A Divide as Wolves Rebound in a Changing West

A Divide as Wolves Rebound in a Changing West. New York Times. By Kirk Johnson

The New York Times article today writes of how the West has changed since wolves were introduced 13 years ago with an influx of people who do not have the old fashioned ideas about wolves and are more likely to value them.

This is true, but the article neglects to analyze how the political systems of Idaho and Wyoming are fossilized, even going backwards in terms of wildlife management.

Cultural attitudes are important, but in terms of policy they are not very relevant unless they are also translated into political attitudes and these political attitudes then organized into a group or groups. Everyday politics is the clash of groups. Group organization to maintain wolf restoration hasn’t happened. As a result, the stockgrowers associations can ignore the attitudes of almost all the citizens of their states. They can even be unpleasant about it, and nothing will happen.

Idaho and Wyoming wolf management plans were written to appease a few minorities, even to appease certain individual stockgrowers. In unrepresentative political systems this should not surprise us, but it certainly should be recognized.

One thing that can be done is suggested by the article — private action. It is likely that those who have purchased large and/or critical parcels of land may keep hunters, and more importantly government agents from using their land as access or entering their land. We many see this play out soon regarding bison, the new owners of much of Horse Butte and the Montana Department of Livestock’s annual bison harassment/killing farce.

Eventually the old order will make a serious error, it will get the attention of those who can organize groups, and the unrepresentative old order will be vulnerable.






  1. ghost grizzly Avatar
    ghost grizzly

    I tried asking a question in a previous topic but it got moderated out of existence.

    I would like information from anyone here if there has ever been an economic study on the benefits of wolf reintroduction.

    I am always hearing about the dollars that hunting brings to rural communities and am curious if there is data out there on wolf watcher type tourists activities. Surely they must contribute to the rural economies as well.

    I am not trying to start a pissing match or anything and for the record I am a hunter and also enjoy watching wolves. me and my family watched the Slough Creek pack a few years ago for about four hours or so. Got to see pups and see and hear howling and it was awesome.



  2. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins


    The following URL will point you in the right direction for answering your questions:


    You might also google “economic benefits of wolf reintroduction.” Several references pop up.

    As for Ralph’s aboe comments about political organization, I think of the enormous opportunity that was lost by conservationists after wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone and central Idaho. Strategically-targeted political organization led to wolf reintroduction. Then it collapsed in the “consensus and collaboration” movement as people started feeling sorry for ranchers and also bought into the fraudulent “open spaces” claim (following George Wuerthner’s argument).

    Now, as Ralph states, there is virtually no political organization among conservationists to maintain wolf recovery and the oligarchic, stockgrower-dominated, fossilized, anti-conservation political institutions at the State level are stronger than they were before wolf reintroduction.

    Conservation is in a real hurt because conservationists forgot the cardinal rule of politics:

    To paraphrase the military thinker Karl von Clausewitz, politics is war executed by other means. There is a certain ruthlessness involved in successful politics; in politics, nice guys finish last. That’s what is happening to us right now.


  3. JB Avatar

    RH says, “Strategically-targeted political organization ….collapsed in the “consensus and collaboration” movement as people started feeling sorry for ranchers and also bought into the fraudulent “open spaces” claim”….[and]….in politics, nice guys finish last. That’s what is happening to us right now.”

    1). Collaboration helped put wolves in Yellowstone and Central Idaho via Defenders compensation program.

    2). Yes, organizations such as Defenders of Wildlife promote collaborative, consensus-building approaches–which involve compromises–but they also go to bat in the courts when they feel wildlife is getting an unfair deal. Check out: Defenders of Wildlife v. Norton 258 F.3d 1136 (2001), Defenders of Wildlife v. Norton 239 F. Supp. 2d 9 (2002), Defenders of Wildlife v. U.S. Secretary of Interior 354 F. Supp. 2d at 1167, Defenders of Wildlife v. Kempthorne Civil Action No. 04-1230, and many others.

    3). If the “cardinal rule of politics” is “politics is war,” then I fear for our nation as a whole. Collaboration is not a panacea, but it is certainly preferable to the nasty, no-holds-barred, spinning/lying, pay-for-favors sort of politics that seems dominant in the U.S. today.

    Your favorite “brown” conservationist,


  4. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Well it’s a enduring debate — collaboration versus conflict, and I don’t think a person has to opt for either one as a general choice. Use the method that works.

    I tried the bargaining, negotiation method on “Western issues” for 20 years. That worked to a fair degree in the 1970s. I was the “go to guy” for trying to set up some conservation meeting to split the difference, make sure everyone got something, etc. This stopped working with the election of Ronald Reagan and the Republican ideologues, and as the Republican presence in the West increased. It had worked to some degree with timber, mining, polluting industries. It never worked period with ranchers. I can’t think of a single instance.

    Never could I see a need for an organization as quickly as I did when the Idaho Watersheds Project was formed and launched their first bid on state lease against a rancher.

    Nowadays collaboration doesn’t work because the “old west” political elites choose culture war rather than accommodation. This could change, but it will take a national political upheaval.

  5. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    Ralph’s experience is mine; I have never participated in any collaborative process with the livestock industry that didn’t fail miserably because the cowboys played hardball and conservationists in turn refused to.

    The nature of collaboration is that the cowboys make a lot of promises and the conservationists give up on substantive issues. The cowboys don’t keep their promises–surprise, surprise–and conservationists continue to lose ground because the brown conservationists refuse to admit that C&C doesn’t work.

    The DOW compensation program was begun expressly to increase tolerance among ranchers for wolves. As we can see, it clearly hasn’t accomplished that goal. It has been a waste of money.

    My view of the failure of collaboration with the livestock industry is perhaps a little different than Ralph’s. I don’t see so much a culture war as I see the determination of a fading oligarchy (fading because of radically changing demographics in the New West) to oppose any change in its ability to bring political power to bear on land use and wildlife issues for the benefit of the industry. The political power struggle is expressed in cultural terms (ranchers are just poor conservationists just trying to make a living, and they’re taking good care of the land and wildlife) but at bottom it is simply a raw struggle to maintain power.

    The best example of this is the brucellosis imbroglio in the Greater Yellowstone.

    Trying to work with the livestock industry is a waste of time.

  6. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    Robert Hoskins hit the nail on the head.

    “The best example…brucellosis…Yellowstone.”
    “Trying to work with the livestock industry is a waste of time.”

    The actions of the livestock industry has and still is speaking louder than words. Regardless is, ‘so and so isn’t like the rest’, and ‘there are good ranchers out there’; means zilch when the entire livestock industry is represented by officials who have blatent disregard for everything except that which moos and shits. They don’t care about peoples health unless it will effect cash flow. Their sense, oops i mean demand for entitlement allows them to continue the blatent irresponsibility for the negative effects on people, wildlife, and our land. And then they even get paid to continue in this manner, {MDOL and the other gimmes}, and act in deference to laws that would get the rest of us thrown in jail.
    Am I angry??? Yes and absolutely furious. There are two things i try to focus on; 1., the example set by BFC to be consistent, persistant, and never give up. 2., That which does not bend, will eventually break. This brings a smile to my face.
    The issue with wolves and bison represents more than just their protection; a demand for upholding the truth, a demand for accountability, a demand for justice, etc.

    RE:JB’s item #3.; Collaboration in regard to wolves and bison is non-existant. The bison; the dishonest continue to be paid for naught. The bison have gained nothing, and the MDOLcontinues to have their butts kissed. The wolves; I don’t know if i would call that collaboration when those against re-intro, knew there was a little hope that if the wolves were successful , they would get to kill’em good. Heck, that’s a brand new sport. Now i can kill’em just like my great grand-daddy did.
    I am still waiting to see some collaboration with REAL substance.

  7. Brian Ertz Avatar

    ya’ll just ain’t asking nice enough…

  8. catbestland Avatar

    It’s not that we “ain’t asking nice enough…” It’s that we aint asking LOUD enough or often enough. Or maybe it’s time to stop asking and start telling. We should be rightly demanding that the welfare of the many take proper precedence over the prosperity of the few. We should participate in all major news blogs at every opportunity when anything about the environment or the ecosystems is offered as topic. We need to educate the average American, most of whom live east of the Mississippi and have no understanding of what is at stake here. We need to let them know that the very air they breath and the water they drink is being compromised for the benefit of one minute segment of the population. They need to know that the wildlife that their tax dollars are being spent to protect, is threatened by that same entity. That the exploitation of the land and its wild inhabitants will eventually adversely affect them as well. This is something that most people, even city slickers can understand. No one wants to see their tax dollars wasted by agencies like Wildlife Services who destroy the very animals their taxes dollars were suposed to protect. EVERYONE can understand that the last ones that need to recieve welfare in the form of subsidies are the wealthy ranchers. The problem is letting these people know and that is our jobs.

  9. Brian Ertz Avatar

    catbestland :
    but if we yell too loud, they will disapprove of us …


    1). Collaboration helped put wolves in Yellowstone and Central Idaho via Defenders compensation program.

    correction: Collaboration helped put an experimental population of wolves held between the cross-hairs of 10(j) in Yellowstone and Central Idaho via Defenders compensation program.

    I won’t make a judgement about that ~ but it’s an important consideration to mull over when gnawing the cud of c&c as it relates to re-introduction…

  10. Rick Hammel Avatar
    Rick Hammel

    Ahh yes… Collaboration between ranchers and conservationist. While we are at it, throw in oil and gas folks.

    Four years ago, the Little Snake BLM (nw Colorado) tried a novel approach to revising a resource management plan (RMP) A group was formed at the instigation of the BLM and Moffat County. We had training by the BLM in the art of collaboration. We hired a facilitator, who was highly respected in her field. And we started to develop a “community alternative.” We got through the scoping phase without too much hassle. We should have stopped there, because trying to agree on the alternatives was futlie.

    The major rancher, a former Moffat County commissioner, was the force that doomed the project. He had help from the county and o&g reps. They put us in a position where we could not agree to their demands. The result was no community alternative was crafted. Three years of hard work wasted.

    My opinion of the collaboration process is pretty dim when you have power hungry livestock, county bureaucrats and energy executives competing with conservationists for the control of publoc lands. In my view, it just does not work


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