President Biden indicated, in an appearance last week on the YouTube program “Brave Wilderness” that focuses on connecting young people to the great outdoors, that he’s alert to the plight of wolves in the United States. He pledged that he’s deeply connected to animals and the natural world and his Administration may do something to remedy the crisis.
That cannot happen soon enough.
There’s one thing that needs to happen: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must work to restore federal protections for wolves. And it must do so before the onslaught of sport hunting this fall in a number of states in the Midwest and the Northern Rockies.
Congress revoked federal protections for wolves in the Northern Rockies region in 2012, and in January of this year, the Trump Administration’s stripped federal protections for wolves throughout most of the remainder of their range, including in the Upper Great Lakes area.
Lawmakers and the Trump team took adverse actions even though wolves occupy only a small portion of their former range and have not fully recovered from the extermination actions of the last two centuries.
Wisconsin unleashes assault on wolves
After a brief but confusing legal fight — where the state’s own Department of Natural Resources recommended against a winter hunt that overlaps with the mating season for wolves — state wildlife authorities turned loose trophy hunters, hound hunters and trappers to kill wolves at the end of February.
Struggling to survive in a tough winter, where food is often scarce and the cold unrelenting, the wolves had no chance. With the snow facilitating the tracking and hunters allowed to chase down the animals at night, and even to use packs of hounds to pursue the animals (undoubtedly resulting in something akin to a dogfighting situation), hunters killed at least 218 wolves in a 48-hour spasm of killing.
The trophy hunters exceeded the already permissive state quota by two-fold, showing again how the state is absolutely unprepared to show restraint and maintain basic protections for wolves.
This was an entirely predictable outcome. Traps are set like landmines for unsuspecting animals, and the use of dogs made the hunt ruthlessly successful. With hunters using these barbaric and unfair methods and deep in the woods and often out of the range of communication, they got the “stop the hunt” notice – issued by the state once the quota was exceeded – after they did their dirty work.
Is there anything as diabolical as unleashing thousands of trophy hunters and commercial trappers to kill endangered wolves during their breeding season, armed with night-vision equipment, lights, steel-jawed leghold traps, and packs of dogs?
There were 27,000 people who applied for wolf-killing permits, with 2,000 selected by lottery for the dishonor of killing the forebears of our domesticated dogs, animals who live in family groups and who are now experiencing the loss of a parent or sibling or one or more of their offspring.
Many wolf packs throughout the state have been decimated, for no reason other than groundless vengeance and thrill-killing. Not only will males be killed, but also alpha females now carrying pups, compounding the death toll and suppressing wolf recovery. “Decimate” is defined as “killing one in every 10 of (a group of soldiers or others) as a punishment for the whole group,” and that’s exactly what’s happening here as wolf-haters target the animals out of some unfounded hatred of the species.
Idaho and Montana show their own forms of ruthlessness
Idaho and Montana are preparing for revved-up slaughter, on top of the existing mass killing that’s already occurring. Idaho’s legislature passed legislation to reduce the state’s population of wolves by 90 percent – that means hunters and trappers are expected to kill more than 1,000 wolves, eclipsing the kill of 600 this year with guns and traps.
Montana lawmakers are taking a similar approach, stripping away the few limits that exist on killing in the state. Setting the tone, Montana’s governor, Greg Gianforte, trapped a wolf himself some months ago right outside of Yellowstone National Park, in a shocking act of cruelty by a state’s chief executive.
The Biden administration must recognize that Idaho, Montana, and Wisconsin are not properly handling their management authority for wolves and are jeopardizing their recovery. The United States must seek to have the U.S. District Court in the ongoing federal delisting lawsuit remand this case back to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service so that it can restore protections for wolves across their range in the northern Great Lakes and other parts of their range to avoid a replay of the savage action that occurred in northern Wisconsin.
Wolves Are a Boon to Ecosystems and the Economy
Trophy killing of wolves bears no resemblance to hunting for food – a purpose for hunting that many people are familiar with. Nobody eats wolves.
Wolves pose no danger to people. The occasional killing of farm animals can be effectively managed through non-lethal mitigation measures and selective control, with ranchers made whole through compensation programs.
A study out this week pointed out that wolves control deer populations and reduce the frequency of deer-auto collisions, saving human lives and reducing the economic costs of these sad and costly collisions.
In the broadest sense, wildlife professionals recognize the wide range of ecological and practical benefits wolves deliver. Biologists in Yellowstone have found that wolves push deer and elk populations from overgrazed areas, enabling aspen and willow to reclaim ground and restore forest health.
Wolves target weak and ill deer, and scientists have documented that wolves are a bulwark against the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) among cervids. The state and federal government have spent tens of millions of dollars to check the spread of CWD, while wolves do the work for free. CWD has spread in areas of Wisconsin outside of the range of wolves.
The state wildlife agencies are enabling hate crimes against wolves. They are a dark expression of our worst instincts as a species, they are predicated on outdated and irrational ideas toward wolves, and it is a practical example of precisely why the federal government was well-justified in shielding wolves from vengeful, politically-driven actions when it listed them decades ago as protected as endangered and threatened species.
President Biden, a self-professed dog lover who reminded viewers on “Brave Wilderness” that all domesticated canids descend from wolves, can spare these remarkable animals immense suffering with some careful but directed action.