How do you value an alpha female wolf?

PBS Nature-click

Kathleen Stachowski Other Nations

When you live in what feels like a war zone–the Northern Rockies states are waging war on their own native wildlife–it’s easy to forget that the act of killing doesn’t rule the roost everywhere. Occasionally something comes along that makes you believe there might be hope (even if it’s not your hope); that at least some place (though not your place), sanity–and maybe even respect for animals–prevails. Today it is this: Costa Rica, one of the planet’s most bio-diverse countries, banned sport hunting on December 10th. Granted, one quarter of Costa Rica’s land is already protected in parks and reserves, so hunting wasn’t a big economic driver to start with. But still.

“There is no data on how much money hunting generates in the country, but we do know there are currently clandestine hunting tours that go for about $5,000 per person,” said Arturo Carballo, deputy director at Apreflofas, an environmentalist organisation who spearheaded the reform. ~The Guardian

According to Reuters, “Jaguars, pumas and sea turtles are among the country’s most exotic and treasured species, and are often hunted or stolen as trophies.” Colorful parrots are also hunted in live captures as pets.

Back in October, when the Costa Rican Congress provisionally approved the ban by a 41 to 5 vote, it was tourism dollars–not hunting revenue–that dominated the discussion, with one activist asserting, “We’re not just hoping to save the animals but we’re hoping to save the country’s economy, because if we destroy the wildlife…tourists are not going to come anymore” (Reuters). This news comes on the heels of a 2014 hunting ban in Botswana, another place where tourism holds sway. Said President Khama,  “…if we do not take care of our animals, we will have a huge problem in terms of tourism.”

Which brings us to the war on wildlife in the Northern Rockies, where no fewer than eight Yellowstone wolves have been killed in the ongoing hunt. How do we positively know that these were national park wolves who’d left the safe confines of the park only to encounter a bullet? They were wearing research collars, and one of them, a veritable “rock star” of a wolf–considered by some to be the world’s most famous wolfwas the alpha female from the popular Lamar Canyon pack. She died in Wyoming.

This year’s hunting season in the northern Rockies has been especially controversial because of the high numbers of popular wolves and wolves fitted with research collars that (sic) have been killed just outside Yellowstone in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.  …Wildlife advocates say that the wolf populations are not large enough to withstand state-sanctioned harvests and that the animals attract tourist money. Yellowstone’s scenic Lamar Valley has been one of the most reliable places to view wolves in the northern Rockies, and it attracts scores of visitors every year.  ~New York Times

In response to the growing public relations disaster, Montana’s state management agency shut down all hunting and trapping in two areas bordering the park. Nonetheless, on December 15th, wolf trapping season opened in Montana and runs concurrently with wolf hunting (98 dead as I write: 96 in the hunt, 2 in traps; keep track for yourself here). The last time wolves were trapped in Montana, they were ultimately exterminated by a variety of means as vermin. Idaho had already instituted its own inglorious wolf trapping/snaring and hunting seasons, while Wyoming has declared open season on wolves, where they can be shot on sight as predators without quota (excluding a “trophy management area” around Yellowstone and Grand Tetons with a quota of 52). Wyoming wolves were removed from Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing less than three months ago.

Killing grizzlies will promote coexistence with them. Wait–what?!?

While the grisly wolf vendetta plays out, the still-protected grizzly bear–currently under ESA “threatened” status–could be the next trophy victim in the crosshairs by early 2014. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee met in Missoula, MT recently to look ahead to delisting; they recommended trophy hunting as one tool to “manage distribution, promote coexistence and help minimize conflict” (source). Killing the great bear is cheap and easy compared to accommodating the great bear, and who doesn’t love coexistence with a bear skin rug?

“We don’t want grizzlies to descend back into vermin status,” said Tony Hamilton of the British Columbia Ministry of Environment, speaking at the Missoula meeting (source). “If you can’t use them, they won’t have the same value to people as deer and elk. The shoot-and-shovel ethos is alive and well.” That’s right. If you can’t get gussied up in your camo and hunter orange and go kill a beast, what the hell use is it? Worthless. Vermin.


Some 51 bears have died already this year in the Yellowstone area, according to the U.S.Geological Survey. They’ve been killed as “problem bears” by wildlife agents and in conflicts with hunters out to “get their elk” (over 80% of documented bear mortalities are human-caused). And now this isolated population of 600 bears–it’s the separate dark red spot on the map–will have to absorb the added pressure of hunting. Though healthy now, according to the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, “research shows that if the Yellowstone population remains isolated, it may eventually die out.” These bears need connectivity corridors, not bullets! How many of those dwindling genes will be removed for ego-burnishing trophy mounts?

To put the bloody icing on this murderous cake, Yellowstone’s wild bison are likely to face a targeted culling of females. Yes, that would be the moms of the next generation of America’s last wild, free-roaming (ahem), and most genetically-diverse, pure bison. “Citing a ‘skewed sex ratio’ resulting from their own slaughter operations, government agencies recently announced their desire to kill at least 400 female bison this winter alone,” reports the grassroots activists at Buffalo Field Campaign.

Look, you can “let” animals live because you respect them–understanding that they value their lives, simply want to pursue their own interests, and belong on their own native land. You can also forego the fundamental respect and let them live because they bring economic benefits to human endeavors. “Visitors who come to see wolves in Yellowstone contribute roughly $35.5 million annually to the regional economy,” according to the Yellowstone Park Foundation (Spring 2007), citing a study that surveyed thousands of park visitors “to determine how wolves are influencing their decision to come to Yellowstone and the corresponding impact on the regional economy.” The piece starts with this question: How do you value the moment an alpha female wolf and her litter of pups come into view through your spotting scope?

That’s easy–just exchange spotting scope for gunsight. If she meets her maker (more to the point, her taker) in Montana, her death can be bought for an $8.00 conservation license, a $2.00 Hunting Access Enhancement Fee, a $19.00 resident wolf license, and undetermined taxidermy fees. But bragging rights? Priceless.

21 Responses

  1. Despite this wonderful news, for a few minutes I was a bit downhearted, asking myself WHY WHY WHY a country’s motivation for leaving its residents alone has to be MONEY MONEY MONEY. Such a human-centered decision felt a little hollow to me.

    Then I suddenly saw the bright side. Tourist dollars means that millions of people agree that these animals “value their lives,” are entitled to “pursue their own interests,” and “belong on their own native land.”

    These tourists don’t want to interfere with the nonhuman natives. They simply want to ooh and aah. They don’t want to shoot them — except with their cameras. They don’t want to steal them — only steal a glimpse of them living their lives on their own terms.

    Indeed, there are FAR FAR FAR fewer grasping takers of free-born-and-free-roaming animals than there are hands-off admirers. That fact is something to celebrate.

    As for Botswana’s year-away hunting ban, when a friend asked me the other day if Costa Rica is the first country to ban hunting, I said I knew of no other. Now, thanks to you, Kathleen, I do.

    Bless Botswana and bless Costa Rica. And bless the countries — and other jurisdictions — that will one day follow suit.

  2. A tribute in memory of the alpha female from the Lamar Canyon pack…a photo gallery by a photographer who has followed her for most of her life

  3. Thank you, Kathleen. The photo gallery of ’06 stirs the soul. For whatever reason, I couldn’t get the sound to play; several of the guests commented on its beauty being equal to this lovely wolf.

    Try as I might, I cannot imagine what would make someone want to kill such a magnificent creature who was made by a power greater than any of us, and who was — who is still — loved by that Maker.

    It must be some monstrous fear, combined with humongous hubris, that would cause one to betray — in oneself and in this beautiful being called wolf — the beauty and grace, the independence and intelligence with which we are all born, for which we all live, and from which we can never truly be separated (in the sense that a bullet cannot kill immortal qualities).

    Speaking of the word “betrayal”: The fate of Judas wasn’t pleasant. I cannot imagine that any traitor of goodness and greatness — whether
    embodied in a wolf or a wild horse, in a bison or a bear — can live in peace for long.

  4. The West is not “at war” with wildlife. That’s a hyperbolic statement, that hinges upon strained comparisons to the scorched earth policies of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Current managed hunting or agency control methods are nothing like those earlier practices.

    The West in general, and the Greater Yellowstone area in particular, boasts a robust and world-class variety of wildlife — from field mice to grizzly bears.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve never met a wolf or carnivore specialist (and I’ve had face time with some of the top experts in the world) who was against the general principle of those animals being hunted.

    Rather, the debates center around the specifics and particulars of hunting and management programs, depending on location, potential conflict with human interests, population densities, genetic diversity, available habitat, and other factors.

    In light of those factors, some say the current hunting programs might be too heavy-handed, while others argue they are working quite well.

    Two more points regarding wildlife in general and large carnivores in particular:

    First, nature doesn’t hinge upon love, peace and warm feelings — it operates on competition. Every creature will defend its territory and interests, so why should humans be any different? Many people who don’t live in the proximity of large predators might have romantic ideas of how it could, or should, be done. But actually doing it is another matter.

    Secondly, the real and grave threat to the West’s wildlife comes not from firearms, traps or stereotypical angry rednecks — rather, it comes from bulldozers, concrete and asphalt. In other words, the fracturing or loss of habitat.

    If you wish to help the wild creatures here, probably the most meaningful and effective thing you can do is buy or rent a home in town — and not in the latest sprawling subdivision.

  5. First, Hal, who exactly are these wolf experts you keep mentioning, referenced in the quote below? Would you care to name them or at least identify their individual professional affiliations and how many of them you’ve met? You like to use the word hyperbolic frequently, but this statement of yours is gross generalization that does not represent all of those who work with and understand apex (and other) carnivores. The comment I’m referring to is this: “For what it’s worth, I’ve never met a wolf or carnivore specialist (and I’ve had face time with some of the top experts in the world) who was against the general principle of those animals being hunted.”

    Second, you write, “nature doesn’t hinge upon love, peace and warm feelings — it operates on competition.” You’re trying to frame the argument as one between you pragmatic Westerners and the rest of us others who (you’ve deemed) have naive and inaccurate accountings of how nature operates. It’s such a commonly used justification, it’s easy to forget the underlying implication … which is that anyone who opposes this wolf hunt must have this misguided, psychedelic, flowery notion of how nature operates.

    Again, this is another simplistic statement designed to justify the clearly unnatural methodologies of human species, whose actions toward these wolves, in many cases, involve retribution over any sort of survival imperative. I’ve been to many wolf hunting boards and chats, and don’t need to fictionalize what the wolf hunters themselves reveal in their motives. It’s pretty damned ugly, the worst of human character.

    I can think of no human survival mandate here that comes even close to the type of natural competition that occurs in the wild. With respect to wolves in particular, the percentage of livestock losses to wolves is minimal in the larger spectrum of statistical losses. Territorially speaking, the wolves don’t have a leg up (pun intended) on anything we’ve constructed to cut off the land from their rightful coexistence (land demarcations, barbed wire, predation control, etc.)

    Beyond all of that, interaction between natural prey and predators isn’t always a vicious, competitive arena as you suggest. There are many examples of symbiosis, altruism and other facets that preclude using “natural” order as a rationalization for our behavior.

    The wolf “hunts” are motivated by so many complicated and often nefarious motivations, there is no way to defend these hunters and trappers — who’ve killed such a significant number of wolves in this very short time — and simultaneously retain any appearance of objectivity or rationality. This is hunting fervor at its worst, executed by those who harbor hard and ill feelings toward wolves. There are far too many people out there shooting and trapping wolves whose emotional hatred toward these animals, publicly expressed in many venues, does, indeed, border on the 19th century mentality you cite.

  6. When speciesism is the topic, animal consumers/exploiters will argue vociferously for human exceptionalism. But when a comparison is to their advantage, “Every creature will defend its territory and interests, so why should humans be any different?”

  7. At the behest of hunting groups, a judge has reopened hunting/trapping along the northern border of Yellowstone. These are the areas that were recently closed (as noted above) by state “game” managers after a number of park wolves–many wearing research collars–were killed.

    A discussion here
    makes some interesting observations about the judge.

    Independent news source:

  8. Also related to this post: “Grizzly recovery does not require hunting”

  9. A year or so ago, I read a number of posts on and was impressed with its writers. George Wuerthner, whose name I recognize, is undoubtedly one who I admired; if I didn’t then, I surely do now.

    Out of all the wonderful arguments Wuerthner makes, only one or two give me pause.

    He writes: “Is killing a bear just to have a ‘trophy’ rug on the wall a legitimate and ethical use of wildlife, especially when that destruction of a wild creature denies the rest of the public of its wildlife heritage?”

    I would put it this way: ” . . . especially when that destruction of a free-living creature deprives him of his life, deprives his family of their mate and father and brother, deprives his friends of their companion, and deprives the world of its right to have public lands managed for the good of all.”

    As a former hunter and hunting guide who hasn’t renounced all aspects of hunting, Wuerthner has his own reasons for saying “I believe that hunting can lead to some valuable insights about wildlife and individuals” (I wish he would elaborate on those “valuable insights.”)

    I wish even more that he had described his “almost transcendental [hunting] experiences—ironically more often when I did not kill an animal.” (I’m presuming no one else in his hunting party killed an animal at those times.)

    Wuerthner concludes: “If one is going to take the life of another creature, one must be absolutely certain that killing is justified.” I can think of only two true justifications in modern-day America, and both of them seem unusual, infrequent: (1) someone is starving and has no access to — or means to buy — nutritious plant-based food, (2) someone’s life is directly threatened by that animal.

    The observation Wuerthner made that rings most true to me is this: “[A] growing body of research suggests that hunting of predators actually increases human conflicts.” That makes total sense, so I can see why science would support it. I think it is arrogant or ignorant to believe otherwise.

  10. For Hal’s benefit, I do know at least one wolf specialist who is “against the general principle” of wolves being hunted — independent biologist Jay Malonnee. Here is a quote from him: ““As a research biologist, my experiences with these animals, both in captivity and in the field, have taught me they are something quite different from what most people have imagined. Wolves are not crops to be harvested and then regrown each year. They are societies of individuals that have complex social interactions, emotions, and a profound affect on their surroundings, all of which develop over time.”

    Gordon Haber was also strongly opposed to wolf hunting. You could probably question his credibility, because he wasn’t very good at getting his work peer-reviewed and published, but as I understand it he did spend quite a bit of time in the field studying his specialty, the wolves. He said the following: “The same extraordinary sentience that is so integral to their basic biology also provides an ethical reason for not allowing them to be harvested and for considering remedial short-term control only in the rarest of circumstances, when there are solid, irrefutable biological and cost-benefit arguments and no other reasonable alternatives. To treat them otherwise is wrong. Such higher standing is now generally accorded to other creatures of obvious high sentience, including whales, dolphins, gorillas, and chimpanzees, and it is time to extend it fully to wolves.”

    And yes, I would characterize what the Northern Rockies states are doing to wildlife as a kind of war. Maybe it isn’t a genocidal war that will completely wipe out the wolf species, but it’s still a campaign of organized, deadly, and largely unprovoked violence. If that’s not a war, what is?

  11. Jay Malonee, Gordon Haber, and CaptainSakonna: I salute your each and every word, which evidence candor, compassion, common sense, and conscience.

    It’s fitting that the word conscience means “with science.” Real science discovers and celebrates the beauty, harmony, and interconnectedness of all life, instead of looking for excuses to destroy the intelligent individuals who inhabit this diverse and glorious creation called earth.

  12. Captain,

    A homogeny of view and opinion would make science (or anything else) incredibly boring.

    I have not had an opportunity to meet with the gentlemen you mentioned, but would welcome a chance to do so. Ecology and wildlife are subjects I’m fascinated by and passionate about, so I’m always eager to learn.

    Thusly, I’m not suggesting either of those researchers is simply full of it, but I would caution, being absolutely against wolf hunting would put them in a position of lively debate in a room full of their peers. Again, many of whom I have met, and who are no less qualified than they are.

    And again, it’s not always so simple as being “opposed” or “in favor” of wolf hunting. Even many of those who don’t see anything wrong with the principle of carnivore hunts, have problems with how the current wolf hunts are being managed.

    Others think the hunts are just find. As with anything else, it depends upon whom you talk to, and learning does not hinge upon just seeking out sources who will echo your own point of view.

    On a personal level, I am a hunter, but have also always supported the wolves being here. I have no desire to hunt wolves myself. I see no point in it — Wolf steaks or wolf burgers don’t sound particularly appealing.

    Neither am I against the general principle of wolves being hunted by others, but I am always open to new views and information.

    What I’m dubious toward, are views that skew too far toward extremes — either that wolves should remain untouched and human interests are only secondary, or that they have no place in the ecosystem here, and it was a “mistake” to bring them back. A view couched in either extreme will by taken by me with a healthy helping of salt.

  13. Ingrid,

    The people I’ve had conversation with did so in a professional capacity or with an understanding of confidence, so it would not be ethical or seemly for me to mention specific names.

    That said, rest assured, they’ve come from a variety of backgrounds — including from agencies that stand to benefit from wolf hunts (although, that should not automatically disqualify what they have to say), other agencies or groups that stand to benefit from wolf research and tourism (thus, more likely to be less favorable toward wolf hunting), and still others with no particular affiliation with a group or agency.

    In regards to attitudes toward wolves, stereotypes will often fall short, but rules of thumb also apply.

    Thusly, I’ve noticed just as keenly as you (perhaps even more keenly, because I’m a hunter myself) the utterly ignorant and miserable attitudes some hunters have toward carnivores in general, and wolves in particular.

    But, the flip side of the coin is also true. I’ve been on many a commentary site, where most of those berating the wolf hunts live in metropolitan areas hundreds or thousands of miles away, and betray through their own statements, ignorance and naive, idealistic views toward wildlife and nature.

    Ingrid, I know your views well enough by now to not lump you into the latter category of opinion, but please don’t deny it does, in fact, exist.

    Likewise, you should understand me well enough by now to know I don’t fall into the former category of opinion. But neither do I deny that it does, in fact, exist.

    Hyperbole exists on both sides of the dog fight over wolves. Wolves are not “decimating” game herds. But neither are we at “war” with them.

    You can’t forget, I’ve been following this issue since the very beginning — nearly 20 years now — and such rhetorical language ceased to do anything but bore and offend me a long, long time ago.

    When I start hearing words like “decimation” and “war,” my B.S. meter hits the redline, and I have trouble lending much credibility to the source from that point on.

    Yes, absolutely, some hunters go out with the attitude that they are on a mission to avenge God and country against the bloodthirsty beast that is the wolf. I’ve met such people — and read their banal rantings on hunting brag boards enough to know what they’re going to say before they even say it.

    Still, others I have talked to don’t have that attitude at all. They see wolves wildlife — to be hunted, yes. But to be exterminated with a spirit of vengeance? No, I did not get that impression from them at all.

  14. What if I hadn’t seen the fox at all?

    Would I have wanted to go again?

    What if we had lived in the country, and had horses of our own,

    and I had been expected to go hunting from an early age?

    Would I have grown up accepting that this was the thing to do?

    Would I have hunted foxes again and again,

    and watched dispassionately their suffering,

    “all pity choked by custom of fell deed”?

    Is this how it happens?

    We do what our friends do

    in order to be one of the group, to be accepted?

    Of course there are always some strong-minded individuals

    who have the courage of their convictions,

    who stand out against the group’s accepted norms of behavior.

    But it is probably the case

    that inappropriate or morally wrong behaviors

    are more often changed by the influence of outsiders,

    looking with different eyes, from different backgrounds.

    (Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey © 1999)

    by Jane Goodall*

    *Jane, as a horse-crazy teen, was invited by friends to go riding in the U.K. countryside. She innocently and excitedly accepted, having no idea of the horrors she would encounter. This quote can be found in Chapter 14, pp 33-35, of

  15. (Reuters) Zambia has banned the hunting of lions and other endangered wild cats such as leopards because it sees more value in game viewing tourism than blood sport, the country’s tourism minister said on Thursday.

  16. YEAH, ZAMBIA! 🙂

  17. This is fucking disgusting!

  18. As of right now, 176 wolves are dead in Montana’s Canis lupus cull-fest; 110 by hunting; 66 by trapping. The killing continues through 2/28, and national park animals won’t catch a break; this just in:

    “Montana wildlife officials said Monday (1/28) that they were abandoning their efforts to shut down gray wolf hunting and trapping just outside the gates of Yellowstone National Park, citing a recent court ruling that threatened to drag out the issue until the season was almost over.”

    Read more:

  19. It’s official–Costa Rican President signs ban on hunting

    Chinchilla said she regretted that the country had to wait six years for the approval of the bill, and that “during all that time some animal species disappeared.”

  20. YAY, COSTA RICA!!!!

    The appropriately-named president of that country is proving that a small country whose people say “no” to tyrannical forces within and without *can* achieve good things. Not just for its own inhabitants, but for visitors in search of natural, unadulterated, unmanipulated beauty and peace.

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