Wild Bill: The greatest hunting controversy of them all [wolf hunting]

At New West, Bill Schneider wrote an interesting column on the likihood of wolf hunting in the future in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

There have been a lot of thoughtful responses, especially from Robert Hoskins, who is a regular poster here.

 The Greatest Hunting Controversy of Them All. New West by Bill Schneider.



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  1. Dana Avatar

    thank you for this site, and for all the great information.
    As someone who lives in Utah where we don’t have wolves, or so most think, but who plays throughout the west, all the articles you post are of great interest to us, We have seen more wildlife in yellowstone than ever before due to information attained from this site, and also like to follow the controversary concerning the wolves, and all the issues concerning the places we most love to go. while I have to assume that this site takes some time to keep up and running I hope that you know how many people appreciate your efforts in keeping us informed.
    thanks again

  2. Rick Hammel Avatar
    Rick Hammel

    Robert Hoskins comments on this article are very accurate: the wolf population will be self limiting. As prey diminishes, packs will try to invade other packs territiory. And death of some of the two pack’s members will occur. Or disease will eliminate many animals. Witness the loss of pups in Yellowstone last year. The Park had a net loss of wolves in 2005.

    Hunting should probably occur. However, I feel that it should be very limited and restricted to only those hunters that can demonstrtate high hunter ethics. Or possibly use the California Desert Bighorn Sheep hunt as a model; a high dollar($5000) lottery.

  3. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    I’ve got a feeling the Idaho Fish and Game Commission won’t be denied on the Clearwater elk thing. They are determined to restore elk there regardless of habitat constraints, and they will probably get their way (kind of like Bush’s determination to get Saddam’s WMDs).

    If wolves are eventually to be reduced in the upper Clearwater, I’d much rather see a public hunt than Wildlife Services gunning them from helicopters. Folks in places like Kooskia and Orofino would feel good about that even though they probably would be doing nothing to bring the elk back.

  4. Craig Hortman Avatar
    Craig Hortman

    After men killed the wolves in the Park, Yellowstone was without wolves for over 50 years and the grazing animal nearly totaled the plant life to the point where the whole Ecosystem was messed up.

    Wolves have been in North America for over 10,000 years during which, great herds of elk, deer, and other grazing animals have survived and the plantlife flurished.

    I ask you —-Who does the best job of keeping our planet balanced?

  5. Jerry Black Avatar
    Jerry Black

    Ralph…if you’re correct and Idaho gets permission to slaughter the Clearwater packs, it may be time for some type of “peaceful” demonstrations in that area. NOT “civil disobedience” That would be domestic terrorism under this administration’s guidelines and off to Gitmo we’d go.
    A peaceful protest would get the attention of the big news agencies and they might even get video of the sub-human cowards from WS shooting from their choppers.
    I know this is akin to “the elephant in the room”, but I think it’s time to think about it if they receive the go ahead.
    I’d like to hear ideas from others and I’ll take comments at “targhee20012@yahoo.com”
    If “I’ve crossed the line”, Ralph, I’ll take the penalty.

  6. John Scanlan Avatar

    Dr. Maughan,
    Whew! I finally found a way to contact you. Thanks!!! My name is John Scanlan – you don’t know me – and I am coming to Idaho for two months in the summer of 2007 to stay in Stanley and hike. As the author of “Hiking Idaho”, can you recommend a good book for hiking that part of central Idaho? Have you written such a book? Is it possible to just buy that portion of “Hiking Idaho”? Thank you, thank you, thank you very much, and I most certainly welcome any comments from your wife, too. Please reply back to ping1@hargray.com.
    John Scanlan
    Hilton Head, SC

    I will answer by private email, except to say that Hiking Idaho and other hikes are available per hike for a fee at http://www.trails.com, but buy the book, we get better royalties! 😉 Ralph

  7. Robert Hoskins Avatar

    Thanks for the compliment re: my comments on wolf management. Sometimes I wonder if the great effort I’ve put into learning wolf ecology and wolf politics over the last fifteen years has been worth it. I don’t see that what I’ve learned has had much practical effect, especially here in Wyoming, where what one knows about wolves from experience can’t stand up to what people know about wolves from prejudice.
    I hope that people are able to block Idaho’s proposal to kill off wolves in the Clearwater to “release” elk numbers in the area. It will be a great waste of time and money, and won’t accomplish anything positive for elk. Even in Alaska, the ADF&G has realized that if the habitat won’t support a larger population of ungulates after wolf control, all that will be accomplished is the expenditure of large amounts of money for no benefit whatsoever to the ungulate population or even hunters. What needs to happen in the Clearwater is prescribed burning and judicious logging to open up the country so that elk will thrive.

    Well it’s easy to get discouraged, but social change is slow. Meanwhile we have wolf recovery, big time!
    Montana is changing. Wyoming, where you live is a big discouragement. Idaho is showing signs of change, even Custer County! Ralph

  8. feartheseeds Avatar

    The ‘question’ isn’t about the ecosystem, wolves will thrive when given enough prey and the packs will shrink when there’s not enough prey. That’s easy. The question Schneider seems to be asking is are there enough wolves now to support a viable commercial hunt. There probably are, it really depends on the intelligence of the regulatory body, but Schneider’s statement: “If we don’t have active control, those 1,000 wolves will become 10,000 wolves…” is just goofy. There has never been an actual need to hunt wolves, it’s all about desire and a complete lack of understanding of the role of the predator in nature. Wolves are perfectly capable of maintaining a healthy population, and I don’t think there’s enough wildlife left in the States to support anywhere close to 10,000 of any predator.
    ‘Civil disobedience’ is always ‘in order’ if you want to stop any possible hunt, but I really get the feeling that a corner has been turned when it comes to hunting. I’m pretty sure that with the emergence of YouTube and the urbanizing of your mid-west (more blue state voting types), it would be next to impossible to add animals to hunting lists. And whatever evidence there is of wolves killing domestic animals just isn’t credible enough to support a cull.
    There is a worry, however, that this could become a cycle… 1) wolves hunted to extinction, 2) “oh God, what have we done?”, 3) call the Canadians, 4) we send you a few dozen more wolves, 5) they grow up, 6) they eat stuff, 7) you guys blow them up, blah, blah, blah.

  9. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I agree, I thought “Wild Bill” wrote a pretty good article, with one glaring exception. No way will the current 1000 wolves grow to 10,000 wolves in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. The prey base isn’t there, and I expect the population growth will end soon. Growth did halt in Montana and Wyoming a couple years ago, but it has since resumed a bit. Yellowstone, of course, saw a huge decrease last year, showing how fast a wolf population can decline if there is a year of pup failure.

    Regarding resistance to a wolf hunt, for those willing to take that course, I think demonstrations are probably not effective in these times. The Internet, with innovations like YouTube and blogs, are likely a key element.

    Every era and every issue needs a different set of political tools.

  10. Marion Avatar

    I know you’ll kick this off Ralph, but I will remind you that there are over half of that 10,000 on the ground now between the Rockies and Great Lakes, so 10,000 isn’t at all far fetched.

  11. Bob caesar Avatar
    Bob caesar

    This is in jest so please don’t get all exercised.

    Wouldn’t it be great sport to shoot a wolf with an semi-automatic rifle or shotgun from an aero plane, or even better from a helicopter? But, maybe using bait such as an almost dead horse set out in February would be good too? Then again running them into the ground with snowmobiles across vast open spaces can be fun! So much excitement, so little time…

    Sad to say those are some of the ways to “sport” hunt wolves. Sound like fun? I’ll bet MT ID & WY G & F would go for all the above. Otherwise the chances of killing a wolf in “fair chase” are about nil. It’ll be interesting what form of “sport” wolf hunting will take.

  12. John Avatar

    I have a question.
    I have not heard very much about Idaho’s plan for wolves in the clearwater. Are they proposing to reduce wolf numbers, or eliminate them completely from the north fork of the clearwater.

    The original proposal was to reduce the wolf population by up to 75% from the present and maintain the population at 25-40% of preremoval wolf abundance for 5 years. The proposal area is for two large game management units in the headwaters of the North Fork and Middle Fork of the Clearwater River (more properly, the headwaters of the Selway River). They are GMUs 10 and 12. They estimated that 43 wolves would be killed the first year of the program.
    The draft proposal said that regular take by sportsman was the preferred method of reduction, but that current federal rules prohibit that method (this is true).
    The draft proposal is on-line at:


  13. feartheseeds Avatar

    Bob caesar: “Sad to say those are some of the ways to “sport” hunt wolves. Sound like fun?… Otherwise the chances of killing a wolf in “fair chase” are about nil. It’ll be interesting what form of “sport” wolf hunting will take.”

    You want interesting ‘sport’ hunting? When I was a lot younger I worked in a (way) Northern Ontario hunting & fishing camp owned by a couple out of Chicago and populated entirely by tourists from the fine country of America. One of my jobs was baiting sites with chunks of ham wrapped in butcher socks and slathered in molasses. Three baits and two blinds per site. The tourists paid over a grand each for a week (this is going back a bit) for the privilege of waiting in a small camouflaged shack for black bears to arrive for their ham and molasses sacks. When I was skinning the poor wee beasts there would be holes in them as large as my fist. If you want to see the future of regulated wolf hunting come on up north and witness the bear hunt. Actually… we have regulated wolf hunts as well…

  14. Howard Avatar

    I don’t care for the idea of sport hunting wolves, and I don’t think there is any practical reason to do so in terms of “control”… the state can take out true problem wolves and curb expansion into totally unsuitable, agriculture heavy regions without the need for additional back-up (in other words, when control is actually appropriate… I’m not talking about wildlife agencies slaughtering wolves from helicopters in wilderness areas and public lands).
    However, if wolf hunting MUST occur to accommodate the sociopolitical climate, I too would much prefer a hunt to having Wildlife Services blasting wolves from the air. From a conservation standpoint, a wolf hunt could be an excellent way to mainstream the wolf into the pantheon of “valuable” wildlife, instead of as gods or as vermin. The cougar went from being vermin to valuable big game in the West; perhaps such a shift could occur with the wolf as well. My main concerns with this approach is that the states may resist treating wolves as game animals and use a hunt to mask massive killings (especially in the event that the rules are not fair chase). The other concern is that for those of us who consider all wildlife inherently valuable, and that includes many, many hunters (there are quite a few on this forum), I do not want to set a precedent of making conservation and public/political acceptance of wildlife contingent on the approval of people who believe that any creature whose head you can’t mount is worthless. These people already monopolize what most politicians consider the hunting lobby, even though they hardly represent all hunters, and in many places, are a distinct minority view among people who hunt.

    Assuming a real fair chase was implemented, I would not fight a wolf hunt, even though I don’t like it. I do have a biological concern however. If a wolf hunt was instituted, is there any possible mechanism that could be implemented to prevent alpha wolves from being taken? I honestly don’t see how. That’s a major wrinkle here in managing a wolf hunt… wolves are social and the death of a pack member affects group dynamics. Ironically, using a wolf hunt to “control” wolf numbers may actually result in packs breaking up and dispersing further afield.

    Of course, life in the wild is harsh…even without the hand of man, wild wolves die all the time, including alphas… packs don’t immediately break up every time there’s a fatality, so a hunt may not be as socially disruptive as I fear…any thoughts on this?

  15. feartheseeds Avatar

    Howard: “Assuming a real fair chase was implemented, I would not fight a wolf hunt, even though I don’t like it. I do have a biological concern however. If a wolf hunt was instituted, is there any possible mechanism that could be implemented to prevent alpha wolves from being taken? I honestly don’t see how.”

    I’m not sure why GPS tracking hasn’t being considered. There really are no “fair chases”, the wolf never knows it’s being hunted and it’s entire DNA is built around always being the hunter. So if hunting has to proceed for whatever reason and baiting is reprehensible (and it is), and cluster bombing is banned by the UN, why not have the Parks Services tag the entire population with one of those tracking devices we currently put in our domestic pets, then sell one code to each hunter. The hunter is then given a reader and sent out into the bush. If he can find a ‘target’ he’s free to blast away. Or simply use a GPS chip and give the hunters their own personal coded prey. This way you can save the Alpha’s, the potential breeders and the young ones. The Park Services wouldn’t even have to tag them all, just the ones specifically chosen as… I don’t know… unnecessary?

  16. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    The alpha female, more than any other wolf, seems to be the glue that holds the pack together, but she is neither a necessary nor sufficient requirement for a group of wolves staying together as a pack.

    One of things hunting will do is fragment packs, and create dispersal. I am saying that a side-effect of hunting might be more wolves heading toward Utah, Oregon, Washington, etc. As with coyotes, increased diffuse mortality might increase the wolf population and wolf-occupied territory, at least in the short run

  17. feartheseeds Avatar

    When the Alpha Female of most predator species is killed, for whatever reason, the New Alpha (determined after a struggle or a simple and direct acsension) usually enters a breeding cycle right away. The problem is that years pups, who usually end up dead, and any potetial rivals to the New Alpha. There is always a ‘sorting out’ process. The Pack may stay together but its strength is now determined by a rookie Leader who, depending on age and experience, may or may not know what the next step should be. It’s like making Brett Farve disappear mid-play and leaving it to the remaining Packers on the field to sort out who gets to be QB while the Seahawks defense is still running.
    If the Wolf Pack does disperse it means four weak packs more likely to disintegrate. It means new territorial markings, and defending said territory which takes a lot of energy and can result in further disintegration. Hunting the Alpha is a collosal mistake. Much like the human world it’s the teenagers who need to be culled. Or at least sent to their rooms.

  18. PuppyLove Avatar

    I am in favor of hunting wolves…by whatever means….they are predators and should be hunted like coyotes…shot and left to rot….

  19. sally roberts Avatar
    sally roberts

    Some people (i.e., PuppyLove) are sick. No animal deserves to be “shot and left to rot”. People with this mentality maybe need to seek help. If one can be so mad at something that they shoot it for fun, or sport, his may suggest some deeper issues.

  20. Jerry Black Avatar
    Jerry Black

    Ralph…..would you mind elaborating on your belief that “demonstrations are no longer effective”.
    What has changed in our society where demonstrations were such a contributing factor in exposing so many injustices and resulted in bringing about positive changes?
    Is it fear of “big brother watching”, laziness, lack of passion, lack of trust in our justice system……
    Guess I’m just from the era where we saw changes brought about by our willingness to stick our neck out and “stand for something”.
    Seems to me that all this consensus building is crap and I’d like to hear any ideas that will get people’s attention.

  21. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    You have to think about the goal of a protest. It is an indirect method of political persuasion.

    Protest is a possible political resource whereby those disadvantaged by political system use public sympathy for the cause of the protesters to move key political actors.

    In order to accomplish this, you need media coverage. The media coverage needs to be sympathetic.

    The public or other key political elements have to be moved by the coverage to influence the key political actors.

    This isn’t original thought of mine. I’m just outlining standard political science.

    If you think these conditions are all present, and you are willing to bear the cost of protesting, then protest.

    One reason so many blogs have sprung up is the feeling that the mainstream media is no longer sympathetic to anyone but the powerful and will not cover protest in a favorable light.

  22. Jerry Black Avatar
    Jerry Black

    I’m sure you’re correct, Ralph. It’s difficult for me to visualize the transition from blogs to actually affecting wildlife management policies. I do see it works in the political arena(Move-on .org etc), I’m just trying to figure out how it will work in regards to the wolf issue and how the average person who is so fustrated can make a difference.
    Actually, I believe there’s alot of concerned people like myself out there.

  23. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I agree, Jerry. I think the number of people who support a broad view of wildlife is underestimated because it has so far proven very hard to organize them politically.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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