Hunting season just closed here in Montana, and I oiled my rifle for its annual winter hibernation. After all, hunting regulations—and the law in general—are something I respect. It's too bad that more community leaders out West fail to grasp that fundamental tenet of citizenship.
In central Idaho last month, a local sheriff had to answer some uncomfortable questions about a raffle he was helping to promote. The prize is a .308-caliber Winchester rifle. Nothing new there—it's a standard prize for selling raffle tickets in America's more rural neighborhoods.
But the devil is in the marketing. The rifle is given away with a shovel and is being labeled as an "SSS Wolf Pack" rifle. SSS is shorthand for the local expression "shoot, shovel and shut up." And that is the half-in-jest way of dealing with inconvenient wildlife that happens to be protected by law. In particular, the phrase is used in conversations around wolves, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Sheriff Doug Giddings bends over backward trying to explain this. "No, we are not advocating shooting wolves," the top lawman in Idaho County told the press. SSS, he now says, stands for "safety, security and survival."
Yeah. Right. This hayseed wouldn't make the cut to play sheriff on "The Dukes of Hazzard."
Giddings is not alone. At my county fair here in Montana, the local "wise use" club also raffled off a rifle, this one a nice .243 caliber. I might have bought a ticket, except they were calling it the "Annoy Molloy" rifle. Does the name Molloy ring a bell? Federal Judge Donald Molloy was the fellow who put wolves back on the endangered species list, after they were off it for one year.
Now we have local bumper stickers that say "Throw Molloy to the wolves." Alas for these folks, he has a lifetime appointment to the bench, courtesy of the Founding Fathers and the U.S. Constitution.
And guess what: This last hunting season, at least two "sportsmen" decided to shoot, shovel and shut-up. Actually, they just shot and left the wolves to rot alongside the road in northwest Montana. Another vandal did the same thing with a grizzly bear, which is also protected by federal law, over in Montana's Lincoln County.
Now, some folks hate wolves, some folks love 'em. Most of us are in the middle, shouted out by the loudmouths on the extremes. But nobody benefits from disrespecting the law. We do not live in a country where we can pick and choose which laws to follow. These rifle raffles are going off half-cocked, shooting their proponents in the foot.
Each wolf that gets shot illegally and stuffed down a badger hole is one more setback for those who want wolves off the endangered species list. It's also one more piece of evidence for those who say Western states cannot be trusted to manage their wildlife. Those of us who hunt and fish should know better than most that, even if it's inconvenient and frustrating at times, there is a greater value in following the law than in flouting it. Anarchy is bad for wildlife. Lawlessness nearly wiped out our wildlife resources in the 1800s, from bison to whitetail deer. The rule of law rebuilt America's wildlife heritage into the envy of the world.
Yes, wolves are controversial, and they can do real damage to livestock and sometimes to big game herds. The same is true for coyotes, mountain lions and bears. They are all part of our wildlife legacy. They can be successfully managed for the long term if all sides cool the rhetoric, come to the table, respect the best science and reach a reasonable plan.
Not that any law is perfect. If you don't like it, work to change it. But don't circumvent it. Democracy is a wonderful thing: Let's not blast holes in it.
Ben Long is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He is the senior program director for Resource Media in Kalispell.