We must howl to Congress to keep the green fire glowing
By Ralph Maughan On March 6, 2008 · 25 Comments · In Delisting, Wolves, Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park, Yellowstone Wolves
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.
25 Responses to We must howl to Congress to keep the green fire glowing
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The author states that Rick McIntyre told her about “a town using gray-wolf carcasses to pave a road.”
Is that true?
That detail is mentioned in the Nicholas Evans novel, “The Loop,” which of course is fiction and is set in a fictitious Montana town.
Seems a little far-fetched, unless it was a very short road. Wolves aren’t that big, and it doesn’t seem like you’d ever have more than a couple dozen carcasses at a time. Anybody have any documentation of this anecdote?
While I’m nitpicking:
‘When Aldo Leopold gazed into the “fierce green fire dying” in the eyes of a female wolf he had just killed in 1949, he had a revelation’
It’s a little unlikely that Aldo Leopold was killing wolves in 1949, since he died in 1948.
However, Aldo Leopold was the first, so far as we know, to specifically recommend returning wolves to Yellowstone National Park, in his review of Young and Goldman’s Wolves of North America, in 1945. You can find the review in The River of the Mother of God at pages 320-322.
He makes he interesting comment that “the Wolves of North America reflects the naturalist of the past, rather than the wildlife ecologist of the present.” Young headed up predator control for the US Biological Survey, the agency that employed itself in the pursuit of making the West safe for cattle and sheep by poisoning, trapping, and shooting every predator it could lay hands on.
I might add that today’s wildlife management agencies (not to mention the larger public) still haven’t reached the point of understanding wolves from the standpoint of wildlife ecology. Their attitudes reflect the game agriculture views of the past, against which Leopold stuggled most of his career and failed to change, rather than the conservation biology views of the present, that find positive values in predators’ role in the workings of the natural world.
P. S. I can’t speak for what Rick McIntyre might or might not have told Ms. Peterson.
However, I suspect that her comment about what happened in 1949 was a blooper that a savvy editor should have caught; 1949 is the year Oxford University Press published A Sand County Almanac, in which the essay “Thinking Like a Mountain” appears. This essay of course is Leopold’s “mea culpa” for having participated in early predator control efforts while serving in the US Forest Service. The famous phrase “a fierce green fire” appears in this essay.
Apparently the story of the “wolf road” is true”. However it did not happen in Montana. It happened in Nebrask, I believe. I read about it in another book and was surprised as I had also read “The Loop” and could not immagine this could be real. The book that provided the details was either “The decade of the Wolf” by Doug Smith or “Nine Mile Wolves” by Rick Bass. I’m sorry I can’t recall which book it was. Both were excellent reading.
How did Wolf Point, Montana get its name?
Speaking of Aldo Leopold and the “Fierce Green Fire”.
Agency probes wolf-baiting claims
HCN ONLINE – March 6, 2008 by John Dougherty
Already stained by the blood of dead wolves and suffering from a variety of other setbacks, the program to reintroduce endangered Mexican gray wolves to the Southwest is now at the center of two criminal investigations. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is formally looking into the disappearance of two wolves in New Mexico and a rancher’s claim that he intentionally baited wolves in order to get them killed.
“We had requests that we do a criminal investigation, and we are,” says agency spokeswoman Elizabeth Slown. In an interview last year, New Mexico ranch hand Mike Miller told High Country News that he deliberately baited a wolf with cattle in order to trigger the federal “three strikes” rule, which mandates the shooting or capturing of any wolf that kills three cows in one year’s time.
Slown says Miller’s statements — which appeared in the Dec. 24, 2007, edition of the publication — took agency employees by surprise. A coalition of environmental groups immediately demanded an investigation.
“I don’t think we had ever considered before the possibility that somebody might actually lure the wolf to the point the wolves actually commit strikes,” Slown says. “We had not considered that people would do something underhanded in order to bring about a wolf being removed. Maybe that was just incredibly naïve on our part.”
Miller works for the 275,000-acre Adobe-Slash Ranch, which is owned by Mexican businessman Eloy Vallina. Miller, who has an unlisted number, could not be reached for comment, and Gene Whetten, his supervisor, declined to answer questions when contacted by HCN on Feb. 26.
“Mr. Miller works for me and he’s forbidden to talk to you,” Whetten says. He alleges that the paper “fabricated” most of its story, and that the ranch is considering legal action against HCN.
The criminal investigations face significant challenges, according to a Fish and Wildlife source. In interviews with law enforcement officials, Miller reportedly denied making the statements attributed to him by HCN. Furthermore, according to the Interior Department, the fact that Miller branded cattle on private land within half a mile of a known wolf den does not in itself violate federal wolf reintroduction rules, which give ranchers wide leeway in how they operate even when wolves are nearby.
“The corral is located on private land and use of it for working cattle in this manner is consistent with annual ranch operations,” Interior Deputy Director Kenneth Stansell said in a Feb. 22 letter to environmentalists.
The HCN article and the subsequent investigations have led the group Defenders of Wildlife to suspend compensation payments to the Adobe-Slash Ranch for cattle killed by wolves, says Craig Miller, the Defenders’ Southwest representative. The group is withholding $7,400 in compensation for nine cattle that were killed last fall. Those killings resulted in the Fish and Wildlife Service removing the most genetically valuable Mexican gray wolf pack from the recovery area. This was done after agency officials learned of Mike Miller’s wolf-baiting statements.
“This has certainly caused us to take a closer look at whether our compensation program is achieving the level of tolerance (for wolves) that was originally intended,” Craig Miller says. “In this case, the compensation program may be serving as a perverse incentive.”
The Defenders of Wildlife had already paid the Adobe-Slash ranch $2,400 for a cow and calf that were killed by wolves last June. Miller later told HCN that he deliberately left the cow and newborn calf where he did after he had detected wolves nearby using a radio receiver provided by the Fish and Wildlife Service. That night, a wolf killed the cows, thereby racking up its third strike. Federal hunters shot it on July 5, over the objections of the New Mexico Game and Fish Department. Fish and Wildlife criminal investigators are also looking into the disappearance of two radio-collared wolves that were last located in November 2007 on the Adobe-Slash, in the northeast corner of the Gila National Forest.
Slown says it’s very unusual for two collared wolves to vanish without any signal from the radio transmitters. The transmitters send out an alert if a wolf stops moving, allowing field personnel to locate injured or dead animals. In this instance, the radio receivers on both wolves appear to have failed, fueling speculation that someone shot the wolves and destroyed their radio collars. The agency’s investigation faces an uphill challenge because the wolves’ bodies have never been found. The investigations coincide with the agency’s announcement that the number of Mexican gray wolves in the recovery area has declined from 59 a year ago to 52 today. That’s about half the number biologists had expected to be in the wild by now.
December’s survey also found only four breeding pairs of wolves, far below the expected 18 pairs. The Fish and Wildlife Service authorized the removal of 22 wolves last year, mostly for preying on livestock or straying from the 7,000-square-mile recovery area, which straddles the Arizona-New Mexico border. No new wolves were released into the area in 2007.
Michael Robinson of the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity says the agency needs to change its reintroduction rules to give wolves the same protection afforded to other animals under the Endangered Species Act. Currently, the wolves are considered an “experimental, nonessential population,” a designation that allows the government to kill or trap and remove any that kill livestock.
Slown says the agency is reviewing its wolf reintroduction rules and preparing a new environmental impact statement that may provide more protection. Still, it will be at least a year before the proposed rules are released for public comment.
In addition to the wolves removed from the field by the Fish and Wildlife Service, at least 35 others have been taken illegally in the wild since the program began in March 1998. Most were killed by shooting, although a few were struck by vehicles whose drivers failed to report the incident as required by law.
In a Jan. 3 letter to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, a coalition of environmental groups said that the high rate of wolf poaching and suspicious disappearances “strongly suggests” that the Fish and Wildlife Service’s efforts to “conciliate” the livestock industry are actually causing an increase in the number of wolf deaths.
The groups asked Kempthorne to order an independent investigation of “the possible role of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in facilitating illegal take” of the wolves. Interior Deputy Director Stansell responded that the request “has been taken under advisement.”
The coalition also asked Kempthorne to direct the agency to confiscate the radio receivers it had given to ranchers and county governments. This would limit the ability of locals opposed to wolf reintroduction to monitor the whereabouts of wolves. Slown says the agency has no plans at this time to do so.
“During the 1870’s Winter trappers stacked their wolf hides along the river to wait for spring and for the steamboats to transport their cargo to markets in the East. The name ‘Wolf Point’ was here to stay.”
Here’s the link for the HCN article:
Ralph, is it worthy of its own blog post for discussion?
Tall Trent – Thanks for posting the link. I probably should have just posted the HCN link to save space. none-the-less a very good article.
Is it my imagination or did anyone else notice that the amendment to the 10J rule coincided with the incidents involving alleged illegal “removal” of wolves? i.e. The Sun Ranch wolf kill and the Adobe Slash Ranch baiting among others. I don’t recall any discussion of the matter of the 10J amendment before it happened. It seemed they just slipped it in on us. Could it have been amended in order to effect sentencing for these criminals or to soften public opinion in favor of the killers? To show that what they (and many others) did is not really that bad in the eyes of the law? In any case I don’t understand how they could have just changed the rule to benefit ranchers without some sort of hearings on the matter.
A little clarification is in order here. To begin with, the USFWS finally announced a scoping process for rule change for wolves in the Southwest after years of prodding and an eventual lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity. The scoping meetings were held in late November and early December 2007 in a variety of cities and small towns in Arizona and New Mexico. This reconsideration of the 10j rule applies ONLY to Mexican wolves in the Southwest. It has nothing to do with the 10j revision in the Northern Rockies. Each reintroduction had its own 10j rule.
A draft EIS will probably not be released for a number of months. At that point the usual NEPA hearings will be held, and a final rule crafted. We don’t expect a final rule to emerge from that process for at least a year or two.
Conservationists are proposing a “conservation alternative” that would upgrade the listing of Canis lupus baileyi (the Mexican wolf) to either fully endangered or “experiemental, essential,” based on the lack of progress toward recovery under the current classification.
The real issue in the Adobe-Slash situation is the infamous SOP 13.0, which requires the killing or permanent removal from the wild of any lobo that kills three head of livestock in 365 days. This procedure is NOT required by the current 10j rule. The rule allows the agencies flexibility in managing the wolves, including removal for livestock depredations, but it does not require this rigid, punitive procedure, nor its application without regard to the reproductive or genetic status of the animals removed.
It was promulgated by the six-agency Adaptive Management Oversight Committee, which was established to manage the reintroduced animals in a memorandum of understanding signed in 2003. The committee created the SOP. They could abolish it tomorrow, if they had the political will to do so. The six agencies on the AMOC are the USFWS, the U. S. Forest Service, the USDA Wildlife “Services,” the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, and the White Mountain Apache Tribe.
Here is a quote from the site linked to Brenda Peterson’s opinion piece.
“Wyoming’s plans are equally brutal. The state classifies wolves as “predatory animals” in most of the state. As predators, wolves could be shot on sight anywhere by anyone at anytime. In the 80 percent of Wyoming outside the Yellowstone area, wolves will now be killed in unlimited numbers — with no licenses or permits required.”
I’m no fan of Wyoming’s plan, but this reference I keep seeing in the press about “80 percent of the state” being a kill-spree zone is starting to piss me off. It’s flat-out lazy, misleading reporting. They never bother to mention that most of that “80 percent of the state” currently has no wolves in it, has not for a long time been suitable wolf habitat, is not suitable wolf habitat now and never will again be suitable wolf habitat.
See, that’s playing dirty pool. And if we want to support the wolf, we shouldn’t resort to misleading information. It’s not possible to take everybody in Seattle, or everybody else in the U.S. who has never been to Wyoming and might not ever go there, on a ride down the I-80 corridor so they can see for themselves what a HUGE part, of, in fact, MOST of Wyoming looks like. The fact is, it looks absolutely nothing like postcards from Yellowstone or the scenery in Brokeback Mountain (which was filmed in Canada anyway, but, I digress.) In other words, it looks like no place for a wolf – at least not in today’s world.
How much of Wyoming has Brenda Peterson herself seen? Does she not realize that people in Cheyenne, Laramie and Gillette are, practically speaking, just as far away from suitable wolf habitat and just as unlikely to see a wolf in their area as people in Seattle are?
The point being, if they are going to cite this “80 percent of Wyoming,” the ethical and responsible thing to do from a journalistic standpoint (and I worked as a newspaper journalist for over 15 years) is to put it in context. The best way I can think of is to include with the articles color-coded maps graphics showing. A: Just how large the “protected” and “trophy” hunting zones are. B: Exactly how much of the “predator” zone now has wolves in it. And C: How much of that zone could every practically support wolves to begin with. Furthermore, the text should explain how many of Wyoming’s wolves are thought to live or move in and out of the predator zone, compared to how many live in or are thought to never set foot there.
As it is now, I think it’s just way too easy for urban folks living in places where the entire state isn’t even as big as some of Wyoming’s counties to draw the conclusion that wolves are now happily frolicking about much of that “80 percent of Wyoming” that is on the cusp of turning into a war zone. I can see them concluding that damn near every Wyomingite is waiting with a rifle by the door, eager to bolt out and start hammering away in that “80 percent” the second the ESA is no longer in effect. When, in fact, most of Wyoming’s population lives nowhere near wolves.
It’s blatantly irresponsible to say that without qualifying exactly what percentage of that “80 percent” of Wyoming even has a chance of ever supporting wolves, My guess would be significantly less than 10 percent. Perhaps even as low as one or two percent. But even if it’s 50 percent of that remaining 80 percent, it’s still damn lazy and irresponsible to not explain that to your readers, IMO.
Again, as a trained and former journalist, I find printing such half-truths to be very professionally insulting. The editors I worked for would have barked none-to-kindly at me to do an accurate re-write or learn how to say “Do you want fries with that?”
Hal 9000. I think you are correct in that there is great exaggeration going on here because as you say much of the state would never be wolf habitat anyway.
However, the Wyoming plan really does exclude a large area of wolf habitat, especially as a migration corridor, in the Upper Green River, the Wind River, Wyoming Range, Salt River Range, Commissary Ridge and Bighorn Mountains. I think a color coded map, as you suggest, would be informative.
So those opposed to the Wyoming plan would do well to be accurate in their critique. They don’t need to exaggerate because it is bad, and it does ignore a lot of pretty good habitat and a vital migration corridor into Colorado, northern Utah and SE Idaho.
You’ll find a map of Wyoming’s dual classification areas on the last page of Wyoming Game & Fish’s FAQ – .pdf file: http://gf.state.wy.us/wolfinformation/wolfQ&As.pdf
Ralph’s right; there’s a huge area of great wolf habitat where they’ll be classified as predators. This is not a biological classification – of course they’re predators – but is a cultural and political classification and in these areas you – anybody – you don’t have to be a resident – can kill a wolf at any time BY ANY MEANS.
Mack P. Bray
My opinions are my own
Mack, as you might already be aware, jackrabbits are classified as “predatroy” animals in Wyoming.
The focus and debating point in the press should be the exact acreage of wolf habitat in the predator zone, IMO. That’s the issue.
oops, that would be predatory animal.
In the Wyoming Game and Fish FAQ-pdf. file provided by Mack, I happend to notice that there are no questions addressing the concerns of Wildlife Watchers or Conservationists. Nothing like: How can we be sure that the state will manage wolves to an optimum viable population to ensure the health of the species? Or: What will the state do to protect wolves from over zealous ranchers? Or: As a Wildlife enthusiast, what will the state do to ensure that my right to enjoy them is protected?
The questions express only a desire to destroy wolves and the provisions that will allow that to happen. It’s no wonder everyone gets the feeling that there will be a wholesale wolf slaughter as soon as legally possible.
I just read an article on the Defenders of Wildlife website that states that the Idaho Department of Fish and Game have released another wolf plan in which they say they will strive to maintain around 500-700 wolves in the state, at least for the first five years after delisting. However, this new goal is not enforceable, as the old plan for maintaining only 104 wolves in the state is still on the books. And there will be much political preasure in Idaho to whack as many wolves as possible. I’m paraphrasing the article. Is there any credence to this new plan?
I’m going to butt in here cuz’ I was just reading the article in the local paper that says what happened at F&G yesterday. They did approve a wolf management plan that calls for the numbers that you first quote — actually their numbers are 512 to 732. I don’t know where the next sentence came from
“However, this new goal is not enforceable, as the old plan for maintaining only 104 wolves in the state is still on the books.”
I think that is some DOW conjecture or propaganda or a bit of both.
Here’s what the article says — in part — I’m not willing to type the whole thing and I don’t have a subscription that will allow me to post a link.
“Idaho Fish and Game commissioners unanimously approved a five year management plan for wolves that calls for fall hunts and maintaining anywhere from 512 to 732 wolves throughout the state but they will wait until May to approve hunting season details.
The commissioners came to those numbers because they want to maintain between the number of wolves counted in 2005 (512) and 2007 (732).
The wolf management plan provides an overview of population goals and outlines ways to meet population objectives but does not set specific seasons or hunting rules”
Later in the article there is a paragraph that says
“Hunts would likely be concentrated in areas where there have been conflicts between wolves and livestock or in areas where wolves are limiting elk populations, such as the Selway and Lolo areas in the Clearwater region”
The story of the “Wolf Road” is told in “The Nine Mile Wolves” by Rick Bass on page 46. It happened in Kansas in the 1870’s
The 104 came from the previous draft of the plan–the most recent–and accepted by IDFG commission–plan states that wolves will be managed at 2005-2007 estimated population levels.
Thanks, Cat. I’ll have to look that up.
I’m still skeptical. A “wolf carcass” would eventually rot down to just wolf bones. During the decay process, it wouldn’t make for a very good road in many respects (squishy, foul, slippery).
Rendered down to bones, well, that wouldn’t amount to much material with which to make a road, even if you had a huge pile of wolves. Based on wolf-sized deer that I have butchered down to bare bones, I estimate that the compacted bones wouldn’t quite fill a 3-gallon bucket.
The other reason to be skeptical is that it wouldn’t have been profitable for “wolfers” to bring whole wolf carcasses out of the field, unless required to collect the bounty.
Consult Barry Lopez’s “Of Wolves & Men” for information on proof required to collect wolf bounties. Washington state required the whole wolf be turned in, to prevent fraud (the wolfer did get to keep the pelt after claiming the bounty). Other states just required ears, noses, or pelts.
[Lopez’s discussion of bounties and fraud is fascinating and informative — see especially pp 188-189 — relevant for contemporary wolf issues.]
My speculation is that Rick Bass has wolf bones confused with bison bones.
Another good source on the history of wolf extermination in the West is Michael J. Robinson’s book, Predatory Bureaucracy: the Extermination of Wolves and the Transformation of the West. (2005)
Mr. Robinson carefully documents the failure of bounties to actually wipe out the wolf, and the eventual intervention of the federal government in the form of a massive trapping and poisoning program.
I agree, Predatory Bureaucracy is the best book on wolf extermination that I have read to date. I had the good fortune of coordinating a presentation made by Michael many years ago. I have to say he is the one that set me on the course of wolf advocacy.