Montana puts Yellowstone wolves in the crosshairs

Gray wolf photo by Jacob W. Frank/NPS; graphic element added by Gus O’Keefe.

It’s September 15, which means the general wolf hunting season opened in Montana at dawn this morning. If you’ve been following the wolf issue in Montana recently, you are likely aware of a suite of new, archaic, brutal, and ethical laws and regulations on the books thanks to the Montana Legislature and Governor Greg Gianforte. (Idaho has also put in place similar draconian wolf-eradication laws and regulations).

You may recall that Governor Greg Gianforte is a convicted assailant who body-slammed a reporter on election eve in 2017.  Then in 2021, Governor Gianforte violated state hunting regulations when he trapped and shot a collared wolf near Yellowstone National Park in February. Governor Gianforte trapped the collared Yellowstone wolf on a private ranch owned by Robert E. Smith, director of the conservative Sinclair Broadcasting Group, who contributed thousands of dollars to Gianforte’s 2017 congressional campaign.

Specific to national forest policy, the new wolf-killing laws in Montana allow for unethical baiting of wolves by hunters and trappers, including within federal public lands and Wilderness areas. The state of Montana intends to killed up to 50% of the wolves in the state, so to help make that happen, the state has authorized any individual to kill up to 10 wolves during the hunting and trapping season, including deep within Wilderness areas and inventoried roadless areas on U.S. Forest Service administered public lands. The state also now allows snaring of wolves, including in designated Wilderness. So, essentially a Montana hunter or trapper can shoot, trap, and/or snare 10 wolves during the next 6 months on federal public lands—including Wilderness areas—in the state of Montana while using bait. The state also now allows night hunting of wolves with artificial lights or night vision scopes on private land statewide.

What do readers of this blog think? Does this sound like science-based management of a keystone native species? Should this type of brutal and unethical “management” of a rare keystone species be allowed on federal public lands, including deep within Wilderness areas? As a Montana resident, who is also a backcountry hunter of elk and deer, I personally find these news laws and regulations tragic and disgusting.

Below is a press release we issued today at WildEarth Guardians.

MISSOULA, MONTANA—Starting today, iconic Yellowstone wolves crossing the boundary of Yellowstone National Park into the state of Montana face slaughter by trophy hunters with high-powered rifles, including within federally-designated Wilderness areas. Wolves living in Glacier National Park face a similar fate when they exit the national park.

Last month, Montana not only eliminated any cap on the number of wolves that can be killed in hunting and trapping zones bordering Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park, but individuals can now kill a total of 10 wolves per season. New regulations also allow unethical baiting for wolves statewide, including within federal public lands and Wilderness areas. Night hunting with artificial lights or night vision scopes is also allowed on private lands statewide.

“Despite a groundswell of public opposition from individuals across Montana, the nation, and world, Montana has declared open season on wolves in the state, clearing the way for nearly 50% of the state’s wolf population to be decimated in the upcoming hunting and trapping season,” said Sarah McMillan, the Montana-based conservation director for WildEarth Guardians.

“Yellowstone’s wolves are nationally and internationally famous and the biological role these iconic wolves play within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is priceless. Yet starting today, an individual can slaughter up to ten Yellowstone wolves for just $12,” explained McMillan.

The general wolf hunting season in Montana runs for the next six months, until March 15, 2022, while the wolf trapping and snaring season will start on November 29, 2021 and also run until March 15, 2022.

In response to the on-going slaughter of wolves, in June, WildEarth Guardians and a coalition of fifty conservation groups asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to immediately restore Endangered Species Act protections to gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains. In July, Guardians and allies also petitioned the Biden administration to list the Western North American population of gray wolves as a distinct population segment.  Over 120 Tribes have signed “The Wolf: A Treaty of Cultural and Environmental Survival,” and have called on Interior Secretary Haaland to meet with a Tribal delegation regarding the Treaty and to reinstate protections for wolves. So far, the Biden administration has failed to take any steps to protect wolves.

“As we clearly warned would happen, state ‘management’ of wolves essentially amounts to the brutal state-sanctioned eradication of this keystone native species,” said McMillan. “We must not abandon wolf-recovery efforts or allow anti-wolf states, hunters, and trappers to push wolves back to the brink of extinction.”

Montana’s hunting regulation changes come on the heels of the Biden administration doubling down on its commitment to keep all wolves federally delisted, despite the massive public outcry. In August, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service filed a brief in federal court opposing legal efforts from multiple environmental groups—including WildEarth Guardians, Western Environmental Law Center, and Earthjustice—to challenge the federal delisting rule. This case is set for oral arguments in Northern California District Court in November 2021. As the Northern Rocky Mountain population of wolves was delisted by an act of Congress in 2011, the outcome of this litigation will not impact wolves in Montana.

Gray wolves became functionally extinct in the lower 48 states in the 1960s largely due to rampant hunting and trapping, including deliberate extermination efforts carried out by the federal government. Though first listed as endangered in 1967 under a precursor to the Endangered Species Act, gray wolves only began to recover in the West following reintroductions to central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park in the mid-1990s. Scientists estimated a steady population of about 1,150 wolves in Montana between 2012 and 2019. However, hunters and trappers killed 328 wolves in Montana during the 2020-2021 season, and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks now estimates that only 900 to 950 wolves remain in the state. The total wolf-kill quota for the 2021-2022 hunting and trapping season in Montana is 450, meaning that nearly 50% of the wolf population in Montana could be eliminated in the next six months.

19 thoughts on “Montana puts Yellowstone wolves in the crosshairs”

  1. Success of wolf reintroduction brings with it a cautionary tale of how it can revive the old ways of a unique type of mass extermination ecocide that cause a great deal of deforestation.

    When the wolf was reintroduced in Yellowstone animals that would browse on tree seedlings began to limit their range due to the threat of depredation. Forests that were unable to recover due to a lack of predation of ungulates began growing again, stabilizing the river and providing many other aquatic conservation benefits.

    Back in the 90’s when we took inspiration from Sinapu’s efforts (Sinapu, named after the Ute word for wolves, is dedicated to the restoration and protection of native carnivores and their wild habitat in the Southern Rockies, and connected high plains and deserts) we didn’t realize how successful the wolf packs would be. What’s more we didn’t realize the amount of people would want to kill them off again and successfully lobby to be allowed to do so.

    So now we’re revisiting all this with fresh eyes and there’s been lots of conversations about it of late. Here’s more details on tribes request:

    “Dozens of American Indian tribes asked the Biden administration Tuesday to immediately enact emergency protections for gray wolves, saying states have become too aggressive in hunting the animal.

    Groups representing the tribes sent a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland asking her to act quickly on an emergency petition they filed in May to relist the wolf as endangered or threatened. They also asked Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico and the first Native American to lead a Cabinet agency, to relist the wolf on an emergency basis for 240 days, ensuring immediate protection.

    The groups say that states have enacted “anti-wolf” policies that present “a real potential of decimating wolf populations.”

  2. Definitely “science based” management! Excellent example of the “science” the Republican party believes in; ie. phony and anti-environment!
    Hunting with lights at night is NOT hunting! NO skill required, NO challenge!
    Completely unethical!
    I had conversations this past weekend with deer hunters here in Oregon; they were actually doing some work to track bucks.
    The anti-wolf fervor stinks!

  3. With you & the Wild Earth Guardians on this one, Matthew. I am a resident of Idaho which passed similar wolf slaughter laws at behest of the livestock industry. They want to reduce wolf population from 1500 to 150 with no real data/argument cited. I truly doubt that most of us prefer to see feral cattle trashing riparian areas to that amazing sighting of a wolf. Apparently Idaho governor received lots of public feedback against this law but signed it any way. We are going back to the reckless slaughtering ways of our ancestors who came to the West and killed off the predators. You would think we would know a bit better than they but apparently not.

    • Idaho governor Brad Little’s grandfather was once known as the Idaho sheep king. “He had a lot of sheep, a lot of sheep,” says Little. In the early 1960s, Little’s family started to transition from sheep to cattle. “I was raised a cowboy basically,” Little says. On a personal level, I think Brad’s a nice guy (I’ve had the pleasure of spending some time with him). But, his anti-wolf sentiment has deep family roots.

  4. With environmental protection, wolves are making a comeback in Europe, which has more than twice the population of wolves as the U.S. does. Most people in Europe support rewilding efforts. To help protect wolves, national governments and the European Union compensate for livestock losses and make funds available to help farmers buy electric fences, guard dogs, and other measures to deter wolves. However, in America, “welfare ranching” and the cowboy-trapper mystique is sacrosanct – a shameful legacy that causes so much more environmental degradation of our public lands (at taxpayer expense) than wolves do.

    • Michael, I think if you look into it states compensate ranchers for wildlife losses. Perhaps not electric fences and guard dogs, but NGO’s do some of that.
      I also think “welfare ranching” is a name attributed to ranchers who lease public land, and wolves eat cows of all kinds of ranchers. I don’t know why you think ranching is a “shameful legacy”.. or only on federal lands? Like I don’t get “forest products” moralizing, I don’t get “oil and gas” moralizing nor “rancher” moralizing oh and “miner” moralizing. It sounds like disrespecting different cultures- cultures and actions that produce things we use and eat.

      Perhaps you don’t like it that our federal lands were absorbed with the idea that they would produce useful things, and you think they shouldn’t.. that’s fine and dandy, but it’s not the fault of the ranchers that it was set up that way.

  5. I just learned that similar slaughters are planned in Alaska, also.

    Alexander Archipelago wolves of the coastal rainforests of southeast Alaska are being trapped and hunted out of existence, their populations plummeting.

    The Center for Biological Diversity has just launched a legal action to save them.

  6. Good points, Michael… Good info about wolves in Europe, I’d like to read more if you have any links.

    One of the main differences in the US is all the so-called rugged individualists in ranching and logging who get way more welfare/socialist services than all the poor people in our country get.

    • Deane,

      I was reading about wolves (and other reintroduced animals like the European bison) in Europe from this site:

      I’m reading this book now, “Welfare ranching: The Subsidized Destruction of the American West” (August 2002) by George Wuerthner and Mollie Matteson. We could begin the ecological recovery on 300 million acres if we decided to stop all subsidized livestock grazing on our public lands. But, unfortunately, the anachronistic cowboy myth is deeply ingrained in the American mind.

      Earlier this year, I read an excellent book, “This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism, and Corruption Are Ruining the American West (July 21, 2020) by Christopher Ketcham, who talks a lot about the plight of prairie-chickens, grizzlies, and wolves, among other issues.

      After reading that book, I came to despise the likes of Ammon Bundy (born 1975), the anti-government militant and right-wing activist who, along with his followers, don’t believe in public lands at all. In my opinion, these types are the true “enemy” of the people and the environment.

    • Is that true Deane? I’m sure that I can’t add up all the different subsidies that all kinds of people and companies (and not for profits, tax advantages) receive. Perhaps you have done this?

      • Please, please, please stick to forestry and Fossil fools Sharon… We really don’t want to see you leading a second sagebrush rebellion that falls down before it can stand up in its efforts to ensure sage grouse extinction.

        • Diane, I asked you for evidence to support your you give me advice on how to spend my time. That suggests to me that perhaps you don’t have evidence.

          • Sharon, seems to me that a long-time U.S. Forest Service employee such as yourself would have some knowledge about the (taxpayer-paid) subsidies provided to resource extraction industries operating on federal public lands. Do you seriously think that letting a private ranching corporation graze a cow and her calf across federal public lands for $1.35/month is anywhere close to fair market value, for example? Taxpayer subsidies for logging, oil and gas, coal mining, hardrock mining on federal public lands have been very well (and extensively) documented for decades now. I’m shocked that seem to have never noticed this.

  7. Matthew your effort to take time off from all your deer and elk hunting to write this hit piece is certainly something to be lauded.

    I can’t think of one Montana big game hunter who doesn’t also purchase a wolf tag, it’s considered a public duty. Kind of like registering to vote, paying taxes, or signing up for selective service. I assume you too have a wolf tag, have you ever filled it? I would suggest parking the crosshairs of the retical slightly higher and left than in the photo that accompanies this, otherwise with drop, one is likely to create another one of those 3 legged wolves people always say results from trapping.

    The parts I don’t understand are … One, what’s wrong with a 50% goal, or reducing numbers down to 150 as in Idaho. I doubt either will be achieved but it’s certainly a good thing to have something to aspire to. Reducing wolf populations requires more than 50% reduction for years in a row. Too many pups every year. Two, roadless and Wilderness areas? I can’t think of a prettier place to go wolf hunting, can you? Isn’t that why we have roadless and Wilderness areas? Three, unethical methods of take? Really? The idea is to reduce populations, so far that goal has remained elusive. Who decides what is ethical or not. Hunting wolves has something in common with abortion and guns. Don’t want one, don’t get one, but don’t try to tell others what to do.

    Just imagine for a second an alternative universe, one where advocacy groups had kept their promises made when wolves were reintroduced. 150 wolves in three states, easily studied and with population control. No lawsuits, no weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Maybe it’s time to go on back to how things were. Eradicate and start over.

    • Always nice to get an anonymous personal attack from you. The general deer and elk season in Montana starts later in October. This blog post took me about 15 minutes to write. I bet I know at least 100 (very successful) Montana elk and deer hunters who don’t purchase a wolf tag. I certainly have never purchased a tag to kill a wolf (or any other carnivore, nor would I ever). It’s bizarre that you would assume I have a wolf tag, and then offer creepy, sadistic shooting advice. Then again, that’s the beautiful part about your being anonymous, right buddy?

  8. The Fish and Wildlife Service has accepted petitions to relist wolves under the Endangered Species Act, and will conduct a status review to consider a listing decision. (They did not agree to use emergency listing procedures.)

    “The Service finds the petitioners present substantial information that potential increases in human-caused mortality may pose a threat to the gray wolf in the western U.S.,” the FWS added. “The Service also finds that new regulatory mechanisms in Idaho and Montana may be inadequate to address this threat. Therefore, the Service finds that gray wolves in the western U.S. may warrant listing.”

    The Forest Service could do its part to provide adequate regulatory mechanisms to avoid listing by restricting wolf hunting on federal lands.

    • This was the press release we issued yesterday:

      MISSOULA, MONTANA—Today, as the wolf hunting season begins in Montana—and Idaho continues its year-round slaughter of up to 90% of the states’ roughly 1,500 wolves—the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced positive initial findings on two petitions filed seeking Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for gray wolves in the western U.S.
      According to a press release from the agency, USFWS determined that “the petitions present substantial, credible information indicating that a listing action may be warranted and will initiate a comprehensive status review of the gray wolf in the western U.S.” A copy of the two petitions are here and here.

      “We are encouraged that the relentless pressure of the conservation community and the public has resulted in a response from USFWS on petitions to relist wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains and beyond,” said John Horning, Executive Director of WildEarth Guardians. “It’s tragic—and perhaps not coincidental—that this finding comes on the same day that the state of Montana has unleashed hunters to kill hundreds of wolves throughout the state, including on the edge of Yellowstone National Park.”

      “We now need USFWS to not just issue this statement of intention, but to take swift action in moving forward with the relisting process in order to prevent wolves from being pushed back to the brink of extinction,” explained Horning.

      Last month, Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission finalized rules to expand hunting season, eliminate a cap on the number of wolves that can be killed in hunting and trapping zones bordering Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park and allow individuals to kill up to 10 wolves per season. In July, Idaho’s Fish and Game Commission implemented new hunting regulations – in line with state legislation – to allow a new year-round wolf hunting season, which would enable 90% of the states’ population to be slaughtered through various cruel methods such as traps, snares and even with snowmobiles.

      “On the day that Montana opened rifle hunting season on wolves, the USFWS has finally taken their head out of the sand and recognized the tremendous threats to wolves across the West,” said Sarah McMillan, Montana-based Conservation Director at WildEarth Guardians. “Unfortunately, it’s unconscionable that the USFWS thinks a commitment to make a decision in 12 months—when the agency is on full notice that up to 1,800 wolves will be killed in Montana and Idaho in the next few months alone—is an adequate response to what is clearly an emergency situation.”

      WildEarth Guardians issued a separate press release earlier today regarding the start of the general wolf hunting season in Montana, which is available here.

  9. Slaughtering any keystone predator for subsidized domestic livestock production is red state failure on parade.

    Not wolves, cougars or even coyotes — in 2019 golden eagles levied a 53% mortality rate on domestic sheep on one ranch in Wyoming. Yet, failed red states like Wyoming, Montana and Idaho are targeting wolves and grizzlies for extermination.

    In blue state New Mexico the Santa Fe and Carson National Forests have prohibited domestic sheep and goats on public lands to protect native bighorn sheep.

    Just north of the southern border long-time environmental activist, Ted Turner has teamed up with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the State of New Mexico to foster a pair of endangered Mexican gray wolves and their pups on his 243 square mile ranch near the Gila National Forest. Nearby, jaguars are being reintroduced.

    Kill off wolves and cougars; spray neonicotinoids, glyphosate and atrazine on everything then wonder why deer and wapiti contract a prion contagion like Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).

    • Larry, you can call Wyoming Montana and Idaho “failed states” but that’s just rhetoric. You don’t like wolf policies they have.. that’s fine, but I think perhaps we don’t agree on the definition of a “failed state.”

      Ranchers are OK like Ted Turner who do what you want (not exactly a person making his living from the land, eh?) but others are not.. based on… supporting wolves?

      I also think it’s helpful to be clear the difference between ranchers with public land leases and those who don’t have them. Around where I live, there are both. As I’ve said before “welfare ranchers” was originally thought of as being ones who lease federal lands.. wolves eat cows and sheep regardless of whose land they are on. Now if you’re saying that all livestock production is subsidized (in a way that’s inappropriate) that’s another point.


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