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The Cry Heard Around the World

With wolf hunts now taking place in all three states around Yellowstone, new issues are coming up.  Although Montana and Idaho had a hunt last year, this fall is Wyoming’s first wolf hunt.

At least 10 collared Yellowstone Park and Grand Teton wolves have been killed in this years’ hunt, and more than half of them occurred in Wyoming.  The last collared wolf killed was taken in my area, hunt area 2, and she was the eighth wolf and so closed the zone.  And this wolf, wolf 832F (F for female), dubbed ‘o6 by Park wolf watchers, was perhaps the most famous wolf in the world, and most loved.  She’d been highly visible in the Lamar Valley since she was born in 2006, and was the alpha female of her pack.

'06 this summer  hightails it away from Molly Pack

’06 this summer hightails it away from Molly Pack

Last spring on a May morning I went to the Lamar and watched her with her son try and scare a grizzly off a dead bison.  On the other side of the grizzly were two wolves of Molly’s Pack, a formidable pack in the Park that had been threatening to kill 06’s pups.  Another wolf from the Lamar Pack, 754, was shot in my hunt zone in November.  At least 2 collared wolves from Grand Teton have been shot, and there’s speculation that as many as 13 uncollared from GT have been taken in the hunt.

’06’s death has been highly publicized all around the world, from PRI to European newspapers.  People from all over the world watched and knew ’06.  In response to public opinion, Montana, who is about to begin their first wolf trapping season, has created a buffer zone around the Park’s northern border.  Just for this hunt/trap season only.  Next year is a different story perhaps.  Although Idaho’s wolf hunting and trapping season is almost endless, the expansive Madison Valley  sits in the way of many wolves migrating from the Park in that direction.

'06 swims the Lamar river, emerges onto the road right in front of tourists.

’06 swims the Lamar river, emerges onto the road right in front of tourists.

Wyoming is another story.  Most of the Park is in WY, as is all of Grand Teton.  85% of the state has been approved by the Obama administration as a predator zone which means shoot on sight (or trap, or bait, or whatever) anytime, anywhere.  So the managed hunt zone, called the Trophy Zone, is essentially the ‘buffer’ zone around the Park.  With the loss of so many study wolves, is the era of Park research over?  And with the hoards of wolf watchers habituating these wolves to a benign human presence, is the era of wolf watching in the Park about to change?  Will it be harder to see wolves in the Park?  And will that bring in less visitors?  And should Wyoming manage their ‘buffer zone’ around the Park with Park research in mind?

I can say that my zone, hunt zone 2, had the highest quota of all the zones.  If you take zone 2 and 3 together, they make up the entire Absaroka eastern side of YNP, with a quota of 16 out of 52 wolves.  This is a rich area for genetic exchange, mostly Shoshone designated wilderness area, and wolves travel frequently in and out of the Park in this area following their prime food, elk.  Those two areas alone, which are a prime buffer zone, make up 1/3 of the state’s quota for 2012!

Hopefully ’06’s death will bring some good and highlight what is wrong with the hunts the way they are managed now.

First, the quotas of 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs per state was set a long time ago when no one knew how wolves would adapt to the Rocky Mountains.  Although Montana is setting their own quota at 400, Idaho which has prime territory and over 70% federal lands, is in a frenzy to eliminate wolves, hunting and trapping 10 months of the year with no quotas.  Wyoming, which has few wolves outside the Park, before the hunt it was around 230, is not only mostly predator status, but is also eyeing that 100 mark as their quota.  These quotas are simply ridiculously low for the amount of good habitat and prey.  Wyoming in many areas is trying to reduce their elk counts by giving hunters numerous tags, but at the same time reducing the predator that could do that job in a better, more effective and selective manner.

This wolf, from my valley, was by the road two years ago.  With the hunts you will no longer see wolves so easily

This wolf, from my valley, was by the road two years ago. With the hunts you will no longer see wolves so easily

Second, trapping is simply anathema to the 21st century.  It is cruel and poses dangers to not only other wildlife, but to pets.  Pelts are sold mostly to the Chinese market, which enrages me more.  This is what happened with our beaver and bison in the 19th century, when European demand had hunters and trappers eradicating our wildlife for hats and coats.  Wildlife as a commodity is simply wrong, just as human trafficking is.

Third, until the predator status is changed so that all of Wyoming is designated trophy status, the Trophy zone around the Park needs to be changed.  Quotas in sensitive areas right around the Park need to be decreased, hunt zones readjusted, and hunt times changed for each area.  Instead of hunting the entire trophy zone Sept or October through December, zones near the Park need to close earlier as the elk begin to come down from the high country and the Park wolves follow.  Once Wyoming predator status is eliminated, wolf hunts should take place only in areas where there are conflicts with ranchers, not in areas with no conflict and lots of wilderness.

Finally, personally I disagree with hunting predators–wolves, coyotes, foxes, cougars, bears, martens, you name it.  Being able to shoot a predator that is eating your sheep or cattle is one thing, hunting them for sport is another.  On the other hand, just seeing a wolf or coyote passing your property doesn’t mean they’re going to cause trouble; and ranchers who are far-sighted and conscious are trying new methods for protecting their flocks and herds.  Yet that being said, for now the delisting not only calls for a hunt, but in the short run of the next ten years, it may be the only way to quiet the loud and contentious opposition to wolves.  Let’s just not undo all the good hard work that brought them here over these last 15 years.

If you want to comment and have your voice heard on the wolf situation in Wyoming, here is a link.   Wyoming wolf hunt 

Two wolves side trot down the road

Two wolves side trot down the road


What is the wolf experience?

Wolf hunts are going on right now.  I recently read that in Montana you can shoot a wolf, tag it, and walk away, leaving the carcass to rot on the ground.  In Idaho, the wolf hunt is practically year round with no legal limits.  Idaho’s first legal wolf trapping season is about to begin.  They want to reduce their population from about 1000 wolves down to 150. Wolf haters always like to talk about dogs being prey for wolves.  The amount of dogs killed by wolves is miniscule–mostly sheep dogs watching their flock in open country. Traps for wolves, on the other hand, will certainly kill or maim a lot of dogs.

Last winter my dog almost got caught in a leg trap intended for a bobcat.  Luckily, I say almost.  The trap was set close to a large tourist pull-out that houses one of the only toilets along a major road.  Although not illegal, I considered the trappers’ choice of placement highly unethical, and frankly lazy.  People stop there for a rest and let their dogs out for a break.  

When I was a kid growing up, my parents impressed upon me the two taboo subjects you should never talk about in a social setting–religion and politics. These were surely the firecrackers that would ignite a fight when you just wanted peace and a good time.  Why? Because religion and politics are the stuff of emotion, not logic.  Today, living in the West, I add one more subject to that list–wolves.

I’ve pondered why wolves are on this list.  Really, they are just an animal doing what they were born to do. There are lots of other predators that we don’t place in the same category.  Eagles, weasels, mountain lions to name a few.  Only wolves have that magnetic polarizing effect.

Why?  I’m going to venture a wild hypothesis:

On a warm June night, I’m returning from a meeting in Cody.  It’s dusk and I’m beginning my drive home.  The massive up-tilt of red rock, called the Chugwater Formation, forms the cornerstone of the grassy large ranch that sits at the base of the mountain road.

Chugwater sandstone

The land slopes gradually upward, then with increasing steepness the views widen of this deep impressive drainage.  I’ve always loved this part of the ascent.  I can sense the specialness of this place, where once buffalo grazed.   Indians used this area as a drive, the ancient cairns stand as sentinels where they hid as the bison rushed through.

As I climb up the road, the view of the valley is most exquisite.   A cattle guard on the highway marks the boundary between the private lands below and the Shoshone National Forest above.  As my car crosses the grate, like a shot, three wolves run like hell across the road.  I press hard on the brakes to let them pass,  Full of life and energy, in my imagination, I see their excitement as the anticipation of their upcoming evening hunt.

The vision of those wolves will stick in my mind forever.   It was as if the Force of Life itself flew past me in a vision.

A wonderful chapter in Henry Beston’s The Outermost House describes a trip he made by boat to a rock full of birds.

The tiny island was so crowded that chicks were falling over the cliffs, eggs were being stepped on by birds and breaking, the energy of Life, and Death, one entire cycle, overwhelmed him to a point where he was almost sickened.  Raw creation.

I read that book as a teenager.   In it I understood that Life itself, that teeming, raw, primal energy of our Existence, permeates everything.  In fact, that energy of Life is so powerful that even death can not nullify it.

“There has been endless time of numberless deaths, but neither consciousness nor life has ceased to arise. The felt quantity and cycle to death has not modified the fragility of flowers, even the flowers within our human body.” **

And in a flash I understood what I, and all those who are traveling with me in this modern world, are afraid of.  We are afraid of life, which is a strange thing to say considering how hard we try and hang on to it.  But really, we are constantly suppressing it, attempting to harness and control it, create little niches where we feel safe and comfortable.  That is why it is easier for us to destroy, tear things apart, sullen our environment, attempt to control the forces of nature, and create the illusion of predictability, than to embrace Life.   To be in life implies being overwhelmed, swept away, carried like a raft in a great ocean, humbled, acknowledging our smallness and our connectedness.

I once made a trip to the Charlotte Islands, a land that even Canadians call “what Canada used to look like”.

A maze of small inlets and calm channels, the cold waters are so clear you can see over 50′ down riding in your kayak.  You are tide pooling without waiting for the lowest tides.  The waters were alive with life in a way I had never seen tide-pooling in Northern California.  Instead of dozens of sea stars, you saw hundreds on a rock. Masses of jellyfish small and large swam by you.  Everything I saw in the Northern California shores were multiplied one hundred-fold here.  These were the remnants of waters we still hadn’t polluted, a glimpse into the original primordial oceans that birthed us.  Life at this level looms on a mind-boggling yet fearsome scale.  Somewhere in us we say that this amount of energy must be controlled.

And that is where I come back to these wolves.  The vision of my wolves, running ecstatically across the road, in total abandon to their Existence, is an affirmation of that immense, wondrous, yet terrifying Power that is the Universe itself.  Wolves, in their ceaseless energy, their joie de vivre, their deep intelligence, embody the purity of   Life.

Maybe that is why humans have spent so much time and effort trying to control, even eliminate them. They are the emblem of true, unabashed, Freedom.

**Da Free John