New York, NY
20.000 x 14.000 inches
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Tom Blodgett Jr
Painting - Watercolor
Wolves help control and maintain the elk population. During the winter, elk feed on seedlings and saplings of deciduous trees and damage forest resources. By reducing the number of elk, more trees, such as the American Elm, can grow. This, in turn, creates more shade, which is required by the fish in the streams. More fish provides more food for beavers, which, in turn, provide the lush environments for ducks, frogs, turtles, insects, snakes and fish through their creation of dams. The branches and sticks brought in by beavers provide shelter, both above and below the water's surface. Snakes and turtles can warm their coldblooded bodies in the sun, and fish can thrive in the deep and shallow pockets that have been created. Ducks and geese are provided the best environment to build nests and raise their young. And finally, since the leafy American elm is allowed to grow, all of the impacted organisms are able to contribute their vital roles to the maintenance of the nitrogen cycle on which we depend.
Wolves require large areas of wilderness to function. Livestock protection is ever more important to farmers whose livelihood depends on the health of their herd. Wolves are often blamed for kills they did not commit. With the recent removal of the Endangered Species protection, the killing of wolves will increase, once again threatening the wolf that was once wiped out of the United States by hunting. Agreements in such places as Wyoming have been reached to maintain at least 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves outside Yellowstone National Park, but wolves can now be shot on sight.
Ways of Improving the Situation:
Livestock guarding dogs that sound the alarm and range riders who accompany grazing cattle in Oregon (a program funded by the US Fish and Wildlife Service) is a good way to avoid conflict with wolves.
Recognizing the unjustified fear of this beautiful creature, and the value that it provides to the ecosystems in which it resides is another way to improve the situation.
Interview with Carter Niemeyer, Federal Wolf Recovery Coordinator in Idaho for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:
Carter Niemeyer is one of the original team members that captured wolves from Canada and reintroduced them to Yellowstone National Park. Carter understands the sensitivity of the wolf/human interest conflict as well as anyone. By voicing the truth as he saw it, and remaining thorough as to the appraisal of whether a livestock death was the result of wolves, he put himself in very unpopular positions with both ranchers and trappers. And the very nature of his job called on him to take lethal action when necessary, making him unpopular with wolf activists. He may have lost some friends along the way, but he earned much respect, and built new relationships as well. Carter's strong sense of responsibility would make him the only individual trusted by the Defenders of Wildlife to properly assess a situation. He revealed the unwarranted hysteria surrounding the wolf. His fascinating book, "Wolfer", reveals these conflicts and more, through his life's journey from a young aspiring biologist to Animal Damage Control in Montana to Federal Wolf Recovery Coordinator in Idaho for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
1. In your book "Wolfer", you write, "the wolves changed me more than I changed them". Please explain how the wolves changed you.
Prior to wolves coming into my life I was a seasoned predator trapper, and familiar with livestock damage caused by various predators. The public didn't seem interested in Wildlife Services killing black bears, mountain lions, coyotes, foxes and other smaller carnivores. Wolves caused a public awakening and for the first time people reacted to the fact that predators, like wolves, were being killed by the government. Public awareness of predator control sensitized me to examine what I was doing as an individual and as a professional and I realized that wolves were getting the blame for a lot of problems and damage to livestock they didn't cause.
The fear and judgmental attitudes people had about wolves resulted in an awareness deep inside me that I would not be a part of the condemnation of wolves and gave me resolve to be honest, impartial and fair in my recommendations to deal with wolf problems, whether real or perceived. I felt a responsibility toward the livestock owners and wolf advocates to resolve contentious differences about what wolves were really about. It was a difficult task laced with high emotions on both sides which bought me no favors, cost me friendships and resulted in new relationships with people.
The end result is that I looked at my job and mission as a predator control specialist in a new light, more determined to be a better scientist, forensics expert, and educator about predator/livestock interactions and form a deeper appreciation for the predators that I had to kill. I was forced to look the public in the eye and justify my behavior which was something I had not been doing until I experienced the unwarranted fear and persecution of wolves. I could never do my job the same way again.
2. You remark on how the ignorance of people about wolf behavior in some ways drove you to be on the wolf's side. What are the first things people should understand about wolf behavior?
Wolves are a unique species like all other creatures on the earth. They are born, live and die and have behavior patterns that include close social bonds formed by living in packs, killing prey, providing nourishment for pups, howling to communicate, and defending large territories from encroachment by other wolves. These are the requirements for wolves to survive. Wolves are neither good nor bad. They fear and avoid humans due to centuries of persecution. As a predator, wolves kill prey like deer, elk, caribou and moose to eat. Killing prey is a natural instinct of all predators including wolves, just as killing other wolves is necessary to protect their food, space and young. Unfortunately, wolves are large competitors for the same wild and domestic prey base utilized by humans which include livestock like sheep and cattle that have lost their ability to protect themselves from predator attack. The very fact that wolves kill to eat, live and survive has been misinterpreted by humans to be a behavioral trait to be hated, feared and reviled by many, and symbolic of evil.
3. Your book reveals the conflicted landscape of government and state agendas and what a monumental impact this can have on the future of certain species. It seems conservation initiatives are increasing in scope, but what direction do you see things heading in for the wolf, and wildlife in general?
Wildlife is a national treasure. All species have a unique relationship with their environment and interactions with plants and animals around them. Wolves are no exception. Human activities dominate the planet Earth and while wild nature is all around us to study, observe and enjoy, we tend to look at wildlife as tangible resources to be managed for economic benefits, encouraged where they fit into human systems, discouraged where they don't, and removed where they cause problems with human commerce. Wildlife has to pay its way, mind its manners, or get out of the way of human development. Large carnivores, like wolves, require large tracts of land, rich in wild prey, free of domestic livestock, safe from human encroachment in an environment where people have an enlightened understanding that wolves have an essential place in nature where humans do not hate and fear them. How many places on earth fit that description?
4. The reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone has been one of the most well documented accounts of the positive impact that wolves have on an ecosystem. Has this had any impact on the viewpoints of both pro and anti wolf groups?
Pro wolf groups always had a vision of the positive affects wolves would bring to the landscape in Yellowstone. Wolves were perceived to be one of the top predators that would cull and shape ungulate (deer, elk, bison) herds into healthier populations by removing the sick, weak and aged elements of the herds, providing carrion for scavengers, redistributing herds over the landscape to diminish overgrazing, and reduce unnaturally abundant numbers of deer, elk and bison. Tourists have had the added rewards of seeing wolves interacting with other wild species within the park and watching predator/prey relationships play out before their very eyes. The park has enjoyed millions of dollars in economic benefits by having wolves back. Anti-wolf groups have an innate fear of wolves as a danger to human welfare and as a competitor that will take away hunting opportunities for people who enjoy the surplus elk that seasonally migrated outside of the park to be shot during late season hunts. Wolf abundance in and around Yellowstone is perceived to be an economic hardship on guides, outfitters, hunters and livestock producers who occasionally lose livestock to wolves. Pro and anti wolf groups maintain their viewpoints but spend considerably more time trying to influence politicians to support their positions.
5. To protect the interests of ranchers, the government spends millions of dollars a year killing coyotes anyway because it's what's always been done. It's still true today. If the government did away with this, what would be the impact?
Since early settlement of the United States, government regulated predator control has been an integral component of the pioneer culture. Wild, native predators have been inclined to prey on domestic livestock especially when wild ungulate herds were exploited by commercial and unregulated hunting and reduced to such low numbers that domestic livestock were all that remained. The war on predators in the United States has persisted over the last one hundred years or more. The problem is that domestic livestock numbers, both sheep and cattle, have been in steady decline in recent decades due to a number of economic and management issues. Coyotes are the primary predator of domestic sheep and sometime will kill a few calves. Even though tens of thousands of coyotes have been killed annually to protect livestock, coyotes have spread over the entire lower 48 states. The results of killing coyotes to save livestock has been less than gratifying over the last century but none-the-less the taxpayers are expected to keep funding the effort in the face of declining livestock numbers, especially sheep.
Rather than attempting to kill coyotes through preventative measures using aerial hunting, traps, snares and toxicants, a more effective predator control program of dealing with specific, case by case, confirmed livestock losses to predators would be money better spent. Coyote control could be privatized, allowing for the free enterprise system to function, while species of special interest like black bears, grizzly bears, mountain lions and wolves could be managed by the individual states through regulated harvests and specific removals in the event of predation on domestic livestock.
6. What is your view on the effectiveness of compensation given to ranchers for lost assets as a result of wolves? What is your view on the potential effectiveness of wolf-viewing areas?
Compensation payments for wolf predation on livestock began in 1987 in Montana by the Defenders of Wildlife to reduce the economic hardship on farmers and ranchers with confirmed losses due to wolves. The concept was good in that one portion of society who advocated for wolves would share the economic burden of loss with people who owned the livestock that were lost. The problem, in my opinion, is that compensation bought a degree of tolerance from some producers (farmers) and not others. Eventually compensation was regarded with less enthusiasm by livestock producers as the wolf population grew and spread over the Northern Rockies, especially after reintroduction of wolves from Canada.
Eventually Defenders of Livestock reduced their involvement in compensation as the federal government started providing compensation dollars instead. Federal compensation for dead livestock has expanded to cover not only documented livestock kills by wolves but missing livestock which I think is a poor practice. Compensation should be paid only for documented losses and only for missing livestock where wolves are clearly shown to be the likely cause for the missing livestock. I see the tendency for fraud when compensation dollars are provided with little or no oversight and accountability.
If livestock losses result in heavy handed, government wolf killing programs, I'm not certain of what benefit compensation payments serve, especially in the case of missing livestock that could have been the result of theft, vandalism, poison plants, accidents, birthing problems, old age and other non-predator causes.
In principle, wolf viewing areas could be promoted in states with a viable wolf population. Wolf viewing has been very popular and an economic boon in Yellowstone National Park. I strongly suspect that wolf viewing will not be promoted by the states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming except as an incidental opportunity for residents and tourists who know where to look for wolves. Once wolves are delisted in the individual western states, wolf hunting will be a guarantee during the fall and winter months. As one Idaho fish and game official told me, "during and after wolf hunting season, people can view wolves all they want."
7. There is a lot of will to protect endangered wildlife, particularly the wolf, but sometimes people are lost as to what exactly is the best course of action they can take. For those indirectly involved, what do you think is the best way to protect not just the wolf, but wildlife in general?
Wildlife can be protected in many ways. People can join wildlife advocacy groups that represent their views on wildlife management, protection, and political position. While some wildlife advocates do not support hunting or trapping, others do by joining groups like Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever or the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to encourage habitat acquisition and protection for the species they enjoy hunting or watching. Indirect ways of protecting wildlife are to reduce the opportunities for conflict with humans, like better methods of protecting livestock, wildlife corridors, and avoiding the habituation of animals to human communities by providing food and other incentives to hang around and cause problems.
Political activism is getting to be a major method of protecting wildlife. That means getting informed and educated about issues affecting wildlife and getting actively involved. Too many people send money to organizations that promote wildlife conservation but fail to write letters and show up at state and federal planning meetings that affect the short and long term management of many species. More and more, science is taking a back seat to political decisions that are driven by special interest groups that impact wildlife, often in detrimental ways. (As time goes by) If you don't like what is going on concerning wildlife management decisions in the United States today, get involved.
December 10th, 2010
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