WHERE HAVE ALL THE WOLVES GONE?
By Richard Hiatt (C)1998

 

The great debate today is the one inextricably tied to planetary survival ‹ a faith in science vs. the fear of prophetic endings. There are no answers and, as Orwell said, no truth is self-evident.

But Orwell also said that some truths are more self-evident than others, and some are so obvious that it strains the imagination to see how they can be ritually ignored. One of these involves the unyielding disregard for nature, its effort to survive and our relentless effort to kill it, all in the name of the one inducement mobilized by the forces of industrial capitalism - profit.

We can remain vague and philosophical about this or painfully specific. But this is about a very real, very specific political contest which not only foreshadows the immediate fate of one thing but the long-term fate of all things. It is about wolves, not just literally but as metaphor - as a means of weaning society from a long tradition of fear, ignorance, brutality, myth, and reckless profiteering, not to mention the degree to which democracy can be thwarted in the service of big money.

Let's begin in my own state, Colorado. Just to assuage any lingering fears, the last wolf in Colorado was killed in 1945 in Conejos County. To digress just a moment, it's with great irony that the communities which have traditionally hated wolves and supported a sporting industry meant to exterminate them is now largely responsible for breeding them with dogs to simply, again, capitalize on another market - the fallacious, romantic (macho) mystic of living with a wolf. For the record, eighty percent of hybrids which become highly unpredictable are euthanized before their second year. But breeders only want you to know about the twenty percent.

That aside, Colorado has been a microcosm of a much broader trend of seedy politics involving the gray wolf. The predominant population group singularly known for their hatred of the wolf is the ranching industry. With few exceptions (and it should be noted that there are exceptions) the rule of thumb follows a hidebound but very effective syllogistic cadence: domestic is good, predator is bad. All bad things must be exterminated. That's it.

The fact is the ranching industry comprises less than one percent of Colorado's total population. In a state of 3.3 million people there are approximately 10,000 ranching families. (That's .0033%). Yet since 1982 when the Colorado Wildlife Commission was begun and members appointed by the governor, at least four of those eight chairs have been filled by representatives of the cattlemen's association.

In 1982 the Commission instantly passed a resolution that effectively resisted any aid to wolf or grizzly bear recovery programs. It wasn't until 1989 that the resolution was finally forced to change its wording for violating the First Amendment. Prior to that, it forbade any and all discussion of the wolf and bear problem. Ironic, since this was a commission on wildlife.

In 1995 Governor Romer vetoed a bill giving the Colorado Legislature plans to reconsider the wolf issue. For environmentalists this was good because the Legislature was largely controlled by ranching interests. But in 1996 he signed a bill which environmentalists privately called The Predator Destruction Act because it transferred predatory authority from the Division of Wildlife to the Department of Agriculture. And of course that de-partment's top priority is agriculture, not wildlife.

From the outset, the predator control roundtable, chaired by the Agriculture Commissioner (a sheep rancher) - ritually ignored any discussion of non-lethal livestock protection methods. The anti-predator majority refused a request to hear from Dr. Bob Crabtree, a coyote researcher interested in presenting alternative solutions to predators. Eventually Sinapu (a Boulder-based organization focused on preserving the gray wolf), the Colorado Environmental Coalition and the Sierra Club all withdrew from the panel knowing that getting heard was a charade and a futility. Only the CEC rejoined later on.

Today, according to congressional feasibility studies, seventy-one percent of Coloradans (sixty-five percent on the Western slope) support the reintroduction of the gray wolf into Colorado habitats which would not only sustain a population of 1,128 wolves but would restore a balance to deer and elk herds. Colorado has the largest elk and deer population of any western state - 200,000 elk and 600,000 deer. (More on why this is ignored when we see what's going on in Canada).

Other studies have proven that less than one percent of cattle and sheep losses have ever been due to wolf predation. Livestock losses have been in the single digits since the mid-1980s. In Montana, for every 25,000 cattle and sheep lost, only one is killed by wolves. In Yellowstone and central Idaho ranchers are even compensated in full by the Defenders of Wildlife (a private, not public, compensation program) for losses - which is so rare that Defenders report their interest alone has covered any outpayments for the last three years. Programs have made (and are making) the same offer to Colorado ranchers. Still, the hatred, fear and discrimination of wolves outweighs both public opinion and the facts.

Now we turn to Yellowstone and Central Idaho. In 1995 twenty-nine gray wolves were flown in from Alberta, Canada. Designated an experimental population fourteen went to Yellowstone and fifteen to Idaho. This put environmental groups in a position of both winning and losing, said the Denver Post.

Earthjustice (the legal arm of the Sierra Club) representing the National Audubon Society, Sinapu and the Predator Project, thought that by calling it experimental, nonessential, a more common sense approach to wolf introduction would work on behalf of wolves and ranching interests. Ranchers were comfortable with reintroduction providing they had the right to shoot them if caught killing livestock on private land. But this also meant taking the wolf off the Endangered Species list. This created hell on both sides of the debate.

Be careful for what you wish for, you might just get it. The person who said that was US District Judge William Downes who, on December 12th, ruled that the 155 Canadian gray wolves were reintroduced illegally ... and ordered the animals removed from both areas (Denver Post). This was due to three separate lawsuits (two asking that reintroduction be halted altogether, one by Earthjustice claiming it was illegal to remove the wolves from the endangered list). Judge Downes ruled that the FWS violated federal laws by allowing the wolves transplanted [and] treated as an experimental species. It suddenly meant that other wolves which naturally migrated into those regions (called naturally occurring) would also be taken from the endangered list. This he said was illegal.

To date, the only solution for Judge Downes is to remove all the transplanted wolves. The problem is, since their reintroduction, the wolves have had pups (increasing their numbers to about 85 in Yellowstone and 70 in central Idaho). They've adapted and established territories. Gathering them again would be costly and complex, not to mention inhumane.

As Alston Chase, former college professor in Livingston, Montana, said, These luckless creatures ... were darted, kidnapped, poked, prodded, vaccinated, collared, caged, trucked, imprisoned in pens and released ... where they have been periodically tranquilized by rangers and relocated by helicopter only to find that now they must go. Mark Van Putten, president of the NWF, said, having endured bullets, traps and poison, the "we must eliminate the wolf to save it" logic is simply absurd.

The decision was good and bad news for both sides. For Earthjustice it meant keeping them protected, but also meant removing them. For a consortium of farm bureaus it came to attempting to prove that the reintroduced wolves were a different Canadian subspecies (Canis lupus occidentalis) from the wolves already in the region (Canis lupus irremotis). This strategy was to keep them off the endangered list which would make them free game for shooting. Instead it defeated their larger goal, had this ploy succeeded, because it would allow them to stay.

The fact is these subspecies are virtually identical. The only difference, says Chase, is that while one bunch migrated from Canada, the others came by truck. Irremotis is extinct and you can't reintroduce something that doesn't exist. The science of taxonomy is so inexact that it invites political meddling.... officials who categorize creatures usually ignore genetics. Instead, they employ political criteria.

At least for now Judge Downes has stayed his judgment pending appeal in the Federal Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. What the Denver Post report did not say was that Downes' decision was made at the request of the Wyoming, Montana and Idaho Farm Bureau Federations. Despite the FWS' efforts to appease the ranching interests (and compensating them for losses) the Farm Bureau's efforts to reclassify the Canadian wolf was accompanied by a separate suit requesting the capture and/or killing of all reintroduced wolves.

Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund attorney, Doug Honnold, said, "our case got [consolidated] with that of the Farm Bureau." It not only clouded the agendas of both sides but worked most beneficially for the Farm Bureau. Another debate now brews in terms of sticking the entire financial burden for the removal process in the hands of the environmentalists since they put them there.

We need to remember the words of Roger Bill Mitchell, president of the Colorado Farm Bureau at their last conference (of 25 organizations) focused on the ESA problem. This one-day intensive included representatives of the state and federal government, water users, sportsmen, developers and elected officials. Again, no voice stood in for endangered species. And the entire burden of species protection was seen as being hoisted on agriculture and development .

Mitchell said it is a major "disincentive" causing "major constraints." "Just two-one hundredths of one percent of all listed species have been recovered under ESA. Do you think I would continue to run my farm the same way if I were having a one percent success rate? I know the answer to that." "Until the public and environmental groups start paying their fair share, endangered species habitat will continue to wither away." (Colorado Farm Bureau News - Dec. 1997).

It's interesting that in 1992 Dr, Steve Fritts (FWS wolf biologist) issued two memoranda stating that breeding activity in Yellowstone and Idaho was likely and that any translocation efforts would be documented. In 1994 FWS scientists went on record stating they believed naturally recolonizing wolfpacks would be confirmed in Idaho within one to five years. All this was blatantly ignored by the time wolves were brought in from Canada.

Recently however it is worth noting that two individuals have stepped forward on behalf of the wolves. One is Mark Van Putten and the other is Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt. Van Putten said, "The decision ... ordering the capture and removal of wolves ... is more than an attack on these animals. It threatens ... to repeat the country's sad history of exterminating its wildlife and to damage the common-sense approaches now used to undo that evil. The United States cannot let that happen. The NWF will appeal to make certain it does not."

He added, "A technicality of law must not stand in the way of justice. We are pledged to find the remedy that leaves the wolves where they belong - in Yellowstone and wilderness areas of Idaho - and allows all of us to go forward to solve potential conflicts between wildlife protection and land use, not to inflame them."

Secretary Babbitt confirmed that the wolf recovery program in Yellowstone "is a tremendous success." "We are not going to walk away from it as long as there is any way of working this out legally."

For now the lawsuit issued by Earthjustice concerns only the Idaho reintroduction effort, not the Yellowstone effort. It simply asks Judge Downes to declare that wolves "cannot be stripped of their full legal protection because the FWS has translocated and released Canadian wolves." The appeal will ask that a) the wolves remain protected as an endangered species, b) they remain where they are, and c) the FWS provide due legal protection.

This is critical because, according to Rob Edward, acting executive director of Sinapu, "Canada doesn't even want the wolves back." Why? Because of the Canadian Farm Bureaus (the Western Stockgrowers Association, the Alberta Cattle Commission), specifically, "government policies made to appease special interests, particularly big-game outfitters."

Now we come to Canadian politics. In 1996 the Yukon Territorial Government continued a multi-year, multi-million dollar wolf kill program designed to boost moose and caribou numbers. This will result in the extermination of almost three-fourths of the Yukon's wolves. The program uses traps, poisons, snares and rifles.

The motive, again, is pure profit. The thinking is that by eliminating nature's own way of balancing herds (wolves) a huge market of hunters can be brought in to do the job just as well. And hunters pay fees, wolves don't. The trouble with this thinking is that the hunting method will damage the genetic health of the herds. Wolves always kill diseased and unhealthy animals; humans naturally want the healthiest pick of the herd for one's trophy collection and/or meat. Secondly, their premise is all wrong to begin with: Wolves are not the primary determinant of moose and elk populations; weather and food supplies are.

Just one example of interfering with natural selection is what has occurred in Yellowstone over Bison herds. Since 1995 over 1800 bison have been shot by federal agents and state officials for daring to cross the imaginary border of the Yellowstone Park onto the surrounding National Forest (reports Sinapu). This was by request of local ranchers concerned that bison would transmit brucellosis to their cattle. Even when biologists said there was no biological evidence ... to confirm this fear. The Montana Department of Livestock refused to acknowledge evidence against the theory of transmission fearing it would lose its 'brucellosis- free' status under federal regulations.

This is just one of many ways the entire cattle industry is fighting an uphill battle. Their other battles involve a growing health consciousness in the US, the amount of land required to raise beef cattle (versus grain and vegetables which produce quantumly more healthy food), water pollution, and other problems.

Still, the Yukon wolf kill has resulted in the destruction of 19 of the 26 packs in the Aishihik region - a total of 159 wolves. Over the next eight years, the government plans to target 600 more wolves. It refuses to hear that in the long run it will lose revenue rather than save it by killing wolves.

The wolf today still suffers from ancient myths and persecution beyond measure. For instance there is NOT ONE recorded instance (in Europe or America) of a wolf attacking or biting a human being (except in medieval times when rabies was epidemic). They're smart and stay as far away and out of sight of humans as is physically possible. It's rare to even see one. Still, myths prevail, money talks, greed thrives, and there remains an invidious gap between politics and public opinion. We need to stop it and begin separating fact from fiction, reality from fantasy and calculated lies.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Get involved. Help enlighten others in the rural and urban communities. Regarding the Yellowstone litigation please call Doug Honnold at (406) 586-9699 in Bozeman, Mt. Regarding the gray wolf reintroduction program in Colorado call Sinapu at (303) 447-8655 in Boulder (http://www.-sinapu.org ). Regarding the Yukon kill program m please write: The Honorable John Ostashek, Government Leader, Yukon Territorial Government, Box 2703, White-horse, Yukon, Y1A2C6, Canada. And you can reach our state congressmen and Governor Romer at (303) 866-2471. Let them know what you think Let's keep the wolf safe and finally begin restoring the balance.

 

Richard Hiatt is a freelance investigative journalist in Colorado working on behalf of wolf restoration and other timely environmental issues. He also writes as a critic/essayist on current events, politics, family issues, ethics and social norms, and opeds/articles/essays for local and regional publications. Richard has practiced as a psychotherapist for 20 years.


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