Reprinted with permission for
Boulder-White Clouds Council.
Wolves as "wildlife terrorists."
A wolf terrorist? That's
idiocy, but some people believe it. Why?
December 22, 2002
By Ralph Maughan
Most biologists I know just want to dismiss Ron Gillette and the
Central Idaho Anti-wolf Coalition. The response is that these arguments
are so absurd they don't dignify a response. This is typical of many
people with scientific training, but they should consider that some people
insist that the earth is flat, and that "round-earthers" are dupes or part
of a great conspiracy.
Unfortunately, political arguments often have appeal not because they are
correct or logical, or have any correspondence with the facts. They have
appeal because people feel a certain way, and want someone to tell them a
story that will serve to give their feelings a justification. Each side on
an issue, tends to produce a story justifying their pre-existing
viewpoint. These stories about government policies, "policy narratives"
must be dealt with because, while they won't produce converts, they can
convince the undecided, including public officials trying to maximize
their political opportunities.
Fortunately, there is little psychological disposition nowadays to listen
to the "flat-earthers." There is a disposition to listen to anti-wolf
arguments, and these arguments have made their way to USA Today,
and the story is being picked up by local and weekly papers, many of which
do not appear on the Internet.
This story got started in an AP article by Dan Gallagher. The article
appeared in the Twin Falls Time News, a paper known for its hard
core advocacy of the old mining, logging, and grazing, mythic Idaho.
However, The Times News version did run a point-by-point rebuttal
of Gillette by Ed Bangs. See this article:
It is interesting how Bang's rebuttal disappeared in the USA Today
Gillette recently came to Pocatello and participated in a debate
with Carter Niemeyer, USFWS wolf coordinator for Idaho, myself, Bob Loucks,
who was on the committee that developed the Idaho State wolf plan, and Jon
Marvel, executive director, of the Western Watersheds Project.
Gillette's arguments that evening were similar as reported in the AP
Wolves are hurting "mom-and-pop" businesses across
central Idaho. The wolves will kill all of the prey first, then they
will kill all the other predators, then they will kill and eat each
other. Wolves are "wildlife terrorists" and "land piranhas."
Hunters who stay in my [Gillette's] cabins (Triangle C)
in Stanley, Idaho say they won't come back because wolves have killed
all the elk.
Val Geist, who is the "Michael Jordan" of big game
biologists doesn't like wolves.
Wolf advocates are "carpetbaggers." This argument played
badly in Pocatello, Idaho when stated by someone from Stanley, Idaho;
but it might sound reasonable to someone in Georgia or Kansas reading
about the controversy.
In Pocatello, Gillette said that wolves were not "this
mystical family group where only the alphas breed and have pups." He
said that it turns out that most of the females in a pack have pups, and
so the number of wolves explodes "like rabbits in Australia."
Behind all of this argument was the unstated view that
wolves will proliferate without limit until they finally cannibalize
themselves. The potency of some form of this argument can be seen in
recent statements by the Wyoming Game and Fish Commissioners, and
Montana Governor Judy Martz. It was evident in the AP article where
Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner "Alex Irby of Orofino sees the effort
extending years into the future, while the growing wolf packs further
decimate his region's once-plentiful elk herds." Irby was talking about
the expected lawsuit to prevent delisting of the wolf. He obviously
thinks wolf numbers will continue to grow so as to "further decimate"
elk herds (although once something is decimated it is hard to see how it
can be further decimated).
Finally, Gillette argued that Idaho wolves are extinct,
and that the reintroduced "Canadian" wolves weighed 20 pounds more than
the extinct Idaho wolves and were more aggressive. "They are an exotic
species." This is a very common argument in Western anti-wolf circles.
There were a few contradictions In Pocatello, Gillette
said he didn't outfit for elk hunters, and "didn't care if he ever
killed another elk." In the AP article, Gillette was turned into an elk
outfitter. In Pocatello he said he did some outfitting for bighorn sheep
hunters and ran float trips down the upper Salmon River.
In response to Gilette and another quoted member of the
Central Idaho Anti-wolf Coalition, the AP article quoted Ed Bangs,
Northern Rockies Wolf Recovery coordinator.
"Here are some claims by Ron Gillett of the Central
Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition and responses by federal wolf recovery
coordinator Ed Bangs:
* Species distinction
Gillett -- The wolves introduced into Idaho, Wyoming and
Montana are exotic Canadian gray wolves. Idaho's gray wolves are
extinct. The Canadian strain is larger and more aggressive.
Bangs -- Wolves travel across the border all the time.
Canadian and American gray wolves are the same creature.
* Killing instinct
Gillett -- Each wolf kills up to 24 game animals a year,
kills twice that many for the sport of it, and also follows elk herds,
killing calves immediately after birth.
Bangs -- Each wolf kills the equivalent of 12 cow elk a
year. In Idaho, that would be about 16 ungulates -- elk and deer. Wolves
very occasionally kill more than they eat, but sport killing is a
popular myth. Some wolves are killed each year by being kicked by elk.
* Eating habits
Gillett -- Wolves kill the big-game animals in an area,
then other predators and finally cannibalize other wolves.
Bangs -- Wolves kill enough to eat. They limit their
concentrations to about 10 wolves in 300 square miles. They move to new
areas rather than crowd one place. They are not cannibals."
Anyone who follows our wolf web site knows the Central
Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition's arguments as stated above are absurd, but why
are they believed at all? I have some suggestions, and the way to defuse
the potency of this anti-wolf story must understand the social and
psychological causes of the desire to believe them.
1. The interior West is undergoing rapid economic and social change and
many people, especially in rural communities need a story that explains
why commodity prices are low, why the government sells less timber than it
once did, why wealthy people from elsewhere are buying up land and
building big houses on it, and why their children are moving away. In
addition, some hunters always need an explanation why they didn't get
their animal, or at least the kind of elk or deer they wanted. It is
easier to blame others than themselves for failure and easier take credit
for their hunting prowess when they are successful.
2. There is rural tradition of managing nature which places no value on
unmanaged nature. One popular Idaho bumper sticker says "Idaho, the
Wilderness State." Another sticker, more popular in rural areas reads
"Wilderness. Land of no use." From my first public meeting on these issues
in Idaho (in the 1970s) I noticed various forms of the argument that
nature is about to get out of hand or nature only exists because we have
managed it through our hard work and that of our ancestors.
3. Much of the change in the rural West is due to overgrazing, coupled
with a tremendous move into concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs),
overcutting of timber, and the interior West's inherently unproductive
land and resulting unprofitable operations when government subsidies are
withdrawn. In fact, this argument is talking place all over the world with
the massive globalization of the economy, including agriculture.
These arguments are not well received among many rural
folks. First of all, it says they don't manage the land well. A
corollary is that killing off the wolves was bad. Thus, restoring wolves
is an insult to their ancestors. Secondly, it says their ancestors
settled in a bad (an unproductive) place. Generations of Western movies
(that which counts culturally) says it was tremendously productive land.
Third, adopting this argument means going up against powerful local
economic interests because few rural people own farms and ranches. Many
are employees who could lose their jobs if they criticize. It takes much
less courage to blame outsiders and environmentalists (who apparently
all live in the Eastern United States.). Finally, arguments about
globalization are too abstract and diffuse. There is no one really to
blame in globalization. Blaming "tree-huggers" is more satisfying.
While the West is not a rural place anymore (Nevada is the
most urbanized state), many residents of Western cities are only a
generation away from the rural areas, and they identify with these
arguments although they haven't the slightest interest in returning to the
rural life. As Professor Patricia Limerick told a recent social science
conference, there are far more cowboy hats and boots per capita in Denver
than on Colorado farms and ranches.
These are the roots of anti-wolf sentiment in the West, and facts about
wolves won't change these roots. However, those with another story, who
favor wolves, favor nature, value natural wildlife, and want to live to
harmony with it, not crush it or commodify it, need skill and more
resources to win over the undecided. They also need to understand the
social, cultural, and economic roots of anti-wolf arguments so to better
hone their own.