A Reply to Robert Wharff. Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife-Wyoming.

Robert Wharff, executive director of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, Wyoming (SFW-WY) recently posted in response to some criticism of the organization on this blog.

In the same thread as Nate Helm (SFW-ID) commented, Wharff did likewise. Here is Robert Wharff’s post:

He wrote:

“It is interesting to see how some view SFW WY. As the Executive Director for SFW WY, I can tell you that I work with any group which shares my common goals. Some have leveled charges that SFW WY is in league with livestock producers, etc. It is because of our efforts that the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust was established.”

Anyone that has followed the wolf issue in Wyoming can recall that SFW and the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep (FNAWS) were the only groups which stood up in favor of Wyoming’s wolf management plan and Wyoming associated legislation. Why is it then that over 25 diverse groups joined a law suit against the USFWS for rejecting Wyoming’s plan after being approved by 10 out of the 11 experts? It is because SFW was able to talk with the leadership in the AG communities about our shared desires; that of seeing wolves delisted under a plan that Wyoming wants. Since it will be us Wyoming residents living with these introduced animals it is only logical that we should want to manage them in a manner consistent with our lifestyles. Now that the USFWS has officially taken final agency action and rejected Wyoming’s plan which overwhelmingly passed the peer review process only to be rejected by King Edward. The best available science concluded that Wyoming’s plan would work.

SFW will continue to work with those groups/individuals which share our common goals, etc. For those that want to trash talk our efforts, thanks. I take that too mean that we are beginning to stem the tide and you are starting to learn that Sportsmen are no longer absent. We are engaged in the political process.

For the record, SFW WY would also like to see wolves delisted so they can be MANAGED by state agencies rather then the USFWS. We still believe that Wyoming’s plan should have been approved, as did the peer review group, and that wolves within our state should be managed they way we determined. Our obligation to the United States and the ESA has always been 10 breeding pairs of introduced gray wolves.

On a side note, I never hear anyone talking about the native wolves which were wiped out by this forced introduction of a non-native species of wolf. Could this be something that you are willing to acknowledge happened because of the zeal to force wolves upon the west?

Things that make you go hmmmm!”

I thanked him for posting and he (Wharff) followed up . . .

“Ralph Maughan,

Thanks for the welcome. I am always glad to discuss wildlife, hunting, and fishing issues. I look forward to honest and open debate.

Even though some have taken shots at SFW I will refrain from calling individuals names, etc.

Most can probably tell by now that Mr. [Robert] Hoskins [Wyoming resident who writes about wildlife and hunting] and I do not agree. However, it is important for any good debate to have both sides of an issue presented. In this purpose, I am responding to some statements made by Mr. Hoskins.

First; the reference is to data I read supplied by the WY G&F Department which stated that although wolves had been extripated around 1937, confirmed sighting continued to occur clear up into the early 1990’s (prior to the introduction of the non-native, much larger Canadian wolf). They then go on to state that although they were able to confirm the wolf sighting of native wolves, they could not confirm that reproduction was taking place. If wolves had indeed been extripated in 1937 where were these wolves coming from? I doubt any of the public would believe that an extripated population of wolves would still be around in the 1990’s. Most wildlife biologist will admit that wildlife is not an exact science. Some would have the public believe otherwise. The basis for my earlier statement is just that. If wolves were present and wolf advocates were genuinely concerned about wolves then the logical conclusion to derive is that someone would have looked for an existing population prior to introduction.

Second; most would agree that knowingly introducing a larger, non-native population of wolves into this hallowed region, their first action would have been to remove any remnant populations of the native wolf. How much effort was devoted to determining whether or not any native wolves were in the area prior to the introduction of the non-native wolves?

As far as the peer review, I can tell you that I have also read it. For those of you that haven’t all I ask is that you go and read it. Mr. Hoskins has interjected his opinion into this document as have many others. I did not say that there were not issues or concerns expressed by the hand chosen wolf experts which performed the peer review. There were issues which were raised but only one did not approve of the three plans. Initially, this was suppose to be a concerted effort for all three states to share in the management process. The peer review document also states rather plainly and clearly that Wyoming, having the majority of the “wolf nursery” warranted a different management approach. Although some of the experts expresssed their concerns, just as I stated, 10 out of the 11 approved all three wolf management plans as they were instructed to review them. They looked at the complete picture, not whether or not each states management plan was exactly similar to the others plan. It is very clear that only one individual did not ultimately approve of Wyoming’s plan.

While it may be operationally impossible to manage for a precise number of wolves/packs; that is exactly what the non-essential experiment dictated. Wyoming didn’t make that element up, nor does Wyoming believe that it is possible. Especially when you consider that Yellowstone National Park is managed by another whole set of rules (?) with sometimes quite different goals from their managers. None-the-less, it was concluded that it was much easier to simply count the number of wolves travelling together ran then following the exactness of the experiment.

Of course Wyoming’s plan is supported by Legislation. What else could you expect when many did not want a non-native wolf to be introduced. Once again, this seems only logical to me that a state would want to protect its rights as well as the rights of its citizens. Had the USFWS not continued to move the goal, perhaps Wyoming’s Legislatures would not have felt the need to craft legislation to protect the interests of Wyoming’s citizens. It is pretty obvious that Wyoming believes that its plan was in fact correct and that there was no justification to warrant its rejections.

As far as whether or not Wyoming had it right one only needs to look at where lethal actions are taking palce. The USFWS through Wildlife Services is removing wolves that have gotten in trouble with livestock. Every pack within Wyoming’s control has killed livestock. Wolves that are depredating livestock can and should be removed, as per the terms of the non-essential experimental status of the wolves. It is too bad that sportsmen weren’t given the same ability to protect the resource that we have built with our personal monies paid into the management of wildlife. Idaho, even under their approved plan and with the 10(j) rule, has been unable to protect wildlife (big game) populations from unmanaged wolves. The wolf experts explained to Wyoming’s Travel, Recreation, and Wildilfe Committee that wolf impacts are localized; yet, they claimed that the peer review looked simply at ungulate/predator relationships. With this knowledge,who knows best, the scientists looking at ungulate/predator relationships or the guys experiencing the local impacts. I personally put more stock into what the locals are saying then an expert panel looking a models, theories, etc.

I appreciate the compliment on our grass roots efforts. SFW is working hard to represent the concerns and issues of our members. The fact that we now have a Wildlife Trust is proof enough of the success of SFW. The model that Don Peay came up with does in fact work. Empower the local sportsmen and sportswomen to address their issues. The arrogance of some was to assume that in order for the Trust to be effective, it needed to allow for fee title acquistion. The two prior attempts led to past defeats of the wildlife trust. We now have a wildlife trust that does everything short of allowing us out right purchase the property. I for one, believe that with 50% of Wyoming belonging to the governement is enough. When everyone owns something it belongs to no one. This is the tragedy of the commons. How did it limit us in accomplishing our goals by removing fee title acquistion? We can still have perpetual easements or time limited easements. Let the people decide whether they want to lease it for how long they would like the easement to exist. Seems better then owning something that you can not manage. Once again, that is simply my opinion.

SFW is truly a sportsmen’s group. If you don’t believe me just ask someone that belongs to this organization. In a short order you will be talking about hunting/fishing. Many livestock producers, oil and gas employees, banlers, lawyers, etc hunt and fish. SFW is for them. People that want to abandon the tried and proven American system of wildlife management need only look at other countries and their wildlife to determine which system they would prefer. Simply put, America’s system has done more for conservation of wildlife then any other system in the world. If this is so, why are so many people bent on pushing towards natural system that doesn’t work? That is the real question.

As far as SFW WY’s position on set aside licenses for landowners, we have not supported or endorsed set aside licenses. However, they already exist. This is one of the greatest lies being told to Wyoming’s Sportsmen and Sportswomen. Landowners and Outiftters have already figured this out. The average guy in Wyoming is still trying to figure it out. There are many different ways to even the playing field but no one has been willing to go there yet. This is probably a discussion for an entirely different blog though. I am assuming that they try to keep the blog focused on the original topic.

Wolves should be delisted before they destroy themselves. Many do not understand that wolves are now killing themselves because they are exceeding the amount the area can biologically sustain.

Thanks for the opportunity to give my side.”

I asked Nate Helm (SFW-ID) and Wharff the following:

Well both the SFW Wyoming and SFW Idaho are commenting on this tread, which is excellent.

I have some questions for Nathan and.or Robert Wharff.

1. I have always heard that Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife really means “just for some fish and wildlife,” namely the most popular hunted species only.

2. In line with that, I have heard that SFW Idaho is opposing the wildlife license plates because some of that money could end up benefiting wolves or non-hunted species.

3. For Robert in Wyoming, why do you support continued feeding of elk at winter feedlots when the incidence of brucellosis is clearly higher there than those elk that winter out?
And, of course, the spread of chronic wasting disease gravely threatens deer, elk, it even seems, moose. The disease seems to be passed on in close quarters.

Regarding the so-called “non-native” Canadian wolves that some have said were reintroduced, we have thoroughly hashed that out on this blog, but I think some of the folks will be happy to argue it again.

If SFW Wildlife Idaho is in favor of ending canned hunts behind tall fences and is willing to use its influence in the state legislature to that end, it is to your credit

I discussed Helm’s response in an earlier post.

Wharff responded my questions after Helm had also done so-

I believe Nate did an excellent job responding to your first question. He nailed it down pretty well. As I stated earlier, it has always been the hunter and angler that has been conserving America’s wildlife. It use to be a fair statement that more emphasis was give to those species which were hunted or fished. That being said, no group, organization or individual has done more for the preservation of wildlife then have hunters and anglers. Many set back and criticize hunting/fishing yet they contribute little or no money to the management of wildlife.

Nate also answered your second question as it directly related to SFW ID.

Question three asked “why do you support continued feeding of elk at winter feedlots when the incidence of brucellosis is clearly higher there than those elk that winter out?”

Quite simply because brucellosis is a livestock issue not a wildlife issue. So much for being in league with the evil livestock producers, as per Mr. Hoskins belief. For those that are not aware, I was appointed by Wyoming’s Governor Freudenthal to serve on Wyoming’s Brucellosis Task Force. SFW WY commissioned a retired G&F employee to research impacts of closing feedgrounds in and around the Jackson area. His research concluded that elk populations would be reduced by a minimum of 60% but reductions could also exceed 80%. Several G&F biologists have said that winter range for elk is a bale of hay. This is another issue that we could probably devote an entire section to. In short, the reason we supported continued feed ground operations for elk is because for the last 30 years it has worked.

CWD is being used as a potential threat to feed grounds because those which seek to end feeding assumed that the uninformed public could be scared into supporting their agenda of closing feed grounds. Elk are naturally a herding animal. They will feed and travel in close quarters. While elk in captive settings have shown little defense against the disease, no where have we witnessed the devastation that some would have the public believe is knocking on our door. In fact, Wyoming recently had a herd of elk on native range that died from eating a lichen. Almost 400 animals died from this. I would argue (and I have) that we are better off ensuring that these animals that are dependant upon us during the winter period are adequately taken care of and receive the care that is warranted. We have a moral and ethical duty to care for these animals because we are charged with their stewardship. If you are truly concerned about disease issues you should support doing it correct rather then simply going through the motions. Just as you and I can keep “bugs” at bay when we are healthy, so do wildlife. We become susceptible when we are stressed or weakened, so do they. If you want them healthy, ensure that they receive adequate and proper supplement or full diet feed if conditions warrant. Ask the public in general if they believe it is okay for animals to starve to death because too many of them are on a refuge. I doubt any of the public would agree that it is okay. Feeding was initiated to stop the starvation of animals (elk) during the winter months. We have laws on the books which enforce private starvation of livestock but nothing which addresses public resources such as wildlife.

As far as my comments relating to the Canadian wolf being introduced, I stand by it. Yes, both are gray wolves; however, animals from Northern climates are larger then those which are closer to the equator. So you are correct in that a wolf is a wolf, is a wolf. But then again, if that was really the issue then we would not have needed to introduce an experimental, non-essential population of Canadian gray wolves into the Greater Yellowstone area either? I still believe it was never about wolves but rather a land control issue and a veiled attempt to end hunting and turn to natural regulation as our new form of wildlife management.

Robert Wharff, now here is what I have to say:

It’s hard to cover everything because you posted a lot before I stopped the thread until I could respond, so this has to be a partial response.

Wyoming is being turned upside down by the oil (and mostly) the natural gas industry. Perhaps upwards of 200,000 new gas and coalbed methane wells will be drilled. It seems like every day vast new drilling projects are proposed, e.g.., BLM plans 2,000 more CBM, gas wells near Rawlins. Casper Star Tribune. Dec. 3.

I can’t see much, if anything SFW-WY has done to alleviate this or stop it from moving to even more sensitive areas. On the other hand, you have been very active against the 300 wolves in the state, of which about half are inside Yellowstone Park.

I can’t understand how you can ignore the wholesale industrialization of the open landscape of SW Wyoming, not to mention places like the Powder River Basin, and even talk about 150 wolves. That is why I have been led to say you are diverting the attention of hunters to a side issue either by intent or some quirk of perception.

In response to my question about elk feedlots and brucellosis, you wrote “Quite simply because brucellosis is a livestock issue not a wildlife issue.” I say, livestock diseases passed back and forth between wildlife and livestock are wildlife issues, and livestock owners clearly agree. How can it not be when a “test and slaughter” program for possibly infected elk was undertaken last year at the Muddy Creek feedground near Pinedale? This is supposed to be a prelude to a much larger elk slaughter program which would dwarf the number of elk taken by wolves.

The feedlots are the source of brucellosis. The free ranging (non-fed) elk herds like the Carter Mountain herd near Cody and the Wiggins Fork herd north of Dubois have seropositive ratings of 6% and usually much less than that. The feedlot herds have positive percentages of 20 to about 60%.

You don’t really deal with the “mad elk” (CWD) disease threat, and write, “CWD is being used as a potential threat to feed grounds because those which seek to end feeding assumed that the uninformed public could be scared into supporting their agenda of closing feed grounds.” Yes it is being used to seek closure of the feedgrounds, and for good reason. CWD in the Greater Yellowstone is a far greater threat than the 400 elk that ate the poisonous lichen (anyway the lichen tragedy was way to the south of the Greater Yellowstone).

You may think that for 30 years the feedlots have worked, but if the result is a CWD infected elk, deer, and moose population in NW Wyoming, I would say I clearly hasn’t. If thousands of elk are slaughtered in an ineffective attempt to reduce bruellosis, I would say they haven’t worked.

You indicate the drop in elk numbers if the feedgrounds are closed might be huge. In some cases it might be. However consider this. . . .

Close the least essential feedlots first. They don’t have to be all closed at the same time. Buy winter range, either by easement, which you prefer, or in fee. Buy a lot of it. Then the elk won’t starve. Wyoming is rolling in oil, gas and coal money. A fair portion of this should go back to mitigate the damage done by the extraction of energy fuels. The projects supported by the Wildlife Trust Fund seem mostly worthwhile, but this is very meager spending so far.

Wyoming’s governor is worried about Idaho’s elk farms because they are a disease threat. He should be, but Wyoming has what amounts to wintertime elk farms and disease is not just a threat in Wyoming. It is already there. You have to demand more money even if it irritates powerful interests!!

Regarding the “Canadian wolf” you say was introduced. I agree that as you say “a wolf is a wolf,” so why call them “Canadian wolves?” You suggest size. We don’t know that these wolves are any larger than the wolves in Wyoming in the year 1700, 1800, etc., and modest differences in size don’t matter, anyway. The largest wolves are not necessarily better hunters than smaller wolves. In the wolf packs present, it is commonly observed that small, fleet wolves are as good or better hunters than the biggest males. The big males are best at fighting rival packs.

You state that native wolves might have been present before the reintroduction. The wolf program undertook an intensive look for any “native” wolves that might be present for a two year period. None were found. If they missed some, they were so few as to not be a viable population. Two or three wolves will soon disappear from the genetic depression from inbreeding.

The few reports of wolves over the years are easy to explain. They came down from Canada or migrated from Minnesota. Already one Yellowstone Park wolf has migrated from the Lamar Valley to near Ogden, Utah in just a month and on 3 legs! (he had an injury). A wolf was hit on a highway recently to the east of Sturgis, South Dakota! Wolf dispersals of over 500 miles have been documented in recent years.

I also want to comment on your defense of Wyoming state wolf plan which was rejected by USFWS, but my reply has already grown too long and folks’ attention my lag. So I will do that if you respond.




  1. Sean Sheehan Avatar
    Sean Sheehan

    The quality of the writing, obvious lack of knowledge of current science, and the statement that SWF is a “life stlye” directed organization, by Robert Wharff, very much characterize the organization here in Wyoming. The organization’s paying a bounty on coyotes, when the science on coyote reproduction shows that this is a counter productive strategy, says a lot about the organiztions goals and thoughtfulness.

  2. D O'Ciardubhain Avatar
    D O’Ciardubhain

    It sickens me to know that certain individuals of the human species (I’m being generous here) feel the need to eradicate other predators (and control their population just to the edge of extinction in many cases) just so they can enjoy hunting what is essentially farmed animals.

    I won’t go so far as to say, “isn’t there an error in logic here,” simply because it’s is completely and totally devoid of all logic.

    It is incredibly important to have a healthy number of predators, and by this I mean large enough population of predators to allow variation within the gene pool. Not only do they have every bit of right to live as some gun-toting person who ‘shoots everything that moves’ (what is the mentality there, anyway? Is there one?) if not moreso. We cannot afford to rid this country of its predators.

    It’s time to remove bounties on coyotes. It’s time to stop hunting wolves and the big cats. And perhaps instead of using a gun while out hunting, taking a camera to record the beauty of the world around oneself would be a much better option. And the bonus: No more need for feedlots to help raise animals for those who think they HAVE to hunt.

  3. Dan Stebbins Avatar

    In response to Bob’s point about a “much larger non-native” species of wolves being “forced on the West”…

    (As Ralph says we have hashed this out here before)

    He’s trying to make the distinction between the 2 wolf ‘subspecies’ canis lupis irremotus and nubillis. I had my own questions about this whole idea because I have heard this repeated argument about “Canadian” wolves. If you listen to some folks they will tell you that the “Canadian” wolves were tougher, bigger, stronger, etc.
    Anyway this has frankly always sounded like a weak argument to me. Looking at it, their behavior, social structure, and instincts are the same. I knew that there were thought to be several “sub-species” in North America, but to think that they wouldn’t have interbred or been restricted only to certain areas is sheer stupidity.
    The wolves that resided across North America back then would’ve traveled far and wide, as they still do today. In fact in the twelve years since the reintroduction alone, we’ve seen reintroduced wolves move as far North into Canada as where they were originally captured, and as far south as central Utah.
    I would go so far as to say that they probably had an easier time of traveling back then because of the lack of development and interstates that we have today. So doesn’t it seem reasonable that the wolves that were here before the European arrival on the continent would’ve interbred freely with all of these supposed “sub-species”?

    However, because I am for further educating myself & didn’t know for sure what an experts’ view of the “Canadian” wolf theory was, I decided to pose this question to Ed Bangs. Ed is a wolf biologist for FWS and here was his answer:

    Dan- The whole taxonomy thing is an irresolvable quagmire and professional opinion vary but the more you look into it the fewer ‘subspecies’ folks come up with. the new genetics stuff indicates subspecies probably aren’t valid for thinking about natural diversity in wolves. The FWS and others looked at this in detail. In the 40’s folks thought there may be 24 wolf subspecies in N. AM. [5 in all of Europe/Asia] but that thinking went by the wayside in the 1980’s. The 1st recovery plan in 1980 was just for the Canis lupus irremotus [northern Rocky MT wolf] but as we we learned more about wolves it became obvious that the while issue of should there be any wolf subspecies was questioned. ie in the 1770’s there were contiguous wolf packs from what is now Mexico City to the Arctic Ocean and Alaska. So the 1987 recovery plan and listing of gray wolves in the US was only for Canis lupus [no particular subspecies]. Basically a wolf is a wolf but they do adapt to local conditions so the farther south you go the lighter [except for white arctic wolves], smaller, and have larger ears etc [to lose more heat] due to more sun, warmth as you move toward equator. a trapper that caught wolves for us in Canada caught a radioed MT wolf on his same trap line so wolves disperse back and forth many hundreds of miles. So bottom line the whole “Canadian wolf’ thing is not a ‘real’ biological issue. hope this helps. ed

    The whole idea that wolves that live in different climates will have adaptations to local conditions makes perfect sense to me. You could make that argument probably for all mammals (including humans), but I don’t buy into the theory that “Canadian” wolves are somehow so much different than the wolves that originally were in the GYE. In fact, the average Yellowstone Wolf in size weighs between 80-90 pounds, which as wolves go is not all that big.

    Personally as a hunter and I have said this before (without any response from the SFW leadership), I would like to see them work on what I consider real issues facing hunters here. Like for instance protecting habitat from development, or helping promote brucellosis eradication, or helping to leverage livestock producers into being better land stewards.
    I am a hunter that is perfectly fine with natural predation because I understand that although human hunting is ecologically beneficial, it does not replace natural predation.

  4. catbestland Avatar

    What really infuriates me is that Bob Wharf continually perpetuates the (there is no other way to put it but…) flat out LIE that the population of “Native Wolves” were exterminated by the so called “introduction” of the non-native Canadian Wolves. He is trying to persuade the public that environmentalists are responsible for the loss of the species instead of the real culprits, the cattle industry at whose behest the atrocity was commited. In my view this is libel. I don’t know if this is actionable or not, but, how can he be allowed to continue to perpetuate such a intentional misrepresentation of the facts?

    Bob Wharf, I challenge you to produce some scientific evidence that there was indeed a viable population of “Native Wolves”. present at the time of the RE-introduction. Upon failure to do so, you must appologize to everyone on this website and to the public for your inflamatory deceptive remarks.

    Even if there were a population of wolves with their citenzenship clearly stamped on their birth certificates, you and all you cohorts would be just as determined to obliterate them as you are their replacements. Do not forget that the only reason that the RE-introduction took place at all, was because the species had been wiped out per Cattle Industry directives.

  5. Chuck Avatar

    you have people like Bob Wharf and Ron Gillette claiming that prior to the re-introduction of the canadian wolf there were native wolves here in Idaho, they have no way of providing 100% proof they were here. They claim it was the canadian wolf that killed the native wolves, well yes wolves do kill each other, look at what the mollie pack did to the hayden pack in yellowstone national park. Yes I believe the cattle industry was the detriment of the wolves, grizzly bear and other predetors that don’t fit into the grand scheme of the cattle industry. Let us remind all the ranchers that the wildlife was here first, we have invaded their grounds. I agree with catbestland that all these lie’s infuriate me also.

  6. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    (from a different thread, still trying for an answer…. BoB)
    BW says,
    “…. the wolves which were introduced and are much larger then native wolves. Which by the way, the wolves from the North, being larger in stature, would have quickly exterminated. No one seems to be concerned that the introduction of this non-essential, experimental population definitely caused the extermination of our native wolves…. ”
    I see this standard bit of misrepresentation all the time Bob, but no one ever has the facts to back the argument. Can you?

  7. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    I propose a contest among the readers of this blog to come up with more accurate words to fill in the initials of SFW.

    Let me start off with Sportsmen for Fraudulent Whining.

  8. catbestland Avatar

    Sickos F—ing -up the World

  9. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    I think Cat’s won the contest…! Unless we had a change in rules…

    In January of 2004, Sportsmen for (some) Fish and (some) Wildlife co-sponsored a coyote kill in Cody, WY. The bounty was $20 per dead coyote. 475 coyotes were killed and brought in.

    Any group that sponsors this crap cannot be called sportsmen.

    I think they should rename themselves “Gunners for Wildlife We Love and Wildlife We Hate.”

    Mack P. Bray
    My opinions are my own



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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Ralph Maughan