This is my original article before it ran through an editor and was published in the Planet JH.
THE GRAND TEACHER or THE BIG BAD WOLF?
By Claudia Turner
One in 55,000
Take a trip to Ravendale, in northeast California, and you will find a population of 36 and a lot of backcountry. There’s also one advocacy group composed of “spokesman” Roger Dobson and his ranch. In April, the ranch- 40 acres two hours north of Reno- was purchased as a future sanctuary for gray wolves. The tribal advocacy group has members across the country, but now its roots are in Ravendale, headed by Dobson, the President of the Protect the Wolves Pack, and his partner, Patricia Herman, the President of the Protect the Wolves Sanctuary. They’re in the process of registering the group as a 501c4 (a social welfare organization). Dobson, an ex-marine and member of the Washington state Cowlitz tribe, says the advocacy group’s primary focus is protecting wolves also all of the animals considered “sacred” to Native American tribes.
Dobson says in Idaho and Montana alone, hundreds of gray wolves were slaughtered and maimed in traps during hunting season, and hunters and trappers have killed over 4000 gray wolves in the lower 48 states since 2011. Dobson’s vision is to protect sacred animals but also educate “the masses” on the importance of protecting wildlife and their natural habitat.
We are often in the hands of the masses: shoppers, hunters, politicians, bureaucrats. Can they grasp the idea that something wild could be precious and something precious could be- with one minor change- on the verge of destruction? As stated by Delice Calcote, Executive Director for the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council, “Tribal Nations and peoples believe that we are connected to the wildlife, to the plant life, to the lifeways in the waterways and airways. Our ancient historical creation stories and legends, spiritual beliefs include the important that the wolf has here on our Earth Mother.” Dobson notes that it is a complex interplay between people and wild species and wants to emphasize implementation of safe travel regulations for the protection of wildlife, including setting traffic speed limits in highly migrated wildlife corridors.
While Protect the Wolves currently has no staff in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, it does have “tribal endorsements” throughout North America. The Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes are still evaluating the proposal to make a buffer zone, while Protect the Wolves is working to build protections in Idaho and Montana as well. Dobson says that these areas are ruled by ranchers and government officials who make decisions with rancher mentality, and that is “cattle are good, and wolves are bad”. Basically, he says “sacred” is not in their vocabulary when it comes to wildlife.
The War on Wolves
In January, the GOP introduced a Senate bill nicknamed, “The War on Wolves Act.” If it passed S.164 would remove ESA protections from wolves in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Great Lakes democratic Senators Klobuchar and Baldwin joined republican Senators Barrasso and Enzi from Wyoming as cosponsors on the bill to kick wolves off the endangered species list. As Leda Huta of the Huffington Post said, “The War on Wolves Act isn’t just bad news for wolves, it’s also bad news for the Endangered Species Act.
In 1995, eight gray wolves were brought by truck from Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada, to Yellowstone. The population has since grown to an estimated 100 wolves. Since the reintroduction, wolves have kept the elk populations down, which in turn keep their damage on forests down, which allows aspen and willow to thrive. In turn, beaver populations have increased, dam production has returned to normal, and river patterns have improved. Thanks to the return of the wolves to Yellowstone, and contrary to the myths of the Big Bad Wolf and the critiques of the GOP and ranchers, an equilibrium has returned to the Yellowstone ecosystem.
However, since wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone by U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and managed by FWS in other regions, wolves are strongly associated with “the feds” and deeply despised by those who hate any and all things that are considered federal. S.164 passed its first Senate reading and is still under review while wolves are once again off the Endangered Species List and in the hands of the state.
(Above: Doug Smith with wolf sedated for collaring)
History of wolves in Yellowstone
The gray wolf was removed from the endangered species list on April 25th of this year. This means management of the species is now led by the state of Wyoming, and subject to Wyoming statutes and commission regulations.
When Yellowstone National Park was created in 1872, the gray wolf (Canis lupus) populations were already in decline in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. The creation of the national park did nothing to protect the wolves and government predator control programs in the first decades of the 1900s essentially helped eliminate the gray wolf from Yellowstone. The last wolves were killed in Yellowstone in 1926.
Not until the 1940s did park managers, biologists, conservationists and environmentalists begin the foundation of a campaign to reintroduce the gray wolf to Yellowstone. When the Endangered Species Act of 1973 was passed, legal reintroduction was on the way, and in 1995, gray wolves were first reintroduced into Yellowstone in the Lamar Valley.
Reintroducing wolves is infinitely more dangerous than preserving them. In 1995 and 1996, 31 wolves were brought by truck into Yellowstone from Canada. Today there are roughly 100 wolves in the park. “Yellowstone is the best place in the world to view wolves,” said Doug Smith, wolf biologist and project leader of the Yellowstone Wolf Restoration Project. Today there are about 60,000 gray wolves living in Alaska and Canada, 3,500 gray wolves in the Great Lakes, and an estimated 1,700 in the Western states of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon and Washington.
There’s method in the madness
In a 2016 BBC article by Niki Rust, points out studies in which culling (selectively hunting) was allowed in the United States. Culling was used to eliminate wolves suspected of attacking livestock or that were perceived as threats to human safety, even though there never has been a record of a person attacked by a wild wolf in either Wisconsin or Michigan. The study showed that wolf populations continued to grow unless culling was allowed, and then populations slowed by one-third. Therefore, the idea that “allowing hunting will increase tolerance and consequently decrease poaching” is “one of the most widespread assumptions in large carnivore management,” says Jose Vicente Lopez-Bao of La Universidad de Oviedo, in Spain. “However, these authors show the opposite.”
Adrian Treves, PhD Associate Professor of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin- Madison, offered a possible explanation. “If poachers see the government killing a protected species, they may say to themselves, ‘well I can do that too’,” he says. Treves, a Harvard graduate in human evolutionary biology, began studying wolves in 1999 and 2000, when a pile of data on wolves was thrown onto his desk for analysis. He read hunter and rancher complaints, participated in focus groups, and ecological and biological data on the wolves. The Carnivore Coexistence Lab was founded in 2007, to study large predator animals like big cats, bears and wolves, and their interactions with humans. There have been two essential takes from nearly twenty years of research. First, managers aren’t following peoples’ actual tolerance when hunting is legalized or liberalized. Research shows that when hunting is liberalized, poaching increases and political calls to increase hunting increase. Secondly, the primary cause of mortality, poaching has been misidentified or mismeasured.
How is this possible? Traditional methods make two errors: simple algebraic errors and errors in estimation when scientists and government agents underestimate the effects of poaching. Radio collaring is the typical proactive method for following the “known fate” of a wolf’s life and death, and the theory is great but every study has shown that marked animals are consistently lost, and managers and scientists traditionally assumed that these missing radio-collared wolves’ fates were the same as known fates. Algebra errors come from assuming that causes of death are same in unknown fates as known fates, because legal killing has to be reported but none of the unknown fates are legal kills. To assume unknown fates are same as known is simply false, Treves says. “Managers and scientists in the past who reported poaching never asked what had happened to unknown fates.” Two possibilities are death by natural causes and illegal killing. Treves studied all four endangered wolf populations, including the population in the northern Rockies, and found legal killing had been over-estimated while poaching had been under-estimated by wide margins.
In 2010, wolf biologist Doug Smith, who was studying Yellowstone’s restored predators, published a mortality pattern that said legal killing was the major cause of death in the wolf populations. Reexamining the math, Treves found that poaching was in fact the primary cause of death for the entire wolf population, “when we properly included the unknown fates”. Legal death fell to third. So what happens when conservationists don’t identity the worst threat to a species? “By misidentifying the major cause of death for Northern Rockies wolves, they didn’t intervene against the real worst threat,” Treves says. Imagine police officers patrolling the streets for shoplifters when looting is the real problem.
Managers have great control over the fate of the wolves, and often they just aren’t paying attention. There’s an “institution inertia”, and new scientific documentation takes time to be considered. When I spoke to a tribal member about the wolves, to a spokesman for the U.S. National Park Service, and to Wyoming Game and Fish, none of them seemed aware of this study or interested in talking about it. When poaching is the worst threat, and the government response is to allow legalizing and liberalizing wolf-killing, history suggests that this will not only increase poaching but also worsen public opinion and the attitudes of politicians in relation to these animals.
There are, just in recent years, several cases of illegal hunting of wolves and grizzlies in and around Yellowstone. On April 11th, a popular 12-year-old white wolf was found illegally shot within the park grounds just outside of Gardiner, Montana. She was mortally injured and had to be euthanized. Jonathan Schafer, who works in Yellowstone National Park’s office of public affairs, says that the park has not taken a position on the proposed buffer zone, but they are strongly opposed to poaching and offering a $25,000 reward for a tip that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible for illegally shooting the wolf.
(Above: Dobson with friendly wolf)
Seven men and a plan
At present, wolf hunting is not allowed in the Trophy Game Management Area (TGMA), where the majority of Wyoming wolves live, and there is not an established hunting season in place. The WGFD will use the current Wolf population, biologist input, and build comment to develop new hunt area quotas and a draft hunting regulation. The deadline for public comment on Chapter 47, “Gray Wolf Hunting Seasons”, was on June 19th.
Renny MacKay is Communications Director for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, or WGFD. He says that there is a recommendation on how to regulate the wolves now that they are no longer on the Endangered Species Act. This recommendation is based on biologists and scientific studies and is structured on the goal of both protecting wolves and providing sport for hunters. Protect the Wolves would like to keep the removal of all hunting. MacKay says that they need to hear from everyone, and there are several advocacy groups, and thousands of commenters from ranchers, government officials, hunters and general citizens, weighing in. He says July 19th or 20th will be the deciding day, when a seven-member commission (appointed by the Governor, each member with a 6-year term) will review all of the comments on wolf regulations, and make a final decision on how to manage the current population in Wyoming.
Every year the department has a monitoring and management report for gray wolves as well as monthly updates on their conditions. The WGFD maintains approximately 413,000 acres of land, including nearly 225 miles of streams and over 148 miles of road rights-of-way. MacKay says that Protect the Wolves is just one of thousands of voices and all would have to be taken into consideration before any final decision could be made. However he added, WGFD did legal wolf management, and that he was proud of the work they had done, it was hard work and he was “honored to do it”. Dobson says that he doesn’t trust the Wyoming Game and Fish Department because they have called wolves “vermin” and completely ignore and bypass the “sacred” rights of the tribes.
Proposed buffer zone
A proposed buffer zone by Protect the Wolves would restrict wolf hunting in a 31-mile stretch from the border of northwest Wyoming and southwest Montana’s Yellowstone National Park. Critics of the plan have said that it betrays the public trust. Proponents have said that the public trust betrays the “sacred” rights of tribes, not to mention basic science and the belief that hunting will negatively impact not only the population of the wolves but the ecosystem.
The buffer zone request sent to the Wyoming Game and fish Department seeks temporary suspension of wolf hunting altogether along with the 31-mile “sacred resources protection safety zone”, along the outskirts of the 2.2-million acre park. When asked about this proposed zone, MacKay stressed that he no other comment other than to wait for public opinion. Dobson, in turn, hinted that it would be impossible to get a straight answer, but that “sacred” as often a term frowned upon by all sides for its emphasis on tribal beliefs.
When asked about the proposed buffer zone, United States Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY), said that wolves have been an issue “Wyoming has had to contend with ever since the federal government excised to reintroduce them to the state”. He said that everyone from Wyoming governors, state legislatures, federal government and stakeholders have worked hard to create a wolf management plan for Wyoming and that “The bottom line is that Wyoming should be in charge of Wyoming’s wildlife.”
The Grand Teacher
Native American traditions often depict the wolf as a Grand Teacher and a sage who returns after many years upon a sacred path to relay knowledge and wisdom to the tribe. “The gaze of the wolf reaches into your soul,” said naturalist and author Barry Lopez. Wolves are important in the history of almost all Native American tribes. They are considered closely related to humans, and loyal to their packs and mate. In Shoshone mythology, the wolf plays the role of the noble Creator. Some tribes have wolf clans, and there are wolf dances, totem poles with wolf carvings, and clan crests, for tribes for the Northwest coast, such as the Tlingit and Tsimshian.
In contrast, western folklore and idioms have a different outlook: Little Red Riding Hood and The Big Bad Wolf, The Big Bad Wolf and the Three Little Pigs, “Throw you to the wolves” and a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, the lone wolf, never cry wolf, a “growing youth has a wolf in his belly” and don’t “put one’s head in the wolf’s mouth”.
Protect the Wolves has been up against governors, senators, ranchers, hunters and businessmen. “It’s the typical 1800’s old rancher mentality. … Ranchers everywhere are the worst. They all have the same typical mentality: shoot, shovel, and shut up.” Dobson says a lot of people don’t like mixing Native American traditions with advocacy groups. “Leave your Indian stuff at home,” is what they are silently expressing. It’s a constant tug-of-war between what people want and what’s right. “I can network better by picking up the telephone and calling people.” He calls everybody- the head of the National Park Service, members of the Wyoming Fish and Game Department, Governor Matt Mead’s office, Senator Mike Enzi’s office, heads of the Northern Arapaho and Western Shoshone tribes. But he believes the general consensus among people is “don’t rock the boat”.
Sergio Maldonado is a committee member on the business council of the Northern Arapaho Tribe, is currently in conversation with the Committee Relations Service of the U.S. Department of Justice, the Northern Arapaho Business Council (NABC), and Wyoming Game and Fish, to discuss the best methods with which to manage the Wyoming wolf population. Maldonado is also state liaison for Governor Mead, though his duties will close at the end of June, as the Joint Appropriations Committee (JAC) cuts the budget by 50%. He stresses that he cannot speak on behalf of the tribe or Governor Mead, but rather his own personal opinion, which is that wolves have a place in the ecosystem and should be respected. When on tribal land, wolves are guaranteed protection from hunting or culling, but he realizes that wolves are predatory animals and prone to traveling long distances, and a management plan has to be set in place off tribal land that everyone can agree with and work together to implement.
Maldonado is concerned that Wyoming Game and Fish and others involved in the decision-making process, do not see wolves as “sacred” in a society where “Man has dominion over all things,” and a history of radically effecting the ecosystem on an international level, the effects of which are more visible every day. “On a genetic level [the wolves] haven’t forgotten.their treatment by man, and they keep their distance,” Maldonado says. He hopes that the wolves’ contribution to the ecosystem and their sacredness to the tribes will be taken into consideration when the final management plan is implemented by the state.
Maldonado said, in a recent meeting with the Wyoming Game and Fish, Office of Civil Rights and the NABC, “several significant points regarding the safety of the Grey Wolf were discussed. Namely, the Grey Wolf is sacred, valuable in the ecological change of life, will be protected when on sovereign land, no trophy status for the Grey Wolf on the Wind River reservation and ongoing communication will take place between all parties involved.” He said the NABC will adopt a resolution in the near future recognizing the sacred role of the grey wolf. Dobson added that there will be a meeting on July 17th set up by the Department of Justice. It will include Wyoming Game and Fish Dept, Doug Smith, Roger Dobson, and Sergio Maldonado. The buffer zone and other management planning of wolves will be discussed. “I would suggest that we as a society fully reconsider our ideas about all living beings on this planet as well as the environment as out time here is fragile and this earth doesn’t need human beings. This sacred earth will continue on without us,” Maldonado says.
In Native American teaching, the wolf embodies wisdom, courage and faith. The material world is compromised of relentless sorrows and difficulties, and to overcome them one must trust in a higher spirit. The wolf is a symbol of that spirit on earth, as is the grizzly and the owl. If western mentality could stop finding separation of the human spirit with the earth and its creatures, perhaps we would stop bickering on who gets control of what land and who has the right to hunt what animal. In the meantime, Roger Dobson, Adrian Treves, and other activists will continue to be the voice for the voiceless.
Planet JH article here: Grand Teacher or the Big Bad Wolf?