“The wolf exerts a powerful influence on the human imagination. It takes your stare and turns it back on you.”
Last year, the nation witnessed an attack on our nation’s capital, it is etched in our mind for the shock that is was, American citizens attacking a sacred place and stealing and bringing harm to the capitol police. It was a low point for our democracy. Such low points are spreading across our country, no place is this clearer than the boundaries of our nation’s most sacred National Park — Yellowstone. For it is here, that wolves have become another part of our country’s tribal divide.
If you are going to visit Yellowstone, perhaps one of the most important reasons is to see wolves in the wild. People come from across the globe spending large amounts of money for the chance to see them. On any given day Lamar Valley will host long lines of cars and people staring across the landscape looking for movement and a chance to see Canis lupus in the wild.
Yet over the past year, the governor of our state, a trapper and avid predator killer, Greg Gianforte, has made clear he does not care about tourism, he does not care that wolves bring much needed economic relief to our state (numbers show close to 60 million a year), instead he has led the way by killing a collared wolf Max last spring on the border of Yellowstone. Long known for his bully tendencies, Gianforte seems all too impressed with trappers and longs to satisfy their every need. Using his newly appointed Game Commission he removed protections from the borders of Yellowstone, which has resulted this year in the killing of more wolves than any year since their reintroduction, more than 20 as of last count. The entire Phantom Lake pack of 13 has been destroyed by hunters.
These hunters used a bison carcass that they placed on the border of the park to draw the wolves out of the park to their slaughter. This is not the action of sportsmen, but of simple killers. It seems today in Montana it is a point of pride in some circles to kill a Yellowstone wolf.
Like our governor, our Democratic Sen. Jon Tester continues to be a serious roadblock for wolf protection. It was Tester in 2011 who cajoled President Obama to delist wolves in a rider to an appropriations bill. That removed federal protections for the wolf and placed it in the states’ hands. As a result this year more than 496 wolves have been killed in Idaho and here in Montana the killing is at 158 reported, because despite a $500 bounty for killing wolves ($1000 in Idaho), not all killing is reported, so the numbers could be much higher. Some scientists estimate for every wolf killed and reported, another is killed without reporting. We have at best only 1,200 in the state. In Idaho they may be close to erasing wolves altogether.
In Yellowstone, the worries are growing as the park is now down to 94 wolves as of this posting with trapping season going into high gear.
Tester is now moving on his next project, pushing to have Martha Williams become the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife agency. Williams is not suited for the role as she lacks the credentials needed for the position that include a college degree in wildlife management. As a lawyer for many years, she grew up playing polo in Virginia and was a law professor at the University of Montana before she was tapped by a Democratic Governor Bullock to take over the state’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks agency. In that role she did nothing to stop the wolf killings; she promoted delisting grizzly bears and had her own ideas about the endangered species act. All of which made our Republican Sen. Steve Daines, a senator committed to delisting bears and who is allergic to environmental protections of any kind, is all too happy to support this nomination.
In a state blessed with endangered species such as lynx and grizzlies, pine marten and otters, we have leaders that treat wildlife as an afterthought. Its better dead than alive, what else can explain such backwater thinking that allows our state legislature to control wildlife management, our senators to believe that using a wavier to appoint someone unqualified to run such an important agency is doing well for wildlife?
As the wolves continue to be slaughtered at the gates of Yellowstone and across the state, the anger continues to grow, the mindset of wildlife management in Montana continues to plow into the 1880s rather than the 21 century. The question remains who is there to support our wolves?
The answer is millions of people across this nation, the world and our state who continue to write, call and demand action. The Interior Secretary remains silent, The Biden Administration seems oblivious to the political gain such protections would bring from their base, pushing forward with Sen. Manchin, while a political victory is within reach by relisting wolves.
While the wolves are resilient, they are being tortured in traps, their packs being stressed and completely disrupted, yet no one seems to understand that these vital animals are being torn apart by such cruel and dishonorable methods.
Like Jan. 6, our nation is witnessing another attack on the integrity of our nation, the destruction of the sanctity of a park, and the wholesale slaughter of a species that should never be happening in this 21st century.
Wolves belong in Montana, in Idaho and across our western lands. They keep the lands healthy and deer and elk populations flourishing. Yet like the 1880s they remain for the ignorant, a flashpoint in the civil war that divides rural and urban, livestock interests vs. conservation efforts.
It’s time for action for the wolves are losing this battle and so are we, if we believe in the soul of our nation. The uncivil war on wolves must be stopped.
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.