The Big Bad Wolf: In the Rockies, man's hatred and fear of the species is on display again

The opinion piece below is by author Gary Ferguson. His most recent book (co-authored by Douglas W. Smith) is “Decade of the Wolf: Returning the Wild to Yellowstone.” Earlier he wrote “The Yellowstone Wolves: the First Year.” He has written 8 other books.

“The big bad wolf. In the Rockies, man’s hatred and fear of the species is on display again.” Gary Ferguson. LA Times Op Ed.



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  1. Nathan Avatar

    fantastic article by the L.A. times..Ralph do you ever sleep? 🙂 your tireless efforts to bring the best material together in one place is appreciated, your website has become a favorite spot to check in on often.

    I especially like how he contrasts the differences between attitudes of Leopoulds kill of the last wolf versus todays attitudes.

  2. HAL 9000 Avatar
    HAL 9000

    Yes, exactly… what I’ve been saying for a long time now.

    The hatred and fear of wolves among some Westerners and hunters, and the actions that result, are making us all look like a bunch of backwards ass-clowns.

  3. Catbestland Avatar

    The best article in any major paper that I’ve read so far. Keep ’em coming.

  4. Rick Hammel Avatar
    Rick Hammel

    This op-ed was in great contrast to some other articles on wolves that the L.A. Times have published. While it was biased toward wolf conservation, it told the story the way life in the Northern Rockies is. It highlighted the plight of FWS trying to deal with the Wyoming Wolf Management Plan. It is my assumption that the Bush Administration (Kempthorne) told Ed Bangs to accept the Wyoming plan as written. What recourse did Mr. Bangs have? None!

    It is my hope that the federal court acts swiftly.


  5. sal Avatar


    I think you’re right on.

    ~Mr. Ferguson has a great ability to articulate difficult concepts in our social environment. Thanks, Gary.

    I suggest that everyone read his books. They say a lot.


  6. Linda Hunter Avatar

    What a great article. . . Our local paper has a headline this morning “Wolves could be part of the Gifford Pinchot Forest” There is a plan for wolf recovery with wolf habitat “expanding beyone the Giffort Pinchot boundaries in some areas of the county” Hopefully, all I have learned on this blog will help me deal with the wolf controversy that is about to happen here.

  7. wolflover2 Avatar

    The insights of Gary Ferguson are sharply illuminating. I agree
    in particular with his observation that the failure of federal officials to
    demonstrate respect for a virtually unique apex species — sentences
    (without swift and decisive court intervention) dozens of wolf packs
    (described by the USFWS itself as extended families) to the very real
    probability of a fate documented almost 200 years ago.
    The following passage illuminating the desire of a 19th century
    farmer to “exact revenge” while killing because “[w]olves had no
    place in a society and an environment organized to produce marketable
    plants and animals” is borrowed from, and attributed to,
    John T. Coleman’s text Vicious –Wolves and Men In America – “a
    penetrating analysis of the history of America’s love-hate relationship with wolves”:
    On a snowy winter morning in 1814, the wildlife painter,
    hunter, and naturalist John James Audubon watched a
    livestock owner torture a family of wolves. The farmer
    had captured the animals in pit traps along the perimeter
    of his Ohio River Valley. Every night he set chunks
    of venison on platforms of interwoven twigs balanced over
    four eight-foot deep craters. When a wolf seized the bait,
    the platform swung on a hidden axis, dumping the animal
    into the hole.

    On the morning Audubon accompanied him, the farmer caught
    three wolves in one pit. The predators ‘lay flat on the earth,
    their ears laid closed over their head, their eyes indicating
    more fear than anger.’ The farmer surprised Audubon by
    leaping into the hole armed only with a knife. The wolves
    astonished Audubon further by cowering before the farmer.
    They did nothing as the blade ‘cut the principal tendon
    above (their) joint(s).’ After hamstringing his prey, the farmer
    hoisted the animals out of the trap one by one with a rope and
    set his hounds on them. The first wolf, a female fought the
    dogs. She ‘scuffed along’ at a surprising rate,’ legs dangling
    behind her, and managed to remove a patch of skin from one
    of her tormenters before the farmer shot her. The she-wolf’s
    pack-mates crouched in silence. Audubon and the farmer
    hauled up one black-pelted male who was ‘motionless with
    fright, as if dead, its disabled legs swinging to and fro, its jaws
    wide open, and the gurgle in its throat alone indicating that it was
    alive.’ The hounds then worried him to death.’

    Perhaps surprising to many, “the violence Audubon witnessed, however, did not shock
    him. Watching a pack of dogs rip apart terrified and defenseless animals was a ‘sport’
    both he and farmer found normal and enjoyable.”

    Ironically the foregoing passage describes not just the past but also signals the future
    in 21st Century of gray wolf “conservation” following relinquishment of federal regulatory
    authority under the Endangered Species Act and indefensible acceptance of the biologically
    illogical and illegal trophy animal-predatory animal dual-status management scheme of Wyoming.

    It is very difficult to perceive a meaningful distinction between the cultural acceptance
    of sadistic killing in Audubon’s time and the institutionalized/codified/cultural allowance
    of the following “taking” methodologies to be delivered onto Wyoming wolves in
    particular by “anyone, anywhere in the predatory area, at any time” deemed by the
    stroke of a pen to be “surplus” to the USFWS’ 20-year old standard. The standard
    is illegal because it lacks the “best available science and data”, conflates “recovery”
    with the prevention of extinction, and is described by peer review scientists
    as “arbitrary”, “ad-hoc”, and borne of “management expediency”.

    Permitted “taking” methods include and are not limited to “shoot on sight” baiting;
    possible limited use of poisons; bounties and wolf-killing contests; locating and killing
    pups in dens including use of explosives and gas cartridges; trapping; snaring;
    aerial gunning; and use of other mechanized vehicles to locate or chase wolves down”
    (Source: 72 Federal Register at 6129 (2007) (Proposed Rule to delist).
    Concomitantly, federal officials in charge of delisting blithely acknowledge:
    “Wolves are very susceptible to unregulated human-caused mortality, which
    would be the situation if they were to be designated as predatory animals. Wolves
    are unlike coyotes in that wolf behavior and reproductive biology results in wolves
    being extirpated in the face of extensive human-caused mortality. These types and
    levels of take would most likely prevent wolf packs from persisting in areas of
    Wyoming where they are classified as predatory, even in otherwise suitable habitat.” (Id.).

    I think, tellingly, the foregoing legal reference was omitted from the Final Rule.
    “Why??” would be a good start in terms of the many, many probing questions which
    must be asked of lead USFWS and State fish and game officials who were in charge
    of a reintroduction process costing taxpayers millions and who will now permit carte blanche
    torture of ecologically priceless individuals and packs not “fortunate” enough to have “trophy
    game status” –with the attendant paltry tag price of $26.50 per carcass (Idaho) and $16.00 per
    carcass (Montana).

  8. Nancy Jo Tubbs Avatar

    Dear Editor,

    At the International Wolf Center, we agree with Gary Ferguson -May 7, 2008- that it is unfortunate that so many people still revile the wolf, but we celebrate the creature’s impressive recovery and removal from the Endangered Species List.

    As we try to educate the public about the realities of living with wolves, however, we stress that accuracy and objectivity will in the long run best serve the species. In this respect, Ferguson omitted a few important details that put wolf management in the proper perspective.

    Of most importance is the fact that this month the minimum known population of 1,500 wolves in the West will about double, due to annual pup production. Despite widespread government killing of livestock-depredating wolves for the past decade, the population has continued to increase an average of 24 percent per year.

    Ferguson’s article also gives the impression that there is now a great war on wolves in the West. The reality is that the only zone open to unregulated taking is an area in Wyoming where wolves consistently prey on livestock and where only about 30 wolves live. That is unfortunate, but like deer in the suburbs and Canada geese on the golf course, wolves can sometimes conflict with human interests. I’ve visited Yellowstone to learn about its wolves and have lived in Minnesota wolf country for more than 40 years where, for the most part, humans respectfully tolerate their wolf neighbors .

    At the Center in Ely, we believe that the best prescriptions for long-term wolf recovery are an honest, objective outlook on wolves and the preservation of wild lands where wolves can live free of conflict with humans.

    People who want to learn more can visit our Web site at

    Nancy jo Tubbs
    Board Chair, International Wolf Center


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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