A bloodbath is underway in the northern Rocky Mountains as hunters there relentlessly target wolf packs in the region.
In April, Congress removed gray wolves in the northern Rockies from Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection. Since then, Idaho and Montana have sold nearly 37,000 wolf tags for fall hunts. As of November 11, some 114 wolves had been shot in Idaho, and 67 in Montana. Idaho plans to continue hunting through the winter of 2012, and will allow the state’s estimated 700 to 1,000 wolves to be reduced to no more than 150. If hunters and trappers fail to destroy enough, state officials promise to launch airborne search and destroy operations. Montana officials recently extended wolf season from the end of December to January 31, 2012 in hopes of killing 220 of their estimated 556 to 645 wolves. In Wyoming, Governor Matt Mead recently signed an agreement with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar that will protect a remnant population of 100 to 150 to survive near Yellowstone National Park, but allow wolves to be classified as vermin and shot-on-sight in 80 percent of the state; hunts could begin there next spring.
The recent anti-wolf campaign represents an extraordinary cultural and political victory by the far-right wing in the Rocky Mountains. A loose coalition of some ranchers, hunters, and anti-government zealots demonized the gray wolves reintroduced to Montana and Idaho from Canada in the mid 1990s by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. They cast the animals as huge, aggressive, disease-ridden monsters bent on ravaging livestock, elk, deer, and even people. Wolves became symbolic representations of the hated federal government (see my story, “Cry, Wolf” in the Summer 2011 issue of EIJ ). In time, both the mainstream Republican and Democratic Parties came to accept this vision of demonic wolves invading from Canada.
In April, 2011, Senator John Tester, Democrat of Montana, facing a tough 2012 reelection challenge from Republican Congressman Denny Rehberg, led a campaign among fellow Democrats to remove gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act using a federal budget bill rider, while Idaho’s Congressman Mike Simpson did the same among House Republicans. The rider passed with little dissent, marking the first time a species has been removed from the protections of the Endangered Species Act by Congress.
Almost immediately several national and regional conservation groups — the Alliance for a Wild Rockies, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of Animals, and WildEarth Guardians — filed suit in federal court. Their attorneys charge that because the 2011 budget rider did not change the language of the Endangered Species Act, Congress unconstitutionally intervened in the judiciary. The rider overturned a 2010 decision by federal judge Donald Molloy in Missoula that the original 2009 delisting of wolves by the US Wildlife Service violated the ESA by illegally subdividing Idaho and Montana from Wyoming. In Judge Molloy’s ruling, all three states — with some 1,600 wolves — comprise what the law calls a “distinct population segment.”
Wolf advocates brought their new case to Judge Molloy’s court in July, 2011. He ruled against them, saying that the Ninth Circuit had restrained him with a binding precedent concerning Congressional powers. At the same time, he encouraged his decision to be appealed. On November 8, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals began hearings in Pasadena, California. Proceedings and a subsequent legal ruling are expected to take months. Plaintiffs have asked three times for the court to issue a temporary injunction stopping the wolf hunts while the case is being heard. The court has twice declined, and is currently considering the third request.
Back in the Rockies, the hunts grind away, fueled by government bureaucracies and state politicians that employ bizarre language ranging from technocratic euphemisms to bad-boy naughtiness and vicious joy at the killings. In Idaho, the wolves aren’t being hunted but are instead “harvested,” with a new body count posted each day on the state’s official “Wolf Harvest” website. “It’s as if wolves aren’t sentient, intelligent animals, but are instead potatoes,” one wolf advocate notes. Another Idaho activist’s research analyzing the state’s “Big Game Mortality Reports” shows that 29 percent of the wolves killed so far are juveniles and puppies.
In Montana, Ravalli County Republicans staged a “SSS raffle” that awarded the winner a rifle characterized as a “home defense weapon,” camouflage backpack, folding shovel, roll of duck tape, and the “first ever Wolf Cookbook.” Their website explains that SSS refers to “Security, Safety and Survival,” but “shhhh, don’t tell anyone, it’s really Shoot, Shovel, and Shutup.” Also, no one eats wolves. In fact, Montana passed a law saying hunters don’t even need to touch the wolves they kill, but can instead leave them there to rot, because they’re thought to be too disease ridden with tapeworms. Previous legislation required hunters to bring in the pelt and head.
Democratic Senator Max Baucus, thrilled at the testing of a new pilotless drone aircraft manufactured in Montana, issued a statement in early November declaring, “ Our troops rely on this type of technology every day and there is an enormous future potential in border security, agriculture, and wildlife and predator management.” A manufacturer’s representative claimed his company’s drone “can tell the difference between a wolf and a coyote.”
One can only hope that the war against wolves is so outrageous that it becomes obvious it’s not wolves that have become demonic, but rather people. Until that understanding occurs, and policies change, at least the slain animals can be remembered.
Read James William Gibson’s writings at jameswilliamgibson.com