, and more. All aim to excite your mind and warm your heart with stories about wildlife and wild lands. 

 

Rick's bestselling In the Temple of Wolves; its sequel, Deep into Yellowstone; and its prequel, The Wilds of Aging are available signed. His books are also available unsigned or as eBook or audiobook on Amazon.

Photo Credits: 

Wolf staring by Wisconsin DNR

Monday, September 27, 2021

A Brief History of Wolves and Humans--PART 3

Wolf Wars Come to America


While we may have had a mutually beneficial partnership with wolves thousands of years ago, that partnership unraveled once our ancestors claimed land and raised livestock. Instead of partners, wolves became competition to be eradicated. Colonists brought this anti-wolf attitude to America.


Before colonists arrived, as many as two million wolves roamed North America and northern Mexico, according to respected naturalist, Ernest Seton. But by 1970 only 700 or so wolves remained in the Lower 48. 


Wolves were quickly eradicated east of the Mississippi.


Even though most colonists had never even seen or heard wolves, had never lost livestock to wolves, they stepped off the boats into the New World ready and willing to kill wolves. 
  


Colonists rapidly eradicated wolves east of the Mississippi. In 1630 the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed the first wolf bounty. In 1632 Virginia followed suit. In 1697 a New Jersey law established payment for wolf carcasses. As wolf killing ramped up, wolves disappeared from Massachusetts by 1840, Ohio by 1850, Illinois by 1860, West Virginia by 1887, Pennsylvania by 1892, and from New York and Kentucky by the late 1800s.


Settlers encroached on wolf territory west of the Mississippi.


As wolves disappeared “back east,” plenty of wolves still lived and hunted on the Great Plains. Scientists using a DNA technique have calculated that 380,000 wolves roamed the western United States and Mexico prior to the late 1800s and early 1900s. These wolves found themselves in harm’s way as settlers migrated west. 


Two events helped spur that westward migration, according to Richard Slatta, Professor of History at North Carolina State University. The US victory in the Mexican War which ended in 1848 opened up vast acreage of western land. The 1849 California gold rush drew hordes of fortune hunters.


By 1854 the first homesteaders began to settle on the Great Plains. The 1862 Homestead Act made claiming land relatively easy. Anyone willing to settle in the West got 160 acres of free land if they built a home and farmed that land for five years. After the Civil War ended, western farming boomed. Homesteaders swarmed to the Great Plains from 1870 to 1890. 


The 1874 invention of barbed wire helped all the ranchers enclose large areas of land for their livestock. Around the same time more land became available for fencing and ranching as Native Americans were forced onto reservations. The cattle industry grew as railroads provided refrigerated and relatively inexpensive transportation of beef to distant consumers.


By 1890, so much of the West had been covered with a patchwork of towns, farms, ranches, barbed wire, and livestock that the US Census Bureau declared that the once wide-open western frontier no longer existed.


Settlers eliminated wolves’ natural prey.


Of course, with farms, ranches, and towns springing up in wolf country, conflict was inevitable as settlers hungry for wild meat and for land to graze their livestock upon killed the natural prey of wolves.


The killing of bison provides a clear—and tragic—example. Perhaps 30 million bison once grazed between the Atlantic coast and the Rockies. And gray wolves—once found in 41 of the lower 48 states—followed the huge herds. Bison were so accustomed to seeing wolves that Native American hunters wore wolf pelts as disguises so they could close in on bison. 


Bison were eradicated by settlers from Virginia by 1730. By the 1770s, bison had vanished from most or all of the Carolinas, Alabama, and Florida. By 1808 they had vanished from Ohio; by 1830 from Indiana; and by 1832 from Wisconsin. In just one hundred years bison had been eradicated east of the Mississippi. Next, most of the millions that remained on the Great Plains were killed to make bison robes, feed railroad workers, and fuel an industrial revolution. They were also killed for sport and as a means of controlling Native Americans. 

By 1884 only 325 wild bison survived in the Lower 48. This included two dozen hiding deep within Yellowstone National Park where hunting was not allowed.

The populations of other wolf prey—elk, deer, and pronghorn—that ranchers saw as competitors for precious grass also declined. As wildlife were eaten or chased off, cattle and sheep moved in. Wolves—hungry and deprived of their natural prey—took livestock. And paid with their lives.

Wolves were killed for pelts and bounties.


In the 1800s, the market for wolf hides boomed as beavers—trapped to make felt hats—neared extinction. Historians Lee Whittlesey and Paul Schullery refer to an 1873 article in Helena, Montana’s, The Daily Herald reporting that a group of wolfers [professional wolf hunters] accumulated about 10,000 wolf hides during one winter.


Meanwhile, wolves killed some cattle and sheep that ranchers ran in wolf country. Ranchers complained and state governments responded by instituting bounties on wolves—just as colonists had 200 years earlier. In 1838 Michigan instituted a bounty as did Minnesota in 1849, Iowa in 1858, Wisconsin in 1865, Colorado in 1869, Wyoming in 1875, and Montana in 1883.


Whittlesey and Schullery found records that show bounties paid on 80,000 wolves from 1883 to 1918 in Montana and on 30,000 wolves in Wyoming from 1895 to 1917. They caution that these numbers may be overstated because “bounty hunters were creative and energetic in defrauding authorities.” They reference another historian who estimated that the number of wolves killed during the 1860s and 1870s was unknown but a “conservative estimate would be more than 100,000 per year between 1870 and 1877.” That’s at least 700,000 wolves.


This slaughter took various forms. Wolves were hunted with dogs, shot, trapped, and dug from their dens. Wolf packs died after eating poisoned carcasses left for them. And wolves didn’t fight back. Their natural intelligence, speed, strength, and teeth were no match for our big brains and big arsenals.

Wolves Became Feared and Hated in Literature.


But physically eliminating wolves was not enough. Even as wolves disappeared from the countryside, we kept wolves alive, feared, and hated in literature, especially in children's stories. Take Grimm's Fairy Tales, for example. When published in 1812, though wolves were almost eradicated in Germany by then, that book contained "Little Red Riding Hood," with its infamous wolf.


Around the same time, Europeans—on a continent almost devoid of wolves—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 a 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—filled with anti-wolf propaganda—taught new generations to fear and hate wolves that didn't even exist.


The US Government Institutionalized Wolf Killing.


Anti-wolf propaganda was institutionalized in the US by our government’s wolf-killers. This process began in 1885, when a three-person unit, the Section of Economic Ornithology (SEO), was created in the US Department of Agriculture to gather and analyze information on bird migrations. But the SEO’s job quickly changed as livestock interests throughout the West lobbied against paying grazing fees on public lands populated with wolves and coyotes. 


The federal government moved to protect its income from grazing fees at the cost of wildlife, and in 1905, the SEO became the Bureau of Biological Survey. The newly named agency investigated predator-livestock conflicts and produced publications that described how to shoot, trap, and poison wolves. The agency helped develop the practice of taking wolf pups in the den.


By the early 1920s, predator and rodent control became the main job of the Bureau of Biological Survey and this paid well. For many years the financial support received from western states and livestock associations exceeded monies appropriated by Congress for the Survey’s budget, according to a Texas Tech University paper. (This unit would continue to grow, become charged with killing predators and other wildlife, and in 1997 would be named Wildlife Services—our nation’s secretive and out-of-control wolf killers.)


Between 1916 and 1926 even the National Park Service joined in the killing with a predator control program that resulted in the extermination of wolves from Yellowstone National Park by 1926 or possibly earlier.


In addition to the killing by the federal government, wolf hunts peaked in the 1920s and1930s, with up to 21,000 wolves killed by hunters every year. 


With all this killing, wolves disappeared from Missouri by the late 1800s, from Kansas by the early 1900s, from Nebraska by 1913, from Iowa by 1925, and from Colorado by 1941. 


By 1970 only 700 of the once two million wolves remained in the Lower 48. Those wolves were hiding in the woods of northern Minnesota and on Isle Royale.


What lessons can we take from our wolf-human history? 


How does the past relate to the future of wolves in the Lower 48? That’s the subject of the fourth and final part in this series.


To Read PART 1

To Read PART 2


JOIN Rick in his latest writing adventure, Love the Wild, a free weekly letter to subscribers. You’ll enjoy a diverse selection of podcasts, photo essays, opinion pieces, excerpts from Rick's award-winning books, and more. All aim to excite your mind and warm your heart with stories about wildlife and wild lands. 

 

Rick's bestselling In the Temple of Wolves; its sequel, Deep into Yellowstone; and its prequel, The Wilds of Aging are available signed. His books are also available unsigned or as eBook or audiobook on Amazon.

Photo Credits: 

Wolf pair by Isle Royale National Park

Bison and wolf by Rick Lamplugh

Little Red Riding Hood public domain




Monday, September 20, 2021

A Brief History of Wolves and Humans, PART 2



Wolf Wars Begin in Europe


Any partnership hunters and gatherers may have had with wolves soured once our ancestors became herders that claimed land and raised livestock. They came to treat wolves as unwanted competitors. They began to dislike and fear wolves and wolf-human history degenerated from an inspiring tale of two species partnering to a sad story of one species with a powerful arsenal—and no 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 of them 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. 


Wolf wars such as these were not waged in a vacuum; Europeans were struggling with other deadly challenges. A Little Ice Age, that some experts believe began as early as the 1300s and lasted until the mid 1800s, chilled Europe. During that Little Ice Age, temperatures decreased, snowfall increased, and the growing season shrank. This reduced harvests and created devastating 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 needed for livestock and crops. More land for farming meant less available for wolves. 


As Europe’s population grew and spread, so did wolf killing. 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.


Anti-Wolf Attitudes Sail to the New World


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


Even though most colonists had never lost livestock to wolves, had never seen or heard wolves, they stepped off the boats disliking and fearing the predators. They began the New World siege quickly. As early as 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 that Old World anti-wolf attitudes begat New World anti-wolf attitudes. But historian Coleman argues that these immigrants and their descendants—our ancestors—added an American twist to the view of wolves. 


Given the colonists’ Old World view of wolves as monsters, one 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 those 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, wolves came to dine on imported livestock. 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 filled with fantasies—fed hatred and prompted vicious eradication of wolves in colonial America. 


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.

And as settlers moved west, the war on wolves moved with them. More on that in PART 3.


To Read PART 1 

Join Rick in his latest writing adventure, Love the Wild, a free weekly letter to subscribers. You'll enjoy a diverse selection of podcasts, photo essays, opinion pieces, excerpts from Rick's award-winning books, and more. All aim to excite your mind and warm your heart with stories about wildlife and wild lands.

Rick's bestselling In the Temple of Wolves; its sequel, Deep into Yellowstone; and its prequel, The Wilds of Aging are available signed. His books are also available unsigned or as eBook or audiobook on Amazon.


Wolf photo at top of post by ODFW