Predator hunters for the environment, "Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife"

This is a long feature on the interest group, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, a group I have greatly criticized because of their anti-carnivore stance and ties to reactionary, anti-wildlife interests in the West like livestock associations. The name is misleading, some say Orwellian because Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife’s various incarnations in a handful of Western states have one thing in common — they are only in favor of a fraction of the wildlife.

Each state’s SFW runs differently. The worst is probably Wyoming’s SFW, where they support continuing feeding elk in the winter on the state’s many disease ridden elk feedlots. In Wyoming SFW can’t even bring itself to oppose the statewide destruction of the scenic national forest land by the oil industry. They have not joined the coalition to save the Wyoming Range, for example. I suppose their solution to the destruction of wildlife habitat by the gas wells must be to sprinkle hay here and there between the wells.

They are also not clearly in favor of keeping wildlife public. The have failed to oppose the various elk farms and elk shooting operations in Idaho, which besides not being fair chase, represent the privatization of wildlife — the turning of wildlife into livestock. Their natural constituency is the rich person who doesn’t want to work hard to hunt, e.g., Dick Cheney, although no doubt some of their members are real hunters.

Having lived in Utah and Idaho all my life (except for graduate school), I didn’t realize that these shooting farms represent the model of the old aristocracy in Europe and also in states with little public land where the Dick Cheney kind of “hunters” have servants drive the game to the them. SFW has close ties to reactionary Republican power structure in Idaho and Utah (note, not all Republican office-holders are part of this).

In their favor, SFW, especially in Utah and Idaho, have carried out projects that protect and enhance habitat for mule deer.

Hal Herring has a long feature article on them in the latest High Country News. Predator hunters for the environment. Feature Article. June 25, 2007 by Hal Herring.

Note: in the past I gave the executive directors of SFW for Idaho, Nate Helm; and for Wyoming, Robert Wharff all the space they wanted to explain their positions.

Here is a link to the past discussion. It was last December. You can take it from there to read all their postings and my replies. My Reply to Nate Helm. Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife-Idaho

Here is the sort of thing SFW-Wyoming doesn’t do. Groups challenge BLM well permits on the Atlantic Rim [WY]. Billings Gazette. The appeals came from the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, the National Wildlife Federation, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, the Wyoming Outdoor Council, the Wyoming Wilderness Association, the Western Watersheds Project, the Colorado Environmental Coalition, the Center for Native Ecosystems and The Wilderness Society.







  1. Buffaloed Avatar

    “SFW” stands for something else too. SFW about wildlife 😉

  2. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    In Wyoming, we call them Sportsmen for Feeding and Whining (about predators). That about says it all.

    Hal’s piece unfortunately presents SFW in a better light than it deserves. Here in Wyoming, I know SFW members as the drunk stormtroopers who show up at wolf and bear public meetings to scream, shout, and intimidate those who disagree with them. “Stormtroopers” is a much better and accurate appellation than “wildlife conservationists.”

    Privatization of wildlife has always been one of THE strategic issues in game management, one that Aldo Leopold was especially worried about as far back as the 1920s. Privatization is always a consequence of increases in human density and movement toward European style aristocracy (privatization of wealth and control of land. This is one reason why public land is so important to conservation, and why real hunters are determined to stop the various sell-offs proposed by the Bush administration). This is what we are dealing with now in the Greater Yellowstone. SFW has proven itself more than willing to compromise with large landowners on “set-aside” hunting licenses and other means of extending private control over wildlife. This is definitely contrary to the interests of SFW’s many members, who are hookwinked by the anti-predator rhetoric of the organization.

    Dr. Valerius Geist, Professor Emeritus at the University of Calgary, is one of the great ungulate biologists of the 20th century and has written widely on the problems of wildlife privitization and commercialization, and game ranching. I recommend that people interested in getting deeper into the issue look up his works.

  3. Rob Edward Avatar

    These pathetic examples of humanity are so concerned about whacking predators because they don’t want to get off of their pasty white arses and actually pursue their ungulate prey beyond reach of their twelve packs of Coors. It’s time for the true conservationists among us to become SFW’s worst nightmare.

  4. elkhunter Avatar

    Rob, thats a very ignorant response, thats all I will say. I know in UT that the SFW does a hell of alot more than you have ever done! I am willing to bet all you do is bitch and moan about them, and that it is very unlikely that you have done anything even remotely close to the efforts they have done in UT. I think they do a great job, just because they dont love wolves does not mean that they are the most horrible people in the world, obviously they support big-game hunting, so thats where the majority of their money is spent, to protect their interest, ya its important to protect those things Ralph mentioned, but at the same time, they have limited funds. So would it make sense to string themselves out so thin by donating to every cause? Or maybe make LARGE donations to the things that are important to them and the members of SFW? But of course if the pro-wolf dont agree with it, then it must be bad. Just my thoughts.

  5. Rob Edward Avatar

    Elkhunter, you misapprehend my point. I am not saying that all hunters are bad. I am saying that multi-million dollar groups that argue that predators are the root of all of their members’ unsuccessful hunts are being completely ignorant about the role that predators play in the ecosystem and the role that they are (or are not) playing in the success of human hunters.

    Seriously, we have elk and deer running out of our ears in the lower 48 states (yes, even in the interior West!). The fact that somebody’s cousin says, “I can’t find me no danged elk where I used to go a huntin’” does not qualify as the last word on the status of wild ungulates in any game management unit.

    Clearly, in places where wolves are hunting again, the distribution of the resident ungulates is going to change–and that is a GOOD thing. That means wolves are having an ecological effect, and thus that they are releasing browsing pressure on the plant communities (thus improving habitat).

    The fact that the elk and deer redistribute to reduce the likelihood of wolf predation does NOT mean there are fewer of them, per se, it simply means they are harder to find–and that’s what irk’s the members of SFW.

    If you’ve got peer-reviewed published science to the contrary, then throw down.

  6. elkhunter Avatar

    I know in UT our deer numbers are very low. And the age class of the deer is lower than ever. They have been cutting tags across the state trying strengthen populations, and I know that predators are not the only reason that our deer herds are struggling. There is a big difference in numbers and the health of a herd. For example during the migration hunt last year in the Jackson herd, the average of the elk killed was somewhere near 8 years old. Thats and OLD elk, especially if its the average. I can get that link for that if you want, but i am sure that the wolf and bear depredation on the calves, and the low calf recruitment each year for that herd, has something to do with it, so the numbers of that herd might be stable, but should it be considered a healthy herd? Some would say no. In our state I rarely see a deer that is killed on the general hunt that is over 2 years old. All very small bucks. I think they should cut tags dramatically, but of course the FG wont because of the lost revenue. But I do know that cougars and coyotes and bears all play a role in this, same with loss of habitat and so forth. But I dont know exactly how many cats we have, but I know they kill a deer a week to survive, so even if you have even only 1,000 cats statewide, which I am sure there are more than that, you are losing 4,000 deer a month. Thats alot over the course of a year. I could be wrong on my estimates as far as population.

  7. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    I happen to know quite a bit about Wyoming’s Jackson Elk Herd, and the disconnects in age/sex ratios, for one thing, are attributable primarily to the fact that the Jackson herd is a fed herd. As a consequence of feeding, mortality in the herd is profoundly much lower than it would be in a fully free-ranging, unfed herd. Indeed, mortality in the herd on the Elk Refuge averages 3-5%, which is unnatural.

    In short, feeding, with a resultant significantly lowered mortality in the herd, is the primary explanation for the presence of older bulls in the herd.

    I would also point out in a more or less natural system, say, what you find in Alaska or northern Canada, with a full complement of predators, you’d find few old bulls, because predators would take them too, especially in winter.

    We can’t even count on wolves to take out the old bulls in the Jackson Elk Herd!

    Quite frankly, wolves have as yet had little impact on the Jackson Elk Herd, positive or negative. They have been rousting the elk on the Gros Ventre feedgrounds, but not enough to make much of a difference, although we hear many complaints.

    No one, particularly the Wyoming Game & Fish Department, which has repeatedly lied to the public about the impact of wolves on elk in NW Wyoming, has done the hard scientific work to demonstrate that wolves in Jackson Hole have had a negative effect on elk numbers, such as cow-calf ratios.

    However, I can make a pretty good argument that the liberally distributed late season, cow-calf, Type 6 licenses have had as much or more impact on cow-calf ratios in this part of Wyoming. I can certainly do it with the Wiggins Fork Elk Herd, which is the herd I hunt. A five year reduction hunt took at least 1000 cows and calves out of the herd, although my estimate is higher: 1500.

    Let’s remember too the purpose of the Type 6 licenses: to reduce elk numbers primarily because landowners complain that there are TOO MANY elk.

    It strikes me as rather disingenuous and dishonest to claim wolves are reducing elk numbers in NW Wyoming while at the same time remaining silent about the role of Wyoming’s elk hunters, myself included, in reducing those very same herds through the late season hunts which specifically target cows and calves because there are too many of them.

  8. elkhunter Avatar

    I read somewhere that the cow-calf ratio in that herd is 15 calves to 100 cows. Is that true? I know that wolves target calves alot, so could that not be the reason the herd is a geriatric herd? 8 yrs old is the average, not the oldest elk, so that means there are not very many young elk in the herd? Is that true, so in 2-3 years after all these “old” elk die and there are not very many younger elk to take their place, what then? And I know they have lowered tags for that late hunt from over 1000 5 years ago, to around 45 for this year i believe, I will have to check, something is obviously going on.

  9. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    There are two primary processes that explain relatively low calf survival on the Refuge, processes that have been going on since long before wolves showed up in Jackson Hole. One problem is that because the elk are fed on feedlines, calves lack the “oopmph” to compete with larger animals and get pushed aside and get less food, which weakens them and makes them vulnerable to predation, disease, etc.

    It has been known since at least the 1920s that fed elk are less vigorous and much less healthy than free-roaming herds with higher mortality rates.

    Another problem that is well established in the wildlife ecology literature is that as ungulate populations approach carrying capacity, their reproductive rates fall. This is a density dependent, probably nutritional response.

    Since the Jackson Elk Herd is maintained well above carrying capacity by feeding, it is not surprising that reproductive rates are poor. This hasn’t kept the herd from remaining well above the G&F set herd objective.

    Another subsidiary reason for poor cow-calf ratios has to do with brucellosis. Research both on the Refuge and the State feedgrounds suggests that approximately 7% of the calf crop is lost each year through abortions.

    The presence of wolves in Jackson Hole has not significantly changed reproductive rates, which suggests that wolf predation is compensatory–that is, wolves are killing elk that would die anyway from another cause.

    As yet, no one has demonstrated anywhere in NW Wyoming that wolf predation is additive, or affecting elk that would otherwise live. Making such a demonstration is very difficult and expensive because the experimental design for such a project is complex, because many factors have to be controlled for.

  10. Jay Avatar

    I agree in general with the principals you talk about Robert, but I think one thing you might have overlooked is that calf:cow ratios have been higher on the feedgrounds in the past. I’m not saying that wolves are responsible for that–on the contrary, I have no doubt that wolf predation has a significant component of compensatory mortality to it–but I also have no doubt wolves contribute somewhat to declines in the calf count. Since feeding has been going on for quite a while, I don’t know that adults outcompeting calves would explain a sudden drop. Like you’ve mentioned, there’s a lot of variables to control for, but feeding has been the one constant in the equation. Unless the winter feeding actually provides fewer calories than what the elk could obtain on “natural” winter range (the hay just being the carrot on the stick to keep them congregated and on the feedlot, rather than out foraging), than perhaps the bottleneck is summer range forage quality/quantity?

    Jay, the figures on cow:calf ratios for the Jackson Hole Herd have been published. You can find them on this blog. They go up and down a bit each year of, course, but they were not higher in the past for the Jackson Hole herd. Ralph Maughan

  11. BobCaesar Avatar

    Frankly, from what I’ve seen in Utah far and away largest deer losses are to the speeding vehicles on countless roads mow8ing them down like corn. There would seem to be more dead deer along the roads than raccoons and skunks. Cougars, I don’t think so.

    And, how many wolves do you think really live in Jackson Hole during the winter feeding on tens of thousands of elk? Ralph, please jump in here with a count!

    Most people I’ve heard complaining about wolves eating all the elk are road hunters. Yo boys, park your ATV and go for a walk!

    What about last year when for no evident reason hunters bagged so many elk in the famous Gros Ventre drainage that much of it has been CLOSED this coming season. Wolves hurtin’ elk populations. I don’t think so.

  12. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    The cow:calf ratios in the Jackson Hole herd are not very high, but they are stable, they achieve the replacement level, and they haven’t declined in the face of the 10-50 wolves in the area (depending on the year).

  13. Monty Avatar

    Our civilization’s trajectory, be it for elk or humans, is to mutate our landscapes into–either–vast urbanized human feedlots or elk feedlots. History teaches the majority nothing because they are ignorant of history. But then, one does not even have to know history but, they can “step into the future”, by visiting contempory “urbanized human feedlots” like China or some eastern states or Southern California. Not a pretty picture.

  14. elkhunter Avatar

    Bob, thanks for your expert advice on the deer situation in Utah, all the people who dont live here appreciate your expertise. And as for cougars, I spoke with the Fish and Game and he said that there are quite a few more than 1,000 cats in UT. So do the math for me, 1 deer/small elk a week. You figure it out. As for the road hunters, I once again appreciate your expert advice on elk hunting and the successful/un-successful strategies used to hunt elk. Keep em coming. I am hunting in ID this year for elk… UNIT 66A and 76. Not many wolves there at all, and its the best unit in the state, wonder if there is any coincidence there? Who knows, I will let you know what I see.

  15. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    THere is good data on the presence and absence of wolves and hunting success in Idaho, I have put these data up before. There is no correlation between the two.

    There are quite a few more cougar in Idaho than in Utah — maybe 2X or 3X — but you coming to Idaho to hunt. There are cougar in Units 66A and 76.

    In fact there are cougar in Pocatello. One was hit by a car in the city limits 1 1/2 weeks ago.

  16. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    let me know when you will be in Idaho. I’ll spring for a box of Depends for ya in case you see a wolf. :*)

  17. elkhunter Avatar

    I am gonna be in Unit 76 and 66A around the first of September. And Jeff once again I have never said I am personally afraid of one, if it acted aggresively i would simply shoot it. So no worries there, but thanks for your support give the depends to your mother or father they might have better use than I would. My point being there are no wolves in that unit, and it is one of the top 2 units in the state. Thats my point, whereas the units that have high populations of wolves seem to not do to good, Ralph get us some stats on unit by unit success and harvest, I am sure that a large portion of the success in ID elk hunting probably comes from the units that have no to low wolf populations, I could be wrong, but it would be fun to see. And the ISSUE IS NOT THAT I AM AFRAID OF WOLVES/COUGARS ITS THE EFFECT THEY HAVE ON ELK/DEER, NOT THAT I AM AFRAID ONE WILL EAT ME.

  18. matt bullard Avatar
    matt bullard

    Elkhunter – for clarification, can you define what it means to be a top unit to hunt? Is it hunter success? Is it the presence of mature bulls? If we are talking hunter success, would terrain/habitat/roads not play a role in that?

  19. jerry Avatar

    elkhunter…from reading your posts one could conclude that most of your self worth, self esteem, whatever, is tied to killing various creatures which of course you don’t fear because they don’t shoot back.

    Maybe you can help me to understand a number of “trophy” hunters I’ve met lately here in Montana whose lives and self worth seem to revolve around whether or not they shot a “trophy” size elk last season, and if not, they have to carry that stigma with them till the next season. In the meantime they contribute little or nothing toward helping their community or making the planet a better place.
    I’m not putting you in the latter category and I’m not against “fair chase” hunting. I’m just trying to understand the difference between hunters who hunt to stock their freezers, opposed to those who hunt for the thrill of killing something.

  20. elkhunter Avatar

    Matt, its a mixture of both, not only mature animals, but also hunter success, obviously some younger bulls will be killed in any unit, along with more mature bulls. The top 2 units in the state of ID are unit 40 and 76, 66A. Elk units that is. And those units get alot of pressure from archers, not so much 40 as 66A and 76. But its a mixture of mature bulls and success.

  21. elkhunter Avatar

    Jerry, what know what they say about someone who “assumes”? They make an ASS of themselves. So help me to understand your point of view. Because I dont go out opening morning and roll my window down and shoot a spike elk on the side of the road, that I prefer to hunt larger more mature animals, you feel that I base my self-worth on the size of the animal that I kill? You make me laugh. I have not killed an elk in over 4 years. Could I have killed cows and spikes? Yes, why not, because I dont need to kill something to feel like I accomplished something. I enjoy the mountains, seeing elk, and being with family. If I harvest a mature animal, all the better. Of course I want to shoot the biggest bull/buck I can find. If you had a choice between a neon and a viper, would you take the neon? NO, so please dont be stupid and make stupid comments, because then people will think you are stupid.

  22. Bruce Avatar

    elkhunter what if the elk had guns? I would hope you would still be out there. I think killing a defenseless animal (or human) is the most cowardly act.

  23. jerry Avatar

    elkhunter…excuse me, but I’ve gotta laugh at that response. I’m not sure you even realize how revealing it was.

    Bruce….I’d bet we’d have lots fewer elk hunters if that was the case.

  24. SAP Avatar

    Actually, elkhunter, I’d take the Neon. Better mileage, far less likely to get stolen, lower insurance rates. 😉

    To “flesh out” the metaphor (no pun intended), those little cow elk are good eating, easier to pack out (still plenty of work!), and I don’t get “burdened” with another dust-catching possession (a mount or antlers).

    That said, I have good friends who are really bonkers over the big bulls. And I can sort of see why, even if others here can’t. Those big bulls are wily, mysterious, and usually in the roughest country. That’s how they got that big.

    And ethically, if there are guys like elkhunter in the hills, going four years without firing a shot because they’re waiting for that >300 bull, what difference does it make to you guys? He has the same effect as a hiker until he kills (or wounds, but a guy who shoots as much as he seems to is probably a good conscientious shooter who doesn’t take poor shots).

    You ought to be more worried about the “canned hunt” morons, the road hunters, the slobs who think it’s ok to shoot into herds of elk until they’re out of ammo. Guys who have no idea how to estimate range, guys who seem incapable of understanding that elk can feel pain, and that you have a huge responsibility when you pull the trigger.

    Trophy hunters I count as friends are hardworking teachers, non-profit enviros (GASP!), volunteer firefighters, science fair judges . . . they wear many hats and give and give and give to their communities.

    I also know a few slobs whose kids go without braces so Dad can buy the latest “short mag” caliber rifle. But the good ones outweigh the bad.

  25. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I tend to agree with SAP. It’s the “canned hunt” people who deserve the condemnation. Next, I would put the ATV hunters who drive up and down backcountry roads and trails and wonder way they don’t see anything . . . oh ya, “must be the wolves or poor management by Fish and Game”.

  26. elkhunter Avatar

    Bruce and Jerry, First off I dont hunt with a gun, I only hunt with a bow. So these poor defensless elk that I have to get under 40 yards to have a good shot, that usually does not happen from me sitting on my four-wheeler, or shooting from my truck, you try backpacking 5 miles into a wilderness area and chasing a herd bull for 3 days trying to get a shot, only to keep having the wind bust you. Could I have shot a raghorn bull, of course, but i dont want to haul out a spike 5 miles in. I enjoy the challenge and I want to kill a mature bull. I obey ALL game laws, in over 15 years of hunting I have only lost 2 animals, a spike elk I hit in the shoulder blade, and a small buck when I was 14 that I hit in the leg with my muzzleloader, the gun was bigger than I was. And to date I have killed 5 deer and 1 elk, all with archery equipment. And I have used all the meat for jerky, roasts and steak. You two have no idea what you are talking about, you have no idea about what hunting really is, you see a couple of guys who shoot signs, tear up a meadow, then you automatically assume every hunter is like that, when in fact like SAP said it is far different than that. My dad has not killed a deer in over 10 years. Yet he hunts every year. He would kill a monster deer if he saw one, so does he fall into your little analogy? He is a bishop in the local college student ward, actively involved in the community, participates every year in service projects for the fish and game to enhance habitat, yep Jerry and Bruce you have got all us hunters figured out. So while we donate time and our tag fees every year that we never fill, not counting money that we spend for raffle tickets at Sheep banquets and deer/elk banquets you sit on Ralph’s blog and degrade hunters that you know nothing about. Keep up the good work.

  27. jerry Avatar

    elkhunter…..apparently I got your numerous posts confused with someone else who has written about killing coyotes, prairie dogs, wolves etc, just for the thrill of shooting something. My apologies to you. Keep up the good work and the community service.
    And by the way, I do happen to know a bit about wilderness, backpacking and hunting. however, I probably see it in a different perspective mainly because of my age and having watched the sport go through such a tremendous transition.

  28. elkhunter Avatar

    I have made alot of posts about killing coyotes, I do hunt those alot, but never about prairie dogs or wolves. I did get in a big argument with Jay about hunting coyotes. But I understand where you are coming from, there are hunters, even some that I am very good friends with, that give hunters a bad name. It goes both ways for sure.

  29. Kevin Avatar

    Elk hunter……aside from all the chatter about wolves etc. where in unit 76 or 66a is a good place to try my luck at archery elk. I am hunting there for the first time this year (retired Air Force and now live in Utah) and was hoping for some pointers. Thanks


  30. Linda Hunter Avatar
    Linda Hunter

    a question for elk hunter. . is there anything we can do, as concerned citizens, to stop hunters from leaving trash all over the woods, killing animals they haven’t earned and in general giving hunters like yourself a huge job of defending yourself because of the way they disrepect the woods and themselves. Why has it become socially acceptable to be an idiot in the woods and what would it take do you think for hunters to re-learn ethics. I know this is a huge question but I very much respect successful bow hunters but I have problems with guns. . .stemming from almost getting shot by a young man who thought he heard something up the trail. Would it take huge amounts of money to start a hunter ethic campaign in the media or would it take new laws and law enforcement? What do you think. Linda


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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