The federal government must step in to save America’s wolves

wolf pack in the snow

“Throughout the centuries we have projected on to the wolf the qualities we most despise and fear in ourselves.”

     —Barry Lopez

We are in the midst of a crisis in the West; climate is showing us the reality of our future, with fire being the key ingredient. Yet the real crisis is not just what is happening to millions of acres of land, but what is occurring with wildlife — wolves in particular. Despite huge public outcry and concern, the governors of Idaho and Montana using the traditional tactics of division have rammed through their Republican-controlled legislatures some of the most heinous anti-wildlife bills in generations. Their key focus is the elimination of wolves.

Bill after bill is giving bounties and expanding trapping seasons and gunning down wolves from the air; night shooting and snares are all designed to destroy a keystone predator that is vital and has demonstrated restorative effects for the environment. Not to mention tens of thousands of animals that is the by-catch of this destructive policy. Perhaps the quiet undertone of this effort is a goal of controlling public lands via the sagebrush mentality that has been a strong undercurrent of life in the modern West.

How you might ask? Well in Montana since the governor, no fan of public lands, moved to destroy 95 percent of our wolves this fall, he has also allowed for extended trapping seasons that threaten grizzly bears coming out of hibernation, he has also pushed to allow no setbacks for traps on public lands. Setbacks are the distance traps can be set from trails or campgrounds or on water. Now in some counties of Montana they are asking for no setbacks, which means you can be hiking and a trap can be set in the center of the trail, or boating and traps at the shore. This also means that you no longer feel safe hiking or boating in this area for yourself, family or pets. The result — trappers and the governor take control of public lands and begin a process of making access more and more risky, for this is a major public safety issue. This is how you take control of public lands and give it to less than ½ of 1 percent of our population. Then you add bounties for killing wolves and people are on those lands shooting, using bows and setting traps; who wants to hike or recreate there? It is also part of a goal of privatizing wildlife to be sold off to trophy hunters, guides and remove the traditional norms for local sportsmen and those that hunt for food.

In Montana, trophy hunters and groups like the Safari Club, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the NRA, all clamor to kill wolves, yet elk and deer populations in our state are at record levels not seen in generations, this despite 1,100 wolves on the land. Ranchers complain endlessly despite getting 3X compensation for livestock killed by predators, and that number remains less than 1 percent.

Meanwhile in Washington the silence is deafening. The wolf kill has begun in Idaho and here in Montana we are six weeks away. It’s pure silence from my former Congresswoman and now Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. President Biden speaking on a youth environmental show said that his grandchildren had spoken to him imploring “pap, they want to kill all the wolves” he said he would do what he could to stop it; yet there is silence.

Some argue correctly that Interior and all aspects of the new administration are dealing with the carnage left by former President Trump. It takes time to right the ship. Others point to infrastructure and Biden’s goal of getting bi-partisan support as a rationale to not rock the boat with the contentious nature of wolf recovery. But Biden will not likely win Montana, Idaho or Wyoming in four years, wolves bring 42 million dollars in tourism alone to Montana each year and it is rising. It seems unlikely a Senator would say no to jobs because of wolf protection.

More than anything our understanding of wildlife has grown exponentially since the 1880’s and the years after when we tortured and slaughtered millions of animals, and virtually all predators. We have a moral responsibility to stand with wolves, not just for wildlife’s sake but to stop the encroachment of this new form of sagebrush mentality and the growing market of those that are making money by killing such a wild beauty.

So it is time for boldness, we can and we must stop the slaughter of wolves.

President Biden must move to relist wolves; Deb Haaland should come to Montana and Idaho to hear from so many that want this slaughter stopped. The president holds one more powerful tool, to use his Executive Powers to end trapping in the United States. Trapping is not a sport, nor a heritage, it is a sickness that allows people to kill without fair chase and allow animals to wither in pain for days or longer. These people live to see suffering and control the fate of an innocent victim. That has no place in our modern society and it is a cancer on our lands, one that has serious public safety concerns and destroys more than 100,000 animals in Montana alone each year, if not more.

Wildlife is a gift to all people, they simply ask for co-existence. In the end, what we come to understand is that it is not wildlife that needs management, only people. 

The days are passing quickly, the silence is deafening. 

Stephen Capra is the executive director of Footloose Montana, a nonprofit dedicated to ending trapping on public lands in Montana. He formerly was executive director of New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, where he worked to create two national monuments and three wilderness areas and started the Mexican Wolf Coalition.