A message about a sobering milestone ...
a wildlife education organization we celebrate when a species is
delisted from the Endangered Species Act because it signifies that the
species has recovered biologically. As advocates for wolves, however,
our celebration was short lived.
When the wolves of the
Northern Rockies were delisted in 2011, it marked the first time in
history when a species was removed from the Endangered Species List via
Congressional action rather than federally mandated scientific
analysis. Since then over 1,000 wolves - almost half the
population in the Northern Rockies - have been killed as a result of
increasingly aggressive state management plans in Montana, Idaho and
Wyoming which call for large reductions in wolf populations via
recreational hunting and trapping seasons.
The value and
importance of conserving species and ensuring biodiversity is an
accepted axiom of the 21st century. The importance of a keystone
predator such as the gray wolf to a balanced ecosystem is undeniable.
That our policies would and should be motivated by these basic
scientific principles seems sound. However, not surprisingly, there are
serious cultural and political realities that continue to affect the
future of wolf in America's West.
Presently, state wildlife
agencies in charge of conserving and protecting our wildlife are funded
almost exclusively by hunter license fees and an excise tax on the sale
of guns, ammunition and archery equipment (the "Pittman-Robertson
Act"). This funding structure persists today virtually unchanged since
the 1930's. And, as expected, at the heart of almost all wildlife
conservation policies are the interests of the hunting and gun buying
Since conservation laws were developed in the 1930's,
at a time when preventing uncontrolled hunting was the objective, little
attention was given to the notion that animals have intrinsic worth,
are essential to biodiversity or that game and non-game animals alike
are needed for a balanced ecosystem. Tragically, we acknowledge that
"conservation" is a misnomer in today's American wildlife agency system.
And, the mandate to safeguard our wildlife for the public at large is a
virtual impossibility under the present system.
controversy is a prime example of the complexities at play. Once wolf
management was passed from the federal government to the state wildlife
agencies, the states picked up where they left off in the 1930's and,
once again, they became exclusively beholden to their local hunting
communities and other special interests. On the other hand, the
interests of a new generation of educated stakeholders, those who value
the ecological and economic importance of wolves and other predators in
the American West, are undeniably ignored.
A recent flurry of
new state bills through the Northern Rockies and neighboring states have
been introduced seeking to reduce the wolf populations even more.
Instead of letting nature strike its own balance between predator and
prey, these states choose to manipulate the population of wolves in
order to grow more game - elk and deer - a practice in direct conflict
with how wildlife should be managed. It is ethically and scientifically
wrong to manipulate the population of one species to benefit the
hunting of another. And, yet, as long as state wildlife agencies are
funded exclusively by hunters and the gun-buying public, these and other
unsound practices will enable the Northern Rockies to remain a managed
game farm for hunters.
Presently, there are approximately 305
million people in our nation and only 6% of them (37 million people) buy
hunting licenses; the vast majority of people do not hunt. Nearly 72
million (9% of the nation's population) engage in wildlife-watching
activities nationwide. Ironically, the region with wildlife watching
rates well above the national average includes the Mountain States -
wolf populated states - at 13%. Wolf-populated states are part of the
national economy, and non-resident tourism and wildlife watching have
become one of the largest growing industries in the Northern Rockies
region. It supports hundreds of thousands of jobs regionally.
Compounding the effects of these demographic trends is the fact that
while hunting is a seasonal activity, wildlife watchers/tourists,
photographers, outdoor enthusiasts, etc. can provide states with a much
more reliable, year round source of revenue. They comprise a broader
base of resident and nonresident consumers who are eager and willing to
assist in the funding of state wildlife agencies.
The wildlife in
this country is owned by its citizens. This legal concept implies that
we all share equal, undivided interests in our wild animals. The
government holds wildlife in trust for our benefit and is empowered to
manage it for the public good.
Until legislative changes in the
structure and funding of hunter-dominated state wildlife agencies are
implemented - policies that more appropriately reflect the most current
peer reviewed science and the changing demographic trends in our nation -
wolves and other predators are doomed to the same fate as when they
were exterminated to the brink of extinction.
Wolf Conservation Center Advisory Board Member