How do you value an alpha female wolf?

PBS Nature – click image

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.

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 wolf—was the alpha female from the popular Lamar Canyon pack. She died in Wyoming.

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.

Comment on this piece at animal law blog Animal Blawg.