Changing headlines in the interest of a more accurate viewpoint

Do grizzly bears threaten chickens or do chicken owners threaten grizzly bears?

Earlier today we wrote an article about people putting up a lot of new chicken coops in well known NW Montana grizzly bear country.  The result of this is dead grizzly bears when bear “mangers” have the bears put down for eating a few chicken.  The New York Times wrote the orginal article about this,  Bears’ Taste for Chicken Sets Up Collision Course. We elaborated on the story and changed the headline to “Chicken coops the latest Montana threat to grizzly bears.”  The reason was bears just naturally eat things like chickens, chickens individually are worth almost nothing, and the change is not bears eating chickens they come across. It would be a big story if bears refused to eat chickens in their path, e.g., “Bears mysteriously avoid chickens. Are they telling us chickens are unhealthy?” We thought the story — the news — was people putting up chicken coops in the grizzlies path. So that is what our headline read.

Today in the Idaho Mountain Express there is a long story how a thousand sheep were moved through wolf country north of Ketchum, Idaho with no protection for this huge herd except just one sheep dog. There was not even a herder! Wolves killed 0.004 (4) of these sheep as they travelled through this Idaho scenic and wild mountain country. We think maybe the headline should be “Thousand sheep trail through rugged Idaho wildlife country with no protection. Only 4 are lost.” However, the Idaho Mountain Express wrote a fairly long article, “Wolves kill 4 sheep north of Ketchum. Open-ended kill order issued.”  Maybe the story should be “Wildlife Service’s overreacts.” Of course, they almost always overreact, so that might not be the news either.

The headline writers assumed that the news — what is unusual — is some minor and certainly expected inconvenience to some human interest.  We think what is news is what is in fact what is unusual, not expected — if all the sheep lived, if the grizzly bears turned down chicken dinner.

We we are doing here is called “decentering the dominant paradigm.”  We hope this is a reason folks keep reading The Wildlife News — a fresh perspective.





  1. JD Chipps Avatar

    Montana Mentality !!!

    Same logic they use for “Buffalo Management”

  2. CodyCoyote Avatar

    …or my local wolf-hating newspaper of record, The Cody Enterprise , back in the early days of wolf recovery c. 1997 when two lone dispersed wolves were seen fifty miles apart in different river drainages in the same week , a headline on the front page above the fold :

    ” Wolves galore “

  3. mikepost Avatar

    “decentering the dominant paradigm”…Ralph, that is truely inciteful. The public press has long touted its neutrality in its reporting but there is ample opportunity for behind the scenes editorializing as your comments illustrate. Good thing you dont sell advertising on this blog. That mythical line between editorial and commercial content really does not exist except as a self-serving construct that allows the media to tout their “independance”…and thus assert that they are accurate and believable.

  4. Dan Avatar

    How about “Chicken coops indicator grizzly bears have over-populated the areas that suit them”

  5. Mike Avatar

    What kind of dumb ass moves to grizzly country, puts up chicken coops, and then complains?

    It’s like moving to the freaking desert and complaining about lack of water.


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