09 July 2010


The headline in today's Missoulian says it all -- Montana FWP more than doubles wolf hunt quota for 2010. Wolf conservation is a twitchy nerve between Montana hunters and wildlife defenders. Last year (the first legal hunting season for wolves since the Montana, Wyoming and Idaho populations were provisionally removed from the Federal endangered species list), 75 wolf tags were issued to hunters -- which does not include wolves killed illegally. This year 186 wolf tags will be issued. Given that the state's entire wolf population is around 500 individuals, the legal kill alone will deplete the wolf population by 37%, or more than one third. This is sound game management?

I have a real problem with a structured hunting season on predators. Management should be conducted on a case-by-case basis by trained and licensed agents, not by a committee of five FWP officials (however well-intentioned) setting artificial limits. FWP is responding to tremendous pressure from recreational and trophy hunters. There's also the money -- last year more than 15,000 wolf tags were sold (to harvest 75 wolves). Each tag is purchased for $19 for a Montana resident, or $350 for a non-resident. Do I smell a shady scheme to generate revenue?

To be clear -- I support culling individual predators which prey on livestock or threaten humans, just as I support subsistence hunting of game animals. I do not support "sport" hunting. It is only one step above trapping, which is lower than a rattlesnake's belly. When gray wolves were first reintroduced to northern Michegan twenty years ago, there was a clear program in place for reimbursement of losses, paid by Defenders of Wildlife with some support from the feds. As I learned recently during a conversation with friends who live in northern Minnesota, the guidelines for predator control and for reimbursement for livestock losses in that state (and elsewhere) are less well defined, and complicated by needless red tape. It's a fact that wolves and humans can co-exist. Its also a fact that it takes a thoughtful meeting of the minds on both sides of the issue. Respect for the other person's views too often falls by the wayside, a victim of rigid ideology.

Bottom line, unless state game management agencies aren't careful, wolves will be returned to the endangered species list, returning control of their management from the states to the federal government. I wouldn't be sorry to see that happen, in principle. It would just be a shame that hundreds of wolves had died needlessly in the process. They are an integral part of nature's dynamic balance -- intelligent, social and adaptable. Consistently and on every continent but Antarctica, it has been humans who have upset that balance, through greed or fear or blood lust.

Thinking globally, the problem isn't predator overpopulation. The problem is that wolves, tigers, cheetahs, leopards, sharks, avian raptors and thousands of other species are threatened by human overpopulation and habitat destruction. If human numbers were reduced to one-tenth of their present level, there would be room for all. We are the supreme predator, with this distinction -- we do not act merely from instinct. We possess high intelligence, a capacity for ethical choice, and the responsibility to act as stewards for all life forms on our garden planet. The longer we choose to deal in death and destruction, the more we hasten our own demise as a species. We are an inextricable part of the web of life, and paradoxically we have the power to shred, or save, that web. The choice is ours, every day.

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