A recent article in Wood River Journal titled Wolf Project Enters 10th year detailed how private livestock producers have successfully harassed public wildlife on public lands to reduce losses to native predators.


It details how Defenders of Wildlife, working with wealthy millionaire ranchers like the Lava Lake and Land Company, have joined together to harass wolves to make the public lands safe for domestic sheep. But it is an example of communal brain-washing whereby the idea is “normalized” that domestic livestock should have priority on our public lands, even if it harms native wildlife like wolves.

The article reports that sheep herders armed with loud noise makers, boom boxes, starter pistols and other devices designed harass wolves away from grazing sheep. Sometimes additional volunteers help out in harrying wolves.

The problem is there is a perverse and unquestioned assumption. What animals should have priority on public lands?  Domestic livestock being grazing for private profit or native wildlife like wolves?

Just because wolves aren’t being shot, doesn’t mean they aren’t being harmed by domestic livestock and/or the harassment promulgated by the Wood River Wolf Project.

Much ecological research has documented that the mere presence of domestic livestock harms our wildlife, including wolves.

When domestic sheep and/or cattle are brought on to public lands grazing allotments, they socially displace native species like elk. The native wildlife thus are relegated to less suitable habitat and their overall fitness suffers as a consequence.

And let’s not forget that domestic grazing animals are consuming the same forage that would otherwise support native herbivores like elk and deer. Thus, by reducing available forage for native wildlife, the domestic animals are in effect reducing the prey base for predators like wolves.

So even if ranchers/sheep herders don’t kill wolves, their animals are in effect taking food out of the mouth of wolves.

Wolves must then search longer and farther to find sufficient food—even if they don’t take the easy meal of domestic livestock. This requires the use of more energy as well as exposing them to additional mortality from everything from hunters to collisions with vehicles to being killed by other livestock producers.

Harassing wolves with noise makers and so forth also add additional stress to wolves.

All of this does not begin to address the multiple other ways that domestic livestock damages the public land resources and values. Water pollution. Spread of weeds. Trampling of vegetation. Soil compaction. Spread of disease from domestic animals to wildlife. Damage to riparian areas.

If we were managing our public lands for the public, in particular, the majority of Americans who value having wolves on their lands, when there was any real or even perceived conflict between domestic animals and public wildlife, the domestic animals should be removed.

Our public wolves should not have to suffer just to provide a subsidized feeding trough for private businesses utilizing public lands as a feedlot for their domestic animals.

Wolves should have the freedom to roam our public lands without suffering from harassment and persecution. Time to change priorities.

About The Author

George Wuerthner

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and former hunting guide with a degree in wildlife biology

22 Responses to Wolf Project Harassment

  1. avatar Sandy Lee says:

    I am far from being an expert but come at this a lover of wolves and what they contribute to our environment and feel frustrated that it seems like there is nothing we can do to save them. All recent administrations have sold them out and now they are in terrible danger. While I used to support Defenders of Wildlife I find more and more they are very two faced on how they support wildlife and am disappointed to see yet another example of their duplicity. Wolves are an important apex predator and are needed, they has to be a way to help them.

  2. avatar Patrick says:

    The best way forward is to continue to buy out grazing allotments and remove the livestock. Yes, I’d like to see the allotments retired, but it would happen faster if they simply got bought out.

  3. Agreed.

    I thought Brenda Peterson’s recent book, Wolf Nation, was far too enthusiastic about this kind of harassment. The attitude we are encouraged to adopt is that “compromise” is necessary; we can find a “win-win” solution; wolf recovery will continue to enjoy support in the West if ranchers can be shown ways to “coexist” with wolves; etc. All of these arguments require us to subordinate sound ecology to human convenience.

  4. avatar Kurt Holtzen says:

    Ive been involved with the WRWP for almost 5 years and although not a perfect solution at least the producers were willing to come to the table and give non lethal a chance. It is very easy for them to have wolves lethally removed and they will.As a general rule you don’t find many solutions in the far right or left but in the middle ground. You would not believe the time and effort put into this project by people like Brian Bean and many others.. not because they have to but because they want to…and wanting to is the biggest hurtle to get over when talking coexistence.

  5. avatar mandy says:

    This might be an unpopular opinion and I come at this as a wolf lover and advocate, but after seeing two packs slaughtered from helicopters by the State of Washington, this is a compromise I can live with as long as the wolves stay alive and have a fighting chance. I think they’re resourceful and smart enough to stay away from stupid humans that make too much noise. It does cause them some hardship, but maybe success will engender a willingness to coexist efficiently and humanely. At least they’re not being shot!

    • avatar MTConservationist says:

      Well said. As conservation advocates, our job is to look at the forest not the trees, or in this case, wolf populations, social dynamics and healthy ecosystems, not individual animals or personal emotions.

      In the case of these proactive, collaborative conflict avoidance efforts, they’ve proven to be a win-win compromise that recognizes the realities of public lands policy today. Hell of a lot better than nothing.

    • avatar Scott Slocum says:

      Yes, as Mandy wrote about the effect of agriculture on wildlife: “it does cause them some hardship.” And that’s the focus of this essay. I’m glad to see the author maintaining such a sharp focus on the problem, and not letting his criticism be blunted by acknowledgements of “lesser evils.” I assume that his strategy is to make sure that we’re fully aware that the problem continues to exist, even in the best cases of grazing on public and private land. We, as a society, make decisions about public land use; and how we decide depends upon our awareness of all of our options. If we assume that most or all wild lands should and will be used for agriculture, then we can only consider two options: 1) extermination or 2) coexistence through non-lethal wildlife management. If we do that, then we lose sight of another option: 3) the conservation of wild lands, free of agriculture, for wildlife.

      Comments like those from “MTConservationist,” that coexistence through non-lethal depredation management is a “hell of a lot better than nothing,” attempt to limit our options, and our thinking, to the agricultural options, and to ignore the option of managing public and private lands for wilderness, free of agriculture.

      • avatar Moose says:

        “the option of managing public and private lands for wilderness, free of agriculture”

        Private lands, huh? How are you going to do that?

        • avatar Scott Slocum says:

          Even though the focus of this article is on public lands, I included private lands in my comment because the individuals, conservation organizations, etc. that own private lands also have the option of managing their lands for wilderness, free of agriculture.

  6. avatar MTConservationist says:

    Want to get the cows off public lands? Call your Congressperson. They may listen, they may agree, or they may not. Regardless, today’s Congress is not going to change the multi-use mandate that governs public lands outside designated Wilderness and national parks. Will tomorrow’s? Maybe, though any seasoned political observer would call that extremely unlikely even with a shift in power.

    In the meantime, projects like Wood River, and others you’ve ranted against in Montana and Washington, offer collaborative progress to protect the lives of wolves and the livelihoods of small business owners operating in often economically depressed rural areas. Considering the circumstances, that sort of compromise with legitimate win-win benefits should be applauded and repeated elsewhere.

    George, it’s extremely disappointing that someone as seemingly intelligent and experienced as yourself continually fails to recognize that politics and policy in general, and conservation in particular, does not happen in a vacuum of idealism. We work within the state of play we’re given. You advocate for an ideal outcome in an un-ideal world, dismissing incremental progress along the way. That helps neither wolves and wildlife nor rural communities.

    In fact, one could make a strong argument that this same sort of unbridled idealism without a necessary dose of pragmatism or compromise is exactly what caused the narrative and social dynamics in our country that led to the current President being elected.

    I hope you’ll consider a different, more thoughtful and realistic track in future writings.

    • avatar Kurt Holtzen says:

      Couldn’t agree more !!

    • avatar Gary Humbard says:

      +++ on many of your points. As you stated public land management agencies have been mandated since the 1970s to utilize a “multiple use” system of which grazing is one of those uses. Are there particular areas and habitat that should not have livestock, of course and when those allotments come up for renewal, NGO’s like Defenders are advocating for them not be be renewed. I personally provide the National Wildlife Federation and Greater Yellowstone Coalition funds that are dedicated for the buyout of willing landowners and they are making a difference for native wildlife.

      Currently, only 3% of the total # of livestock in the US are grazed on public lands and I applaud Defenders and other NGO’s for working to minimize the impacts to native wildlife and their habitats. But of course, it’s much easier to just criticize without any proactive actions and refuse to acknowledge, livestock products are going to come from somewhere. I dare anyone to go to a feedlot where many are raised and see the conditions those animals go through!

      • avatar Scott Slocum says:

        As I understand it, the 3% statistic is an estimate of how much grass-finished beef is sold in the United States–not how much is produced in the U.S., nor how much is produced on public land in the U.S., nor how much corn-finished beef was started on grass, etc..

        In other words, it’s an estimate that about 3% of the beef sold in the U.S. is from livestock raised exclusively on grass somewhere in the world (e.g. in the U.S., Australia, Uruguay, etc.).

        Although I applaud livestock producers who minimize their impacts on wildlife and the environment, the facts are 1) that their minimum isn’t so great, and 2) neither they nor their predator-exterminating counterparts are “feeding the world.”

    • avatar Moose says:

      Great post MTC.

  7. avatar Carol Ames says:

    Unchecked human overpopulation growth. Animal-based agriculture and diet. Man-made “competition” for land and water between people, domestic “livestock,” and free-living herbivores and predators. I’m no expert, but I know this: the ideology of human supremacy is irrational, immoral and irresponsible. Place animals between humans and a dollar bill, and you can kiss the animals “good-bye.”

  8. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    I read an excerpt from ‘Wolf Nation’, and there was something noted that bothered me. It mentions a European study claiming that domestic dogs are not directly descended from wolves, but speculates that there is an intermediate ancestor.

    The upshot(!) is that because wolves have ‘bad table manners’ and that domesticated dogs respond better to humans (nevermind the fact that they have been domesticated by man for millennia) – there must be another ancestor? Admittedly, I stopped reading right there and haven’t read the study, so perhaps I don’t have all the information correct.

    I remember Dr. Treves mentioning a European study of some kind, is that the one?

    I’m very particular about the wildlife books I read, because sometimes I feel they continue the spread of dangerous ideas and misinformation.

    There’s one about wildlife scientists on an island and it suddenly takes a Hitchcockian turn, with the birds attacking the heroine, and another wolf fiction that mentions a couple of times wolves taking babies (despite the fact that the heroine leaves the baby unattended in the woods! Come on now, it’s the 21st century).

    This kind of stuff I cannot read.

    • avatar Scott Slocum says:

      Sure, there are intermediate “ancestors.” Tens of thousands of years of them, leading down who-knows-how-many canid lines (more than just “dog” or “wolf”). Lines tangled and untangled who-knows-how-many times. Not the kind of intermediate “ancestors” that get their own species names. Modern wolves aren’t the same as their ancestors, and neither are modern dogs; so of course, modern dogs didn’t descend from modern wolves. Which points of tangling and untangling will be defined? How many studies will be done, and how many books will be written to explore all of the possibilities? Counterpoint and speculation in each one. A skeptic might see all of this as a “sustainable business model” for grant funding and book sales.

      • avatar Ida Lupine says:

        Well,yes –

        And I also see it, intentionally or unintentionally, as muddying the waters about the descent of our beloved dogs from the wild wolf.

        And all of it, from what I understand, is speculation. DNA is DNA.

        I’ve even read one article where is said wolves domesticated themselves (NYT). Domestication by its very definition means mankind’s involvement.

  9. avatar Brett Haverstick says:

    Grazing on public lands is a destructive force on public lands and the American taxpayer. Conservation groups that preach co-existence and non-lethal measures, while collaborating in other working groups that approve slaughtering wolves from helicopters are doing an equal disservice to the land and the public.

    • avatar Kurt Holtzen says:

      Personally I think the disservice is not being at the table to express your opinion and offer alternative options to lethal control and most importantly to look them in the eye and let them know we are out there and we will show up at the depredation and if the facts don’t support their claims were going to argue that point. I know a kill order was resended because of the project being involved and so I’m going to continue to support this project and others until someone shows me a solution that works today .

      • avatar Scott Slocum says:

        Kurt, I guess you mean “… until someone shows me a solution that works today,” one that works even for those who aren’t willing to try most of the solutions that are available today.

        That’s my perspective, too (except that I can’t help but add the qualification).

        I think we need to keep the author’s (and the commenters’) idealism in sight. It’s where the natural baseline lies, from which the relative effectiveness of today’s generally-acceptable “solutions” can be measured.

    • avatar MTConservationist says:

      Brett, I understand where you’re coming from, I truly do. But being able to balance our personal emotions and ideologies with the social and political realities of the day is an essential component of being a strategic, effective conservation advocate.

      Like George’s article, your comment advocates for an ideal solution in an unideal world. You dismiss compromise and collaboration, and the incremental progress it brings, but offer no effective path to a better long-term outcome. alternative. And in your ideal claims, you dismiss the other players at the conservation and public lands table; that’s like saying you’re the best chess player around when your’re only playing against yourself.

      I’ve followed your work for awhile, and I know you’re a passionate advocate for wildlife and wild places. But as someone who has also worked in that area, please believe me when I say being a mature, effective conservationist is learning to incrementally change the system for the better, because we’re not going to overthrow it.

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July 2017
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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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