I Know Who is Scarier Than the Big Bad Wolf, Do You?

Gray wolf. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

In 2021, following the loss of Endangered Species Act protections, we learned a lot about wolves and fear. In Idaho, wolves used their gigantic teeth to kill all of 0.00428% of the state’s beloved cattle and sheep population. Cattle and sheep are so rare in Idaho that there were only 2,730,000 of them remaining in the state at last count. It must be truly devastating to ponder what kind of animal would bite into the flesh of a precious Idahoan cow.

In turn, Idaho legislators responded the way that folks, who would most definitely never eat a cow, would respond: they swiftly passed legislation to exterminate 90% of those terrible cattle and sheep eaters with a veto-proof majority. With the wave of his hand, Governor Bill Little signed this legislation, sentencing 90% of the estimated 1,500 wolves in Idaho to death. Night vision hunting is permissible. Gassing or burning wolf families in their dens is permissible, as is aerial gunning and hunting from snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles.

I know who is scarier than the big bad wolf.

Wolves are so fearsome that Governor Greg Gianforte of Montana had no choice but to illegally trap and kill one near Yellowstone National Park. Like any leader worth their snuff, Gianforte made sure the citizens of the state were safe from this particular wolf by poaching it. The legislature took note and passed their own set of laws to make it easier for all residents to kill wolves. For all the folks like Gianforte, who view wolf snaring as part of Montana’s heritage, it just became legal to enjoy once again in the state. Never mind that it is a particularly inhumane way to kill members of the dog family, whose strong neck muscles cause them to suffocate slowly. Some wolves languish for days in a snares, some wolves attempt to care for trapped or snared family members, not understanding their fate is already sealed. One wolf even birthed her pups under the tree from which her butchered mate was hung.

I know who is scarier than the big bad wolf.

Beyond Montana and Idaho, states are ensuring that vicious wolves are permanently disposed of. After all, wolves do all sorts of unimaginable things. In the Colville National Forest, prime cattle habitat on public lands has ruined by wolves. Fortunately, the state of Washington killed 31 publicly owned wild wolves, on publicly held national forest, to ensure that privately held cattle don’t need to worry about wolves roaming the woods. Other states have taken measures to ensure there are plenty of ways to keep non-native cattle safe on public lands. For example, it is legal to kill a wolf by chasing it to exhaustion with a snowmobile and then running over it repeatedly in Wyoming. In Wisconsin, 218 wolves were killed over a two-day period, after being pursued relentlessly by hunters who used teams of dogs to run them down. Meanwhile, conservative lobbying groups, including the National Rifle Association and Safari Club International, successfully filed to intervene in a lawsuit filed by conservation groups—including WildEarth Guardians—to return federal protection to wolves. The NRA must understand that wolves pose an imminent threat to humanity. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that you need guns to kill wolves and use their bodies as trophies at the next Safari Club brunch.

Yes, I know who is scarier than the big bad wolf.

I am afraid. You should be too. Violent people who are afraid of what they cannot understand, or what they cannot control, are making choices from positions of power. It is scary. One only needs to spend a little time on social media to see that the people who hate wolves, also extend their hatred to other things they cannot understand. Civil protests, queer culture, and vaccines to name a few. You should be concerned about wolves. The NRA is. Even the Koch brothers know this issue is bigger than wolves, they are tied to funding the lawsuit that compelled the wolf slaughter in Wisconsin.

If you are staying silent hoping the wolf issue will pass, don’t worry, it will. When all the wolves are gone, the wolf issue will be over. Then we will be left in a country of hateful and violent people with guns, who took silence as complacency. Where will the humans who took pleasure in cruelly and systematically exterminating a species turn, when there is nothing left to kill? That day will be far scarier than the big bad wolf.

Samantha Bruegger is WildEarth Guardians’ wildlife coexistence campaigner. She writes from Salem, Oregon.