Wolf Hatred is a Gateway to Bigotry

Hate and intolerance are the underlying themes of the philosophies and motivations anti-wolf folks exhibit

(This a PG-13 rated article. We purposely omitted profanity laced posts, death threats, and pictures of blood and gore because we feel that the evidence of bigotry is obvious and the need for action compelling.)

In late December an “event page” on facebook was attacked. The page was celebrating a prayer vigil for wolves that was to be held in Salem, Oregon. And the attackers swooped down electronically the day after the event and filled the page with bloody pictures of wolf kills and fetal deer purported to have been “aborted” by wolves. The action was disturbing and eerily like the protests held by the Westboro Baptist Church, where they show up where they are not wanted and act in the most offensive and inappropriate manner possible.

artwork depicting a Santa Claus figure shooting a wolf from his sleigh“Cartoon” from Save Western Wildlife’s Facebook page

The Westboro mob is classified as a hate group and rightfully so. They—like the anti-wolf folks—are generally overflowing with unbridled faith, strongly held opinions and self-righteousness and somewhat bereft of relevant education, understanding, or any form of tolerance or compassion. Both groups are classic bigots in that they hold unfounded and yet deep beliefs and will not let facts or reason dissuade them from dishing out broadsides of vitriol towards the object of their scorn whether it be homosexuals, people of color, members of other religions or wolves.

Is Wolf Hatred Gateway Bigotry?

Do I go too far in linking bigotry against wolves with the same attitudes against individuals and sectors of the human population? I don’t think so. Studies have conclusively linked animal abuse to child abuse, domestic violence and even serial killing. The experts assert that these acts are all parts of the same dangerous syndrome. I strongly suspect that bigotry is a related syndrome and behaves the same way. And I have seen enough human-directed bigotry—mainly racial, anti-Semitic and life-style directed—on the facebook pages of these anti-wolf actors and their compatriots to think that, once started, predator bigotry translates quite easily across the wildlife-to-human spectrum.

Science is Not a Religion and Opinions are not Facts

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“Now that the offices of the Babylonian Pope almost completely rules this planet through his many countless satellite corporations he doesn’t need to keep building his American Army for world conquest. Now that he believes he is finally close to the completion of his 12th Crusade in 2000 years where he attains Mount Moriah, removes that filthy Dome of the Rock Mosque, and rebuilds Solomon’s Third Temple to rule this Worldly system from. He can cull his American herds. thats you and me Bob, and our children. Thats his sciences you’re pushing, all nice and pretty, why everyone should just love saving the Mother, returning Mother to her once Pristine wild natural Garden of Eden, the counterfeit eden. Where all the non believing atheist and real Bible believing heretics starve to death. It’s just brilliant. Do you get the hint? Do you see what’s been going on while you had your head stuck in those bushes observing how some nature works? The rest of the story Bob. This world has a rest of the story. What the hell do you think all of those papal serving 30th through 33rd degree initiated Masonic political hacks have been doing all of these years? You want us to believe in his garbage nature worship?”

—(Skinny Moose Blog January 7, 2013)

The above is a post from Greg Farber in response to statement about public land ownership, wolves and science. Mr. Farber is a plumber and wolf hater who posts regularly on the Skinny Moose Blog and elsewhere under various aliases such as Rattler Rider and Sawtooth Rider. Because of rants like the one above Mr. Farber has been banned from posting on The Wildlife News.

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Wolf-haters—like climate change deniers—are people of faith rather than reason. Are these generalizations justified? All I can say are the trends are strong and consistent. For example, they tend to believe and frequently promote ideas such as reducing environmental protections and waiting for trickle-down economics to work because they have been told these actions will improve their financial conditions, though studies and experience indicate exactly the opposite.

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They also strongly subscribe to the notion that more guns in the US will make them safer and more secure when numbers and a simple scanning of current events indicate that a well-armed US is decidedly less safe. Across the board these brave souls generally responded to the recent tragedy in Connecticut with calls to arm teachers and reminders to their compatriots to stock up on certain weapons before it was too late.

Moreover, they seem to have some sort of intellectual equivalent to a semi-permeable membrane that only allows them to believe reports and studies that indicate that wolves are devastating deer, elk and moose populations as well as reducing their personal safety. In all of this they tend to select which “experts” to believe based on the how well those experts agree with their preconceived ideas just as they would select a preacher based on their perception of god and various religious tenets. As a result, the wolf-haters end up being deeply devoted to a rag-tag group of fringe commentators or contrarian scientists and everyone who disagrees with them or their champions is either stupid, on drugs, or blinded by the “green” or “liberal” media.

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What the anti-wolf crowd cannot win via honest and fact-based debate is achieved through insult, bullying and threat. They are emboldened in this approach by the successes they achieve when rolling out their tortured arguments on like-minded forums such as the Skinny Moose site where they are thick as fleas. In contrast, where they are largely absent are from forums occupied by working wildlife biologists such as The Wildlife Society, Society for Conservation Biology, and Wildlife Professionals discussion groups on LinkedIn. I suspect that their absence has to do with past responses they have received from folks with grounding in science and tendencies toward respectful and analytical debate.

The Raiders and Their Colleagues

There were a handful of folks who aggressively invaded the facebook event page, which was eventually taken down. The core perpetrators were Scott Rockholm, Chandie Morse Bartell, and Bill Kelly. These are names known to people working on wolves who have suffered through venomous dialogues with these anti-wolf zealots who can selectively quote chapter and verse from flawed reports or irrelevant studies, but like what we classically envision as Bible-thumpers do so with self-interest at the forefront and little understanding of actual meaning or context.

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Scott Rockholm is the producer/director of the documentary/fantasy film called Yellowstone is Dead. Scott is a native Californian who now lives in Sand Point, Idaho. He runs the Rockholm Media Group and also is the President and CEO of Save Western Wildlife (see below) which purports to be about saving wildlife in the West as well as the Western culture and lifestyle. SWW claims to be a non-profit and is registered in Idaho but has not developed a website and has not apparently posted their tax information with the IRS. And just how far out there do you have to be to have David Allen feel obligated to distance himself from you?

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Chandie Morse Bartell is a prolific anti-wolf poster who has a degree in elementary education, taught young children in Potlatch, Idaho and boasts that her third grade teacher in Idaho had them sing Dixie after they did the Pledge of Allegiance each morning. She is clearly carrying on that legacy of intolerance and anti-federal sentiment that she learned so many years ago. And nowhere is that illustrated more strongly than in her nearly constant stream of anti-wolf and pro-gun comments on her facebook page and on a multitude of electronic forums in the Rockies. Her facebook page is a who’s who of the anti-wolf crowd including No Wolves and the apply named Antiwolf Nut as well as Tony Mayer convicted elk poacher and anti-wolf activist of saveelk.com fame.

“If us pushing that wolf back over to be shot in idaho works.. we will continue to push many more back for the shooters. hell we will even pay for the ammo. ha ha ha ha.”

—Bill Kelly

Bill Kelly claims to have been educated by Mafia Wars which rings true when you read the above quote in reference to a collared wolf that migrated from Oregon where is was legally protected to Idaho where it is not. His suggestion of “pushing” Oregon wolves to Idaho for slaughter probably makes sense in Mafia Wars where laws and illegalities are likely encouraged.

When we take the time to understand the philosophies and motivations of the above exhibited on their facebook pages and elsewhere, the underlying themes are of hate and intolerance. We also find that they are mostly high school educated or hold undergraduate degrees in fields little relevant to understanding the complex mechanisms of predator-prey relationships, trophic cascades, gene-flow, experimental design and the subtleties of concepts such as niches, hyper-volumes, biological potential, carrying capacity, and compensatory versus additive predation. In fact, they tend to hold those educated in the field in low regard calling them “eggspurts.” They also all seem to be friends with Robert T. Fanning—the failed anti-wolf gubernatorial candidate in Montana and driver behind the wolf hate group, The Friends of the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd and they are all white (i.e., Caucasian).

Save Western Wildlife

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The above comment stream–again a PG-13 selection–was taken from the Save Western Wildlife facebook page and these were in response to a news story on wolves that were illegally killed in Wyoming. Save Western Wildlife (SWW) was founded in 2010. The three founders were Scott Rockholm, Frederic C. Rockholm Jr. and Todd Fross. Scott and Frederic are brothers originally from California now living in Sand Point, Idaho and Mr. Fross is a trapper and the ranch manager of the Broken Anvil Ranch in Lander, Wyoming. The sole actions of this organization seem to be Scott Rockholm’s public advocacy/attacks on various policies and people and the dialogs on the SWW facebook page. The tenor and content of the discussions on the SWW facebook page are disturbing as the site seems to attract the worst of the anti-wolf, anti-science and anti-government camps. Regular posters range from biblical stewardship advocate and former USFS employee Steve Busch to a whole host of posters who seem only capable of typing phrases that all translate to “kill all wolves.” The irony of a biblical stewardship advocate condemning conservation biology as a green religion is sweet on some level, but viewing the number of people drawn to this site who define themselves, in part, by the weapons they carry or the animals they kill or hate should be deeply sobering.

Koch Brothers Jump Into the Fray

photo of people having a drink in the back of a limousineDavid Spady in a more typical costume.

As if the above was not enough, the California Chapter of Americans for Prosperity —a Koch Brothers founded and funded astro-turf front group—recently released a laughably deceptive anti-wolf video. In this piece Chapter Executive Director and Fox News darling, David Spady, dons a trendy ski cap and flannel shirt  in a transparent effort to exude an “everyman” appeal. And then in his manufactured casualness he spews scripted misinformation at a machinegun pace.

I am sure that some creative college student will design a drinking game around this video where sips are taken whenever Mr. Spady utters an untruth, makes a mistake or constructs an illogical statement in this propaganda piece. I would argue against this approach, because the exposure is dangerously high.

Certainly there are the obvious factual faux pas like claiming that cattle actually help reduce the impacts of climate change or that grazing does not impact water quality, wildlife and erosion rates. The mistakes are interesting too from confusing Oregon State University with University of Oregon and talking about something called “greenhouse warming” to claiming that the environmental community wants to recover wolves so that they eat cattle and curtail global warming. What?

The tortured illogic is entertaining as well particularly the argument about “trespassing” wolves. Trespassing is a human construct and all wildlife species are allowed to go where they go. Characterizing it as a threat to private landowners is expressly designed to push the buttons of the property rights crowd but is logically problematic as wolves in California are likely to focus their activities on large areas of public lands and tend to avoid settled areas. When searches are made for suitable wolf habitat, areas with people and roads are ruled out. It is also interesting given the shared roots of AFP and the Tea Party that AFP would carry the water for the heavily subsidized livestock industry.

The Hunting Community Must Police Itself to Survive

Roughly 6% of the US population over 16 years of age hunts. While that percentage rises sharply in rural areas where they sometimes close high schools on the opening day of deer season, it still means that 94% of the eligible population in the US does not hunt. In my mind that means that hunters—including myself—need to be very cautious that our “brand” is not compromised by yahoos like those profiled above who seem to shoot everything and think that Fair Chase and other hunter’s ethics do not apply to them or where predators are involved. Perhaps—if their goal is to continue to enjoy permission and support from the 94% non-hunters—legitimate hunting groups might want to work harder on mechanisms that focus on the quality of new hunters recruited rather than quantity.

In truth, while these “slob hunters” and thrill killers bolster hunter numbers they likely do more harm than good. On a related note, hunters also need to deal with the very real issue of poachers and poaching—which may or may not be related to these outliers and their utter contempt for science, Fair Chase, wildlife agency employees and laws. This situation is somewhat similar to issues that surround the martial arts field where the vast majority of practitioners enter martial arts training for the defensive reasons or because of the spiritual aspects of the discipline and there are those that gravitate towards martial arts because they want to be able hurt others. These anti-wolf folks have much in common with the latter example.

There Remain Ethical and Appreciative Hunters

After plowing through the ignorance and intolerance of the above group and their allies, it was refreshing to see a piece where the hunter involved appreciated his encounter with a competing predator and his first thought was not one of how he could blast it into the next county. Nor was he jumping forward to have himself photographed with his prey and speculating about which taxidermist to use or what wall space remained open. Regardless of how one feels about hunting, having this type of hunter in the field seems much preferable to one driven by hate.

With the Wolf the Federal Government Must Play Parent

Excerpt from Endangered Species Act:

To be considered for listing, the species must meet one of five criteria (section 4(a)(1)):

  1. There is the present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range.
  2. An over utilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes.
  3. The species is declining due to disease or predation.
  4. There is an inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms.
  5. There are other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence. (Emphasis added)

I once met with a group of Japanese environmental activists visiting the US to gain insights. One of the concepts that was most difficult for them to understand was the interplay between state and federal governments. The analogy that finally worked with them and their interpreter was describing the federal government as a “backstop.” They were clearly baseball fans and got the analogy quickly. In retrospect I should have said parent rather than backstop because the federal government needs to be proactive rather than passive.

In short, the federal government has to act like the adult in the room. And with the wolf that means honestly addressing the damage that has been done by these folks and others who have worked diligently to sink the wolf recovery program under a mountain of myths and unfounded fear. These are hate groups and they need to be treated as such. Moreover, the damage they have done through their actions must be properly addressed and treated like any other habitat challenge. Yes it is difficult and these individuals and groups are dogged in their pursuit of a wolf-free world, but these anti-wolf efforts are “manmade factors” that materially affect the continued existence of the wolf. 

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While there can be debate about the appropriate legal mechanism to solve this serious issue it seems obvious that it needs to be federal or perhaps even international in nature; state performance on this issue has been largely inadequate as they seem more victims of the phenomenon than correctors. The state wildlife agencies are also driven by wildlife commissioners that often have political rather than scientific agendas which makes it unlikely that continued wolf recovery becomes a state priority . One promising approach that we are seeing in the European Union (EU) is something known as “favourable conservation status” which is applied to species of “community interest.” In the EU wolves fall under this classification and the status requires that the species are looked at across boundaries and that analyses such as minimum population viability analyses are undertaken and that those studies drive management.

We at Cascadia Wildlands are interested in this approach and are hosting a panel at the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference here in Eugene at the end of February to explore this concept and also others to address the future status of wolves. Our own legal fellow Tamara Schiff will present a paper and hopefully some of the concepts introduced will help the US Fish and Wildlife as they complete their own examination of the future of wolves in the West. We know that no approach will ultimately be successful unless it includes aggressive and concrete steps to address the propaganda campaign that has been waged against wolves.

Looking to Get Informed and Take Action?
Additional Reading on Federal Wolf Reclassification and Organized Anti-Wolf Propaganda:
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