It’s been about three months since wolves in the Northern Rockies were removed from the protection of the Endangered Species Act. To date, at least 20 wolves have been reported killed in Wyoming, where they may legally be shot on sight. That’s an average of one wolf killed every four and a half days. Five of these wolves were shot in Wyoming during the first weekend after delisting, with local bloggers bragging about their success:
“Word on the street from the town of Cora is they had a hell of a fine weekend wolf hunting—a town wolf hunt,” and “I can speak first hand to the hunting of the wolves. I held two of the dead wolves killed this weekend. I’m one of the ‘Red Neck Hunters’ and proud of it.”
During the first weekend after wolves were delisted, the Casper Star Tribune reported “large numbers of hunters reportedly prowled the state’s newly designated wolf predator area in Sublette County.” An outfitter boasted he’d hoped to shoot 10 wolves himself.
These wolves weren’t killed by wildlife managers because they’d been eating cows or sheep. They were mostly shot by people for “sport”—their only crime was that of, well, being a wolf.
Wyoming leads the Northern Rockies in wolf killing because it has the most egregious plan for wolf management. Montana and Idaho intend to manage wolves as a game animal, which will eventually include regulated public hunting. Wyoming, however, classifies wolves as a “predatory animal” in areas that cover 85 percent of the state. With the exception of Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, plus a small buffer area surrounding the parks, wolves in Wyoming may be shot on sight anytime and by anyone. You don’t even need a hunting license.
Hunting has a long and proud tradition in this country, and over the years it has come to incorporate principles such as the doctrine of “fair chase” and conservation of a limited resource. When you buy a state hunting license, license fees go to the state fish and game agency to support wildlife and habitat conservation.
Wolf shooters in Wyoming, however, don’t pay license fees so they contribute nothing to habitat conservation or to the long-term maintenance of the species. Moreover, the shoot-on-sight policy fails to uphold a key principle of scientific management—the gathering of information about what’s going on in the wild. Freelance hunting tells nothing about how many people are hunting, where they’re stalking or how many wolves they kill. Maybe Wyoming biologists can check the blogs for data.
The restoration of the gray wolf to the Northern Rockies is a remarkable success story. Wolves now join the bald eagle, peregrine falcon and a host of other species as an example of how a strong Endangered Species Act has allowed conservationists to protect and recover wildlife from the brink of extinction. But delisting wolves without a commitment from all three states to even-handed, science-based wolf management plans may very well land the wolf back on the Endangered Species List.
You’d think we’d learned something in the 60-plus years since hunter and conservationist Aldo Leopold stated the principles of wildlife ecology. After shooting a wolf while working for the U.S. Forest Service in Arizona, Leopold wrote of seeing a “fierce, green fire” extinguish in the dying wolf’s eyes. In that moment, he said, he realized that all species were important, and later concluded that conservation requires us to live in accordance with all aspects of the natural world around us. “Harmony with land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left,” Leopold said. “That is to say, you cannot love game and hate predators.”
I don’t know what Leopold would think about people hunting wolves so soon after we saved wolves from dying out in the Northern Rockies. But I have no doubt he’d frown upon Wyoming’s 19th century management policy that treats wolves as pests to be exterminated rather than an integral part of the web of life.
Derek Goldman is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He lives in Missoula and serves as the Northern Rockies representative for the Endangered Species Coalition, a network of more than 380 scientific, sporting, religious, humane, business and community groups.