Killing Wolves Violates Public Trust

This is a piece in New West by George Wuerthner. Killing Wolves Violates Public Trust.

Among other things Wuerthner argues that “state wildlife agencies [want to be] killing wolves merely to enhance hunter opportunity.” This isn’t true, and most in the agencies know it. Most state wildlife agencies are antagonistic to all carnivores because they perceive that their constituency thinks these animals reduce hunter opportunity, not that they really do reduce opportunities for those who want to hunt ungulates. State wildlife agencies are clientele agencies, meaning they owe their political support to just a segment of the public, and clearly not the public as a whole. Therefore, Wuerthner is right on when he argues killing wolves to reduce their numbers violates the public trust.

“The public” is a word that has gone out of style in recent years, and inasmuch as it has democracy, itself has been weakened. Many of the incumbent politicians today are the ethical stepchildren of railroad magnate William H. Vanderbilt, who in 1882 told a reporter inquiring about the operations of Pennsylvania Railroad, “the public be damned” (as well as a number of others).






  1. Jon Way Avatar

    Amen to George’s point:
    “When a hunter shoots an elk or deer, that animal is no longer available to anyone else, including the majority of Americans who just like to watch wildlife. It has essentially been privatized. ”
    You won’t believe the heat I have gotten for requesting that 1 town in all of MA (Barnstable) not allowing hunting to benefit other users of wildlife. Unlike in the west, there are literally almost no large areas that are dedicated to wildlife watching – ie, that don’t allow hunting. People back east unbelievably have a hard time understanding me when I say that it is difficult to observe animals like deer when they (including does and fawns) are regularly getting shot.

  2. Mike Wolf Avatar

    It’s very nice to see someone else talking about why hunting wolves is bad – though in this case, it is indiscriminate killing (which will be taken care of by hunting in Idaho of course.)

    I have long believed that open hunting of wolves is a bad thing, a very bad thing. Wolves are social animals which have a pack leader or two. These leaders, the alphas, are the storehouse of knowledge of the pack; like a chief in a tribe of humans. The alpha brings leadership to the hunt, directing things, organizing things, and learning.

    Now, go hunting for wolves, and which wolf are you most likely to find first? Probably the alpha – they are the ones who usually investigate new things, especially dangers. So, the hunter sees the wolf, very likely the alpha; and boom! All of the knowledge disappears with a single shot (okay, so in Idaho, it’d probably be a single magazine.)

    Now, if this continues throughout all packs; you have altered the genetics of wolves altogether; as we already have. In reading the Journals of Lewis and Clark, one finds that wolves were curious about humans; unafraid, and willing to approach; as Clark finds out first-hand when he walks up to one and simply spears it. Today, you can’t find this kind of behavior; because in eradicating wolves; we left only the skittish ones behind. And this goes out to all you idiots who believe the Idaho Anti Wolf Coalition Party Line that we reintroduced a different species…you’re right; we did…we introduced the ORIGINAL species; not the leftovers from our extirpation efforts who were the skittish ones; afraid of humans.

    Anyway, it also brings me to the 10j rule change proposal. I don’t see how FWS has the nerve to try to shove this down our throats when research already shows that predator numbers are largely controlled by prey; not the other way around (The Vucetich study). In otherwords; if Idaho wants to reduce the number of wolves; they shouldn’t kill wolves; they should kill elk. Not gonna happen.

  3. swjags Avatar

    Well said, George.

  4. elkhunter Avatar

    Jon Way, You can watch deer and elk all year round. People in my area can go and watch deer/elk/moose all they want. Hunting seasons are usually pretty short, and the majority of hunting occurs either right at first light, or right at dark, I have yet to run into a hiker/wildlife watcher at 4:30 AM on a ridge 5 miles in the backcountry. They usually wait till winter and see them on the winter range. Where your at it might be different though. But I dont blame those people, is that town in the Berkshire’s? I would freak out if the tried to ban hunting in my area.

  5. Mack P. Bray Avatar

    Wildlife Watchers of Wyoming

    The concept of how Wyomingites can secure better representation of their views of how the state should manage their wildlife was created by Mack P. Bray of Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Tom Mazzarisi of Madison, Wyoming. Feel free to distribute and forward this information to those you believe may be interested in executing the concept.


    Thanks to the Wyoming Constitution, all the wildlife of this state belong to all the people of this state, whether they be hunters, anglers, ski bums, hikers, the elderly, wildlife watchers, etc.

    However, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department openly admits it almost exclusively represents the interests of hunters and anglers because most of the department’s budget is derived from hunting permits and fishing licenses (a small percentage is received from the federal government). This fiscal relationship leads to bias against non-game wildlife, especially predators such as grizzlies and wolves.

    Now, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Department’s 2007 National survey of hunting, fishing and wildlife watchers has revealed that, in Wyoming (and many other states), there are more wildlife watchers than hunters and anglers combined.

    It can be seen that non-consumptive wildlife watchers are not being fairly represented in Wyoming, primarily because they are not helping fund the Game and Fish Department, in addition to other political factors, such as the influence of ranchers and agriculture over the state and its departments.


    Therefore, this proposal is offered:

    A non-profit entity, Wildlife Watchers of Wyoming, is to be formed with the explicit mission of representing, at the state level, all the wildlife watchers of Wyoming, whether they are bird watchers, grizzly watchers, etc.

    Membership should be always be FREE, to encourage large numbers of the public to join. To obtain membership, one would simply send a story, photograph or poem about wildlife.


    Funding would be derived from a combination of grants and private sources.

    Once sufficient members are obtained, representatives of Wildlife Watchers of Wyoming would lobby the Wyoming legislature, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission and Game and Fish Department to obtain better representation of their interests.

    Members would be encouraged to communicate their views to their respective state and federal legislators.

    Game and Fish would be lobbied to create a Wildlife Watchers Stamp; similar to the conservation stamp the Department requires all hunters and anglers to buy for $10. The Wildlife Watchers Stamp could cost $10 and the proceeds would be dedicated to the management of species such as sage grouse, grizzlies and wolves.

    To successfully complete this project would be a major undertaking, but the results would be revolutionary.

    Additionally, Wildlife Watchers of Wyoming could be a model for wildlife watchers in other states to adopt.

    On behalf of all the wildlife of this great state, please feel free to distribute and forward this information.

    Happy wildlife watching, forever, to you and yours,

    Mack P. Bray

    Tom Mazzarisi

  6. Jerry Avatar

    Mack Bray…..I like your idea and I hope you’re serious about it. Here in Montana we could also use a chapter. It would even be a step forward to prohibit hunting on our wildlife”refuges” where people have to observe wildlife between hunting seasons.
    I’d like to discuss this idea in more detail with you.

  7. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    Mack Bray,
    Could you link that U. S. Fish and Wildlife survey that you alluded to.
    Thank You

  8. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    Jerry, I’m happy to discuss the idea with you – but how to make contact?

    Jeff E, here’s what you requested:

  9. elkhunter Avatar

    Jerry , What refuge is hunting allowed in? Are hunting seasons in MT really that long? In UT are seasons, especially with rifle are like 5-7 days. Bowhunt a little longer, like 3 weeks. That leaves like 330 days for you to enjoy wildlife watching. I could be wrong but are the hunting dates in MT like 2-3 months long? And during the summer? Or early spring? I bet if you went from December to August you would not see a hunter. Just a guess.

  10. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    In Idaho, archery hunts begin in mid-August and various special hunts and general hunts and very variable (only 2 days near Pocatello), but extended well into December in parts of the state. It’s hard to generalize, but I’d say one hunt or another is going on about 2/3 of the year.

    As I have said before, I think hunters are the wolf’s best friend in Idaho despite what the attitude of the hunter may be. The wolf packs don’t have to hunt a lot much of the year, living off the human hunts and as a bonus, road kill.

  11. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    I am curious about your take on the link provided by Mr. Bray concerning the breakdown of how the public views wildlife, especially in light of your recent rant against JON WAY about how there was no way that wildlife viewing generated more money than wildlife hunting. Please pontificate.

  12. Jay Avatar

    Pertaining to Ralph’s post of Idaho hunting opportunity, generally speaking, there are greefield (any weapon) hunts beginning August 1st, then archery for the whole month of September, followed by the general hunt (Oct. 15-Nov. 8), then more bowhunting and muzzleloading through the end of December. Not to mention the dozens and dozens of controlled hunts going on at various times during the last 4 months of the year. So, you were a bit generous Ralph, but close–only 1/3 of the year is there elk hunting opportunity. Still a ton, though.

  13. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    we also have bear fall and spring, turkey fall and spring, and cougar that goes for about for months in the fall/winter. so about 2/3+ there is some hunting. (I say hunting as opposed to just going out and killing something like coyotes or jack rabbits.)

  14. Jay Avatar

    I guess I was just talking deer and elk, but that’s a valid point.

  15. Jerry Avatar

    Mack Bray…. I asked Ralph to give you my email. Let me know if he passed it on. Otherwise I’ll figure something else out.

  16. Jerry Avatar

    elkhunter…two that I’m familiar with, because they’re nearby. are the Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge and the Teller Refuge.

  17. elkhunter Avatar

    Jeff E, For sure I will answer your question, that survey covers a HUGE demographic, anyone 16 y/o and older who ever fed, looked at or took pictures of wildlife? Even if you stopped at looked at a deer your a wildlife watcher. Sounds pretty vague to me. The kids and families in my nieghborhood feed the ducks at the pond daily. Are those active wildlife watchers? In my opinion no, but they would be counted in the study. If you did the study focusing on people who were active, as in doing it consistently, those numbers would be very low. If we follow that line of thinking then I could count every young kid who ever shot a rabbit or a bird with a BB gun, or shot a sling-shot at a bird, then hunters numbers would explode. I know that people enjoy wildlife watching, and its a source of revenue,but at the same time Jeff E you can honestly say that they produce more income than hunters. Read the actual numbers from the survey, the money raised in wildlife watching counted everything from tents to off-road vehicles. Of course if you count everyone that has ever look/fed/observed/took a picture of an animal you would get high humbers. That means anyone driving along the road and stops to see a deer, and maybe took a picture of it, is now a certified wildlife watcher. So pretty vague terms in my opinion.
    As for revenue, how much of that money wildlife watching raised went to the actual animals? Outside of the national parks? Very little I would imagine. Now with hunters, how much went into habitat/conservation? All the tag fees, millions of dollars across the states. So yes, until wildlife watchers pay the amount of money hunters do, I dont see how they can generate relative income.
    And also Jeff E, you know as well as I do that people that are passionate about wildlife besides hunting, people like Ralph, You, Jay and some of the other people on this blog are the minority. People who are not avid hunters or fisherman but still have a passion about it enough that will drive them to actually do something. I NEVER run into anyone in the mountains, EVER. Unless its a fisherman or a hunter. Unless I am hunting in Big Cottonwood or Little Cottonwood Canyon and encounter hikers. We were in the back country of CO for 11 days, I did not see another person. But there were elk and deer everywhere to be watched. I call elk and scout deer for weeks before the hunts, and the people I do see, are doing the same thing I am. Not lining the road to take pictures of the big bulls chasing cows. The people that I know who would be considered your average wildlife individual is the one who takes his family camping once a year, to a lake or something like at stays for a couple of days, and then heads home. Those people I do see. But on the same hand, I never see them at service projects, for the Forest Service not the DWR, doing projects for wildlife in general, not just projects that benefit deer/elk.
    As for the hunting seasons, like I said before, I never run into people outside of the popular hiking trails around SLC, and you can only hunt with a bow in those areas, so they dont even know we are there usually. Plus if people are mad that they cannot see animals because of hunting, maybe they should follow their own advice when they ridicule hunters , and get off the roads, leave your car, hike a little, get up at 4 AM and pack in. What, your mad cause they dont stand in front of you to take pictures?? Come on!! One thing for sure I cannot stand complaining, slobby, irresponsible, lazy wildlife watchers always blaming hunters for their lack of success!!! 🙂 JK

  18. Mike Wolf Avatar
    Mike Wolf


    So, do you propose we issue licenses for wildlife watching, so we can know whom to count and whom not to?

    I have a bit of news for you. EVERYONE is a non-consumptive user of wildlife. They are there because they are there, and we, as Americans, can simply sit back in our penthouse apartments in uptown Manhattan and “utilize” that wildlife by simply thinking about how they just simply exist. That is included as non-consumptive use.

  19. elkhunter Avatar

    I know Mike, and that is the problem, people in their penthouses thinking about a wolf howl, donating money to DOW and Sierra Club complaining about hunting. When they have NO idea whats going on. People can watch wildlife all they want it does not bother me, but as I have mentioned more than once, I NEVER see ANYONE outside of a National Park just looking at wildlife.
    People like Ralph, You, Jeff E, BE and other people on this blog are a minority. You guys actually do something. Ralph travels all over the western states, knows what he is talking about. Do I agree with everything he says? No, but I respect his opinion. Cause he actually does something to make things better. I could care less about the New Yorker who sits in his penthouse complaining about hunting and how we shoot deer and how it effects his wildlife watching the once every 5 years he drives out to the country. Everyone says they care, that they want wolves, but rarely will those people do anything about it but bitch and complain. I am not saying that hunters have all the answers, but at least we care enough to DO something.
    Maybe you should charge people to look at wildlife, so if a non-resident wants to come to UT and look at elk we charge him $1,500 for his license fee, and a habitat stamp. $300 for deer. And then $150 to watch upland game. If people are as passionate about wildlife watching as you say then they would have no problem paying those fee’s. They can also proticipate in a dedicated wildlife watcher program and they can donate not only their money, but also time. Imagine what could be accomplished.

  20. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    The difficulty in raising money to watch wildlife is that there is a strong incentive to be a freeloader (free rider). This is a generic political problem, and would be (in fact was) exactly the problem with hunting before the state wildlife agencies were created.

    What I mean is hunters had a strong desire for game, but without government regulation any animal one hunter didn’t shoot first would be taken by another hunter. As a result there was little big game in the United States during the period 1900 to establishment of effective state wildlife agencies.

    So how could the inevitable free rider problem with wildlife watchers be reduced? That political problem is critical and hardly unique to conservation of wildlife.

  21. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    Ralph, the core of the issue regarding wildlife is that wildlife belongs to all of us and should be managed as such, period. Therefore, politics come into play to achieve this end. People must DEMAND that their respective state legislators FUND wildlife agencies with STATE monies and MANAGE wildlife for the good of the public, not just special interest groups such as hunters, fisherpeople and hunting “guides.” Wildlife Watchers of Wyoming (or Idaho, or Montana) would be an excellent vehicle for this purpose.

  22. elkhunter Avatar

    Mack, what about the people who dont really care, and dont want to have an additional tax. Once you start hitting people’s pocket books I think you would get a different response. Mack outside of the wolf issue, which is obviously very controversial, which aspect of wildlife management do you feel needs to be changed?

  23. Buffaloed Avatar

    Add in the fact that fees paid for recreation are being used to close down or privatize recreation facilities on public lands.

    I think that one reason that you see few people on a ridge at 5:00 in the morning, at least for me during hunting season, is because I don’t want some whack job to shoot me thinking I’m an elk or wolf.

    I tend to stay out of hunting country during hunting season because of the irresponsible hunter that shoots at anything that moves.

    I have had many experiences where I have had bullets fly over me because the shooter doesn’t know that I am there. I have also heard 3 stories this year about hunters having their hunts ruined by people on atv’s in areas where atv’s are illegal.

    One story I heard, from a previous year, ended up in shots being fired in the general direction of someone that reported the illegal atv use. He shot back. Fortunately nobody was hurt.

    There are too many people out there who have taken up hunting without having learned the ethics of hunting. They don’t understand that “just because they can doesn’t mean they should”.

    I know these are anecdotal stories but I have heard them enough times from first-hand participants that I just try to stay away form the chaos. I know several other people with the same line of thought. There is something about hunting and salmon fishing that brings out the worst in people. I’m not generalizing but the few that do act that way outshine the majority that don’t.

    I think that one of the reasons that these problems have become so common is that there are very few officials to enforce the rules and sometimes the incidents are thrown out by prosecutors or judges because they don’t feel that those rules should be enforced. That applies only to some of the more rural counties.

  24. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    elkhunter: (1) why do you not use your real name? (2) I never said anything about an additional tax. Wyoming has a huge budget surplus – no additional taxes would be necessary (3) there are *many* aspects of wildlife management that, in my opinion, need to be changed; so many that I am not going to get started on those issues in this forum.

  25. elkhunter Avatar

    I usually dont like putting my full name out on the internet. Lots of crazies out there, identity theft etc. You said you wanted states to put money into the game agencies. So I would imagine they would create an additional tax to do that. If they took the funding from another source, cause problems there, so I would think they would create another tax on something to create that income.
    I live in Utah county, and I am actually pretty pleased with the wildlife we have, I see moose almost everytime I go hunting, deer,elk, coyotes, all sorts of birds and rabbits etc. Turkey population has risen in UT from 5,000 to 20,000 in the last couple of years, so I see them more often. Our chukar populations are on the rise, even with the drought, we dont have alot of pheasants which I wish could be changed, just not enough habitat. Mack you can find the negative in everything. I could say I am dissapointed that there are not enough woodpeckers, or spotted rats, or any other animal thats endangered. I think that considering the loss of habitat that all western states see each year with the increasing development and mining etc, the state game agencies are doing a pretty good job.

  26. Jay Avatar

    I gotta point out a bit of hypocracy: you’ve jumped on the pro-wolf folks for questioning or debating articles/studies that cast wolves in a negative light, yet you’re doing the exact same thing by disputing the validity of the USFWS report claiming that wildlife watching is a huge economic sector. I have absoulutely no problem with you questioning the report–after all, not all science, or scientific reports are created equal, and some are just plain junk that needs to be called out–but you shouldn’t chastise one side for doing the same thing you’re doing.

  27. elkhunter Avatar

    I think it is a big economic benefit, I just think it covers such a huge and very vague demographic. But you make a good point Jay.

  28. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    Allow me to sharpen the point of Wildlife Watchers of (Wyoming, Idaho, Montana): the wildlife of our respective states belongs to ALL the residents of each of the respective states. In other words, all the wildlife belongs to all of us (in our respective states), from the wildlife watcher who spends weeks every year watching wolves in Yellowstone to the sweet little ‘ole lady who watches birds at her feeder to the person who does NOT watch wildlife and has no interest in wildlife as well as the person who sees a butterfly and considers themselves a wildlife watcher. Wildlife should be managed on behalf of ALL the residents of the state, not just special interest groups such as fisherpeople, hunters, hunting guides and AGRICULTURE. And for this to happen, funding MUST come from sources other than fishing and hunting licenses. If wildlife watchers organized, they could DEMAND funds be budgeted for their purposes and/or wildlife watchers could voluntarily write an earmarked check to the state – how would you “license” a wildlife watcher – I can’t think of how this would be done and perhaps it shouldn’t be done. They’re non-consumptive “enjoyers” of wildlife.

  29. elkhunter Avatar

    Mack, I understand that, but when your state legislature tries to pass legislation to tax citizens to help donate money to game agencies, you are gonna have alot of people flip. I feel that would be a hard battle to win. I personnally think the states are doing a good job with what they have to work with, considering habitat loss, mining, oil fields etc. You also might want to consider that if you are trying to force game agencies to allocate money to woodpeckers, endangered rats and other species that people rarely see or even know exist, you are taking money away from other species, deer, elk, moose, sheep, antelope etc. So I would imagine you would see a decrease in their management to see an increase in non-game species management. And I feel that would inccur even more costs, more officers who know about woodpeckers and their habitat and food needs. More equipment and scientists to be able to give advice on how to manage the woodpeckers and what they do and dont need. And then of course you have alot more species beyond that. And then who gets to decide what species we are gonna focus on and ones we are not gonna focus on? What if I really dont like woodpeckers, but I love spotted owls, and I as a rightful citizen of UT want spotted owls to be managed better. So I think the sky is limit on what you could come up with. That is just my opinion though.

  30. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    Nobody in their right mind would be out in the woods to watch wildlife during hunting season.

  31. Jean Ossorio Avatar
    Jean Ossorio

    Interestingly enough, Missouri voters many years ago voted in a small mill levy to help support the Conservation Department. I believe it’s still in effect. This tax took some of the pressure off hunting and fishing licenses as sole support of the department, and arguably, has led to somewhat more emphasis on non-game species conservation, as well as general conservation education (as opposed to just hunter education).

    I was the beneficiary of a fine course in environmental education/using the outdoors as a classroom sponsored by the MO Dept. of Conservation and one of the state universities back in the 1980’s. I’m sure it would not have existed without the conservation tax.

    In Arizona, there’s lottery money (the Heritage Fund) that helps support such things as parks, open space, and non-game species conservation in the state.

    Re: the admonition not to go wildlife watching during hunting seasons, I must mention that my husband and I have camped, hiked, and looked for lobos in the Mexican wolf recovery area in both New Mexico and Arizona at least once every fall since 1998–nearly all trips occurring during one hunting season or another–without ill effect. Maybe our Southwestern hunters are just better behaved than most, or maybe we’re just lucky.

    The biggest challenge during hunting seasons is finding a dispersed campsite that isn’t already occupied. On the other hand, the cool, crisp weather and golden aspens make it worth while to search.

  32. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    Idaho has a option to contribute to the funding of “non-game” species on the state tax form and has for years. never have seen the numbers though.

  33. elkhunter Avatar

    I have to agree with Jean on this one, as I have mentioned before I rarely see people when I am hunting, I do hunt archery which means less people in the field. I would imagine if you went hiking in a very popular place to hunt opening day of the deer/elk hunt you might run into alot of hunters. The chances of getting shot are slim to none though. I think in the past 5 years I have heard of one person being shot.


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