Wolf Project Harassment
A recent article in Wood River Journal titled Wolf Project Enters 10th year detailed how private livestock producers have successfully harassed public wildlife on public lands to reduce losses to native predators.
It details how Defenders of Wildlife, working with wealthy millionaire ranchers like the Lava Lake and Land Company, have joined together to harass wolves to make the public lands safe for domestic sheep. But it is an example of communal brain-washing whereby the idea is “normalized” that domestic livestock should have priority on our public lands, even if it harms native wildlife like wolves.
The article reports that sheep herders armed with loud noise makers, boom boxes, starter pistols and other devices designed harass wolves away from grazing sheep. Sometimes additional volunteers help out in harrying wolves.
The problem is there is a perverse and unquestioned assumption. What animals should have priority on public lands? Domestic livestock being grazing for private profit or native wildlife like wolves?
Just because wolves aren’t being shot, doesn’t mean they aren’t being harmed by domestic livestock and/or the harassment promulgated by the Wood River Wolf Project.
Much ecological research has documented that the mere presence of domestic livestock harms our wildlife, including wolves.
When domestic sheep and/or cattle are brought on to public lands grazing allotments, they socially displace native species like elk. The native wildlife thus are relegated to less suitable habitat and their overall fitness suffers as a consequence.
And let’s not forget that domestic grazing animals are consuming the same forage that would otherwise support native herbivores like elk and deer. Thus, by reducing available forage for native wildlife, the domestic animals are in effect reducing the prey base for predators like wolves.
So even if ranchers/sheep herders don’t kill wolves, their animals are in effect taking food out of the mouth of wolves.
Wolves must then search longer and farther to find sufficient food—even if they don’t take the easy meal of domestic livestock. This requires the use of more energy as well as exposing them to additional mortality from everything from hunters to collisions with vehicles to being killed by other livestock producers.
Harassing wolves with noise makers and so forth also add additional stress to wolves.
All of this does not begin to address the multiple other ways that domestic livestock damages the public land resources and values. Water pollution. Spread of weeds. Trampling of vegetation. Soil compaction. Spread of disease from domestic animals to wildlife. Damage to riparian areas.
If we were managing our public lands for the public, in particular, the majority of Americans who value having wolves on their lands, when there was any real or even perceived conflict between domestic animals and public wildlife, the domestic animals should be removed.
Our public wolves should not have to suffer just to provide a subsidized feeding trough for private businesses utilizing public lands as a feedlot for their domestic animals.
Wolves should have the freedom to roam our public lands without suffering from harassment and persecution. Time to change priorities.
George Wuerthner is an ecologist and former hunting guide with a degree in wildlife biology
30 Responses to Wolf Project Harassment
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I am far from being an expert but come at this a lover of wolves and what they contribute to our environment and feel frustrated that it seems like there is nothing we can do to save them. All recent administrations have sold them out and now they are in terrible danger. While I used to support Defenders of Wildlife I find more and more they are very two faced on how they support wildlife and am disappointed to see yet another example of their duplicity. Wolves are an important apex predator and are needed, they has to be a way to help them.
The best way forward is to continue to buy out grazing allotments and remove the livestock. Yes, I’d like to see the allotments retired, but it would happen faster if they simply got bought out.
There has been organized resistance to lease buyouts, and thus this tactic has stalled.
I thought Brenda Peterson’s recent book, Wolf Nation, was far too enthusiastic about this kind of harassment. The attitude we are encouraged to adopt is that “compromise” is necessary; we can find a “win-win” solution; wolf recovery will continue to enjoy support in the West if ranchers can be shown ways to “coexist” with wolves; etc. All of these arguments require us to subordinate sound ecology to human convenience.
2017’s other popular book, “American Wolf” is basically a snuff book, normalizing the psychopathic pleasure-killers of the starring wolf, and the emotions of the humans, rather than the actual lives of wolves, now understood by cognitive science to have quite astonishing capacities, many far exceeding those of this deceptive and manipulative social primate.
I was rather depressed at the implicit themes of both books, as an ethologist exploring some of those amazing skills and cognitions, some requiring social/environmental learning similarly to humans and their hard-wired symbolic verbal language adaptations.
Wolf memory is astounding, – memory involves some allo-, paleo-cortex that occur through neurorhinal structures larger than our own.
Our mentioned capacity for deception and self-deception (see Bob Trivers’ work, now being explored), and our eusocial excessive mannipulation of reciprocity to create a market culture creating has formed a maladaptive predatory culture insufficiently bounded by the limits of actual predators.
One maladaptation is rage held and transferred vertically (to offspring) as well as horizontally (to peers and even elders)through social means, combined with Machiavellian minds promoted to prominence in overdense populations.
Robin Dunbar et al have been exploring human social group sizes, and considerable answers to questions lay persons regard as political, actually turn out to be evolved psychosocial responses to overdensity and exceeding carrying capacity of local habitats; war itself was once an adaptation, just as you see in the confines of Yellowstone National Park, where natural dispersal has been cut off by surrounding states’ draconian extermination policies.
(comments on Wyoming’s policies can be made until early June. I encourage all to lobby WGFD to close large buffer areas around YNP and GTNP)
Alaska BoG has finally been moved tocreate a temporary killing ban in the Stampede corridor Park officials asked for establishment again) of a buffer buffer in that Denali indent, but it looks unlikely again. One family group, the Comb pack, has disappeared, probably due to hunting/trapping. Because the proposal was only to reduce trapping season by 505 and hunting season by 295 it remains likely that any “protected” park population stepping “out of bounds” will continue to suffer individual, genetic, and personal loss.
As dave Mech, originally a trapper, who was so aghast at popular expressions of support for north American wolves, returned to his roots as an advocate of lethal fragmentation and blocking of wolf populations, we find no other wolf biologist(s) stepping up to write for conservation.
Yet, I outlined the vast differences in recogntion of wolves versus human hunters, of subclinical debilitation of ungulates subject to CWD a prion (cell structural protein) dysfunction. CWD has spread from its roots in “game farms” in ND and TX, through commercial export to Alberta, Saskatchewan, and many US states, and is now reaching up to the Absarokas on YNP’s eastern and northern borders, although not yet to the national elk Refuge.
RMNP is already suffering, making wolf return to Colorado critical. A safe corridor is desperately needed. Interestingly, many collared wolves traces show them heading like arrows toward that area, through Wyoming’s execution areas.
Preventing the dispersal of wolves will exacerbate the spread of CWD, as malfunctioning prions are constantly shed, as infected individuals drop hair, and even saliva on forage plants throughout their long infection. I can’t go into the full transmission here, but wolves are vital in locating diseased individuals and able to reduce the distribution of this disease. No other method of containing this zoonotic is remotely as efficient as an ecologically effective wolf presence. Wyoming will learn that to its chagrin. This variable, introduced into the diminishing mule deer population may well contribute to their local and perhaps more widespread extinction. CWD persists in soils, binding well enough to particles to escape UV or other breakdown.
“Managed” wildlife will continually face such vectors of mortality, and so, I suppose, this solipsistic popularization of wolves or any wildlife for their effects on human activity, self-indulgence, and dispute, has some forthcoming chapters, in general tragic (self-imposed)and pathetic (helpless) in nature.
AI being shared here, Makuye? Not that there’s any thing wrong with that 🙂
on capacity for deception and self-deception see Bob Trivers’ work
Discussion with Noam Chomsky and Robert Trivers
Take the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait and the US invasion of Iraq—just take those three. From the point of view of the people who perpetrated these acts, they were each a noble effort and done for the benefit of everyone—in fact the self-justifications are kind of similar. It almost translates. But we can’t see it in ourselves; we can only see it in them, you know. Nobody doubts that the Russians committed aggression, that Saddam Hussein committed aggression, but with regard to ourselves it’s impossible.
I’ve reviewed a lot of the literature on this, and it’s close to universal. We just cannot adopt toward ourselves the same attitudes that we adopt easily and in fact, reflexively, when others commit crimes. No matter how strong the evidence.
God is on our side.
Chris Hedges’ “War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning” does a nice job of explaining this phenomenon.
Ive been involved with the WRWP for almost 5 years and although not a perfect solution at least the producers were willing to come to the table and give non lethal a chance. It is very easy for them to have wolves lethally removed and they will.As a general rule you don’t find many solutions in the far right or left but in the middle ground. You would not believe the time and effort put into this project by people like Brian Bean and many others.. not because they have to but because they want to…and wanting to is the biggest hurtle to get over when talking coexistence.
This might be an unpopular opinion and I come at this as a wolf lover and advocate, but after seeing two packs slaughtered from helicopters by the State of Washington, this is a compromise I can live with as long as the wolves stay alive and have a fighting chance. I think they’re resourceful and smart enough to stay away from stupid humans that make too much noise. It does cause them some hardship, but maybe success will engender a willingness to coexist efficiently and humanely. At least they’re not being shot!
Well said. As conservation advocates, our job is to look at the forest not the trees, or in this case, wolf populations, social dynamics and healthy ecosystems, not individual animals or personal emotions.
In the case of these proactive, collaborative conflict avoidance efforts, they’ve proven to be a win-win compromise that recognizes the realities of public lands policy today. Hell of a lot better than nothing.
Yes, as Mandy wrote about the effect of agriculture on wildlife: “it does cause them some hardship.” And that’s the focus of this essay. I’m glad to see the author maintaining such a sharp focus on the problem, and not letting his criticism be blunted by acknowledgements of “lesser evils.” I assume that his strategy is to make sure that we’re fully aware that the problem continues to exist, even in the best cases of grazing on public and private land. We, as a society, make decisions about public land use; and how we decide depends upon our awareness of all of our options. If we assume that most or all wild lands should and will be used for agriculture, then we can only consider two options: 1) extermination or 2) coexistence through non-lethal wildlife management. If we do that, then we lose sight of another option: 3) the conservation of wild lands, free of agriculture, for wildlife.
Comments like those from “MTConservationist,” that coexistence through non-lethal depredation management is a “hell of a lot better than nothing,” attempt to limit our options, and our thinking, to the agricultural options, and to ignore the option of managing public and private lands for wilderness, free of agriculture.
“the option of managing public and private lands for wilderness, free of agriculture”
Private lands, huh? How are you going to do that?
Even though the focus of this article is on public lands, I included private lands in my comment because the individuals, conservation organizations, etc. that own private lands also have the option of managing their lands for wilderness, free of agriculture.
Want to get the cows off public lands? Call your Congressperson. They may listen, they may agree, or they may not. Regardless, today’s Congress is not going to change the multi-use mandate that governs public lands outside designated Wilderness and national parks. Will tomorrow’s? Maybe, though any seasoned political observer would call that extremely unlikely even with a shift in power.
In the meantime, projects like Wood River, and others you’ve ranted against in Montana and Washington, offer collaborative progress to protect the lives of wolves and the livelihoods of small business owners operating in often economically depressed rural areas. Considering the circumstances, that sort of compromise with legitimate win-win benefits should be applauded and repeated elsewhere.
George, it’s extremely disappointing that someone as seemingly intelligent and experienced as yourself continually fails to recognize that politics and policy in general, and conservation in particular, does not happen in a vacuum of idealism. We work within the state of play we’re given. You advocate for an ideal outcome in an un-ideal world, dismissing incremental progress along the way. That helps neither wolves and wildlife nor rural communities.
In fact, one could make a strong argument that this same sort of unbridled idealism without a necessary dose of pragmatism or compromise is exactly what caused the narrative and social dynamics in our country that led to the current President being elected.
I hope you’ll consider a different, more thoughtful and realistic track in future writings.
Couldn’t agree more !!
+++ on many of your points. As you stated public land management agencies have been mandated since the 1970s to utilize a “multiple use” system of which grazing is one of those uses. Are there particular areas and habitat that should not have livestock, of course and when those allotments come up for renewal, NGO’s like Defenders are advocating for them not be be renewed. I personally provide the National Wildlife Federation and Greater Yellowstone Coalition funds that are dedicated for the buyout of willing landowners and they are making a difference for native wildlife.
Currently, only 3% of the total # of livestock in the US are grazed on public lands and I applaud Defenders and other NGO’s for working to minimize the impacts to native wildlife and their habitats. But of course, it’s much easier to just criticize without any proactive actions and refuse to acknowledge, livestock products are going to come from somewhere. I dare anyone to go to a feedlot where many are raised and see the conditions those animals go through!
As I understand it, the 3% statistic is an estimate of how much grass-finished beef is sold in the United States–not how much is produced in the U.S., nor how much is produced on public land in the U.S., nor how much corn-finished beef was started on grass, etc..
In other words, it’s an estimate that about 3% of the beef sold in the U.S. is from livestock raised exclusively on grass somewhere in the world (e.g. in the U.S., Australia, Uruguay, etc.).
Although I applaud livestock producers who minimize their impacts on wildlife and the environment, the facts are 1) that their minimum isn’t so great, and 2) neither they nor their predator-exterminating counterparts are “feeding the world.”
A parallel statistic. Having explored USDA NASS (their products are not remotely timely, being at a general minimum about 6 years behind the present), I suggest checking state-by-state numbers to get a handle on the distributions.
The issue remains primarily ecologically effective wolf populations. genetic flow is of vital importance to the Mexican Wolf recovery Program. Due to the extended bottlenecking going on, (don’t ask me about Mexico, or you’ll get another oversize comment), a situation analogous to Isle Royale [IR] will occur over a population maintained in forced isolation over a longer time period.
Extinctions tend to be multicausal, and numerous variables are in place, having to do with the extreme violent fragmentation without safe dispersal corridors among viable habitats. From interstates, poachers, and the reactionary policies of Northern Rockies [DPS] states, if you live long enugh, you will see increasing evidence of the IR effect.
Great post MTC.
Unchecked human overpopulation growth. Animal-based agriculture and diet. Man-made “competition” for land and water between people, domestic “livestock,” and free-living herbivores and predators. I’m no expert, but I know this: the ideology of human supremacy is irrational, immoral and irresponsible. Place animals between humans and a dollar bill, and you can kiss the animals “good-bye.”
I read an excerpt from ‘Wolf Nation’, and there was something noted that bothered me. It mentions a European study claiming that domestic dogs are not directly descended from wolves, but speculates that there is an intermediate ancestor.
The upshot(!) is that because wolves have ‘bad table manners’ and that domesticated dogs respond better to humans (nevermind the fact that they have been domesticated by man for millennia) – there must be another ancestor? Admittedly, I stopped reading right there and haven’t read the study, so perhaps I don’t have all the information correct.
I remember Dr. Treves mentioning a European study of some kind, is that the one?
I’m very particular about the wildlife books I read, because sometimes I feel they continue the spread of dangerous ideas and misinformation.
There’s one about wildlife scientists on an island and it suddenly takes a Hitchcockian turn, with the birds attacking the heroine, and another wolf fiction that mentions a couple of times wolves taking babies (despite the fact that the heroine leaves the baby unattended in the woods! Come on now, it’s the 21st century).
This kind of stuff I cannot read.
Sure, there are intermediate “ancestors.” Tens of thousands of years of them, leading down who-knows-how-many canid lines (more than just “dog” or “wolf”). Lines tangled and untangled who-knows-how-many times. Not the kind of intermediate “ancestors” that get their own species names. Modern wolves aren’t the same as their ancestors, and neither are modern dogs; so of course, modern dogs didn’t descend from modern wolves. Which points of tangling and untangling will be defined? How many studies will be done, and how many books will be written to explore all of the possibilities? Counterpoint and speculation in each one. A skeptic might see all of this as a “sustainable business model” for grant funding and book sales.
And I also see it, intentionally or unintentionally, as muddying the waters about the descent of our beloved dogs from the wild wolf.
And all of it, from what I understand, is speculation. DNA is DNA.
I’ve even read one article where is said wolves domesticated themselves (NYT). Domestication by its very definition means mankind’s involvement.
Even the genes conferring Black coats have been traced to introduction of previously domesticated dogs back into high Asian wolves.
DNA tracing is statistical, based upon mutation rates averaged.
Recently catching up on fast-moving epigenetic process research, I can note for you that some spontaneous demethylation occurs coincident with actual changes in the affected genes – Cytosine components experiencing certain demethylations actually can be replaced by Thymine.
So some stress effects CAN mutate a cell, and therefore offspring, notably in response to environmental effects. I mention this only to open minds about DNA mutability.
The science is not speculation, but statistical, meaning that while never predictable, due to having many variables, trait likelihoods in various sizes of populations, can be computed.
Grazing on public lands is a destructive force on public lands and the American taxpayer. Conservation groups that preach co-existence and non-lethal measures, while collaborating in other working groups that approve slaughtering wolves from helicopters are doing an equal disservice to the land and the public.
Personally I think the disservice is not being at the table to express your opinion and offer alternative options to lethal control and most importantly to look them in the eye and let them know we are out there and we will show up at the depredation and if the facts don’t support their claims were going to argue that point. I know a kill order was resended because of the project being involved and so I’m going to continue to support this project and others until someone shows me a solution that works today .
Kurt, I guess you mean “… until someone shows me a solution that works today,” one that works even for those who aren’t willing to try most of the solutions that are available today.
That’s my perspective, too (except that I can’t help but add the qualification).
I think we need to keep the author’s (and the commenters’) idealism in sight. It’s where the natural baseline lies, from which the relative effectiveness of today’s generally-acceptable “solutions” can be measured.
Brett, I understand where you’re coming from, I truly do. But being able to balance our personal emotions and ideologies with the social and political realities of the day is an essential component of being a strategic, effective conservation advocate.
Like George’s article, your comment advocates for an ideal solution in an unideal world. You dismiss compromise and collaboration, and the incremental progress it brings, but offer no effective path to a better long-term outcome. alternative. And in your ideal claims, you dismiss the other players at the conservation and public lands table; that’s like saying you’re the best chess player around when your’re only playing against yourself.
I’ve followed your work for awhile, and I know you’re a passionate advocate for wildlife and wild places. But as someone who has also worked in that area, please believe me when I say being a mature, effective conservationist is learning to incrementally change the system for the better, because we’re not going to overthrow it.
Brett, thank you for your work on “Speak For Wolves” and constant advocacy on as many fronts as possible.
I haven’t seen you in a few years, due to advocacy being emotionally draining, but know that others ARE inspired by your efforts, and recognize your essential work.
From the proximate to ultimate metamorphoses you’ve inaugurated and assisted in your own species, your work affects the survival of North American life itself through this seemingly long obstructive bottleneck.