Legislating Wolves!

Wolves – always controversial.

Last year, Montana said farewell to Jim Posewitz, a much-loved biologist, ethicist, angler, hunter, and philosopher. 

Poz, as he was widely known, literally wrote the book on hunting ethics, Beyond Fair Chase. Poz also founded Orion, the Hunter’s Institute, which, as is stated on the organization’s website, “exists to protect the future of hunting by providing leadership on ethical and philosophical issues and to promote fair chase and responsible hunting.”

There’s also a famous quotation from Poz, “I wanted people to know what a great privilege hunting is, and how much work it took to restore America’s broken wildlife system. By the time I was born, we had cleaned this place out of wildlife. Now we have urban deer, bears in orchards and goose poop on every golf shoe in Montana. That’s no accident. It was a choice people made.”

Another hero in wildlife and hunting ethics is Aldo Leopold, considered the father of modern scientific wildlife management, and author of A Sand County Almanac, a book published posthumously after his death in 1948.

As a young man, Leopold worked for the Forest Service, and part of his job, while stationed in Arizona, was to kill predators.  In a short chapter, titled “Thinking Like a Mountain,” he tells of spotting a wolf with pups and opening fire on them, mortally wounding the mama wolf. 

He writes, “We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes…I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.”

Now, I wonder what Poz or Aldo Leopold would think about the Montana Legislature and an apparent effort to push wolves back to endangered species status, if not extirpation. 

Last week, at the halfway point of the legislative session, there was a pair of wolf bills, SB-267 and SB-314. 

SB-267 has been described as a “bounty bill,” which would allow groups to pay successful wolf hunters and trappers a fee to reimburse them for expenses. This is modeled on a program in Idaho, where an organization raises money to pay successful trappers $500 to $1000 per wolf.

SB-314 directs the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission to consider more aggressive actions to reduce wolf populations, such as unlimited harvest by hunters or trappers, use of bait for hunting, and, on private land, night hunting using artificial light or night vision scopes.

Supporters of the bills point to several elk units in northwest Montana where there has been a decline in elk hunting success, and blame wolves for having a major impact on elk populations. As reported by Tom Kuglin of Lee Newspapers, elk populations in other units are stable or over goals, and biologists have not drawn a definitive link to wolves and reduced elk harvest in those northwest units. I suspect Chronic Wasting Disease may be a bigger factor.

Currently, hunting for wolves is permitted from September 15 to March 15, and trapping from December 15 to February 28. Except in a few units, primarily in areas adjoining Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, there are no bag limits or harvest quotas, other than a five tags per person limit. While baiting is not permitted, hunters may use scents to attract wolves. Night hunting is not allowed.

In short, for six months out of the year, Montana already has a long and liberal wolf hunting and trapping season across the state. The rules, while liberal, are within a kind of loose definition of fair chase.

If hunters think wolves are the reason they can’t find elk, they already have the tools they need to harvest wolves to their heart’s content. They shouldn’t need or expect payment, either. 

The essence of fair chase hunting is the privilege and opportunity to be in the great outdoors and participating in the hunt, and we shouldn’t expect further reward other than organically-grown food, or, in the case of wolves, the animal’s pelt.

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