Speaking My Piece on the Idaho Wolf Hunting Issue

Photograph by Joel Sartore, via the National Geographic

I’m intentionally not a very political person, and I don’t often like to get on the soap box (especially on this blog). Most of the time, I don’t feel that it would do any good, or I’ve found that lots of other people have said pretty much the same thing and my response would only be redundant, or the issue is too complex for me to say for sure that how I feel or what I think is absolutely correct. However, sometimes an issue will prick me to my core and continue to sting until I say something about it, especially if that issue has received little attention and I feel that by doing something — even something as small as writing a blog post — will raise a little more awareness to prevent what seems dangerous and imminent from happening. I was confronted with one of those issues recently, and so here I am, on my dust-laden soap box.

The Issue

A bill, proposed by Governor Butch Otter, is up for vote in Idaho that will allow hunters to freely hunt gray wolves, a species that has been reintroduced by conservation groups following decades of near-extinction. Proponents’ reasoning comes from two angles:

1. Wolves kill the livestock that ranchers depend on for their livelihood
2. Wolves kill the elk that hunters like to hunt

For a more detailed account of the issue (including a video showing speakers on both sides), check out this article. And this one.

My Piece

While I understand the frustration that the first group — the ranchers — feels, I also believe that there must be an alternative solution. The second group — the elk hunters — is completely inexcusable to me. The main point that both groups are missing is this: the wolves are killing and eating for survival.

Let me say this: I’m not against hunting on principle, just as I’m not against eating meat. I eat meat (although I eat less of it than a lot of people). I accept that humans are naturally omnivorous and require some meat as part of a healthy, balanced diet without relying on vitamins and supplements. And while I don’t hunt, I also accept that humans are predatory animals and that there is a side to our species that, quite possibly, needs to kill — just like sharks, alligators and, incidentally, wolves. I respect that part of humanity, just as I respect that part of the wolf species.

What I don’t respect is irresponsibility, selfishness and a lack of creativity in problem solving, all of which to me seem rampant in this issue. The hunting angle bothers me the most. First of all, one of the justifications I’ve heard from hunters for hunting is “to control the population” of the animal being hunted — to keep the population healthy and thriving. So hunting wolves to keep them from keeping the elk population in check bears absolutely no logic. Second, hunting by humans is very rarely survival-based, making nearly all hunting “for sport” these days. Even those who eat the meat of the animals they hunt still go to the grocery store to buy meat. They hunt because they enjoy it, not because they need to. Which is very different than the wolf’s purpose for hunting. But, like I said, I’m not against hunting per se; I recognize a difference between “regular” seasonal hunting and the kind of hunting that’s being advocated in Idaho against wolves.

These wolves are killed because people hate them. For the most part (I can’t say “all,” since I don’t know for sure), they are not eaten, which is wasteful. Additionally, where most hunting places a limit on the number of animals that can be killed, the wolf issue is about decimating a population that has historically struggled to exist. Efforts have been made in the recent past to reintroduce a healthy wolf population to its natural ecosystems. Conservation has only recently reached the point where groups are considering delisting them from the endangered species list, and this legislation and recent hunting behavior is threatening to erase all of that hard work. In fact, Governor Otter’s legislation proposes reducing the population to 150 wolves in Idaho. 150 in 83,642 sq. miles of land.

Perhaps the most troubling issue here is that Idaho isn’t the only state taking these kinds of actions; Wisconsin, Wyoming, Montana and other states have also opened the doors to “wolf population control.” As the Live Science article I linked in the previous sentence states:

Wolves were hunted, trapped and poisoned to the brink of extinction in the 20th century, and they rebounded only after being protected under the Endangered Species Acts of the 1960s and subsequently being re-introduced to Yellowstone.

Maybe I’m being aggressively political here, but no one can tell me that wolves do not have the right to exist. No one can tell me that 150 is a comfortable number for any species’ population. No one can tell me that all of that land isn’t enough room for wolves and humans and elk and livestock. If people are truly concerned about the elk population in Idaho, why don’t they hunt fewer elk? Why don’t they leave more food to the animals that need the meat for survival? Perhaps then the wolves won’t be so hungry that they need to kill livestock. Wolves don’t kill for sport, and they don’t kill out of spite. They are trying to survive, and it’s incumbent upon us as active, responsible members of the world to allow them to do that.

Responsible hunting (which one wolf hunting gathering supposedly supported) is not about vindictive genocide. It’s about respecting the natural world and allowing it to prosper while permitting the darker, violent side of our own nature to express itself. We need to let go of the notion that we are the only important species on the planet and that our lives and well-being are the only ones that matter. We need to respect other life forms, accept competition for survival as a fact of life and deal creatively with our challenges.

On the ranching side, several individuals and groups (including ranchers) have addressed the complex issue of maintaining livestock while preventing wolf-killing, often suggesting non-lethal methods for managing livestock predation. Check out these links for more information:

Living With Wolves: Questions About Wolves
Predators — Friend or Foe?
Livestock and Wolves: A Guide to Nonlethal Tools and Methods to Reduce Conflicts (PDF by Defenders.org)

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  1. Whenever I read about something like this, I think of one of my favorite scenes in any book I have ever read…. The bullfight in Arthur Clarke’s ‘Childhood’s End’.

    This type of killing is cultural, and the casus belli infinite.

    Trop souvent il s’agit d’un cas de gros canon, petite quéquette.

    It is in such stark contrast to some places in Asia where there is such respect for life you will see a person bow after they have pulled a plant from the ground.

    1. Haha “Gros canon, petite quéquette” seems about right.

      I also agree that it’s cultural, which makes it difficult to combat. I hope that future generations will exhibit a greater respect for life, especially among those who sometimes take it.

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