The reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park turned the nation’s most prominent national park into a laboratory of sorts, whereby scientists could document and measure the effect of wolves on a variety of other species. Since their return, dozens of studies have been published purporting to show some effect of wolves on some other component of the Yellowstone ecosystem.  These studies, and associated work in the popular news media, have credited wolves with a variety of effects, most prominently, the regeneration of willow and aspen  (e.g., Ripple & Beschta 2006, 2007).  In a recent (June, 2012) article published in the journal, Biological Conservation, Mech (link) pointed out that most of the so-called “effects” of wolves reported in the popular media were based upon correlative evidence and, perhaps more importantly, the validity of many of these claims are being challenged by emerging science (Mech 2012).  He went on to accuse scientists and the popular news media of “sanctifying the wolf” by disproportionately covering the positive impacts (or benefits) of wolves.

On the “effects” of wolves

Mech provides several examples where recent evidence conflicts with initial studies that documented some effect of wolves.  So, for example, Mech notes that a number of studies have found that wolves tend to reduce coyote populations (see Ballard et al. 2003); however, while just such an effect was initially documented in parts of Yellowstone, coyote populations have since rebounded, returning to pre-wolf levels.  More prominently, Mech notes that despite the claims of some researchers that wolves have caused a “trophic cascade”–i.e., increasing willow and aspen by reducing the number of elk in the Northern Range herd and changing elk foraging behavior–there is still no consensus on the cause of elk decline in this area (Vucetich et al. 2005, for example, argued that hunter harvest was primarily responsible for the decline and elk) and new evidence suggests elk are not modifying the behavior in the presence of wolves (e.g., Kauffman et al. 2010).

Are scientists and the news media “sanctifying” the wolf?

Mech’s primary point is a good one.  Specifically, people should not take as gospel the correlative studies that have thus far been published regarding wolves’ beneficial effects.  What scientists don’t know about wolves’ effects on Yellowstone is still vast relative to what we think we have sorted out.  And determining how they effect species in more heavily managed areas (e.g. national forests) will (no doubt) be even more challenging (Mech 2012).  However, Mech loses loses me when he accuses scientists and the news media of “sanctifying the wolf”:

“But what explains the rash of recent research purporting to show beneficial effects of wolves beyond releasing vegetation? With wolf lay advocates it is just natural to want to promote their favorite animal and to try to counter the known negative effects of wolves and the claims fostered by people who vilify wolves, an increasing lot as wolves recover and proliferate. Thus wolf advocates eagerly seize on any study they consider favorable to wolves. The media become complicit by immediately publicizing such studies (Table 1) because of the controversial nature of the wolf. And all this publicity reverberates on the internet. Seldom, however, do studies contradicting the sensational early results receive similar publicity” (Mech 2012, p. 146).

Certainly, there is little doubt that some advocates of wolves would “sanctify” the wolf by reporting only those effects deemed beneficial.  Mech is on solid ground there.  However, Mech’s fundamental claim is that the news media (and science) is biased in favor of the wolf.  Mech contends, for example, that “few recent studies have been published and popularized about what the public might consider negative about wolves”.   Here, the empirical evidence does not support Mech’s view.  While Mech relies on 11 purposively selected news articles as evidence of bias, Houston et al. (2010) recently reviewed more than 6,000 articles–totaling almost 30,000 paragraphs of text.  In contrast to Mech’s claims, they noted that more than 70% of the paragraphs coded over a ten-year time period portrayed wolves negatively.  Moreover, they found that while 2.3% of the paragraphs they coded concerned wolves’ beneficial impacts on ecosystems, the exact same proportion (i.e. 2.3%) discussed their negative impacts on ecosystems.  Finally, they found that 30.5% of the paragraphs discussed wolves’ negative impact on human activities, whereas only 2% claimed a positive impact on human activities.  The evidence here is quite clear–there is no indication that the news media is biased in favor of wolves; indeed, the evidence points strongly in the other direction.

Mech’s primary point–that correlative evidence is insufficient for establishing causation–is important, and I hope it does not get lost here.  Despite decades of research, we know very little about wolves and their effects on ecosystems.  However, for every story that claims some benefit of wolves on ecosystems, there are an equal number that claim some negative impact–some cost.  And what we know about the costs of wolves is just as uncertain as what we know about the benefits.

UPDATE: See Dr. Mech’s reply

Literature Cited

Ballard, W.B., Carbyn, L.N., Smith, D.W., 2003. Wolf interactions with non-prey. In: Mech, L.D., Boitani, L. (Eds.), Wolves: Behavior, Ecology and Conservation. University of Chicago Press, pp. 259–271.

Houston, M., Bruskotter, J.T. & Fan, D., 2010. Attitudes Toward Wolves in the United States and Canada: A Content Analysis of the Print News Media, 1999–2008. Human Dimensions of Wildlife 15(5), 389-403.

Kauffman, M.J., Brodie, J.F., Jules, E.S., 2010. Are wolves saving Yellowstone’s aspen? A landscape-level test of a behaviorally mediated trophic cascade. Ecology 91, 2742–2755.

Mech, L.D., 2012. Is science in danger of sanctifying the wolf? Biol. Conserv. 150, 143-149.

Ripple, W.J., Beschta, R.L., 2006. Linking wolves to willow via risk-sensitive foraging by ungulates in the Northern Yellowstone ecosystem. Forest Ecol. Manage. 230, 96–106.
Ripple, W.J., Beschta, R.L., 2007. Restoring Yellowstone’s aspen with wolves. Biol. Conserv. 138, 514–519.

Vucetich, J.A., Smith, D.W., Stahler, D.R., 2005. Influence of harvest, climate, and wolf predation on Yellowstone elk, 1961–2004. Oikos 111, 259–270.

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About The Author

Jeremy Bruskotter

Dr. Jeremy Bruskotter is an associate professor in the School of Environment and Natural Resources at the Ohio State University where his research interests are centered around the human dimensions” of wildlife conservation and management. Jeremy is passionate about wildlife–at one time or another, he has called himself hunter, angler, and wildlife photographer. Most of all, Jeremy is concerned with bringing the tools and techniques of the social sciences to bear on pressing issues in wildlife management.

251 Responses to Of Wolves and Trophic Cascades: On the Costs and Benefits of Wolves (Updated 5 Sept.)

  1. Richie G says:

    Here we go again the big bad wolf, what about cattle,how has cattle hurt our rivers and land,I am no expert, just what I read from people on this post !

  2. Richie G says:

    All I know I called the Governor’s pffice to thank them,that they did not rush and kill the few wolves in the edge pack AND THEY HUNG UP ON ME TWICE !

  3. Ida Lupine says:

    Well conversely, I would ask why it is the wolf opponents would glorify all human activity and minimize the negative affects and motiviations for destruction of wildlife and the environment. Personally, I feel the wolf has a right to exist independent of human interest, and it is up to us to find a way to coexist that doesn’t involve driving them into extinction because they are inconvenient.

  4. Salle says:

    It might be interesting to point out that by the year 2002, most of the public presentations, as well as those in some legislative hearings, many of the management personnel in the RMDPS region were making the statement that the wolf issue was no longer one of biologic conditions but one of social acceptance.

    • JB says:


      I also think it is worth pointing out that many (most?) politicians and some agency personnel have had no qualms about attaching value judgements to wolves’ alleged impacts on elk populations.

      • Salle says:


        Agreed. However, there was a considerable amount of disagreement and in some cases hostility between state and federal personnel with regard to wolves from the very beginning of the process. (Recall that the state legislature of Idaho forbade any interaction of state personnel regarding wolves, which is why the Nez Perce government stepped up and formed an alliance with USFWS.)

        I am certain that the governing bodies in the tri-state DPS in the northern Rockies were dead set against anything that might jeopardize, in their thinking, the income levels that they became comfortable with (from hunting tag profits), along with the impending death knell of the unbalanced power the ranching industry has wielded almost since the birth of the state. Some folks just can’t share or accept change, especially when they see themselves as more special than everyone else.

  5. JB –
    Excellent article. I’m sure there are a number of scientists who are kicking themselves for not collecting extensive data on elk foraging behavior and distribution before wolves were introduced, for comparison with current behavior so that conclusions could be founded on a bit more than correlations that span time when other variables may be changing as well.

    I do know the willows along the Lamar River 2 miles east of the Buffalo Ranch are far taller than they were in February 1969 when I hobbled out of a pickup (with a broken leg in a cast from a skiing accident at the old Undine ski area) and took some super 8 footage (which I still have) of a couple large dark canids that we thought might be wolves standing among those willows . . . before they quickly trotted across the valley and disappeared in timber below the Mirror Plateau. And that was not long after the end of the elk reductions, so northern herd elk abundance was comparable with recent years. But of course, there may be trends in other variables too.

    I’m dealing with a similar problem, but perhaps more difficult. Southeast Alaska coho salmon have declined sharply in size in odd years since the early 1980s, averaging over a pound smaller in odd years over the past decade. About 80-90% of their digestible caloric intake on the high seas is one species of squid, about which very little is known but its believed to be very important to growth of several species including coho, chinook, sockeye, steelhead (some of which are also exhibiting even-odd effects in growth and stock productivity). It is also eaten heavily by pink salmon which have increased greatly in numbers, with a 2-year life cycle that has become strongly odd-year dominant in abundance in both North America and Asia. It’s an important question, because there is pressure to substantially increase hatchery production of pink salmon. At least physical oceanography appears ruled out, unless someone can show a 2-year cycle in a climatic variable, but otherwise I can only present correlations, with a few other pieces of evidence, and hypotheses about how things might be working.

    • JB says:


      I wrote a lengthy reply, but it seems to have been gobbled up by the spam filter.

      The short answer: About the same time Mech published his paper, Ripple and Beschta published a very convincing argument that wolves do limit cervid densities. I think the link I provided may be what set off the spam filter, so here’s the citation:

      Ripple & Beschta. 2012. Large predators limit herbivore densities in northern forest ecosystems. European Journal of Wildlife Research, 58:733–742.

      I also find aspen enclosures provide very convincing evidence that reductions in ungulate populations could increase woody browse (at the very least, they show that eliminating ungulate herbviory does).

      I’m fascinated by the 2-year cycle you’re observing in salmonid growth! Does it occur with any other species (non-salmonids)?

      • JB –
        Very interesting — thanks for the reference (Ripple & Beschta 2012). I am not surprised by the relationships as I was familiar with a few of the studies, including moose populations in interior Yukon and Alaska and Scandinavia — as well as a few other examples (mostly with deer on islands in this region) that appear consistent but for which quantitative data would be insufficient to include.

        They cite some of their previous studies regarding the “ecology of fear” effects on riparian vegetation, aspen and related communities (which may be one area where there are issues with reliance on correlation), but don’t address that specifically in this study which focuses on control of ungulate total numbers by wolves and bears. However, that has been a key to the argument that wolves provide ecological benefits that human hunters alone cannot replace. Of course, in addition to “ecology of fear” arguments, there’s also evidence that wolves are somewhat selective toward different, less-productive segments of the prey population than hunters.

        I agree that the enclosures in the park appear to demonstrate the strong effect of herbivory on surrounding terrain, but they don’t prove ecological benefits of predators over human control of ungulates. Although I need to read the dissenting studies, I tend to believe some such effects likely exist in the northern park because the intensive elk reductions in the 1960s provided some opportunity to observe aspen and willow growth under an elk population without wolves that was similar in abundance to recent years, since wolves have become fully established. As I recall, range conditions in general responded to reduced elk abundance from the round-ups and shooting in the 60s, but aspen regeneration did not. A couple of years ago, while driving the back road on the Blacktail Plateau I noticed abundant growth of young aspen coming up, something I had not seen when I lived there — and I also have some super-8 footage of those same stands as mature trees in full fall color from the 1960s.

        Otherwise, whether intended or not, I think their study feeds policy questions about how hunting and non-human predation interact and should be managed. While I generally buy into the idea that moderately low ungulate populations are more beneficial than high densities, not only to the ecosystem but in producing high and typically more stable “yield” (and I lump predator and hunter mortality here), the conclusion from a broad range of studies that wolves and bears alone have a major effect on ungulate density will feed arguments of competition and allocation between those uses and the most appropriate method(s) of regulating herbivory. However, here I tend to agree with one of Mech’s points that there is a lot of variation that is not evident in a regression relationship, especially comparing different species and regions across the northern hemisphere. The region of perhaps greatest policy interest and controversy right now is the U.S. northern Rockies, outside national parks. Overall, state-wide numbers suggest that elk populations remain high outside of parks so far despite a diverse predator complex including wolves, bears, cats and hunters. Time will tell how these components, plus weather and other factors affect the trajectory of specific herds in the future . . . . assuming there is adequate research to sort out effects (agree with Mark LaRoux here). Obviously, state fish & game commissions are not waiting for answers before trying to broadly roll back the wolf population. However, I suspect answers will still emerge over time because efforts to control wolf predation will not be significantly effective in the more remote and timbered areas with high populations of bears and cats, that would be most likely to show predation-related declines. Did Lewis & Clark find very little game in the Lolo area because predators reduced it, or because habitat was poor at the particular time (or because they were poor or unlucky hunters)? That’s still an open question.

        As I have mentioned before, one basic problem where hunters argue against themselves as ecosystem managers is their tendency to aggressively advocate for high prey populations, based on poor understanding of population dynamics. This may not apply universally, but certainly in many areas and has been acknowledged by wildlife managers as a serious limitation of “intensive management”, since hunters have a strong influence on management policy. Just this summer, a retired Alaska wildlife manager who has been a primary proponent of intensive management has publicly and critically raised the alarm that a caribou population in south-central Alaska that is increasing rapidly (due in part to recent predator control) is in danger unless harvest is quickly increased substantially, because caribou range takes a long time to recover after a crash. There are many, many moving parts and that’s why I have become increasingly skeptical of our ability to effectively, efficiently and sustainably “enhance” natural systems for our net benefit. However, I am very sympathetic with my friends who are long-time consumptive users of Montana deer and elk populations who are concerned about the effects of increased natural predation.

        Mike – I would argue that human predators have been part of the ecosystem for thousands of years. That’s part of my idealistic argument that they would ideally adapt by reverting more to their most common historical prey in the northern GYE system — bison, which they chased en mass off the prominent bluffs west of the Yellowstone north of Gardiner, and later pursued on horses. Bison are beneficiaries of reduced elk grazing, and being less vulnerable to natural predators, will likely continue to increase and push the boundaries . . . . but they’ve lost much of their winter range and their natural predator, the native American hunter. However, I reluctantly accept the reality that bison will probably never occupy much of the Yellowstone Valley ever again . . . unless a wealthy benefactor amongst the 0.1% decides otherwise, and current land-owners agree to sell.

    • Salle says:


      A very interesting observation on the salmonid question. The first thing that arose as a possible factor is the oceanic water temperatures allegedly induced by the el nino/la nina cycle. Inasmuch as that might be a factor, I wonder if there is something that has not yet been observed that is associated with that possibility. Is it possible that these salmonids go to a different location during their time at sea based on the el nino/la nina cycle because their prey do so and it possibly effects the nutrient levels of the prey? And what do these squid eat?

      Interesting problem.

      • JB and Salle –
        I am unaware of an even-odd growth pattern in non-salmon species, but have not really looked. Thinking about it, I suppose it’s worth contacting one of the IPHC scientists, to see if they have noticed anything like that in growth patterns from halibut otoliths, because halibut growth has slowed substantially recently. There are lots of young fish out there but their recruitment rate into the fishery and the spawning population has slowed, resulting in dramatic cuts in fishing quotas. The key squid species in the salmon diet (Berryteuthis anonychus) is foraged upon by salmon mainly in epipelagic offshore waters. Very little is known about its spawning behavior, but samples of small paralarvae suggest that at least some populations spawn in canyons and perhaps sea mounts near the coast, so I suppose it could potentially be important in the halibut diet for a period after descending at the mature spawning stage.

        The squids eat primarily zooplankton, and therefore pink salmon are both their predators and competitors, being quite flexible in diet. The system in the subarctic North Pacific has been described as a “trophic triangle” with squid and zooplankton occupying two corners and salmon the third. Sockeye and pinks are connected directly to (prey upon) both other levels, favoring squid more as they grow larger. However, cohos are heavily dependent specifically on squid. Fish (lantern fish and a few other types) are present but only in small percentages in salmon diets on the high seas, but become the primary prey of cohos once they reach coastal waters. So, while decreased growth, suggesting a competitive interaction with pinks, has been noted in some other salmon species and stocks, the coho is particularly useful in pointing specifically to squid as a factor because of their high dependence on it for growth and the fact that their short ocean residence (just over 1 year) and tremendous growth rate compared with sockeye, chinook and steelhead, really helps narrow down the probable timing and specific proximate cause of changes in growth.

        B. anonychus is most concentrated in summer in the Subarctic Current, sandwiched between two major predator complexes, including salmon on the north and the larger neon flying squid and pomfrets on the south. Incidentally, neon flying squids were the primary target of a major high seas driftnet fishery, that was highly controversial and detrimental to other sea life and was closed by treaty in the 1990s, but are still harvested in a jig fishery (although this photo of these cool animals suggests a shotgun might also be effective gear):

        Stock assessments for flying squid have shown a higher average abundance in odd years, making it another potential contributing factor, in a addition to pink salmon, although the evidence suggests that B. anonychus is likely still be pretty abundant in the southern part of its range around the Subarctic Current but has likely decreased in odd years northward in the Alaska Gyre. While average coho size has dropped substantially, variation among individual spawners has increased and tends to be higher in odd years, suggesting increasing spatial variation in feeding conditions. We still get some very large cohos, and there is some evidence that they are representative of more migratory fish, so I suspect that B. anonychus distribution has become more concentrated with less spatial overlap with the distribution of foraging salmon. One study looking at squid distribution for a brief period of years (as indicated by their presence in salmon stomachs), found that the range of overlap between squid and salmon appeared to be related to the latitude of a sea surface temperature minimum that normally varies from 50 to 54 degrees N in July (at longitude 145 degrees W). So climatic factors may well be influential and I intend to look at that. However, the SST minimum appears to have been at its northern-most extent this year (although the Gulf of Alaska overall was very cold) and yet troll-caught cohos are averaging their smallest size yet for an even year. Although I’ve done a tremendous amount of literature review, I’m still a bit over my head with some aspects of this and am collaborating with some folks who are experts on squid and high seas salmon foraging.

        • Salle says:


          Thanks. I find that a fascinating topic and am always interested in more indepth info of the type you provided, for my own little library in my head. It also inspires me to look deeper into it when the opportunity arises… mostly based on available time.

          Thanks for sharing.

          • Taz Alago says:

            Speaking of aspen exclosures, those within the Imnaha pack territory of NE Oregon (Blue Mtn region) show the primary cause of aspen decline, aside fromm shading, is cattle, since most exclosures are on NF allotments. Where cattle have been excluded but deer & elk allowed, the aspen show browsing but there is still recruitment, although at only about 30% of that of exclosures guarding aspen from all browsing.

  6. Mike says:

    ++ However, for every story that claims some benefit of wolves on ecosystems, there are an equal number that claim some negative impact–some cost. ++

    What negative impacts do wolves have on the ecosystem?

  7. JB says:

    “What negative impacts do wolves have on the ecosystem?”

    Mech argues that effects are neither positive nor negative for ecosystems–they simply amount to change. What makes a change in an ecosystem positive or negative is the value judgments that humans attach to these changes:

    “But who is to say whether more or less pronghorns are ‘positive?’ If more pronghorns are a positive development, what about more elk or bison? Are more or fewer coyotes positive? Fewer coyotes might release more mesocarnivores (see above), but the mesocarnivores might kill more birds. Is this positive or negative?” (Mech 2012, p.147).

    So the most obvious answer to your question is that wolves (apparently) lower elk populations under some conditions. If you hunt or enjoy viewing elk, you might interpret this change as a negative effect of wolves. If you enjoy aspen, and you believe Ripple and Beschta, then you might see this as a positive effect. In either case, ecosystems don’t care.

    • Mike says:

      JB, here’s what you wrote:

      ++However, for every story that claims some benefit of wolves on ecosystems, there are an equal number that claim some negative impact–some cost.++

      What actual negative scientific effects do wolves have on the natural ecosystem? Hunting is not “the ecosystem”.

      Perhaps you meant to say,”for every story that claims some benefit of wolves on ecosystems, there are an equal number that claim some negative impact outside the natural ecosystem.”

      • JB says:


        I wrote what I meant. Deer, elk and other wildlife are components of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Some studies suggest that wolves lower elk populations (an effect); to people who value elk (regardless of their recreation activities), this can and has be construed as a negative effect on the ecosystem. Likewise, people who value pronghorn (for whatever purpose) may perceive reductions of coyotes caused by wolves as a positive effect (as Mech explained).

    • Salle says:

      Just a thought based on what I have seen… some people don’t like change and expect the implied status quo to be maintained at all costs. Others welcome change and accept that change is one thing that is guaranteed as a fact of life. You can study something beyond the realm of utility and still come up with the fact that change is inevitable, good or bad. I question the motivation for Mech’s query.

      As for the ecosystem comment, I think that all seemingly isolated ecosystems are connected in a number of ways even if they are across the globe from each other. Migratory birds and other species, like the salmon that no longer return to the Rocky Mountain ecosystem, have an impact on how the NRM ecosystem functions. I think that looking at the region as an isolate entirely is a mistake because of the migratory species who come to this specific ecosystem. These are factors that have either been ignored or not considered due to the concept of an isolated area of study, or…? The biosphere is all-inclusive and migration of some species may have a greater effect than some might consider. (Like the no longer return of salmon which is a major change factor since they are a keystone species for the locations of their spawning… even though they no longer return in the numbers they did before humans dammed the rivers.)

  8. Mark LaRoux says:

    True, and just because we see less elk through observation doesn’t necessarily mean there ARE less elk out there, as there are other variables that affect our observations. More weary animals become conditioned by predators (and observers), browsing hours change, weather, etc. In the end, the only way we are going to find out the wolf’s effect is to put the wolf into the ecosystem and observe it’s effect, unaltered, over time. There’s no substitute for ‘being there’, no drop down box for a unique set of characteristics inherent in an intelligent species that packs up and has a collection of personalities in it. Virtual wolves won’t work. You gotta do the hard work in the field.

    • jon says:

      Elk have changed their behavior due to the presence of wolves, but hunters, they think if they see less elk, that means that wolves must have killed and ate them. Just because you don’t see something, does not mean it’s not out there somewhere. I think hunters have a hard time accepting that elk have changed their behavior due to wolves and since changing their behavior, they are going to be harder for hunters to hunt.

    • Ralph Maughan says:

      I think there are less elk and there are more elk both. It depends on the area. As far as reports go, however, there is a bias. Those who don’t see many elk are much more likely to tell people than those who see elk, such as a hunter who easily fills an elk tag and could have filled several. The later is more likely to attribute success to his or her superior ability to locate elk (or to say nothing about elk populations). That is my hypothesis how many elk scarcity tales spread.

      • Salle says:

        I’d have to agree with that, in part, Ralph. In my neck o’ the woods, those who don’t actually see moose and elk in the configurations they are used to, pre-reintroduction of wolves, claim that the wolves ate them all. This set of comments is often widely spread and embellished by those who will take the teller’s word for it and continue spreading the story with little to no proof. It happens around here all the time. folks who know that I favor the return of wolves often try to confront me with their claims, or someone else’s claims, which prompts me to tell them what I understand about whatever concern they offer based on the studies I have read, and I try to stay up to date because of this phenomena. Some do actually ask me about the evidence they have been presented with and then we have a good discussion about the knowns. Those interactions usually turn out well with both of us learning something and often with new questions. For those who insist that they know what the “facts” are ~ usually based on anecdotal evidence, I normally refer them to bodies of research and ask them to look more deeply into the topic before making up their minds. Some do, some won’t.

        For some, the elk are all gone because the wolves ate them like so many bags of potato chips with attending claims that wolves breed several times a year and that all females in a pack reproduce each time as though the alpha male holds a harem of breeding females in his control. Like elk, perhaps? Moose are also lumped into this belief in wolf over-population and over-consumption theories.

        Oh, for a comprehensive education system that actually supports the growth of knowledge and understanding… if only.

        • SAP says:

          Salle – you forgot to add the new “fact” about them dang Mackenzie-hybrid wolves are now having multiple litters (individual females are supposedly having more than one litter) due to being at a lower latitude. 😉

          Not sure how they came up with that one or how it supposedly works. I think maybe they have them confused with mountain pine beetles, which are getting in a whole extra reproductive cycle because of warmer summers in the high country.

          Still waiting for someone to claim that Obama introduced these ravenous and horny beasts of devastation.

          • Salle says:

            😉 That’s a knee slapper!

            Indeed, SAP. I was trying to avoid that part so that I would not garner a rash of crap. But I’m there with you on that particular story line. I had not heard this new MacKenzie theory of which you speak! Not surprized, though. I’m sure I’ll hear tales of infestation come Thanksgiving.

      • elk275 says:

        An observation: I used to see more elk 5 to 15 years ago than I see today. In those years I hunted on foot. Today I’m able to hunt on horseback (muleback) and I still see less elk. It is not the lack of elk that concerns me, after the first week of the season elk change there habits move into thick timber and tend to become diurnal. It is the lack of tracks, tracks are made day and night

        The elk moved. Simple, load the mule into the trailer drive 20 miles and repeat. Ride 20 miles and fewer elk and less tracks than in years gone by.

        Every year I hear the same thing from hunters fewer elk and fewer elk tracks and wolf tracks everywhere. After a while with a large portion of the hunters saying the same thing it becomes an element of truth and fact. Are there fewer elk? The only way is to count them, is in February on their winter range.

        • Nancy says:

          Elk – Talked to a ranching friend over in the Big Hole last night and she said they have a “ton” of elk on their place.

          I’ve seen them on and off all summer on the ranch across from me.

          Perhaps (as a few have alluded to here on this site) elk are once again starting to act like elk (because of wolves) and no longer linger in one area, as in past years, when the only real threat to them happened a few weeks out of the year.

          • Salle says:

            Another point to be made during this record season of fire devastation; there will be elk and wolves and everything else from all those wild places that have been and are still burning (she says as a P2V flies overhead on its way to dump “mud” on a fireline). All the wildlife of these large areas are now in the category of “displaced” if they have not already been destroyed in the fires. This will lead to numerous changes in behavior on all levels, a new set of variables to be concerned with. Bow season may well be quite fruitful this year. And I’m sure that some gun hunters will do far better than expected in some areas due to this displacement.

      • Robert R says:

        Ralph you have a real world approach to what others say about the elk population. I recently learn of an individual who bought the hunting rights on thousands of acres and hundreds of elk.
        This property use to be block management with some sort of management and now just a hand full will be hunting. I have always said as far as hunting goes that the fish and game cannot manage what can’t be hunted.
        I guess in this type of situation the wolf will be a positive by dispersing the elk to public land.

  9. CodyCoyote says:

    This article goes out of its way to narrow the known impacts of Wolves on the land.

    Here in my Wyoming, the preponderance of folks go out of their way to publish encyclopedias of the unholy unruly unmitigated impact that Wolves have on Everything, even sunspots and the price of crude oil.

    The reality is probably somewhere in between the two. How do you run ‘ control’ when running hypotheses on wolves if they’ve only been on the ground 15 years and the whole damn ecosystem was in tumultuous change before they got here ?

    • Salle says:


      I would have to agree that a decade and a half or so is a very short window of time to make sweeping suppositions about the long-term impacts of a recently repopulated species that has been absent for exponential lengths of time in comparison to the study base length of time.

      I would also add that the isolated species and ecosystem aspects of many of these studies are problematic in finding out what is really taking place with regard to impact overall. It would be a good idea to consider incorporating human impact before and after wolf reintroduction as well as migratory species’ effect over time. The health and well-being of the other ecosystems from which the migratory species emigrated must surely be considered in the mix as that set of factors will impact how they interact with the ecosystem(s) they migrate to, in this case, the NRM. I don’t see that being a variable in most of these studies. Perhaps it’s not a favorable viewpoint to include in the scientific inquiry process but I think it’s not wise to exclude this concept in the overall set of conclusions.

  10. WM says:


    Thanks for doing the piece. I hope readers here will take the time to carefully read what you wrote, and to look over the Mech article, it is available to them. There is quite a bit we don’t know regarding positive or (perceived)negatives of having many wolves on the landscape in many different types of places.

    ++In a recent (June, 2012) article published in the journal, Biological Conservation, Mech pointed out that most of the so-called “effects” of wolves reported in the popular media were based upon correlative evidence and, perhaps more importantly, the validity of many of these claims are being challenged by emerging science (Mech 2012).++

    I am recalling a National Geographic article from roughly two years ago, maybe longer, which showed a drawing, an illustration, comparing a riparian ecosystem – pre and post wolf – with etherial and grossly exaggerated comparisons of a stripped down barren stream with no vegegation and elk in the stream, no willows or aspen on the adjacent alluvial fan (that is the pre-wolf side), and then a post-wolf side, with abundant vegetation, fish in the stream, maybe a frog in the reeds, butterflies and songbirds everywhere. Some illustrator (with editor concurrence) at Nat Geo drank some of Ripple’s koolaid. I am afraid I cannot recall the name of the author of the article, but it was otherwise pretty balanced.

    Of course, that is what they wanted to portray with wolf reintroduction (a Ripple and Bestcha Shangri La hypothesis that has not been replicated by other scientists EXCEPT apparently from the students of their graduate program). Does it reflect the real world in Yellowstone, or more importantly the world outside Yellowstone in the presence of large numbers of wolves? I dunno. But what I will say from my own observations where I have hunted and hiked, areas with wolves for the last 8 years or so, most of the people I associate with (including a graduate level biologist and a forester) and I, can’t tell the difference in change of biodiversity and health of the ecosystem, other than what appears to be fewer elk of certain age groups, and of course the elk that are present are rarely seen, if at all.

  11. Larry Keeney says:

    So if wolves are detrimental (to anything) what do we know has gone extinct in the last, say 500,000 years that is seen as resulting from wolves? Is there a plant that is gone because pronghorns prospered and eat all of them? Did wolves eat all the horses off the N.A. Continent? My point is poorly made but is — Wolves exist! And have for __years so how can they be rated as anything but an important cog in the ecosystem. I don’t see how any species can be tagged as detrimental unless man introduces a species alien to the system then of course the balance goes off because we changed the game. I understand wolves are good if you like wolves but are bad if not. And the same for aspen, willow and pronghorn. Maybe the pine beetle is going to be the salvation of the pines by ridding the ecosystem of pines that have become genetically inferior to holding their place in the system. Another 1000 years will tell. I just advocate for naturalness and man can keep his fingers, cows and bulldozers out of whats left of a few pristine places. I even advocate for no ungulate hunts. Let everything play out to its own balance. Meanwhile keep the research coming, if there is anything that will kill an ecosystem it is ignorance.

  12. Ida Lupine says:

    The wolf is neither a saint nor a sinner except to those who want to make it so. – L. David Mech

    I was glad to read this sentence. I was getting a little concerned reading such provocative words such as “sanctify”, “Shangri-la”, etc. Returning and preserving an eco-system in its natural state I don’t think is an unrealistic goal. It is only a “shangri-la” insomuch as how people feel about it when they visit these places such as our National Parks, and we do think of them as a paradise. Destroying them or changing them unilaterally for human interest would be the opposite of Shangri-la (whatever that may be!) I can’t imagine concrete, asphalt and feed lots as far as the eye can see in their place.

    But all this disagreement on the science involved is beside the point and a side issue from the real question IMO. The point is is that the states where the wolf is found are being dishonest – they say they want to manage a healthy population. How is shooting any wolf anywhere in Wyoming, including pups and indiscriminantly killing breeding individuals, and poisoning the environment generally maintaining a healthy population? How is totally ignoring the human impact on elk populations either? I read something about a current wolf hunt, I think in Montana, where the hunters are all hovering around the national parks to kill wolves. Nine wolves had been taken before the state stepped in to stop it. Noone should be hunting anywhere near Yellowstone or Grand Teton. This is not maintaining a healthy population, just wiping them out.

    I’m not really against hunting and ranchers protecting their animals

    • JB says:


      I think everyone agrees that Wyoming (the politicians and political elites) do not want wolves–and certainly they want them even less outside of National Parks. Thus, Wyoming has steadfastly refused to protect wolves in the places the state truly controls. I do not believe they mean to eliminate wolves, because that could mean relisting (which is the last thing they want). Rather, it looks like they mean to limit wolves to the greatest extent they can–and still get away with it. Wyoming isn’t interested in a “healthy” or “viable” population–they are interested in a “legal” population–i.e., one that does not put them in jeopardy of relisting.

      I think that one of the fundamental problems here is that many (most?) people can’t reconcile this type of management with the definition of conservation–conservation is not minimizing a population to the greatest extent practicable. It just isn’t. Thus, the distrust and resistance to state management plans.

      • Nancy says:

        Ida, JB – I’ve got a feeling there’s a lot more going on in Wyoming that has NOTHING to do with wolves but it keeps the locals hyped and perhaps their little town politicians puffed up while the rest of the state is being raped:

        “Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), chairman of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, this week praised Interior’s approval of the project, but they also ripped Obama administration policies that they say have severely restricted energy development on federal land”

        “I would acknowledge that there are going to be projects, particularly those that are controversial or in sensitive areas, that are going to be slow. And the BLM’s own processes have not always worked as efficiently as liked,” Powell said. “But ultimately, industry is not constrained by those few projects not moving forward, because they have lots of land already under lease and projects approved for development.”

        • JB says:


          You’ll get no argument from me. This whole debate would be much ado about nothing if it were merely about wolves.

      • Louise Kane says:

        JB “conservation is not minimizing a population to the greatest extent practicable. It just isn’t. Thus, the distrust and resistance to state management plans.”

        well said

    • WM says:


      ++I was glad to read this sentence. I was getting a little concerned reading such provocative words such as “sanctify”, “Shangri-la”, etc.++

      Indeed, the sentence above which you attribute to Dr. Mech is consistent with his belief – some seem on a mission to believe wolves are saints. We see it on this forum with some regularity.

      The point Dr. Mech was making is that some members of the public, maybe some scientist/wolf advocates as well are deserving of the criticism which lead him to choose the title of his short paper, “Is Science in Danger of Sanctifying the Wolf?”

      The paper certainly revolves around that theme.

      My reference to “Shangri La” was in criticism of the poetic license taken by National Geographic when depicting the landscape without and with wolves. The pictorial illustration was a good teaching tool, but let me be candid here. It was a dishonest representation by a well thought of magazine that should have known better. Again, it is these folks in the media and others in the science community to whom Dr. Mech was directing some of his remarks.

      Similarly, I have long been a critic of Paul Pacquet, a Canadian wolf scientist, and known wolf advocate, also seems also to fall into the catagory which Mech has words for. This guy, of course, was the lone dissenter in the official Coronor’s determination that Kenton Carnegie, a young Canadian geologist, who was killed by wolves. Pacquet said it was bears, with little evidence to support it, except bears fed at a nearby dump. He has come up with some other questionable stuff over the years. There are others, some of whom have given factual testimony or created legal theories around assertions not supported by facts.

      This is, of course, the flip side of the critism often laid on uninformed antis, with their own agenda. Because it involves the scientific community, and maybe the media, standards should be higher, if I understand what Dr. Mech is saying.

      • JB says:


        Actually, Pacquet said that it was impossible to make an official determination, but suggested the kill site was consistent with a black bear and inconsistent with wolves. I and several others here witnessed an hour and a half seminar on the subject. I found Pacquet’s talk was very convincing, though I would’ve liked to have seen both sides of the story.

        To be honest, I never understood why this was such a big deal. Wolves are large carnivores and there is well-documented evidence of them killing people; likewise, mountain lions, grizzly bears, black bears, sloth bears, African lions, leopards, tigers, etc. (ad nauseum) occasionally kill people. We shouldn’t expect them to be any better, nor any worse. They are *only* animals after all.

        • Richie G says:

          JB ;They are only animals,dogs are used with sick and old people to make them feel better. I think you said it a little off base,they are only animals,people spend thousands to see mountain gorilla’s and many more different kinds of animals. As for people who are the masters of thought,we are destroying the planet as we know it, would animals destroy the eaeth if they had a chance.No they are a part of nature , greed is king to many many people.

        • Salle says:

          I was at Dr/ Pacquet’s presentation and was also convinced by his assertion that it was not consistent with wolf predation. He also raised a bunch of red flags from the evidence he had but I don’t feel the need to go into that. What I have seen of other works by Dr. Pacquet have never shown me anything that wasn’t plausible, and I have read quite a bit. He is a predator specialist and likely one of few who are willing to contest the conclusions of others when they seem to be questionable. I’m agreeing with JB in his first paragraph above, but not necessarily so the in the second. *only animals* isn’t a perspective I would tend to share.

          • JB says:

            Salle, Richie:

            Apologies. When I wrote that wolves were “only animals” I was not being pejorative, but rather, speaking to their capacity for moral reasoning. What I should have written is this: we should not expect any large carnivores (wolves included) to treat people differently from other animals–they are only animals and incapable of moral reasoning. Like Mech said, neither sinner nor saint–just animals.

        • Paquet seemed to pin a lot on the fact that Carnegie was dragged 50 meters after he was killed, saying that was inconsistent with wolves but consistent with a bear. However, the Chignik Lake victim was moved twice, 83 feet the first time and then 70 feet for a total of about the same distance — although she was likely lighter and it was somewhat downhill.

          • JB says:

            Good point, Seak. Though there was other evidence, some of which Jon mentions below, and some of which I don’t feel comfortable posting on a public forum.

        • Mark L says:

          “To be honest, I never understood why this was such a big deal. Wolves are large carnivores and there is well-documented evidence of them killing people”
          Here? In North America? How many?
          This is akin to saying Florida panthers kill people because their relatives in the west do. They don’t. Rethink your logic…there’s a obvious difference in how these populations act towards people.

          • JB says:


            In North America there is one uncontested case (Chignik Lake, mentioned above), another contested case (the Carnegie case), and I would include a woman killed by eastern coyotes in Nova Scotia.

            However, worldwide there have been many more documented attacks. For a review see: Linnell, J.D.C., et al. 2001. The fear of wolves: A review of wolf attacks on humans. Nina Oppdragsmelding: 731:1-65.



            “This is akin to saying Florida panthers kill people because their relatives in the west do. They don’t.”

            There is a difference between “don’t” and “haven’t”.

            • Mark L says:

              The European issues would be irrelevant….my point exactly. The people themselves react differently to wolves to begin with…also my point. Wolves are viewed as a direct threat to well-being, not something that was done generally in North America until recently (save reported Indian events). The ‘uncontested’ Chignik Lake case was possibly other things…and not the same wolves as NRM anyway.
              The easterns in Nova Scotia is really strange, but an anecdotal event.
              So, on to panthers….any? No. And they have had A LOT of chances. I’m not talking genetics here, more epigenetic…they just don’t do it…like their mamma’s taught them not to or something…it just doesn’t happen. Why? Same on NRM wolves.

            • Mark L says:

              Same could be argued for jaguars also. Just doesn’t happen if they are given a chance to retreat.

            • JB says:

              McNay documented some ~50 cases of wolf aggression in North America–18 of which were unprovoked (1900-2000). And, of course, there are numerous instances of attacks by captive animals. Wolf attacks are exceedingly rare in our modern world–no question. But to suggest they won’t happen because they are rare is downright irresponsible.

            • JB says:

              The European cases, of course, are also relevant, as we are talking about the same species. Yes, different subspecies; but I have not seen any evidence to suggest that wolves in NA are behaviorally different when it comes aggressiveness?

              Generalizing broadly across time and space, wolf attacks–though extremely rare–occur in areas where wolves and people frequently mix, in cases where wolves are rabid, and in cases where wolves become food-conditioned. And then there are outliers–attacks that we can’t readily explain.

              They have happened before, continue to happen, and will happen in the future.

              I forgot to provide he McNay citation:

              McNay, M. E. 2002. Wolf-Human Interactions in Alaska and Canada: A Review of the Case History. Wildlife Society Bulletin 30 (3):831-843.

      • jon says:

        That’s not true WM. Bear expert Dr. Stephen Herroro said that a bear likely caused Kenton Carnegie’s death.

        • jon says:

          “Paquet and Walker also pointed to the fact that Carnegie’s heart, lungs and liver were intact, stating that in Paquet’s experience and that of other wolf experts, wolves usually eat those organs and surrounding fat first.[16] Moreover, the stomach, intestines, and kidneys were consumed first, which Paquet stated is unusual for wolves consuming wild prey.[17] Consumption of these organs, however, is consistent with documented descriptions of black bears feeding on humans, especially victims who had recently consumed a meal. Notably, Carnegie ate lunch just before leaving on his walk.[1] Paquet and Walker noted, however, that due to the scarcity of documented wolf attacks in North America, it would be difficult to discern what a wolf attack would look like. Mark McNay agreed.”

          • jon says:

            Bear specialist Wayne McRory concluded that a black bear was the probable predator after reviewing the physical evidence. There were numerous experts who thought that a bear was responsible for killing Kenton Carnegie.

            • WM says:

              I do not have the benefit of the Pacquet seminar on the subject, so will defer to those with apparently more information. I also see the Wikipedia entry, extracts of which jon quotes for the Carnegie death, has been reworked considerably since I last looked at it many, many months ago. Of course, the primary sources for some of the assertions contained therin do not appear available notwithstanding the presence of links, and the Coroner’s report is confidential. I do not know what to think in light of the rework. I was, however, under the impression AK wolf investigator/expert Mark McNay was much stronger in his view that wolves were the cause.

              Of course, it is always good to hear both sides of the story.

      • Louise Kane says:

        WM” you wrote….”The point Dr. Mech was making is that some members of the public, maybe some scientist/wolf advocates as well are deserving of the criticism which lead him to choose the title of his short paper, “Is Science in Danger of Sanctifying the Wolf?”

        The question please, what exactly is the danger here? The danger of wolves being sanctified? Seems like an irrational fear given that state management plans have allowed close to half of the populations to be exterminated in one year and have accelerated their killing methods, and lengthened their seasons. Given that some politicians launch their political careers on killing wolves in states where some people boast of killing and torturing wolves. It seems like the wolf could use a little less vilification and a hell of a lot more sanctifying. Don’t wolves already have enough loaded guns aimed at them? If Mech argues that science is in danger of sanctifying the wolf, then shouldn’t he be held accountable to have the facts straight before doing any finger pointing? As Cody points out, “How do you run ‘ control’ when running hypotheses on wolves if they’ve only been on the ground 15 years and the whole damn ecosystem was in tumultuous change before they got here “?
        JB provided contrary evidence that the bias is not one in favor of elevating the wolf but against. So if wolves are neither saints nor sinners and the science is not definitive then why publish a document that will most certainly be quoted and misquoted and ultimately be used against wolves?

        • WM says:


          Yours is a question to ask of Dr. Mech, not me. But, I did suggest that the sancification issue is the flip side of the uninformed arguments of the “anti’s.”

          Each is deserving of critical review and discussion. Your view, seems to suggest “sanctification” should just be ignored, even if brought up by one of the researchers who has studied the species longer and in more depth than nearly anyone else. That does not mean his own views should not be challenged and discussed.

          A concluding remark from Mech’s paper:

          “Wolf restoration has generated a fine assortment of interesting ecological studies and has generally improved our understanding of wolves and associated species and their interactions with eash other and the environment. However, we as scientists and conservationists who deal with such a controversial species as the wolf have a special obligation to qualify our conclusions and minimize our rhetoric, knowing full well that the popular media and the internet eagerly await a chance to hype our findings. An inaccurate public image of the wolf will only do a disservice to the animal and to those charged with managing it.”

          Earlier in the paper he cautions that most of the research done on wolves has been in the National Parks, and the conclusions reached, to the extent they are valid, apply to National Parks and not necessarily elsewhere. He also asserts, that “the effect of wolves elsewhere pale in relation to the overwhelming anthropogenic effects that huans have already wrought over most of the wolf range.”

          I interpret that statement as a qualifier, that expecting too much in the way of positive change from more wolves on the landscape (outside NP’s) is likely an unreasonable position that will be difficult to defend.

          On the other hand, the message in Cody’s statement that wolves have only been present for such a short time (in any significant numbers) suggests we should give more time to see what they do before trimming their numbers and limiting range. Good advice, in my view, but then the politics and vested interests of other groups get in the way. That is a different standard than what the ESA apparently requires to ensure survival of the species, and the slippery slope of how many wolves is enough to meet the ESA requirement.

          • WM says:


            “…He also asserts, that “the effect of wolves elsewhere WOULD pale in relation to the overwhelming anthropogenic effects that huMans have already wrought over most of the wolf range.”

        • JB says:

          “The question please, what exactly is the danger here?”

          That’s a good question, Louise. My view: The danger here is related to the ongoing conflict regarding wolves’ management. Specifically, if we have one set of information that “sanctifies” the wolf which is held up as factual by environmentalists and another set of information vilifying wolves that is held up as factual by those that oppose wolves, then we risk (a) perpetuating the conflict, and (b) arguing past one another based upon faulty factual claims. The *first* step in reducing the conflict over wolves is coming to some agreement upon what is factual concerning wolves and their impacts on livestock, their prey and other ecosystem components.

          • Jon Way says:

            You all have made great comments and present a rationale dialogue here. Kudos to you, JB, moderating this thread. Sorry I am late to the discussion.

            I generally agree with what JB says here except I take exception to the notion that scientists (wolf advocates, etc) should be held to a higher standard. While I understand the need for unbiased scientific research, scientists are humans too and I take exception to the fact that wolf hating rednecks can spew out BS after BS and end up with a state mgmt plan to minimize wolf numbers in the 3 Rocky Mtn states. So while not “sanctifying” the wolf is important, what about a scientific article about not hating one species to death and killing them beyond reason for a recent ESA listed species. What about not having hunting and trapping seasons based on pure hate and misunderstanding. What about a state agency that considers all users of wildlife not just ppl that hate and want to minimize wolves.

            With that said, JB, do you think that there will ever be agreement with anti-wolf hating people. My thought is that it is the same as Democrat-Republican battle: The Dems will give a little on an issue (Obama) and the Reps will pull the pendulum further to their side (ie, look at the state mgmt plans).

            • ma'iingan says:

              “…what about a scientific article about not hating one species to death and killing them beyond reason for a recent ESA listed species. What about not having hunting and trapping seasons based on pure hate and misunderstanding. What about a state agency that considers all users of wildlife not just ppl that hate and want to minimize wolves.”

              Exactly why scientists should stay detached and pragmatic. There are plenty of folks shouting on both sides of the issue. If you’ve got research that shows the state management plans will lead to the extirpation of wolves, by all means get it out there.

              There’s been very little of it, from my perspective – the Creel/ Rotella paper and some current modeling in Wisconsin that suggests WGL wolves would be extirpated if all three wolf-bearing states were to annually harvest wolves at rates of around 30%. But it’s very new and has not been peer-reviewed yet.

              Ultimately, management of iconic wildlife species will be based on socio-political factors. Even so, scientists need to do good science and advocate for its application in management decisions – and stay out of the emotional debates.

            • Jon Way says:

              Well put ma.
              But I still think there is a double standard associated with wildlife management and science in general. If scientists are held to a higher degree their decisions should be more influenced than the other way around. I know that is not the case, obviously, but there is a clear double standard going on – and it has to do with how wildlife mgmt is governed. Your point is well taken and would be ideal if multiple stakeholders had a realistic chance to chime in. Plus, there is certainly a difference between extirpated (which I don’t think will happen even in the worst states like WY) and ecological functioning populations that all stakeholders get to enjoy. I don’t believe that 150 in a huge state like MT, ID and WY provide robust pops where wolves are an ecologically functioning member of the ecosystem.

            • JB says:


              I don’t ever expect agreement on how exactly wolves should be managed. However, we can’t even have a conversation until we can agree what is factual (within the bounds of error) about wolves. That’s where appropriately framed science can make a difference.

              Ma’: Check out Vucetich’s review of Wyoming’s plan. He embedded an analysis of sustainable harvest that I *believe* is under peer review. It suggests the threshold for sustainable harvest is even lower than Creel and Rotella predict.

            • WM says:


              Isn’t Vucetich among those likely to get the caution flag from Mech? You and I have had discussions about where his science and advocacy roles have potential for conflict of the nature Mech describes. I think you even brought into the discussion one or more papers penned by Vucetich where he carves out a role for the scientist advocate (which gets a scientist in more of an active role of making policy, which Mech believes is not an appropriate role for one, and which is reinforced by ma’iingan’s comment above).

            • JB says:


              I’m uncomfortable guessing about the motivations of other scientists. I’d rather scientists work (mine included) get critiqued on its merits. My point was merely to direct Ma’ to a dissenting opinion on what constitutes a sustainable rate of harvest for wolves.

            • WM says:

              Jon Way,

              Not to horn in on your query to JB, but I will offer this on issue of “talking past each other,” down to even more basic terms.

              Whether it is wolves specifically, or politics generally the motivator for the polarization is this: One side of the issue is trying to maintain what it already has – a vested interest (whether it is material wealth, ideology, sphere of influence, structured social order, concern for humanitarian causes, etc.). The other side is trying to extract or reduce that entitlement or influence, to advance its own interests.

              The question is how does compromise occur in which both sides agree to maybe accept less while the opposition gets more. For some, that is a difficult trade-off. It involves “losing” in a sense, which is not an honored concept in our culture (whether it is D’s or R’s).

              The soul of movie character Wall Street Gordon Gecko lives in the real life Mitt Romney (Immer and others who read the Matt Taibbi piece from another thread will get this comment, and the reference to greed). And, it seems R’s do play by different rules than D’s most of the time.

              • Richie G says:

                Nice comment Jon very nice, destroy all that is, our weather patterns prove this, but like the ceo from exxon said we will adapt, your article Jon.The R’s as you put it are destroyers and I will say it .

            • Jon Way says:

              Thanks JB and WM (and no problem chiming in here). Based on your comments, I don’t see how 150 per state benefits the pro-wolf side since that is the lowest level allowed. I think the concession would have been around 500 per state (yes an arbitrary #) where each state concedes a decent amount of wolves but limits them compared to say 2000+ in the tri-state area. I know these are arbitrary #s based on past levels but 1 side is losing and that is why there is no agreement – the antis won’t concede anything….

              As per advocacy. There is a growing role of people who think that scientists should be advocates. I would say that I personally lean to that side. It is especially critical with less well known animals that don’t have advocates (coyotes are a good example that are only recently gaining advocates for them). Heck, Mech’s important 1970 book ends with an advocacy quote to a degree. I and many others do think that good science and advocacy can go hand and hand. Of course, other scientists disagree….

          • Richie G says:

            I remember a few years back when wolves were on the ES list, when a town sheriff ,now by accident shot a bullet and almost hit a Ranger what a big deal thta turned out to be. A rancher called in both to say a wolf was causing problems! Why the big deal over wolves, not bears,mountain lions, or name another predator, JB, wolves are no different than any of these others animals,in fact to quote Ralph,when hiking beware more of cats than wolves,so why all the fuss,we know why? Mostly goes back to the the werewolf and Little Red Riding Hood, please lets give it up. Wolves do not like people ,like some people do not like them. The Grey is a perfect example which I refuse to see.

          • SEAK Mossback says:

            JB –
            “Specifically, if we have one set of information that “sanctifies” the wolf which is held up as factual by environmentalists and another set of information vilifying wolves that is held up as factual by those that oppose wolves, then we risk (a) perpetuating the conflict, and (b) arguing past one another based upon faulty factual claims. The *first* step in reducing the conflict over wolves is coming to some agreement upon what is factual concerning wolves and their impacts on livestock, their prey and other ecosystem components.”

            Excellent point in general about perpetuating conflict. It seems to be an increasing problem in public decision making and problem solving across the board today — groups somehow justify clinging to “fixed beliefs” so they can stick to fixed positions. It spans a wide array of positions including, just to name a few: “tax cuts always pay for themselves”, “climate change is a hoax”, “there’s reason to doubt the official cause of the Chignik Lake fatality”, “Canadian wolves are more lethal”. Some of these not only never go away, like JFK murder conspiracy theories and Elvis sightings, but are steadfastly held as fixed points in debate. Repeat it among each other enough and in the media, and you can somehow build mass out of thin air. We’ll watch it again soon in “Fiscal Cliff 2”.

            • JB says:

              “We’ll watch it again soon in ‘Fiscal Cliff 2’.”

              Sadly, I think the probability of that prediction coming to pass is quite high.

  13. Immer Treue says:

    Back to the topic of trophic cascades. So much about willow and aspen, but what about the engineer of the ecosystem, the beaver. During the late 80’s I put together a paper that borrowed heavily from Jonas Roberts thesis “A Population and Ecological Study of the BEaver (Castor canadensis)of Yellowstone National Park.” University of Idaho 1955.

    I’m aware that beaver appear in cycles (about 30 years), but in Yellowstone, once beaver left an area, they did not return. In the 1920’s the number of beaver in Yellowstone were conservatively estimated at about 100,000, yet by the 1950’s they were scarce. Some studies hedge that the fire in the 80’s helped beaver more than did the wolf reintroduction. With an increase of beaver, as wolves put more pressure on elk, beaver would/will become a more important food source for wolves.

    So the question, with all the attention being given to willows and aspen, what is going on with the beaver population of Yellowstone, and the benefits they provide? We are approaching 20 years, and I don’t presume that to be enough time to set things straight in the park, but is the beaver staging a comeback, and can there, or is there a correlation with their population increase and the presence of wolves?

    • Salle says:

      Good question for some research, Immer.

      In past years, maybe the last ten or so, I have noticed more presence of beaver along the west side of the park; south Indian Creek to Roaring Mountain, and outside the park along the south Fork of the Madison River, the Beaver Creek Ponds along US 287 and beyond. Also in the park along the Gallatin River up on Deer Pass and Snowflake/Taylor Fork and Big Sky… All locations where wolves are now present. I hadn’t seen them in those areas before some six years ago.

    • Jon Way says:

      One confounding factor with beavers was that they were reintroduced in Gallatin National Forest just N of yellowstone right around the time wolves were reintroduced. Would they have gotten there anyway with better habitat is anyone’s guess.

      • WM says:

        Mech mentions the “confounding factor with beavers,” in his paper:

        ++The role of beavers in the reported trophic cascade also bears further discussion. Beavers occupy a special place in th wolf-mediated trophic cascade in Yellowstone because of the many local ecological changes beaver ponds can bring (Naiman et al. 1986). Beavers depend primarily on willows …and at the time of reintroduction (1995) there were no actual beavers on the Northern Range….++


        ++What has had little publicity, however was that “the rapid repopulation of the Northern Range with persistent beaver colonies,…occurred because the Gallatin National Forest “released 129 beavers in drainages north of the park….In any case the assumption that beaver increases in Yellowstone and all the subesequent effects is a result of wolf restoration overlooks the possibility that the willow increase resulted from the raising of the water table by veavers/and /or an increased growing seaseon (Despain, 2005).++

        I think Mech does not believe “trophic cascade” gurus, Ripple and Brescha acknowledged this. And, he is critical of the simplistic lay wolf advocate conclusion based on the(questionable?)trophic cascade theory as Ripple et al., describe it – “See, wolves increase the beaver population.”

        And another important query is whether relationships purporting to exist in Yellowstone, in fact, be the case elsewhere?

        • WM says:

          Or another annotated version of the Ripple/Beschta trophic cascade theory is – See, the wolves kill the elk, which releases the willow, which increases the beaver population.

          Again, the possible failure to account for longer growing season for the willows and the reintroduction of beavers creating more willow habitat through their own effort of damming and creating ponds and marshy areas where willows take hold, and are subsequently measured by scientists who do not account for these “confounding” and some might say inconvenient factors affecting purported scientific conclusions.

          • Salle says:


            if the beavers were reintroduced post wolf rehabitation, perhaps that decision was made after notice of willows and riparian areas recovering due to wolves reduction of elk impact on said areas. Which is it? Where’s the timeline for defense of either claim? Just asking.

            • WM says:


              At the risk of engaging in debate over the substance of your comment (which for both our sakes I will try to avoid) I will offer the source document for Dr. Mech’s comment (co-authored by Doug Smith, YNP):


              Incidentally, the beaver introduction on the adjacent FS land north of YNP in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness began in 1986, and the program continued through 1999. There is speculation that the historical depletion of beaver in the 1920’s is attributable to several causes including drought, beaver killing off the aspen where they built dams maybe forcing them to move on, and the influence of elk or moose that ate willows and aspen, unhampered by wolves. These new beavers are more dependent on willows, which may prevent the boom-bust cycle often accompanied with more reliance on aspen.

              And, importantly the recent diffusion and expansion of beaver population within YNP is largely attributed to the Yellowstone River system, which serves as a “superhighway” for dispersers to find and establish new colonies throughout much of the Park.

              Interestingly the article, co-authored by Doug Smith, who is also the chief YNP wolf project biologist, does not address a beaver-aspen/willow-wolf relationship. But, maybe he addressed the issue post 2008 when this paper was published.

              If I recall correctly, his Ph D thesis involved beavers, and he also featured in segment of a program which included the beavers of YNP, which aired on PBS in the last couple years.

  14. Mark L says:

    “The European cases, of course, are also relevant, as we are talking about the same species. Yes, different subspecies; but I have not seen any evidence to suggest that wolves in NA are behaviorally different when it comes aggressiveness? ”
    Yes, they do seem to behave somewhat differently, just like the humans that react to them (my point). The .pdf you sited by Oppdragsmelding may address some of that (8.2 and 11). Good read though.
    Still don’t see the ‘well documented evidence of these wolves killing people’ though (except around campers/rabids?).

    • JB says:


      You are attributing differences in the number of attacks/killing to differences in behavior without ruling out other plausible explanations (e.g., more contact with wolves in places where killings have been more common). The well-documented cases are in Europe and, as I said, I do not know of any evidence that these animals behave differently toward people than those in N. America.

      McNay documented 18 cases of unprovoked wolf aggression and there have been several cases since 2000, two of which were investigated and *officially* resulted in human deaths (I have doubts about Carnegie, but have no reason to doubt the Alaska incident). There have been many cases of attacks (and deaths) in Europe and Asia, though McNay notes that they have trickled off during the 20th century. Notably, this co-occurs with three important phenomena: (1) decreases in wolf abundance and range, and (2) substantial decreases in the percentage of people involved in agriculture, and (3) concurrent increases in the proportion of time people spend indoors. I would posit that the lack of wolf attacks in N. America is due in large part to these three factors, along with management of risk factors (generally for carnivores) in areas where people and wolves co-occur.

      • Richie G says:

        Hey JB a friend of mine is Russian and when he was in his homeland ,he seen a wolf and it ran away from him,again away.Now it was a long long time ago but in 2006 OF April a wolf in sleu creek I hope I hope that is the correct spelling, came down a hill, looked at me seemed for hours only seconds, went back into the trees,came back out and looked at me again. I had a dead battery not one picture, I had a boat horn, I said this before ,their was a kill in the trees and his buddies were calling across the creek. Now Did he try to attack me,no he or she did not, that’s it.

      • Immer Treue says:


        250,000+ annual visitors to the BWCAW and no incidents. This is in the wolf “font” of MN. Not to say that wolves are not to be respected, and not to say that your three points don’t carry considerable weight.

        • JB says:


          It really is amazing how few human attacks have been documented in NA. However, I would point out that your *average* person does not generally go into a wilderness area, and those who do act very differently from how they might act outside a wilderness (e.g., more vigilant). And recall that there have been more recent attacks in Canada (e.g., Vancouver Island).

          Fundamentally, I think we agree; but I think it’s irresponsible to leave people the impression that wolves are harmless. Once that respect that you mention goes away, someone will get hurt.

          • Immer Treue says:


            “Fundamentally, I think we agree; but I think it’s irresponsible to leave people the impression that wolves are harmless. Once that respect that you mention goes away, someone will get hurt.”

            Absolutely. The wolf is a large, powerful and competent carnivore. I hate using the term “disneyesque” as some wildlife is portrayed, but at times the wolf does fit that bill. With the gun at the wolf’s head, one stupid person can destroy the work, research, and experiences of 10’s of thousands of others. Think of the folks in Yellowstone who are hurt by bison.

            All that said, all the personal encounters of individuals here in the North, in particular in Winter when travel on lakes is slow and exposed, nothing. Those who have researched, nothing. All the volunteers who counted wolves in Wisconsin, nothing. Have a pack of wolves run towards you on a lake while you are strapped into a sled while on skis, and you understand how vulnerable we really are. But once they see you, they stop. Why?

            We live during an age of instant information. People must understand the potential of this wonderful animal to do great harm. Yet, it just doesn’t happen. I believe that the cuddly view of the wolf does it a great disservice in the times we now live, but no more so then the centuries of fables, fairy tales, and vilification heaped upon this misunderstood creature.

            As the human population continues to grow, how long do all things truly wild have remaining?

          • Mike says:

            It’s also irresponsible to create an impression they are somehow dangerous, when all data points suggest otherwise.

  15. Richie G says:

    Oh what I forgot to mention he was only thirty to forty yards away and a clear path at me, but then again I had my horn, and it is loud. Distance of three to five miles on the water !

  16. MK Ray says:

    A comment about ecosystems not caring what components they have and whether a thing is ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ simply being a matter of human value. Is it not true generally, that the greater the degree of biodiversity the more resilient is it to ecological challenge? I think the ecosystem does care if nutrients are mainly cycled by elk and elk alone as opposed to elk, deer, pronghorn, songbirds, amphibians, beavers and a host of others. The simplified situation in the former with one dominant species may set up a kind of island effect where the over abundant elk eventually create their own doom. (come to think of it, humans may be in this situation exactly right now on earth.)

  17. Richie G says:

    Original Message —–
    From: National Wildlife Federation
    Sent: Wednesday, September 05, 2012 6:00 AM
    Subject: In Memory of Noho …

    It only takes one apple to spoil the barrel

  18. Dave Mech says:

    I realize that this response to Dr. Bruskotter’s critique of my article “Is Science in Danger of Sanctifying the Wolf?” will be buried among the many comments. However, for the record I just want to say that I do agree that Houston et al. (2010) seem to document that negative comments about wolves outweigh positive comments.

    However, the Houston et al. (2010) study is based on analyzing 4,559 newspapers, and 2,878 news wires over 10 years. This great many outlets must have included a preponderance of local, small-town newspapers with small circulations. The real question is how to weigh the impact of such outlets against the impact of the positive articles appearing in the New York Times with a Sunday circulation of 1,356,800 and the National Geographic (circulation 4,232,205), as well as of the various TV documentaries with an unknown viewership. I will leave that up to readers to decide.

  19. Dr. Mech,

    Thank you for taking the time to reply. Note: I placed a link to your response in the body of the main story. Hopefully this prevents it from getting buried among the many comments here. As I wrote (above), I very much enjoyed your article and appreciated the warning–i.e., don’t make too much of unfinished science.

    In response to your comment, I would note that Houston et al. separated stories from large, national newspapers and wires from the small town papers in order to look for just the sort of bias you mention. Results indicate that large, national newspapers and wires exhibited the same number of negative expressions per story (3.61) as media outlets from states with permanent wolf populations (3.49) and states in recovery zones that lacked wolf populations (3.52), but fewer than states with new populations (4.27). Interestingly, and counter my expectations, national newspapers and wires had the fewest positive expressions per article (1.22), followed by newspapers from states with permanent populations (1.37), states in recovery zones that lacked populations (1.48), states with “new” wolf populations (1.54) and states without wolves (1.59).

    Again, your point about the inconclusive nature of the alleged effects of wolves is well made, and I agree that scientists are obligated to place our research within the appropriate bounds of uncertainty. However, I believe the data show pretty clearly that the news media is in no danger of sanctifying the wolf.

    The tables from Houston et al. are available here:

  20. Ida Lupine says:

    I’m happy to read this. My apologies to everyone here if some of my posts seem a little hot under the collar!

  21. WM says:


    It is just great that Dr. Mech would take the time to respond to this thread. I presume that was the result of your personal initiative. Thanks. I hope he and other respected scientists in the field monitor the topics presented here (whether they choose to comment or not).

    I did not miss the reference in Dr. Mech’s paper to the influence of the popular media and the internet being responsible for developing “a strong wolf sentiment.” As well, it serves as a vehicle to also stir the pot among the “anti’s.”

    It is also important that Dr. Mech mentions above in his comment, the influence of TV documentaries. I don’t know whether your work or that of your colleagues in tracking media portrayal of more wolves on the landscape has touched on TV documentaries. I have watched several that, in my mind at least, have not been very objective. The latest, of course, was the BBC featured effort to locate wolves in WA, with the help of some folks at Conservation Northwest. What I found most troubling was the selection of a “representative” wolf hunter from ID, for a short interview segment, to gain some “perspective” on those who would hunt wolves. This guy was THE poster boy for everything bad about the wolf hunting effort (and hunting generally), almost to the point of being a caricature. It is doubtful this guy would ever get a wolf, but the personality type was certainly set in my mind, though unlikely to represent most wolf hunters for many reasons.

    There must be somewhere nearing a dozen or so widely distributed TV “wolf documentaries” out there now. Has there been any academic effort to characterize how those are crafted relative to some set of criteria rating them for “positive” or “negative” impressions, or whether they accurately portray the developing science of wolf reintroduction or repopulation? Come to think of it, I don’t know that I have ever seen one on the Western Great Lakes wolves. I wonder if there is anything in the works with the tension building over the upcoming hunts, or the recently acknowledged conflicts between the State of WI and tribal interests, which are serving as the basis for a law suit.

    Seems because of the opportunity of wide dissemination, and the passive nature of TV viewing, that their influence cannot be ignored in the bigger picture of how people develop perceptions of wolves. And, as I think about it, even some of the newspapers have links to short videos, for example the ones that accompanied the the Wallawa Enterprise stories on the depredating Imnaha pack last winter, or I even recall a WWP short video reporting on a Wildlife Services control effort involving a helicopter, linked to this site (Sorry, I can’t remember when that was, but close to three years ago, I think).


    Dr. Mech,

    Thank you for your lifetime of work helping us all to better understand the biology of the wolf, importance of wolves on the landscape, and the difficulties in unraveling the mysteries of science that accompany the restoration to parts of the US. And, thank you for calling attention to some of the issues necessary for keeping the conversation and the science honest.

    And, please come back again to offer us your thoughts. This is a great forum for a continuing dialog with folks that have an interest in wolves and other wildlife (thanks to the dedication of Dr. Ralph Maughan and those who help him).

    • Richie G says:

      Yes their was PBS film on the great lakes region,they put electrical fences, red flags and dogs and men on horseback. The deer population work out well for hunter and predator,they thought their might be a conflict but no, their was enough deer for both. Now at the end a women farmer spoke and said ,yes wolves were making more work for them,but how many people could say they see a wolf walking across their land, while she was watching from here window.

    • Jon Way says:

      Altho I don’t have any data on Bob Landis’ PBS wolf movies (Return of Wolf, In the Valley of Wolves, Wolf Pack, Black Wolf), there is no doubt that the collective effect of those videos has been an enormous popularity by the general public with both wolves and Yellowstone National Park. Of course, doing the work in Yellowstone can only help but I think that these videos gives the general public a positive view of wolves and makes them more of a national issue when people get to see films on them (and then read about the delisting just outside of Yellowstone’s borders).

      • Immer Treue says:


        Got a copy of The Rise of Black Wolf from the IWC as a benefit of being a member. Well filmed, Seamlessly ties the four stages of a wolf’s life into one film, but used a number of wolves at different stages to depict “the” black wolf. Returning to “the” black wolf whenever possible.

        Pretty good in showing how wolves survive in a tough world.

        If one wants the alternative, there’s always Grave’s “Wolves in Russia”. Though I believe the general public will be able to be captivated by Landis films, rather than the fact or your guess is as good as mine fairy tale WiR.

      • Salle says:

        I think that what has happened with Landis’ films is that NatGeo edits them and adds the narrative and music.

        I had a chat with Bob Landis about that after the first film came out because I found some of the music application offensive by inference. By thta I mean that they placed happy, fuzzy story kind of stuff during the segments where woves were romping around, pups having fun and the like, but when the wolves were stalking or killing something, they used Native American rattles, drums and melancholy flute motifs to infer some kind of sinister element to the story. Mr. Landis told me that he had nothing to do with that and that NatGeo did that. I guess he must have said something to them because the next few films had changed the musical mood setting motifs from the items I found offensive. I don’t know if he gained more control over the editing in more recent works, I’d like to think he has.

    • JB says:


      You make a good point about documentaries–that’s a subject that Houston et al. does not touch. My (limited) exposure to these documentaries agrees with your generalizations, and I am very interested to know the overall effect of this type of information. Fertile ground for study to be sure.

      As I said (above) I think the real danger here is the proliferation of competing factual claims based upon the existing science. To some extent I already see this happening on this blog, and it is why I wanted to draw attention to Dr. Mech’s article.

    • Mike says:

      ++What I found most troubling was the selection of a “representative” wolf hunter from ID, for a short interview segment, to gain some “perspective” on those who would hunt wolves. This guy was THE poster boy for everything bad about the wolf hunting effort (and hunting generally), almost to the point of being a caricature. It is doubtful this guy would ever get a wolf, but the personality type was certainly set in my mind, though unlikely to represent most wolf hunters for many reasons.++

      That’s because most hunters are that way. It’s not “accident” or coincidence. This is what it’s like talking to most hunters in the Rockies. And I’ll be dealing with these idiots once again as I try and stay out of their loudmouthed way this fall in the Northern Rockies.

      • Savebears says:

        Why don’t you just stay home Mike? 10+ months of the year, you degrade, bitch and wine about us hunters that live in the Rockies, so why not just stay where you are?

        • Mike says:

          Because it’s my land, too. Maybe I’ll see you up on the North Fork in October.

          I’ll be the one banging pots and pans near tree stands, and blowing my whistle on the hiking trails with obvious side spurs….

          • Savebears says:

            I was going to say, drop by for a beer, but if you do that near my hunting area and I catch you, plan on spending a night of two in jail, it is against the law in Montana, to interfere in a legal hunt, and it is punishable by a sizable fine as well as the possibility of jail time. Remember quite a bit of the North Fork area is private land.

            • Savebears says:

              Also as Montana Dept of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, is the governing agency as far as hunting goes, even on Federal Lands contained within the state of Montana, you would still be in violation of state law if you interrupt or disrupt a lawful hunt, remember what they did to that guy in Utah over his stunt concerning civil protest, If I remember right he is sitting in jail?

            • Mike says:

              Ah…I see you’ve got that Northfork sense of humor, too.


              Next thing I know you’ll be telling me about U.N. conspiracies….

            • Savebears says:

              Feel lucky Mike, I would just turn you in, I know guys that would shoot you, let your body lay and use you for bear or wolf bait! Not a good idea to do what you say you would do.

            • Savebears says:

              No Black Helo’s or UN stuff from me.

            • Mike says:

              It was a joke, SB. That rural Rockies paranoia has you by the balls….

            • Savebears says:

              Paranoia, now that is funny Mike, but I was serious, I do know guys up this way that would do what I said, remember, it is a big area, with very few people and not a lot of law enforcement, heck the last couple of times someone has disappeared, it took years to find them!

          • RobertR says:

            Mike if I were the one you were hurasing I would have charges filed for hunter harassment. Hunters do not bother you in your outdoor activities so be a responsible person and think first.

        • Savebears says:

          Opps, Whine!

        • WM says:

          Gee Mike,

          Here was an opportunity (spoiled as it turns out by your more or less worthless participation) to engage on a topic about science and wolves and advocacy. Why Ralph continues to permit your constant condescending rant on the same topic over and over ad nauseum amazes me. A trip to the woodshed for you is long overdue.

          • Mike says:

            WM –

            You’ve been an anti-wolf troll on this forum for a long, long time, getting into it with anyone who doesn’t care for hunting (on a site dedicated to wolves, BTW, not to shooting them), so trust me, I’m up to my neck in surprise over here that you’re still permitted to post.

            • WM says:


              Your statement is simply not true, unless you believe a “troll” would not be content with NRM wolf management as high as about 1,000 animals (incidentally also the FWS belief expressed in the NRM delisting rule), which appears to be nearly double the number which the 3 core states wish to approach as recently expressed in their latest management strategies.

              I will admit to challenging those, like yourself, with “facts” they cannot support with scientific authority, or opinions which cannot be reached with rational thought processes.

              Your comments frequently suffer from lapses in both areas, with regularity. Then, you get alot of push back from folks, here, including those with the academic backgrounds and relevant work experience, or detailed knowledge about where they live/work/play to make credible challenges to your views. Instead of acknowledging that you are off point (or often just plain wrong on the facts), you then retaliate with equally irrational arguments, again fact challenged. Proof of your exchange is evident in your half-last dozen comments or so, on this thread. When will you ever get a clue? I expect you were a difficult child.

            • Immer Treue says:


              I’m not going to kick you… because you passion on wildlife issues are commendable, and in the world in which we live, of the utmost importance. But your energy is misdirected when unleashed at times on the forum.

            • Mike says:

              WM –

              You’ve helped chased off a bunch of non-hunters, and turn what was once a great site to talk wildlife into a largely pro-wolf hunting site.

              You really do seem to get into it with a great number of posters here, many of whom simply don’t have the time like you do to respond to every single post. It really is impressive, your post count and your vitriol towards those who do not favor hunting.

              What I’ve come to expect from you (as have others) are platitudes (see the post I’m replying too) and a general roundabout way of saying nothing at all with the most possible words (again see the posts in this thread).

              You jump at every opportunity to post news that potentially puts wolves in a bad light. When non-hunters point out facts, you attack them. When you disagree with someone, you make insults (see your comment about being a difficult child).

              Time and time again you have posted from a severe anti-wolf bias, with little grounding in reality or facts. You play devil’s advocate very well, perhaps for your own amusement, or perhaps because it’s just what you do.

              I think, most of all, you would benefit from going out and spending time in wolf country. Your post count and your demeanor indicates you really don’t have the kind of experience that lends credibility, nor sincerity to your comments.

            • JB says:


              WM and I have gone several rounds over a variety of issues, but I’ve always found his responses thoughtful, even if I end up disagreeing. He tends to treat people with respect when they treat him with respect–and especially, when they couch their responses thoughtfully. Something to chew on. 😉

            • ma'iingan says:

              “I think, most of all, you would benefit from going out and spending time in wolf country.”

              WM – Sage advice from a Chicago dweller. Take heed.

      • ma'iingan says:

        Stay out of their loudmouthed way by staying in Chicago. Simple solution.

        • Mike says:

          I also happen to own a piece of the Gallatin NF, the Lolo NF, The Lewis and Clark NF, the Flathead NF, Yellowstone, Glacier, Olympic, North Cascades, Grand Teton, and Mount Rainier.

          And I plan to enjoy it to its fullest deep into November.

  22. HAL 9000 says:

    •What I found most troubling was the selection of a “representative” wolf hunter from ID, for a short interview segment, to gain some “perspective” on those who would hunt wolves. This guy was THE poster boy for everything bad about the wolf hunting effort (and hunting generally), almost to the point of being a caricature. It is doubtful this guy would ever get a wolf, but the personality type was certainly set in my mind, though unlikely to represent most wolf hunters for many reasons.•

    I would echo that. Hunters are often poorly represented in the various mass mediums, and usually by the worst examples of us, who fit all the negative stereotypes.

    I will note in the immediate region of wolf territory, the press seems to frequently gravitate toward the perhaps ironically named Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife to get quotes or footage from “the hunters’ perspective.”

    But from the perspective of many of us (hunters, that is), SFW is about the worst place to go. But, they have a high profile, are easy to find, and reporters are usually in a hurry.

    • Mike says:

      ++I would echo that. Hunters are often poorly represented in the various mass mediums, and usually by the worst examples of us, who fit all the negative stereotypes.++

      Yes, I’m sure it’s just a coincidence, year after year and interview after interview. These are just the “minority”….

      • meadow says:

        Since there is this little side dialogue about hunting, I thought I would jump in. I’m with Mike. I live in the outback of the southwest US and, while I’ve heard all the platitudes about how great hunters and hunting are, really my idea of heaven would be an autumn without them- which I will never experience in this life. Hunting DOES interfere with my life. I feel like I have to stay inside to be safe. Hunters kill each other and other people every year. And it isn’t just wolves, the state game agencies are also very hard on other carnivores too. It is about money, not about conservation.

        • Mike says:

          Meadow –

          Thanks for the post. It’s refreshing to see another poster with experience on public land.

          Indeed, hunting disrupts the enjoyment of others. It is a HIGH impact activity. And of course, you have the devastating effects of lead bullets, which maim and kill 20 million birds and animals a year.

          There are too many people now. Too many roads. Too many forces pushing in on the wildlife, and these hunting season blitzkriegs are disturbing to say the least.

          Of course, that’s not even getting into the dangerous aspects of sometimes inebriated men walking around the woods with high powered weapons.

          • RobertR says:

            Mike you are so misinformed and some of your numbers are way off base.
            Yes I’m a hunter and for the past week I have been enjoying myself bowhunting without seeing another person and on public land and have been to three different mountain ranges. So don’t tell me that you cannot Enjoy the fall that’s not so.
            There are way more people killed in cities daily than there ever will be hunting. If you want roads closed that means less city people in the back country for me and other hunters but it also means less renewable resources for everyone including you.

          • Savebears says:

            Those hunters own that land as you do Mike, why should your opinion mean anymore than theirs?

          • jon says:

            Hunting although kills much fewer people than say car accidents, it still poses a very serious threat to those that want to enjoy the wilderness and not kill any animals that live in it. The scary and terrifying thing is is that some of these hunters can’t tell the difference between a human and a wild animal. There have been numerous hunting accidents that resulted in the deaths of some children.


            • Savebears says:

              It was a very sad incident, and could have been prevented by wearing clothing that identified the Marine as a human, wearing dark clothing and hiking in an area that is open for black bear hunting always presents a chance that you will be misidentified. Hunters orange would have prevented this tragedy from happening.

        • jon says:

          I think most people if asked would feel a lot safer in the wild if there weren’t people with guns and traps out there.

          • Savebears says:


            You need to look up the definition of multiple use, and a sound bit of advise, if you go into an area that is open for hunting, wear hunter orange so you can be identified, if you take your dogs into an area that is open for hunting, get them hunters orange vests as I did for my dogs.

          • Robert R says:

            Jon maybe it would be safer without guns out there, but where is out there ?
            You would be surprised how many people have a conseal carry gun permit and have a gun in a public place or in the forest that are not hunters.

            • Savebears says:


              It may make your blood boil, but my question is, when you know there is a hunting season going on, why would you choose to not make yourself as visible as possible?

              Of course I am always amazed when I read a story about a person being hit by a car at night, then read they were trying to cross a street in the dark, not at an intersection and were wearing dark clothing!

              When you are hiking in the woods that are open to hunting, then you need to make sure you can be identified as a human.

              • meadow says:

                It is not the responsibility of innocent hikers to know what hunting season it is or to keep track of where hunters are. It is the responsibility of hunters not to shoot until they are beyond certain their target is the intended one. It is the hunter who is at fault if they are not. Period! And that people are being hurt by hunters makes me think other wildlife get mistaken for something they aren’t too. We just never hear about it.

            • Savebears says:


              Do you snap your seatbelt before you leave the house? If you do, Why? Do you do it to prevent injury because you are going to hit someone, or do you do it because the possibility that someone will hit you?

              I agree hunters need to be 110% sure of their target, but with the knowledge that during the fall in most states, hunting season is here, why would you not take the little extra precaution to identify yourself as a human?

            • Savebears says:

              By the way, being a female really has not bearing on this discussion.

              • meadow says:

                Because as female, we are constantly told don’t go here, don’t be out at this time of day, don’t wear that- it is dangerous. In other words, my gender is also very often a prey animal. That is why gender has bearing to this. As a male hunter, you clearly have never experienced what that is like. Maybe that is why I seek the freedom of the woods upon which hunters infringe and why I just avoid going out during hunting season. I don’t need the anxiety. That is why I long for a hunter-free autumn which I will never have.

            • Savebears says:

              Kinda figure that was were you were going Meadow, of course, my Wife who is a hunter as well, has a completely different feeling on this matter.

              Your right, there will never be a fall without hunting, if I have anything to say about it, the meat I am able to take, is about 90% of the meat I eat during the year, I hunt to feed my family, I don’t hunt for fun. Despite the anti hunters on this system, hunting is still a legal practice in this country in most states and we will continue to make sure it is. I am not infringing I am using my forests, remember, I pay those taxes as you do to enjoy my outdoors. The public woods/lands belong to those that don’t hunt as much as they to to those that do hunt.

            • Mike says:

              ++It is not the responsibility of innocent hikers to know what hunting season it is or to keep track of where hunters are. It is the responsibility of hunters not to shoot until they are beyond certain their target is the intended one.++

              Meadow –

              You nailed it. End of discussion. Anything else would be apologizing for stupidity.

            • Mike says:

              Meadow –

              I feel the same way you do. This blitzkrieg of ATV’s gunshots, and heavy drinking in our public lands is indeed disturbing. That said, there are options.

              Hopefully you are lucky to have a national park nearby. These places ban hunting, which is just incredible. It really cuts down on the bullet-hole signs and litter in general.

              I love visiting national parks in the fall (as I am doing this year) and will often move from my favorite national forest areas to these parks when the gunshots and buffoonery gets to be too much.

          • JB says:

            “I think most people if asked would feel a lot safer in the wild if there weren’t people with guns and traps out there.”

            Jon: You’re probably right. Some (a lot?) of people would likely feel safer. The relevant question for policy makers is, would they actually be any safer?

            A recent (2004) report from Texas found there were 29 accidents and 4 fatalities for over 1 million hunters; and only 2 of the 29 incidents involved people being mistaken for game, 1 of which was a fatality.

            Interestingly, another report found that in the same state (Texas), 229 people were killed in deer-vehicle collisions from 1993-2007 (about 15 per year). And of course, that’s simply one way that wildlife are involved in human fatalities. (So wildlife are more likely to kill you then hunters, FYI.)

            Takeaway message: The actual risk of being killed by a hunter is extremely low, far lower than other risks associated with behaviors in which people willingly and regularly engage (driving). Moreover, you can greatly reduce your odds by avoiding going outside when hunters are most prevalent and by wearing hunters orange.

            While we’re talking about risks and wildlife, I think everyone here will get a kick out of this (from the Daily Show):


            • meadow says:

              OMG! I am female and this about hunter victims wearing the wrong clothes or being in the wrong place so it is kind of their fault they got hurt by a hunter (who was most likely male)is making my blood boil.

            • Mike says:


              You are looking at some rather isolated data.

              Let’s look at the chances of being killed by a variety of things, including firearms:

              Odds of dying by a grizzly in Yellowstone: 1 in 3 million

              Odds of dying by a cougar attack in California: 1 in 32 million

              Odds of dying via attack by any animal not a dog or pet: 1 in 4,200,000

              Odds of dying by accidental firearm discharge: 1 in 5134

              Odds of dying by firearm assault: 1 in 324

              Odds of dying from heart disease: 1 in 6

              The odds of dying in a hunting incident makes the top 20:


              Of course, gun nuts will come forward and say “we die more by cars”. Yeah, but right now we need cars. That’s how we get around.And laws are constantly in place to make them safer and safer. Not so for guns.

              Any hunting-related death is the fault of the idiot pulling the trigger, period.

            • JB says:


              I used Texas data because it was one of the few sources I found that actually broke down the cause of death. Jon claimed fear of being accidentally shot, which is one form of hunting accident–actually the most uncommon. Most hunting accidents either involve someone shooting themselves or another member of their hunting party (ala Dick Cheney). Your odds of being accidentally shot by a hunter are not captured in the data you’ve provided. Nevertheless, I’m happy to let those data stand on their own, but why pick and choose, let’s put ’em all up there:

              Heart Disease 652,486.0 1 in 5.7
              Cancer 553,888.0 1 in 6.8
              Stroke 150,074.0 1 in 25.0
              Hospital Infections 99,000.0 1 in 37.9
              Flu 59,664.0 1 in 62.8
              Car Accidents 44,757.0 1 in 83.7
              Suicide 31,484.0 1 in 119.0
              Accidental Poisoning 19,456.0 1 in 192.6
              MRSA (Resistant bacteria) 19,000.0 1 in 197.3
              Falls 17,229.0 1 in 217.5
              Drowning 3,306.0 1 in 1,133.7
              Bike Accident 762.0 1 in 4,918.7
              Air/Space Accident 742.0 1 in 5,051.3
              Excessive Cold 620.0 1 in 6,045.3
              Sun/Heat Exposure 273.0 1 in 13,729.2
              Vehicular Collision with Deer [1] 130.0 1 in 28,831.3
              Bicycle Accident in Florida [2] 114.8 1 in 32,639.2
              Hunting Incident 55.1 1 in 67,992.1
              Lightning 47.0 1 in 79,746.1
              Train Crash 24.0 1 in 156,169.5
              Dog Attack [1] 18.0 1 in 208,225.9
              Snake Attack [1] 15.0 1 in 249,871.1
              Fireworks 11.0 1 in 340,733.4
              Attack on Homeless Individual 7.0 1 in 535,438.2
              Tornado in Florida 5.4 1 in 695,206.0
              Shark Attack 1.0 1 in 3,748,067.1
              Collapsing Sand Hole 0.9 1 in 3,982,321.3
              Mountain Lion Attack [1] 0.6 1 in 6,246,778.5
              Alligator Attack 0.3 1 in 12,077,105.0

            • JB says:

              Note: You’re still more likely to die in a vehicle collision with a deer than any form of hunting accident. And DVCs would become more common if people like you succeeded in banning hunting.

            • louise kane says:

              Hmm interesting post JB
              when reading it I thought about the unfounded claims of people that hate wolves including SOME ranchers and hunters. The statistics are somewhat like the statistics associated with wolves killing cattle or the claims about wolves and other wildlife and the threats to people! One could reasonably say with regards to wolves….” Takeaway message: The actual risk of being killed by a wolf is extremely low, far lower than other risks associated with behaviors in which people willingly and regularly engage.

            • Mike says:

              ++OMG! I am female and this about hunter victims wearing the wrong clothes or being in the wrong place so it is kind of their fault they got hurt by a hunter (who was most likely male)is making my blood boil.++


              It’s what most hunters do. They rug sweep and apologize for each other rather than accept responsibility.

              Every discussion will steer towards an altruistic defense of the hunting mothership. Guns and shootin’ stuff is their Jesus, and they are all born again.

            • Mike says:

              ++Note: You’re still more likely to die in a vehicle collision with a deer than any form of hunting accident. And DVCs would become more common if people like you succeeded in banning hunting.++

              See my original post. I predicted this response down to the exact subject matter.

              Hitting a deer is an ACCIDENT. A deer hunter, sitting in a tree, deliberately aiming and squeezing the trigger on a deadly weapon and shooting a person is incompetence and perhaps the dumbest thing anyone could ever possibly do on planet earth.

          • Richie G says:

            To Jon; I once had two uncle’s one was an experience hunter the ther one not so good,well the not so good one almost killed the other one,just thought I would tell you this.

            • louise kane says:

              JB I know ….I was using your comment and quote to make a point. I guess I just did explain clearly enough. I used the quotation marks and your exact words except inserted wolf!

  23. Richie G says:

    The film on the great lakes put hunters as farmers,and it was put in a good light,the film had defendres in it too, helping ranchers to deal with wolves .

    • ma'iingan says:

      “The film on the great lakes put hunters as farmers,and it was put in a good light,the film had defendres in it too, helping ranchers to deal with wolves.”

      I hope you’re not naive enough to believe that film was representative of the attitudes of producers living in wolf country in the WGL states, and especially those who’ve had to deal directly with depredation.

      The producers in the film were carefully hand-picked – most of their colleagues are not disposed to spend lots of money and time on LPDs or on turning their generations-old husbandry practices upside-down to accomodate the growing presence of wolves.

      Yes, life would be wonderful if that were the case – and my job would be so much easier. But coexistance with wolves in the WGL is nowhere near as rosy as depicted in the film.

  24. Dave Mech says:

    What my article actually said is that “The media becomes complicit [in promoting positive studies about wolves] by immediately publicizing such studies (Table 1) . . ..” and “Seldom, however do studies contradicting the sensational early results receive similar publicity.” Houston et al. (2010) do not address these statements, nor do your comments refute them.

    • Jeremy Bruskotter says:

      But you’ve left out the last sentence in the paragraph:

      “The media become complicit by immediately publicizing such studies (Table 1) because of the controversial nature of the wolf. And all this publicity reverberates on the internet. Seldom, however, do studies contradicting the sensational early results receive similar publicity. The public is then left with a new image of the wolf that may be just as erroneous of the animal’s public image a century ago” (emphasis mine).

      This sentence is probably most important because it gets at the net effect of the alleged problem–the picture painted by the news media overly emphasizes wolves’ positive ecological effects. Yet, if the news media were complicit in sanctifying the wolf by disproportionately publishing stories about wolves’ ecological benefits, then we should expect claims of wolves’ ecological benefits to be more numerous than claims of their ecological costs–Houston et al. (2010) shows that they are not. The media’s overall portrayal may indeed paint an erroneous picture of wolves’ ecological effects–by focusing too much attention on them (risk sells, after all); however, the best data indicate that the picture of wolves being painted by the news media is still more negative than positive.

  25. WM says:

    Further to the dialog about negative and positive light comments in the media, today’s Seattle Times has a medium length article on the fate of Wedge Pack in NE WA. This is Front Page below the fold (just below the D Convention Obama endorsement), unusual placement for such news. The print version title is,”State preparing to kill wolves, stoking long-simmering conflict.” The on-line version of what appears to be the exact same text is, “Fight over wild wolves reignited by plan to kill as many as 4.”

    The Times reporting historically has been pretty positive on wolves repopulating WA, but as tensions have grown over the growing number of cattle allegedly taken by members of the Wedge pack this summer, at last count something like 12 cows/calves, the tone seems to have changed a bit. WDFW, even in light of its newly adopted and mostly positive wolf management plan from Dec. 2011, is beginning to take agressive action against what they have determined are offending wolves.

  26. Dave Mech says:

    True, but Houston et al. (2010) did not account for the reverberations of these positive articles on the Internet or in various books and magazine articles.

    • jon says:

      Dr. Mech, I apologize for getting off topic here, but do you think the no quota 7 month long wolf hunting season in Idaho will hurt the wolf population and bring it down near 150 animals?

    • JB says:

      Very true. In fact, that was the reason I put your article front-and-center on this blog. An analysis of content on the internet would be very interesting and could help substantiate some of the claims made in Mech (2012).

  27. WM says:

    Dr. Mech,

    Forgive my intrusion on your conversation with Dr. Bruskotter (JB), but since you are engaging in dialog on this forum I have a question to ask of you. Earlier this year on another topic, with a thread introduction by JB on the Public Trust Doctrine and how it might be applied to wolf protection (referencing a paper JB, with others, prepared for the September 2011, issue of Science, and your subsequent comments on their paper), the conversation diverted to a quote from you made long ago. This came about as one commenter earlier made assertions that you seemed to be a “clinically detached” researcher, and “sterile” in you approach to studying wolves and commenting on restoration efforts. I and several others commented that some of this may be necessary for good science – objectivity – and to avoid the pitfalls of confusing science and policy advocacy (which you touch heavily on in your discussion of the risk of “sanctifying the wolf.”

    It served as focal point for considerable speculation regarding your current personal philosophy about wolves, your role as a researcher and representative of the federal government for wolf recovery efforts, and how your views might have changed over time with regard to your past writings. Here is the quote as it was represented on the thread about 1/5 of the way down in the text scroll of the dialog (Here is a link to the discussion ):

    ++JB says:
    March 23, 2012 at 9:48 am


    However, to WM’s larger point, it seems fitting to leave you with a quote from Mech’s 1970, The Wolf:
    “Once blinded emotionally by such hate, the antiwolf people fail to see that the wolf has no choice about the way it lives; that it cannot thrive on grass or twigs any more than man can…These people cannot be changed. If the wolf is to survive, the wolf haters must be outnumbered. They must be outshouted, outfinanced, and outvoted. Their narrow and biased attitude must be outweighed by an attitude based on an understanding of natural processes. Finally, their hate must be outdone by a love for the whole of nature, for the unspoiled wilderness, and for the wolf as a beautiful, interesting, and integral part of both.” (Mech, L.D., 1970. The Wolf, p. 348).++

    Would you care to offer clarifying comments, as to its context then, and how your views have changed, if at all, in today’s world with wolf restoration apparently completed to the point of delisting in the NRM and WGL?

    • louise kane says:

      WM excellent question from you. Was nice to see a response from David Mech but not sure it was an answer that was all that enlightening.

  28. Immer Treue says:

    Perhaps the data base provided by the International Wolf Center: News and Events Headlines could be used as a neutral source fro weighing anti/pro stories in the media.

  29. Dave Mech says:

    This replies to WM’s Sept. 7: 3:36 pm question about how my views about wolves might have changed since the quoted material from my 1970 book “The Wolf.” The short answer, which I stated in some article since then was that the wolf haters have long ago been outshouted and outvoted and that the wolf’s long-term need is for the preservation of as much wild land as possible.

    Without the widespread poisoning that originally wiped out wolves, the species can survive any kind of management by the states including Idaho’s, once their population has reached several hundred.

    I have always tried to be as objective as possible about wolves and wolf management and not let my personal views get in the way of my professional views. When I challenge writings by others it is not because I disagree with their slants on wolves, but rather it is to correct what I believe is their mistaken assumptions, analyses, conclusions, or facts.

    However, there is not time for me to keep up on these blogs, so this will have to be my last post.

    • Savebears says:


      Sorry to see this as you last post, your writings are always so enlightening, drop in once in a while, I know both sides would be thankful for your input.

  30. Richie G says:

    To sb; Our outdoors,not yours or mine but our outdoors.

    • Savebears says:


      Ours, includes yours and mine, which side shall prevail? Which gives you the right to tell me what I should do on Our lands? And I don’t tell you what to do on Our lands, you are free to hike, camp, hunt, fish, do just about anything you want on Our lands, as long as it is not illegal. Hunting is not illegal.

      • Richie G says:

        To SB; I agree we both have a right to our own freedom,I was pointing out you forst said yours then you said ours which is correct.I do not have to agree with you, but I should respect it, and visa versa.

      • jon says:

        sb, hunters SHOULD KNOW what they are shooting at. If they don’t, they shouldn’t be shooting.'s-body-found-in-bush

        • Savebears says:


          On this point, you and I agree, hunters should be 110% sure of what they are shooting at. That said, non-hunters that recreate in hunting county during hunting season, should do what they can to make sure they can be identified as a human, this is a you do, I do situation. I don’t understand why anyone would go into the woods during a hunting season and not do what they can to be identify themselves? Do you?

          • Mike says:

            All of this is on the hunter, Savebears. It is not a hiker’s responsibility to prevent external stupidity.

            Before you pullthe trigger, KNOW your target. It doesn’t matter if the hiker is wearing colors or not. Anyone who shoots a human mistaking them for a deer should be put in jail and banned form owning firearms for life.

            • jon says:

              It doesn’t make sense to me why people should wear orange. Hunters should know what a wild animal looks like and what a human looks like.

            • Savebears says:

              Mike, Why would you wear rust colored clothing during deer season, why would you wear black cloths during bear season? Why would you not be proactive in making sure that you are identified as a human? Yes, it is 110% the hunters obligation to identify his/her target, but with clothing choice is becomes so much easier to prevent a mistaken identification.

              Why would you not do it?

            • Cobra says:

              I wear orange while rifle hunting in Idaho even though it’s not required. I’ll even wear it while muzzle loading. The only time I don’t wear it is during archery season.
              I don’t shoot unless I know my target and beyond by at ledast 100%, unfortunately there are others that don’t identify their target and what’s behind it.
              When I get done hunting and am hiking out to the road I get a little nervous when I hear a vehicle coming and have actually found myself hiding behind trees until they pass, always better to error on the side of caution. Most hunters do identify their targets but all it takes is one that doesn’t.

          • jon says:

            sb, one doesn’t have to identify themselves as a human. You take one look at them, it should be very easy to tell that they are a human.

            • Savebears says:

              Why would you not Jon?

            • ma'iingan says:

              “It doesn’t make sense to me why people should wear orange. Hunters should know what a wild animal looks like and what a human looks like.”

              And drivers should know what a cyclist looks like – but any cyclist with half a brain does everything they can to make themselves more visible.

            • JB says:

              Also why I wear reflective garments when running at night and the early morning. But hey, maybe I’m going about it the wrong way? Perhaps I should start advocating that people be banned from driving. Then I could enjoy running on the roads in peace.

            • jon says:

              One does not have to identify themselves as a human sb. It should be common sense for a hunter to know what a human looks like. Sadly, this is not the case all the time because there have infact been cases of hunters killing humans thinking they are a bear. Some hunters need to get their eyes checked. 🙂

            • Savebears says:


              You will find no argument from me on that a hunter needs to be sure of what he/she is shooting.

              My only point is if your hiking in an area that is open to hunting, why would you NOT wear something that makes it easier to identify yourself?

              Bike riders where bright clothing, runners wear clothing that makes them visible. Why would hikers not want to wear something to make them more visible during hunting season?

            • WM says:

              ++…Bike riders where bright clothing, runners wear clothing that makes them visible…++

              Continuing the thought….hikers in grizzly country sometimes wear bells, make lots of noise, and avoid dense brush or stream bottoms where bears are known to feed on salmon….swimmers avoid night swimming areas where sharks are more active {think Hawaii here}…urbanites avoid high risk crime areas at night and even sometimes during the day {I should share here sometime an experience when I was asked to speak at a conference in Atlanta years ago}.

              It’s all about risk avoidance for those who don’t want to be nominees for Darwin awards, or be spoken of with some disdain after they are dead. The part about who is liable (or who has responsibility for assuming risk) is another issue, determined after the incident/death.

              “…If only jon had been wearing a little orange {or a bell}…to let them {car driver/hunter/bear} to let them know he was there.”

              Now, some here would be all over someone who goes into bear country gets mauled for doing something stupid -like not wearing a bell or going down in the brush, or getting between mama and cub- and the bear dies at the hands of authority.

            • Mike says:

              ++Mike, Why would you wear rust colored clothing during deer season, why would you wear black cloths during bear season? Why would you not be proactive in making sure that you are identified as a human? Yes, it is 110% the hunters obligation to identify his/her target, but with clothing choice is becomes so much easier to prevent a mistaken identification.

              Why would you not do it?++

              SB –

              The responsibility falls entirely on the person pulling the trigger.

              A human being, in any kind of clothing, looks nothing like a deer.

              Any Darwin award in this context would be given only to the trigger man.

              The analogy with a jogger/cyclist is a poor one.

            • Mike says:

              ++Continuing the thought….hikers in grizzly country sometimes wear bells, make lots of noise, and avoid dense brush or stream bottoms where bears are known to feed on salmon….++

              So you are comparing human intelligence with a grizzly bear? Running across a grizzly is an “accident”. An idiot with a gun thinking someone is a deer is incompetence. It’s more like a 90 year old grandma on hydrocodone with Alzheimers getting into a car and driving into a flea market.

              Really bad analogy, WM.

              ++swimmers avoid night swimming areas where sharks are more active {think Hawaii here}…++

              Another bad analogy. Sharks do not have the intelligence of a human.

              ++urbanites avoid high risk crime areas at night and even sometimes during the day {I should share here sometime an experience when I was asked to speak at a conference in Atlanta years ago}.++

              So you’re comparing hunters to random criminals and gang bangers?

              Wow, this is some bad stuff, WM.

              ++It’s all about risk avoidance for those who don’t want to be nominees for Darwin awards, or be spoken of with some disdain after they are dead. ++

              A hunter sits in a tree or in a blind and waits for a DEER or ELK to approach. Humans, in any kind of clothing, look nothing like either animal. All of the responsibility in this scenario belongs to the one holding the deadly weapon.

              The only “Darwin Award” to be handed out here would to be to the absolutely mind-blowing doofus who pulled the trigger.

            • WM says:


              As you attack JB, SB, ma’ and me, you miss the commonality of each example. Pay attention, dude.

              Actuarily, each is a product of time and place for the two objects to encounter each other (collide if you will for a definition of where car hits/biker or runner, bone hits bone in the case of a shark or grizzly, bullet hits/bone or flesh in the case of the hunter mis-identifying a target).

              It is the fundamentals of probability analysis. The probability of a negative encounter is increased or decreased by manipulating the variables (time, space, ability to identify something for what it is or is not).

              Actuaries, mathamaticians and scientists do this all the time (using deterministic modeling) to identify probability of certain outcomes, or to assess and quantify risk, for example insurance underwriting.

              A hiker is more visible to hunters, if wearing clothing that lets them know they are there. Not only does it prevent improper identification (and shooting at in improperly identified target which we all agree definitely should not be done), it also allows the hunter to avoid shooting toward a hiker or another hunter, if a PROPERLY identified target is found in the same direction.

              Immer has some good advice for you, Mike, even if you think the analogies break down, or you don’t understand the common elements to all.

            • Savebears says:


              All I can say, is your ignorant and with every post it becomes more clear, I never said the person pulling the trigger was not responsible, but hey if you want to run around the woods and not take the extra precaution to ID yourself as a human, that is your problem.

            • Mike says:


              Apparently you can’t distinguish between an actual accident and stupidity.

              A deer running in front of your car is in no way similar to deliberately aiming a weapon and pulling the trigger on a target.

              But of course, I expect you to engage in an altruistic defense of the hunting mothership in every post you make.

          • Nancy says:

            “I don’t understand why anyone would go into the woods during a hunting season and not do what they can to be identify themselves? Do you?”

            And lets not stop there SB. I

            My thoughts? Its probably prudent to store up supplies if you can afford it and not leave your cabin (let alone, venture into the woods) unless you have to, during those 6-8 weeks of a hunting season.

            I’ve come close, on more than one occasion, to almost rear ending a “hunter” stopped on my country road, glassing a nearby field.

            And a trip to town can be hell (whether you hunt or not) with all the out of staters and out of county hunters, zinging their way thru the isles at the local supermarkets (although the ones in camouflage and face paint to match, still make me chuckle after all these years here 🙂 in their excitement to get to their designated hunting spots.

            When you have a big influx of traffic ( which include an assortment Of vehicles, RV’s, trucks w/5th wheel campers, plus trailers, hauling ATV’s) during a hunting season, regardless of whether they are from other, more populated areas of the state or out of state, you can almost bet they pay little, if any attention, to local speed limits, ESPECIALLY thru small towns.

            Then you’ve got all the wildlife, who no doubt try and relate to this “a hunting season” which is an annual proclamation set forth by the human species.

            I’ve come across 4 dead cow elk in the last month, killed while trying to cross a highway I travel often. Within a mile of my place in the last week? Two dead mulie does killed on the road.

            • Savebears says:


              I hunted that area once, won’t do it again.

            • Mike says:


              Try not to get caught up in semantics. Tree stand or not, doesn’t matter.

            • Savebears says:

              Hey Mike,

              You are the one that brought up the tree stands, not me! Must be lonely out there on your own.

            • Mike says:


              This is where you slip up:

              “A driver is supposed to know what’s going on, just like the hunter”.

              The driver is under the influence of certain physics. The hunter is not. The driver’s goal is to reach Point B from Point A, usually traveling at speeds greater than 20 mph.

              The hunter’s goal is to mortally wound another mammal, with the deliberate and precise intention of discharging a deadly weapon.

              These two scenarios are nothing alike. Continuing to pretend they are is a bit baffling, unless of course one is trolling, or simply looking to defend the hunting mothership.

              Mistaking this:


              for this:


              Is not an accident. It is stupidity.

            • Immer Treue says:


              Not a soul has disagreed that a hunter “should” positively ID his quarry before a shot. There is an awful lot of “physics” involved with that bullet
              Once it leaves magazine.

              There is a lot of physics involved with the motorist’s vehicle. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve experienced that “sphincter pucker” with a vehicle approaching from behind, hoping that the driver, under different conditions: sudden bend in the road; sharp dip, glare of sun, etc sees me. I’ll do all I can to make sure I am visible, the only jerseys I’ll wear on the roads are ombinations of predominately reds, yellows and oranges,to a motorist.

              Again, why would you not extend that courtesy to a hunter, and take that precaution for yourself? No motorist travels with the idea of hitting a cyclist. No hunter goes into the field with the plan to harvest a hiker.

              • meadow says:

                I would like to thank Mike for his forbearance in defending this argument. From all the discussion, this is what is glaring to me and what the hunters among you are just blind to. When I go hiking, I harm no one. You most likely won’t know I’ve been there. You don’t have to give me a thought because of what I’m doing because it doesn’t constitute a danger to you. When you go hunting, I have to think about you. It is all about you and what you do. It is ego focused and selfish. I will take your word that hunters do not wish to shoot another person when they go out, but many do have what Aldo Leopold called ‘trigger itch’. They lust for a kill and that makes them dangerous. The term ‘brush shot’ exists because people take them. The road analogy is not appropriate because roads are where cars go, cars are our form of transportation and transportation is a public social good in common to all. You can’t say that about hunting.
                I would wear bright clothes if I went out during hunting season. But I don’t think that is enough so what I do is stay home. I cannot be out there at peace. And that makes me angry and sad at the same time because, while hunters get theirs, they have taken something from me and won’t even acknowledge it.

            • jon says:

              Well, I agree that people should do everything they can to identify themselves as human,but even if people don’t wear orange, hunters SHOULD be able to tell the difference between a human and a wild animal. A hunter should know what he is shooting at. Sadly, this is not always the case.


              A hunter shoots his girlfriend thinking she’s a hog. Hunters who can’t properly identify their targets are a real and serious threat to people.

            • WM says:


              Forbearance is an interesting choice of words for reference to Mike’s arguments. The forbearance is likely more worthy given to others in my view.

              In contrast, yours is a rational argument, which is articulated well. His is not.

              I personally acknowledge your concerns, and agree with some of what you say. I also believe democracy should rule the day, and in nearly every state with huntable species their respective governments have carved out specific times of the year where certain species may be hunted with various methods. Between those seasons, there are usually rest periods where there is no hunting (like a week or two before the next begins), where all may enter areas open to the public. I often hike for a couple of days during this time. There are also areas in which hunting is not permitted ever, like national parks, federal, state or local government wildlife preserves or privately controlled lands, sometimes in the stewardship of conservancy groups. Anyone can hike here at any time.

              You might also give some thought to the fact that hunting is a heritage right even reflected in some state constitutions.

              I can empathize with your belief that something has been taken from you. But, I don’t necessarily agree that it is of the magnitude you seem to think. Hunting mostly occurs for two to three months of the year (again with breaks, although there are exceptions). We live in a managed world with lots of competing interests and beliefs that some type of freedom has been taken from us. I don’t care so much for the city street lights invading my window as I sleep(Does it mean my right darkness in my sleep has been taken from me?). I don’t particularly like the idea that I cannot go to a city park at night, past the posted closing hours.

            • JB says:


              I don’t know about other areas, but where I grew up the only season you had to worry about was deer gun season, which was one week out of the year (nobody mistakes a person for a quail, rabbit, or turkey). I used to run regularly in a large national forest throughout the fall, and though bow hunters and small game hunters were out much of the fall and winter, I only saw them on occasion–and we were covering 8-12 miles at a time, usually in the AM.

              I have heard others make very similar arguments about all sorts of activities. Cross country skiers hate snowmobiles and snowshoes; fishermen hate jet skis and water-skiers; lake residents hate powerboats; mountain-bikers hate equestrians (and vice versa); hikers (at least) dislike mountain bikers, etc., ad nauseum. Most claim general annoyance and some increased risk. However, I can’t but help think how selfish people are being when they think their use should be elevated above all others–all 365 days of the year.

          • Immer Treue says:


            As a one time avid, and now not so avid cyclist, one should wear the brightest “pimp” colors they can find. It’s so the driver, if paying the least bit of attention can see you in the distance, not when they get right behind you.

            Same thing with hunting. Stay out of the woods unless you have blaze orange on, not so much that you’ll not be mistaken for a deer, but that any ethical hunter can see you in the distance. Same thing with cycling. Riding the roads in N
            MN its not wise to wear colors that blend in with one’s surroundings.

            Yeah, the hunter should be able to make a 100% ID prior to pulling the trigger, but why not help him/her out so that they know you are there. Both a precaution and a curtesy.

            • ma'iingan says:

              Mike –

              You should occasionally embrace an opportunity to shut up. Obviously the intent of the above posts went right over your head, and now you’re just reinforcing your position as the court jester.

            • JB says:

              Again, cases where people are mistaken for game are quite rare. I was always taught to wear hunters’ orange because it allowed hunters to recognize someone else is around long before they otherwise might. That is–it isn’t so much about being mistaken for game as it is trying to prevent someone shooting in your general direction when you are off in the distance and not easily seen.

            • Mike says:

              The hunting and cycling analogy does not hold up at all.

              Failure to see a cyclist is an accident, regardless of what they are wearing.

              Shooting an innocent human, while you have time to aim and gauge the subject, is abject stupidity. There’s nothing “happenstance” about that situation. It is simply nothing more than a headspace operator error by the guy holding the lethal weapon. Any effort to argue otherwise is an apology for ignorance.

              If I tried to get that analogy past my editor, it would get snipped out faster than you could blink and I’d get a polite chuckle.

            • Savebears says:

              Mike a car is just as much a lethal weapon as a gun, in fact the car kills more every single year than the gun.

            • Rancher Bob says:

              Bolt cutter Mike
              Failure to see a cyclist is only a accident? This differs from failure to properly identify a target how?

            • Mike says:

              Save Bears,

              Please tell me you’re joking?

              If you cannot see the difference between a driver hitting a cyclist in the dark and a hunter shooting a person, I don’t know what to tell you.

              One is an “accident”. The other is a failure to properly IDENTIFY a subject you INTEND to mortally wound.

            • Savebears says:


              You are simply a fool, that is all I can say. Nobody intends to shoot a human, no one intends to hit a human.

              It still begs the question, if you had the opportunity to identify yourself while out during hunting season, what would you stop you from doing it? Remember the life you save, will be your own.

              I am sure glad, I don’t live in your world Mike.

              Now, why do you have to turn every thread into an anti hunting thread?

            • Savebears says:

              Just to add, who was talking about it being dark? There has been no mention of it being dark, cyclists are hit every single day in the US during the day.

            • Mike says:

              SB –

              I’ll ignore your insult for now and address the meat of the discussion (hopefully it’s not tainted with lead bullet fragments)

              ++ Nobody intends to shoot a human, no one intends to hit a human.++

              I’ll explain to you the differences since you are having trouble.

              In scenario #1, you are driving (likely over 20 mph) in a steel-framed vehicle, trying to get from Point A to Point B. This is your goal. Your goal is not to try and kill something. It starts raining, and you clip a cyclist who slightly swerves over the shoulder line.

              At work in this scenario are two moving forces with varying trajectories under poor visual conditions. We have the cyclist, trying to get from Point A to Point B. We have the motorist, trying to get form Point A to Point B. Thus, an accident.

              In Scenario # 2, we have a hunter,sitting at zero mph. in a tree stand. This hunter’s goal for the day is to mortally wound another mammal.

              This hunter is taught that you must only pull the trigger when you are 100% sure of your target. Of course, this is just common sense. So the hunter sits and waits in his tree stand, hail or wind or rain. Colors here are irrelevant. What matters is that the person with the goal of killing another mammal properly identify the subject as an ungulate before killing it.

              As the hunter waits in his tree stand at zero mph, he sees rustling in the bushes. The hunter deliberately aims his rifle and squeezes the trigger, instantly killing a hiker.

              In the words of Sesame Street, “one of these things is not like the other, one of these things does not belong”.

            • Savebears says:

              Mike, in the west, few sit still in a tree stand, I have never hunted out of a tree stand, I am a spot and stalk hunter, in other words, I am moving.

              Again, if you have a way to help ID you as a human, why would you not use it?

            • Mike says:

              ++Again, if you have a way to help ID you as a human, why would you not use it?++

              I already have that ID! It’s called two legs, known as “bipedalism”. And ten fingers. And clothing</strong. And forward-set eyes.

              That's all anyone needs unless the guy with his finger on the trigger is incredibly stupid.

            • Savebears says:

              Mike I will add, the last two humans that were mistaken for a bear in the west and killed, were not shot by hunters sitting still in a tree stand, in Washington it was a grandson hunting with his grandfather and he shot a woman that was wearing dark cloths and hiking is a legal hunting area open for black bear hunting. The Marine that was shot and killed in Oregon was shot by a 67 year old hunter during bear season, who was spot and stalk hunting, the Marine was wearing dark clothing.

              Neither of these shootings were by tree stand hunters, both victims were wearing dark clothing. I am not condoning the shootings, the hunter is 110% obligated to identify their targets, but they were both human and they mistakenly killed a human hiker who was wearing dark clothing in an area that was legally open to black bear hunting.

              I had a encounter the other day on the back part of the property, I was not hunting, but encountered what I thought was a trespassing bow hunter on my property, you don’t have to wear orange during bow season in Montana(I do, but many don’t), but after spending about 10 minutes with the field glasses, I finally was able to identify it as a black bear rubbing up against a tree scratching its back, looked like a large man in the woods about 100 yards away.

            • Savebears says:

              At times, so do bears Mike, you can stick your stupid comment you know where!

            • WM says:


              You come back after three years of law school and passing a bar examination and we will talk about your version of what constitutes an “accident” and how liability is determined under criminal law and what is called a tort in civil law. Until then, you might give some thought to what Immer, JB, SB, ma’ and I have posted on the topic of how to avoid an accident, and maybe how fault is determined. We have talked here before about the concept called assumption of risk as a defense to liability. Go into the woods dressed like a buck deer during hunting season and the lesson will become clear, though you wouldn’t understand it until it was too late.

            • Savebears says:

              Anyway, in my opinion, anybody that goes into a legal hunting area and does not take extra steps to make sure they can be identified as human is simply living on borrowed time and quite frankly is a dumbshit.

              I have stated, it is 110% the obligation of the hunter to identify their target, but if your dumb enough to venture into the woods during hunting season and expect that to happen 110% of the time, then you are stupid!

            • Mike says:

              WM –

              Your rebuttal is so ridiculous it’s not even worth responding to.

              No you’ve changed the goal posts to “dressing like a buck in the woods”.

              lol. Thanks for the hearty laugh.

            • Mike says:

              ++I am not condoning the shootings, the hunter is 110% obligated to identify their targets,++

              Well, there it is. You agree with me.

              Discussion over.

            • WM says:


              It would appear the reasoning part, as well as the sarcasm are lost on you. Ma’ is right. No progress is to be made arguing with the court jester.

            • Savebears says:


              As I have been saying the hunter is 110% obligated to identify the target since the first post I made on this subject, I would have to say you are agreeing with me..

            • Savebears says:

              “Discussion Over” I could only hope the discussion being over with you was true and I am sure many others do as well.

            • Immer Treue says:


              Hitting a cyclist, whether accidentally or not can put the driver of the vehicle behind bars. In many States there is a minimum distance a passing vehicle must give a cyclist. The driver, like the hunter is supposed to know what is going around him/her.

              Cycling at night, even lit up like a Christmas tree is dangerous. Without the said lights is analogous to you walking around in the woods during hunting season without wearing orange.

              You won’t be able to give a rats ass If you become a statistic.

  31. Richie G says:

    To sb; You said this already a long time ago.

  32. Richie G says:

    sorry correction “first”

  33. Richie G says:

    I just hope sometimes we can turn our attention to another predator, or the answer might lye in knowing our own caine pets are so close to wolves,it brings us within conflict within ourselves.

  34. louise kane says:

    A response to David Mech’s paper by Kirk Robinson…..

    What I find problematic about David Mech’s paper is not his cautionary emphasis on the importance of maintaining a measured skepticism about exactly what effects a recovered population of wolves will have on other species and ecosystems. After all, this is an area of research that is still quite new and the variables are incredibly complex, so we (scientists, journalists and lay people alike) should expect surprises to turn up now and then as we learn more. This is not the least bit shocking or surprising – it’s just the norm for what Thomas Kuhn called normal science in his The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

    What I find problematic about David Mech’s paper is his apparent disparagement of values and valuing. Though he doesn’t say so explicitly, he seems to think that wolves – that is real wolves out their doing their wild thing – are value neutral; and that whatever value they have (e.g., as saints or sinners) isn’t real, but is something that people, sometimes including unwary scientists, project onto them. He seems to think this is true of all animals – indeed, all of nature, excluding perhaps human beings. For example, he says: “But who is to say whether more or less pronghorns are ‘‘positive?’’ If more pronghorns are a positive development, what about more elk or bison? Are more or fewer coyotes positive? Fewer coyotes might release more mesocarnivores (see above), but the mesocarnivores might kill more birds. Is this positive or negative?

    I believe that answers to such questions as Mech asks depend on a number of details specific to each real case and that they cannot be answered in the abstract as he presents them. In practice and in principle they often do have clear answers – answers that do not in the end simply come down to what (some) human beings like or dislike. Nor do we have to wait until all the science is in before making such value judgments. The science is never all in. To take an especially clear example, the introduction of lake trout to Yellowstone Lake was a bad thing even though no one knows all the ramifications of it. It was bad for cutthroat trout, for grizzly bears, and for pelicans, among others, and it was all around just plain bad. And it would continue to be bad even if suddenly the world contained only lake trout fisherpersons and no cutthroat trout fisherpersons. Granted, it might take some skilled arguing to defend this claim against a clever antagonist, but that shouldn’t deter anyone from making it, including scientists.

    At the least, Mech can be fairly criticized for failing to disambiguate the radical view that reality is value neutral from the more moderate view that our values (our ideas of what is valuable) tend to change as our knowledge increases – a view that is congenial to his cautionary emphasis and with which I have no quarrel.

    Also, if it is true of other species that their only value is the value projected onto them by human beings, why should it not also be true of human beings? Maybe we esteem our own species too highly, just as we tend to esteem ourselves too highly. Maybe our existence is value neutral. But then wouldn’t it also have to be true that what we do is neither good nor bad? For example, wouldn’t it have to be true that murder, especially if it is painless, is only bad in the sense that most people condemn it? And is this a plausible position? I don’t think so. If it were plausible, then if a mad scientist were to put a chemical in the drinking water that made everyone like murder, that and the consequences would be neither good nor bad. (Just to be clear, I think we do tend to esteem our own species too highly, but I don’t think our existence as individuals or as a species is neither good nor bad.)

    It’s one thing for scientists to try to keep their personal values from prejudicing their experimental designs and their observations in order to more effectively pursue empirical truth; it’s quite another to suggest that scientific truth itself is value neutral. I think this claim is flat out false. In any case, I have never come across a good reason for believing it. In fact, I doubt if the view can even be coherently developed in detail. So whenever someone is bold or careless enough to assert it, I want them to prove it.

    I am completely comfortable asserting that having wolves back in the Yellowstone ecosystem is, really and truly, as a matter of fact, a good thing and not just my personal preference, even if I don’t know all of the details of trophic cascades and predator-prey interactions, and the interplay among these phenomena and climate change, etc. Similarly, I am completely comfortable with the assertion that it would be a good thing if wolves were recovered to a lot more of their former range than they have been recovered to so far. Does that mean that I have sanctified wolves? No. It just means that I already know enough to know this.

    Kirk Robinson

    • WM says:

      This would be the same Kirk Robinson who is Ex. Dir. of the Western Wildlife Conservancy, which is like a couple folks with a 501(c)3 tax classification and a website?

      He missed the point of Mech’s article by a mile. So much for reading comprehension.

      • louise kane says:

        ah the persistent pedant… why does this not surprise me.

      • Mark L says:

        Hear that? It’s Robinson’s reply flying right over your head also. (then again could be mine also, who knows)
        One of his points, if I read it right, is that you (WE, actually) have a habit of attaching a valence (positive, negative…pro/anti wolf….pro/anti hunting, blah blah blah) to a person’s comments to begin with. You’ve done this by addressing ‘who Robinson is’ to begin with and already attached a valence, and if you read Mech’s article with anything other than the critical eye you use on other works, then you are doing it to him also. (It’s as much about Derrida and Foucault, as it is about wolves and trout.) I admire Mech’s (and Robinson’s BTW) work, but keep a critical eye on anyone’s published comments as just that….a comment, that defines their position on a subject. Wolves don’t need cheerleaders (or haters), they need a chance to be revelant in an ecosystem where they have been before. My agrument, if I can call it that, is that the default human position towards wolves was originally one of peaceful coexistance, not acrimony (natives). The European view, if I can call it that, was oneof acrimony, but no one has stopped and asked by that was originally. This isn’t a duality that can be voted on as a plus or minus.

        • WM says:


          ++One of his points, if I read it right, is that you (WE, actually) have a habit of attaching a valence (positive, negative…pro/anti wolf….pro/anti hunting, blah blah blah) to a person’s comments to begin with. You’ve done this by addressing ‘who Robinson is’ to begin with and already attached a valence,…++

          Precisely, since you failed to disclose who the author of the piece was, where it originally appeared, as well the group with whom he identifies. I just happened to recall the name, and the affiliation to some degree. Still don’t know how you came by it, or where it might have appeared previously.

          And, ultimately I am glad Kirk is in the conversation. Would have been nice to see the comments while Dr. Mech was still engaged here.

          • louise kane says:

            WM, I wrote as I posted the critique. ” A response to David Mech’s paper by Kirk Robinson…..”
            You wrote, “This would be the same Kirk Robinson who is Ex. Dir. of the Western Wildlife Conservancy, which is like a couple folks with a 501(c)3 tax classification and a website?”
            I did not fail to disclose who wrote it and you did not fail to note.

        • Mark L says:

          JB said,
          “Again and again I see people making judgements about the value of native species relative to “non-natives”. And yet, the GY ecosystem does not care if the ecological niche occupied by a species is local, or came from Europe, Asia or South America–all successful species today were once biological “invaders”. We are the ones who care; we are the ones who value native species differently.”
          When the species is the ‘we’ of the evaluator, and not the evaluated, things are seen differently, apparently. It’s a means of justifying one’s presence, to some level. We can’t just ‘sub another subspecies into an ecosystem’ and dust off our hands saying we are done, can we? There, in itself, is my point also. I think if one looks at some subtle nuances in subspecies tendencies, there IS a difference to any ecosystem (I gave the example of the lack of human attacks by Florida panthers vs. western cougars in another thread). How we humans treat an ecosystem, and where we learned how to treat the ecosystem also come into play here. And yes, this seeps into Mech’s comments on a value being assigned to any system.
          Where did Leopold get his ideas of a land ethic from, thin air? Was there an example of how one group of people treated the land vs. another?

      • SAP says:

        Red herring/ad hominen fallacy, there, WM. Evaluate Mr. Robinson’s arguments on their merits, not on whether you like his organization.

        I think Mr. Robinson made some excellent points, though I’d have to go through them very carefully to see whether I agree with them all.

        People can decide for themselves whether they value free-ranging wolf populations. In fact, George Monbiot argues that we ought to steer clear of utilitarian justifications for species conservation (eg, “we need wolves in the ecosystem because they provide some valuable service):

        There’s a tendency amongst science PhDs to assert “epistemic privilege” — that is, because they suffered through years of doctoral work, they want their own value judgments and preferences to be accorded privileged status and be regarded as more legitimate than someone who just happens to like wolves.

        I can’t say whether Professor Mech is doing that. I can say that he has a point — many wolf advocates have stepped into the trap of making utilitarian arguments instead of aesthetic-existence value arguments, and have thus made claims beyond what the current science can support.

        [for an example of a large carnivore PhD throwing an epistemic privilege tantrum, see this blog, January 2010: ]

        • WM says:


          You will find in the end, the “red herring fallacy,” rests with Kirk.

          Rather than respond to the content of Mech’s article directly, he goes off on the philosophical bent. Critiques, IMHO, should address, rebutt, refute, support the content of the piece being presented. To some extent that is missing.

          Just once, I would like to hear/see some wolf advocates unqualifiedly say, for example, “Mech has a valid point about some of the wolf science. We should be careful how we proceed, qualifying our results, and setting the stage for the next round of investigation. And, importantly we need to also keep the media honest about the limitations of our work, and correcting them when we find that things change.”

          Yes, just once.

          • jburnham says:

            WM says “Critiques, IMHO, should address, rebutt, refute, support the content of the piece being presented.”

            Please feel free to apply this standard to your critique of Robinson’s comments. I found them relevent to this thread as well as interesting and well stated, despite your ad hominem.

            • WM says:


              I didn’t say the comments were not relevant to the thread. I just implied “missed by a mile,” that they were not responsive to the content, furmulated as a critique of Mech’s paper.

              Mech begins his paper by stating a premise – that the public (not he) has attached the good – bad label. What follows relates to those labels. I don’t think Mech, so much interjects his own “values” or valence, other than to call out the position of others.

              In fact, I agree with some of what Kirk says.

          • jburnham says:

            Also, as a wildlife advocate I have no trouble saying that Mech has a valid point about some of the wolf science. We should be careful how we proceed, qualifying our results, and setting the stage for the next round of investigation. And, importantly we need to also keep the media honest about the limitations of our work, and correcting them when we find that things change.

            • Kirk Robinson says:

              I’m glad to see that my little “essay” generated some discussion on this board.

              I first posted it on the Western Wildlife Coalition listserve and Louise Kane picked it up from there. As most of you probably know, the Mech-Bruskotter exchange has been posted to a number of listserves.

              My educational background is in philosophy, in case you couldn’t tell. But I love reading research in a number of areas, including, of course, wildlife biology and ecology. I learn a lot from experts like Dave Mech. And I hope I didn’t do him an injustice with my critique. In so far as he is just urging caution in the conclusions we draw from ongoing research on wolves and trophic cascades, I agree with him 100%. But it also seems to me that some of what he says is too easily read as implying that there is no legitimate room in science for value judgments. To the extent that he holds this view, I make a qualified criticism of it, which I shall not repeat here.

              Suffice it to say, in philosophy there are a number of grand dualities, such as the distinction between mind and matter, which pervade our thinking and discourse in all fields, not just philosophy. The fact/value distinction is one of these grand distinctions. Facts are supposed to be objective and value-neutral, while values are supposed to be subjective and in some sense arbitrary – when we value something, even for its own sake and not some utilitarian end, it is to be understood as a fact about us, not about what we value! I am an intellectual anarchist and I reject the fact/value distinction. In fact, I reject all the grand metaphysical distinctions of philosophy. In my view, value or worth, positive or negative, is something that can inhere in material facts. Beauty and goodness, ugly and badness, are not always nor entirely in the eye of the beholder. They are denizens of the real world, but are often elusive, just as the supposed underlying facts of the real world often are. I suggest that a careful reading of Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic reveals that he thought this too.

            • JB says:


              Glad to see you engaging in the conversation here. Somehow, I feel like we’re continuing a conversation from a few years ago concerning intrinsic value…do you remember?

              Anyway, I am of the mind that: (a) the assignment of value requires an evaluator, (b) perceptions of value are a function of the perceived utility of the object/entity to some goal, and (c) those perceptions will be highly variable between individuals. In fact, I’m actually preparing to lecture for tomorrow on the antecedents of attitudes (which, for current purposes, could be construed as value judgments).

              One of the prevailing theories (i.e., expectancy-value theory) suggests that the value of any entity is the function of the subjective probability that it has (n) salient attributes, multiplied by the value ascribed to each attribute. So, for example, if one thinks that wolf recovery (attitude object) is likely to result in an elk reduction (attribute), and one evaluates that elk reduction negatively, then one is likely to have a negative attitude toward wolf recovery. I only point to this theory because I think it illustrates what Mech was talking about–that is, value judgments are highly subjective, and should be wholly separated (at least to the extent possible) from scientific judgments.

              Again and again I see people making judgements about the value of native species relative to “non-natives”. And yet, the GY ecosystem does not care if the ecological niche occupied by a species is local, or came from Europe, Asia or South America–all successful species today were once biological “invaders”. We are the ones who care; we are the ones who value native species differently.

              To return to the point of your essay: I don’t think Mech was trying to claim that science is “value neutral”; rather, I think he was merely noting that value is in the eye of the beholder and scientists should strive to separate their judgments about what is probable (or factual) from their personal evaluations of the outcomes. Assuming I interpret his argument correctly, I agree.

              P.S. Personally, I think it is great that groups like yours promote natural ecosystems and the restoration of native species–this is a value that we share. 🙂

  35. Kirk Robinson says:

    Yes, WM, that Kirk Robinson, except that there is no web-site and we are more than a couple.

    So I missed the point of Mech’s article by a mile? Please enlighten me, what was that point? I am sure that others will welcome any illumination you can provide.

    For the record, I don’t think I missed the point of the article at all. I think I described a critical ambiguity in it that no one else has discovered, not even Mech.

  36. Richie G says:

    Do wolves die of disease more in the winter or in the summer? Or should I say any predator?

    • ma'iingan says:

      “Do wolves die of disease more in the winter or in the summer?”

      Think about it, Richie – wolves are superbly adapted for cold, and they thrive in harsh winters, when their prey (ungulates) are at their weakest.

      In the spring following a harsh winter, wolf litters will often be larger than average and the pups will commonly exhibit higher birth weights.

      • Nancy says:

        “In the spring following a harsh winter, wolf litters will often be larger than average and the pups will commonly exhibit higher birth weights”

        Ma’ – Guessing that would normally be the case in some areas that actually have large populations of wolves IF many of their pack members pregnant females/family/teachers haven’t been shot/trapped off, in the previous winter?

        • ma'iingan says:

          “Ma’ – Guessing that would normally be the case in some areas that actually have large populations of wolves IF many of their pack members pregnant females/family/teachers haven’t been shot/trapped off, in the previous winter?”

          Not at all – classic density-dependent population regulation tells us that additive mortality (in your area with a “large” wolf population) will result in increased birth rates.

          But you didn’t ask that question for elucidation, did you? You made the comment to subvert the conversation into another anti-hunting commentary.

  37. Richie G says:

    Also the Minnesota paper stated they were the one state who studied wolves at great length if not the most of any state. So is this why they are not bothered by wolves so much ?

    • Immer Treue says:

      Richie G:

      The MN tolerance ‘thing’ has been discussed many times here. First and foremost, the wolf never disappeared from MN. There was always a population in the NE corner of the state in Superior National Forest and the BWCAW. Millions of folks visited the BWCAW and nary a negative experience. Add the writing of individual like Sigurd Olsen, and the entire wilderness experience, wolves included, was valued.

      MN does not have expansive ranches and public grazing as do the western states. So depredations, though they do occur, are not as numerous, nor are they as publicized in MN.

      There has been a policy toward the get go in MN to remove problem wolves that has been widely accepted by pro and anti wolf people, and about everybody in between. If the politicians could just stay out of the mix.

      All said, MN does have it’s share of wolf haters and always will, the general population has grown up with their presence. There has been no ‘reintroduction’ with the perception of wolves being rammed down the throats of Minnesotans. Areas were wolves cause problems or are perceived as “killing” all the deer are areas were a greater percentage of folks don’t care a whole lot for wolves. In the Ely area, I’d have to say most of the folks I speak with are very tolerant of wolves, though some are not so tolerant, and look upon wolves as competition.

      • Mike says:

        Minnesota is more tolerant of wolves than the Northern Rockies,, because Minnesota is mote tolerant, period. There’s a much wider range of cultures than anything you will find in Montana, Idaho, or Wyoming.

        The education system is considerably better, too.

  38. Kirk Robinson says:

    Hi Jeremy! I don’t see a REPLY option on your post above, so I’m trying this.

    Yes, I remember that conversation some of us had when out to dinner at the Carnivores Conference three years ago. Michael Robinson was there and one or two others.

    I think I disagree with you on a few points, Jeremy, assuming I understand your brief comments. Some of what I might say here is already in my previous post, e.g., concerning beauty (and by extension, other qualities)not being always and entirely in the eye of the beholder. I do agree that humans evaluate and assign value, and maybe no other animals do (Nietzsche, contra Aristotle, defined human beings as the valuing animal, though I wouldn’t be too quick to say other species don’t make value judgments). I also don’t agree that all evaluations employ an arithmetic calculus, either explicitly and consciously or otherwise, though it’s not really clear to me that you think this either. That model of rationality is an idealization that doesn’t agree with the data of everyday life or of psychological research (for example, see Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, fast and slow.) And I don’t agree that all evaluation is essentially utilitarian. I don’t even think this is true for most animals. Aesthetic judgment and appreciation is not typically utilitarian – at least that is not typically why we engage in it. And I would say the same is true of play.

    So how’s that for starters? We’ll have a terrific conversation next time we meet! Good luck in class tomorrow and keep up the good work,


    • louise kane says:

      what a great discussion! Thank you Kirk and JB
      and others.

      • Kirk Robinson says:

        Thanks Louise. In reading what I just wrote, I don’t think I was as clear as I might have been in my reply to JB. And I should review Martin Fishbein’s value-expectancy theory before commenting on it. Maybe we can get back to this subject another time. There is certainly a lot to talk about.

    • JB says:

      Thanks Kirk, Louise. Actually, I agree that the expectancy x value model is an oversimplification of the mental arithmetic we go through when making value judgements (of course, all mathematical models oversimplify); and Kahneman’s research certainly shows that we are not entirely rational in our judgments.

      Regarding utility: I think most conservationists take an overly narrow view of utility. Utility need not be limited to monetary rewards and tangible “goods”. So, for example, many argue that aesthetic appreciation of wildlife or nature is not accounted for in utilitarian models nor management. However, I would argue that I gain “psychological utility” simply by seeing a wild animal in its natural environment–that is, I feel better seeing it, or even knowing it exists. That positive feeling is a form of utility (a non-economic benefit) that can be accounted for–both in management and in our mathematical models.

      Returning to your point above: I may *know* something is good without knowing why–without recognizing that it provides me with psychological utility. But the utility is there nonetheless.

      Always appreciate these conversations, though I’d rather have them over a beer or two. 😉

      • Immer Treue says:

        Regarding utility:

        I’ve always had a problem with making a list of pros and cons for making a decision. Perhaps that one con has more weight than all the pros.

        The point I want to make is that the utility for one person might carry more “weight” than the utility for another. JB, you know I’m pro-wolf. Since I’ve become more involved in the wolf “controversy” out west, I have become a bit more empathetic to some of the rural folk, and the impact wolves may have had upon their way of life. Not to the extent that wolves were a conspiracy to force them off public lands and take their weapons away, or the old wolves at the bus stop, etc,. But, wolves have impacted the lives of some rural folks in the NRM states who have come to depend on elk as part of their food supply. That utility, carries a bit more import than viewing pleasures.

        So back to Mech. The anti wolf folks have been out shouted and out spent, and it’s time to protect all habitat suitable for wolves for the foreseeable future. A chord of value/utility must also be struck between consumptive and nonconsumptive users of
        Wilderness, rather than these wide emotional swings that go on and on and on.

        • JB says:

          “…it’s time to protect all habitat suitable for wolves for the foreseeable future. A chord of value/utility must also be struck between consumptive and nonconsumptive users of Wilderness…”

          Agreed on both counts. The problem (with the latter) is the *perception* that uses are not compatible (i.e., your desire for wolves infringes upon my desire to hunt). Of course, political processes are in place for different types of “users” to advocate for their own utility. Then again, many would argue that the political institutions that we have set up favor certain groups…and certain outcomes.

  39. Brit A says:

    I was very fortunate to come across this article. I work at a hunting/fishing store in northern Idaho and one of the most popular topics among customers is the wolves and the impact they are having on the ecosystem, specifically the elk herds. People from both sides make accusations as if they were “facts” when they have no real substantial proof to back it up. It is so nice to read something that simply talks about how we really don’t know the complete “facts” about these animals or the impact they have. JB, you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned that they were “just animals.” They are. They are going to do what animals do. Seak Mossback, I also thoroughly enjoyed reading your comments. I found them very informative and well thought out. I appreciate the effort you all have put into these articles and comments. Thanks


September 2012


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey