Wolf management takes addition and subtraction — ed from Missoulian

The Missoulian has an editorial lauding the current wolf management regime.

However, I fundamentally disagree that wolf management requires active management, killing wolves if there are too numerous and proping them up if the numbers fall too low.

The best way to manage wolves is to make sure there is good habitat for elk and deer and other prey. Eliminating knapweed and starthistle, stopping backcountry sub-divisions, and reforming and reducing the grazing of livestock on public lands is the kind of wolf management that is needed because that will benefit elk, deer, bighorn sheep, moose, pronghorn, etc.

Some folks who haven’t thought through basic ecological relationships believe that people who promote wolf recovery don’t like elk or deer, and that you have to choose, but that is a false choice. What’s good for the prey is good for the predator. My original support for wolf restoration, and much of it still is on behalf of the many positive ecological effects (side effects of the wolves). One of those is improving the condition of elk, making them less like livestock, making them wary.

Unfortuntely, there are some hunters who think the secret is to feed elk and eliminate anything that might eat them, and  keep them tame so they can waddle out to their ATV and hopefully get a shot from a backcountry road with no recognition that hunting should be a total experience.







  1. Robert Hoskins Avatar

    Ralph’s advocacy for ecologically based wildlife and land management goes back as far as Aldo Leopold. However, the agricultural approach to game management, which you also find in Leopold (e.g., his book Game Management, published in 1933), has become so dominant that I wonder just how it is possible to make the shift to an ecological perspective. There is a density problem; the more land is developed, the more the pressure to intensify wildlife and land management. It creates a positive feedback system, the consequences of which get worse and worse.

    The problem is economic, in the greedy drive to develop; the problem is political, because the developers control the political process; and the problem is cultural, because agriculture is the base of civilization, and the one thing that both agriculture and civilization despise and fear is wildness and wild things–everything must be brought under control.

    The answer lies somewhere in working for and toward wildness and wild things at the expense of agriculture and civilization.

  2. matt bullard Avatar
    matt bullard

    Robert – can you expand upon the notion that we must work for wildness and wild things at the expense of ag and civilization? I am all for working for wildness and wild things, but I don’t believe it must be at the expense of ag and civilization. I am researching this concept now and am curious to hear your perspective. I personally think that in certain areas wildness should come at the expense of ag and civilization, but I am not sure that in general, this is a zero sum situation as you suggest. I look to the spawning salmon in the stream that runs through downtown Ketchikan, AK as one example of how wildness and civilization can coexist, if given the chance. The notion that this is a one or the other but not both scenario also assumes that humans as fundamentally “not natural”, or not a part of nature, a concept I tend to reject as well.

    I agree with Ralph that we should emphasize an ecological view of wolf management, but that does not seem politically realistic at this time. Of course that doesn’t mean we should not be working for and advocating such an approach…

  3. Pronghorn Avatar

    It definitely IS one or the other (wildness or civilization) where consumption of habitat is concerned—wild habitat lost to massive residential ski resort development, to massive (and not so massive) out-lying subdivisions, to gravel pits, to mining, etc. These and more are moving forward around me as I type.

    In an ironic observation, I noted that my neighbors have put out a display of lighted deer in front of their house. I’m sure they haven’t made the connection that it was their cretin children on ATVs who drove the REAL deer out of the neighborhood in the first place.

    Another observation: It was, at least in part, ancestral wolves among other predators who put pressure upon ungulates over evolutionary time to create the magnificent elk, deer, and others we live with today. Those who lament the fact that wolves are killing “their” “game” just don’t get it. (And I suspect that my neighbors’ kids will grow up to join their ranks.)

  4. Robert Hoskins Avatar

    One of the benefits, or perhaps costs, of my military career was the time I spent in places where civilization and agriculture have been around the longest. These are the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Africa, and Southwest Asia. To put it bluntly, the historic civilzations of these areas destroyed their soils, their forests, and their wildlife, and believe me, it shows. The wealth generated from this ecological destruction fueled the expansion of empire and commerce in the Old World over thousands of years, with the view of grabbing the natural resources of those cultures and societies that were not as “advanced” as the civilized societies. The ideology of “advanced” societies taking on the burden of civilizing “primitive” peoples goes back a long way. Civilizations rose and fell violently in the competition for wealth from the control of natural resources and the enslavement of peoples who unfortunately lived in areas where resources had not been so intensively exploited.

    Now, in the MIddle East, we see the same thing happening with oil.

    Aldo Leopold once remarked that the only reason we still have wild places is that agriculture hasn’t gotten around to destroying them yet. The issue is control; agriculture drove the rise of civilization, the primary mark of which is slavery, by the growing ability to control natural processes on the short term for the benefit of a single species, humans, and within that species, of a very small elite.

    The fall of civilizations in the long term clearly demonstrates that ecological limits cannot be breached with impunity. This is the message of Jarrod Diamond’s book Collapse.

    Do we not see the same process at work in American history?

    Both agriculture and civlization have enshrined the ideology of perpetual growth and progress, the ideology that there are no limits to the human population, ecological or otherwise. (The existence of war proves the contrary, but it is politically incorrect to ascribe an ecological function to war).

    The expansion of agriculture and civilization takes time; just because the salmon still run at Ketchikan doesn’t hide the fact that they barely run at all further south, and run not at all elsewhere.

    It most certainly is a zero sum game. What we take is not replaced, except with the wastes of production. The earth is rapidly becoming a place unfit for “higher” forms of life.

    The reason to reject agriculture and civilization is not for any possibility of changing the destructive processes that are going on around us; the human species seems locked into this mad rush to self-destruction. It is to understand what is happening to us, and why, and in our own personal lives, to embrace what is wild and free in hopes that our descendants, if we have any, will learn from our mistakes. We have to tell the truth.

    I disagree that this approach assumes humans are not natural. It does take the position that civilized life, which seeks to remove humans from the ecological conditions under which we evolved over millions of years, and a condition under which we lived until about 10K years ago, is profoundly unnatural for human beings–it is a maladaptation that will be our undoing. It is our own social and cultural efforts that are making us unnatural, not our biology and evolution.

    Working for wildness is the only antidote.

    Have you read the Dune novels of Frank Herbert? THE theme of the novels is the conflict between the abstract falsehoods and stupidities of civilization–e.g., the millennia long human breeding program of the Bene Gesserit–and the concrete realities of wildness that disrupt the plans of humans throughout the universe.

    The Dune series of novels should be required reading for developing ecological understanding.

  5. matt bullard Avatar
    matt bullard

    Pronghorn – yes, that’s why I said it is a zero sum game in certain areas and with certain types of development. I don’t believe that agriculture and civilization are mutually exclusive of wildness, though, on a broad spectrum and even in certain specific instances such as the salmon of Ketchikan. But I guess this all gets down to our perception of humans’ role in “nature”. I guess I have a different view of agriculture in general. It certainly does conflict in many with the natural values I hold dear, but I don’t think that means that it has to conflict in ALL instances. Nor do I see agriculture or civilization going away any time soon, which suggests we should be trying to find ways where those concepts can be more finely tuned to an ecological perspective as opposed to rejecting them outright…

  6. Robert Hoskins Avatar

    Everywhere that civilization has taken hold, wildlife and wildlands have suffered and have been trasnformed into a human artifact. It helps to understand this if you have seen places in the world where this process is much further along than in North America.

    Agriculture and other processes of civilization have imposed a short-term positive feedback system on natural processes that were formerly negative. The effects–run away human population growth, global warming, global pollution, and destruction of biodiversity–are unprecedented in terran history. Never before has a single species had such global impact.

    Of course, the negative feedback system is the underlying default position. All civilization ensures is that when the balances are restored, the consequences are much more violent than under most natural conditions.

    How one deals with this is a personal decision. But there is no reason to believe that we can tweak the system to improve compatibilities between wildness and civilization.

    Our true job is to make sure that the idea of wildness remains alive.

  7. Pronghorn Avatar

    Be sure to take a look at this link (referenced elsewhere on this site) http://wwpblog.com/blog1/2006/11/cattle_produce_more_greenhouse.html and the further link it provides, if you haven’t already done so. Eating lower on the food chain is absolutely critical, but I fear that humans have not evolved far enough yet to understand this.


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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