Brian Peck just submitted the following excellent op-ed to the Daily Inter Lake. It should appear in the paper later this week . . .
Recently, the Montana Legislature, in its seemingly infinite lack of wisdom, passed HB 73, a measure to allow more people to kill more wolves more easily, cheaply, and in more places — even right up to the doorsteps of Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks.
As the 2012-2013 wolf season nears its conclusion it’s accounted for almost 200 wolves, while kills by Wildlife Services and private citizens takes the kill number past 300. It seems to me that Montana hunters generally, and the wolf haters in the legislature specifically, may well have overlooked some unintended consequences in their unrestrained zeal for wolf slaughter.
First, is the possibility that an excessive wolf kill will provide the ammunition for a petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to relist wolves as a Threatened species. Montana says it has no quota for its hunt, but with perhaps 700 wolves initially, and a stated desire for a population of 425, it seems clear that the unstated “quota” is 275 wolves — a number now exceeded.
Add to that the 2011 Idaho kill of 379 wolves (50% of its population), and the recently approved Wyoming plan that allows wolves to be killed anywhere, anytime, for any reason in 82% of the state, and you can see where the body count is headed. While this may have the hater crowd cheering, there aren’t a lot of Americans or federal courts – “activist” or otherwise – that will look favorably on this kind of overkill.
Second, the most recent figures indicate that only about 5% of the U.S. population still hunts, and even in Montana, with the highest number of hunters per capita, the number is only around 33%. So, what does that have to do with wolves?
Well, polls of Americans consistently show that while 82% support hunting for meat, that number plummets to 20% for trophy hunting, and if trapping is involved, support drops off a cliff. Clearly, wolf hunting is the very definition of Trophy Hunting, and by including trapping in the mix, Montana FWP and Montana hunters give themselves a black eye with those 292 million Americans who no longer hunt — the same Americans who control the public lands on which you and I hunt and fish.
Having hunting guaranteed in the Montana Constitution will do us little good if our irresponsible actions and attitudes toward wolves turn those millions of non-hunters into anti-hunters, who decide we can’t be trusted to responsibly and ethically hunt on federal public lands.
Third, wolves are highly social animals that hunt in family groups. There’s considerable evidence that hunting, by removing larger adult animals, tends to create a younger, less experienced population — and younger, less experienced wolves are more likely to be involved in livestock depredations. So, those who advocate ever larger wolf kills as a way to lessen livestock losses may well be causing the exact opposite result.
More than 70 years ago, hunter, conservationist, and biologist Aldo Leopold said, “Conservation is a state of harmony between men and the land. By land is meant all of the things on, over, or in the earth. Harmony with land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left. That is to say, you cannot love game and hate predators; you cannot conserve the waters and waste the ranges; you cannot build the forest and mine the farm. The land is one organism.”
Montana hunters and legislators would do well to heed those words and consider the Law of Unintended Consequences.