The Civil War on Yellowstone’s Wolves

Photograph Source: Mike Cline – Public Domain

By every act that glorifies or even tolerates such moronic delight in killing we set back the progress of humanity.

— Rachel Carson

We have just arrived at 2022. Thirty years ago, one would have imagined that wolves and grizzly bears would be enjoying protections and the respect that comes with an evolved society. Surely by now ranchers would not control public lands, especially not our national parks; no question we would have strengthened endangered species protections, and we would be moving at breakneck speed to end the climate crisis.

But instead we are watching in horror malicious humans massacring our beloved wolves of Yellowstone without restraint.

Forty-four wolves have been killed in Montana’s Wildlife Management Units (WMU) 310, 313, 316, 390 that directly border Yellowstone National Park. The killing season is just a bit more than half over.

Trappers are addicted to killing to satisfy the destructive forces that drive them. But who are the hunters who seem to have no ethics? What makes them think that calling, baiting and shooting wolves they lured across the park border is honorable? These are not sportsmen; they are simply killers.

Our own governor began this scourge. Greg Gianforte is determined to privatize wildlife, picturing himself in the role of a British lord. The killing of Max the wolf, while sickening many, seems to have inspired another group of people who have taken Yellowstone wolf killing to an all-time high. Our Fish and Wildlife Commission voted to remove wolf quotas on the border so the slaughter could happen.

Last month Cam Sholly, superintendent of Yellowstone, wrote Gianforte, pleading with him to stop the killing. Gianforte responded that once wolves leave the park people like him have the right to kill them, just as his commission decided.

If you are looking for bold action to stop this, you won’t find it in Sen. Jon Tester, who delisted wolves in 2011. If we did not have a Democrat convinced that his reelection is based on support from the Sportsmen’s Alliance, Biden would have moved to relist wolves. Tester continues to push the nomination of Martha Williams, who supports the destruction of wolves and delisting grizzlies.

What we are witnessing is our own version of Jan. 6. This time it is not the halls of Congress that are being invaded, it is our nation’s finest national park. This is an insurrection against the public trust, publicly owned wildlife, and the rights of people to enjoy and share our public lands with wildlife.

When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife tries to decide what is good for wolves, they ignore the individual’s part in the all-important social structure, the packs. This killing is destroying alpha animals; it is wreaking savagery on packs that are being decimated; animals are living in terror and going hungry, while at the park boundary shooters and trappers salivate to kill more and get their $500 each from Montana’s bounty program. While wolves’ cohesive structure disintegrates to the point when the survival of Yellowstone wolves is now in question, our leaders say — We don’t give a damn!

It’s not just an outrage, it’s criminal. These wolves live and breathe; they play a vital role in a healthy ecosystem, in combating chronic wasting disease. They mate for life and they feel love, joy, pain and grief. Yet to Montana’s politicians they are simply fodder: wolf hatred plays well in rural areas. Ignorance seems to be an acceptable currency.

We are down to 94 wolves in Yellowstone. The Phantom Lake Pack has been completely destroyed. Where are the defenders of wolves in Washington? Where is decency to be found?

We are fighting a war; we must stand up for wolves now before they are lost again. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “When the people lead, the leaders will follow.” This civil war is far from over.

Stephen Capra is the Executive Director of Bold Visions Conservation.