|Randy Newberg (left) and Matt Clyde|
"All wolves mean to them is money," says Newberg (who makes this statement while filming a wolf-hunting show for profit.) He claims that wolf advocates are "disconnected" from the land and disrupting the "lifestyle" and "culture" of locals, who are, so he claims, "connected to the land."
It's a common "us vs them" mentality I often here — “out-of-staters” vs “locals,” “anti-hunters” vs “hunters,” but it's not true. There are many local folks, like me, who live here in Montana, who hunt elk and deer, who fish, who spend a lot of time roaming the wilds, who are deeply-connected to the land, and who oppose the killing of wolves for no legitimate reason (in Newberg's case, just for amusement, entertainment and profit).
"The people of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho protected these huge landscapes," Newberg says. "And then you people come here and tell us how to do it? You screwed up your backyard so bad you can't even get a rabbit to live there. And then you people come here and tell us what we're going to do?" (Newberg moved to Montana in 1991 from Minnesota.)
Actually, our federal public lands -- which include National Forests managed by the U.S. Forest Service; lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management; National Parks managed by the U.S. Park Service, and National Wildlife Refuges managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service -- belong to all Americans, from all over the United States. They were originally acquired through purchases, such as the Louisiana Purchase, or through conquest, such as the Mexican Cession. At first, the United States practiced a policy of disposing of these lands, through programs such as the Homestead Act. Eventually, through the leadership of numerous individuals and organizations such as Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, George Bird Grinnell, Gifford Pinchot, John Jay Audubon, the National Wildlife Federation, the Boone and Crockett Club, the Audubon Society, the Sierra Club and many others -- hunters and nonhunters, hunting groups and nonhunting groups -- the public lands we enjoy today were set aside for various reasons, to be protected and managed for various purposes, much of it, in Pinchot's words, for "the greatest good to the greatest number of people for the longest time."
For the greatest good to the greatest number of people. Not for the greatest number of hunted species for hunters.
Our federal public lands were created and are maintained by all American taxpayers. We hunters love to claim that we pay for conservation. However, on a national-scale, when you look at the costs of protecting and maintaining the federal lands where many of us hike, camp, backpack, watch wildlife, take photos, and yes, hunt and fish, we hunters pay for about six-percent of the costs.
It's true that many state wildlife agencies, such as the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, are funded largely (up to 55 percent) through the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, and they receive federal funds raised through excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment. But much of the state agency funding is also money allocated from state budgets, and raised by all of us who pay taxes in our states. Hunters and nonhunters. A lot of that money -- with help from hunter-based conservation organizations -- has been used to purchase and protect critical winter range, migratory corridors and other habitat for elk, deer and other hunted species. Much of that has also benefit nonhunted and threatened and endangered species, including wolves.
The downfall to such a system: Hunters have a huge influence over state wildlife management decisions and management which mostly benefit hunted species, sometimes to the detriment of other wildlife, particularly predators.
No doubt about it, we hunters have played and continue to play a huge role in restoring, enhancing, expanding and protecting many wildlife species, particularly hunted species such as elk, deer, pronghorn and bighorn sheep. Hence, a lot of hunters like Newberg get pretty emotional and say things such as, "We protected these huge landscapes. And then you people come here and tell us how to do it? You screwed up your backyard so bad you can't even get a rabbit to live there. And then you people come here and tell us what we're going to do?"
Aside from there being plenty of rabbits and other wildlife throughout the United States, even in urban back yards, and the fact that most land was “screwed up” and developed long before anyone alive today was born, all Americans, and all state residents, help fund wildlife conservation and management programs, and the protection of wildlife and wild places. We should all have a say in how its managed. And some hunters, like me, don't do it just so we have a place to hunt and animals to kill. Some of us do it because we want to help protect, enhance and maintain healthy, functioning ecosystems and landscapes for all wildlife, including wolves, even if that may sometimes result in less hunting opportunity. This is why it's so offensive to some of us hunters when Newberg says, "If you hunt, you hunt everything. You hunt prey. You hunt predators. We have a responsibility to hunt wolves. We need to manage them the way we manage every species."
In his wolf-hunting show, Newberg features David Allen, who was then the Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Allen has called wolves "the worst ecological disaster since the decimation of bison herds," and had repeatedly claimed that wolves are "decimating" elk herds. "To keep wolf populations controlled, states will have to hold hunts, shoot wolves from the air and gas their dens,” Allen has said. Under his leadership, the Elk Foundation offered the state of Montana $50,000 to contract with the federal Wildlife Services agency to “aggressively” kill more wolves. “And the next step is the grizzly bear,” he said. “We’ve got bear issues with elk calves in the spring -- both grizzly and black bear. We can’t have all these predators with little aggressive management and expect to have ample game herds, and sell hunting tags and generate revenue.”
Allen agreed with Newberg. "We need to manage wolves like we manage all species," he said. "We need to hunt them like we hunt all wildlife." Of course, we don't hunt all wildlife. We don't, for example, hunt bald eagles, ravens or western tanagers. Animals that are managed and hunted are generally, at least ideally, managed and hunted in accordance with what we know about the biology, ecology, habits and behavior of those species. This is why management actions and hunting seasons for elk and deer are not the same as they are for, say, mountain goats and bighorn sheep. Not all wildlife is, or should be, managed the same.
One of the cornerstones of our North American Model of Conservation -- which hunters and hunting-based organizations love to tout and claim to support -- is that wildlife be managed based on good, sound science. That good, sound science shows that the return of wolves to much of the western United States has resulted in significant overall, long-term benefits to wildlife and the habitat that sustains them -- including the species we love to hunt. That good, sound science shows that wolves, being a predator species, have altogether different, and self-regulating, reproductive and survival behaviors and strategies than prey species. That good, sound science shows that wolves have highly-complex social structures and breeding behaviors. That good, sound science shows that if you inadvertently kill certain wolves -- such as the dominant breeding female, for example -- it can throw the pack into disarray, lead to the expansion and creation of more packs, lead to other wolves breeding, and lead to more wolves. That good, sound science shows that if you inadvertently kill certain wolves -- such as the dominant male or female -- then younger wolves will fail to learn lessons from them, such as best ways and places to hunt, and this can change a pack's hunting behaviors and lead to incidences such as, say, killing more domestic cattle rather than wild deer and elk.
That's what the science tells us. But a lot of hunters don't like good, sound science when it contradicts what they want to believe. And a lot of state wildlife agencies don't follow good, sound science when it goes against what hunters want to believe. That's why, in Idaho, the fish and game department conducts aerial shooting of wolves and sends bounty hunters into wilderness areas to eliminate wolf packs despite the good, sound science and what know about wolf behavior, ecology and biology. (See Killing Wolves: A Hunter-Led War Against Science and Wildlife.)
That good, sound science doesn't play well to the membership of hunting organization's like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, or the viewers of programs like "On Your Own Adventures." It's more effective to boost membership, viewers, funding and profit by perpetuating lies, myths and misconceptions about wolves and simplify the issue as if it's "residents vs nonresidents," "hunters vs anti-hunters," "rational vs emotional," "informed vs uninformed," "connected vs disconnected." Ratings and profit are better when you tell hunters what they want to hear. Newberg knows his audience.
Despite the emotional, uninformed claims of apparently disconnected people like Newberg and Allen, elk populations are increasing in most of the West. In Idaho, the fish and game department is expanding elk hunting to reduce elk populations while simultaneously killing wolves under the guise of protecting and boosting elk numbers. Where elk populations do appear on the decline there are plenty of factors to consider in addition to wolves: Changes in habitat; the previous existence of artificially high elk populations at levels beyond the viable carrying capacity of the land; lack of mature bulls and low bull-to-cow ratios in herds (often resulting from early season hunting and too much hunting pressure on bull elk) which influences the timing of the rut and breeding behavior, the timing of spring calving, and often results in increased vulnerability of elk calves to predation; influence of other predators including mountain lions, black bears and grizzlies; unanticipated impacts of various hunting regulations and hunting pressure, and changes in behavior and habitat use by elk in the presence of wolves. And so on. Good, sound science can be complex.
Where I hunt, the growing presence of wolves has changed the behavior and habits of elk. Elk bunch up more for safety, and move around more to evade and avoid wolves. They are a lot more wary. I have adapted and adjusted to these changes and have no problem finding elk. This is part of the beauty and value of hunting within wilderness -- to adjust, adapt and be part of the landscape; to be, as my friend David Petersen puts it, part of the "bedrock workings of nature." We render the wilds a diminished abstract when we alter it to suit our own needs and desires and, in the process, make it less healthy and whole. There are those who espouse the virtues of backcountry hunting and yet seem apathetic or supportive towards the destruction of backcountry integrity. Those who understand the wilds -- those of who are connected to the land -- know how critically important predators are to the health of the land.
This is, in large part, why I have no desire to kill my fellow predators (that, and I strongly believe in only killing what you plan to eat), despite Newberg’s ignorant insistence that it’s my “responsibility” to kill wolves.
"We as hunters, we need to be out there hunting these wolves," he says. "This is part of who we are . . . that's part of our job. If you’re going to manage wildlife, you can’t just manage the prey species. You have to manage the predator species, and anyone who thinks otherwise, they need a quick education.”
At one point in his wolf-hunting show, Newberg worries that his rifle may no longer be accurately sighted in, because he “dinged” his scope. If the scope was knocked out of sync, it could result in missing or wounding a wolf. So to check it out he decides to test it, not on a target, but on a living coyote. “That coyote will be a good way to find out,” he says. Apparently, his rifle was still properly sighted; He killed the coyote in one shot. “I just saved a lot of deer and a lot of antelope,” he says, before ranting again about wolves.
“I make zero apologies for hunting wolves,” he says. “I never will apologize for hunting wolves. You’re damn right I’m a wolf-hunter, and I don’t care what anyone thinks about it. We set the dinner table for these wolves, and we have every right to be hunting these wolves.”
And hunt wolves they did, he and his hunting partner Matt Clyde, glassing the hills with high-powered spotting scopes, running and jumping in the truck to drive closer to where they spotted wolves, climbing the mountains and glassing some more, running and jumping in the truck and driving some more. They spotted some wolves back where they had been earlier and so ran and jumped in the truck and drove back there again. (Newberg was frustrated when cattle were in the road, slowing them down, increasing their driving time.) Then back up the mountain again. Finally, there was a black wolf coming towards them. Clyde steadied his rifle while Newberg measured the distance with a range-finder.
“Seven-hundred and fifty yards,” Newberg says . . . “500 yards . . . 480 . . . “ Clyde shoots. The wolf appears hit and runs a short distance. Clyde shoots again. The wolf goes down and struggles. Clyde shoots a third time. The wolf is dead. “Congratulations. You made an amazing shot!” Newberg says. (I'm not sure which shot he's referring to.) “It was fun, it was exciting, and that’s why were out here,” he says, as Clyde pets what Newberg refers to as “the big black dog in white snow” where it lays in a large pool of blood.
“I’m going to hunt wolves every day I can that’s legal,” Newberg says. “Every day that I have a tag. Every time I can protect these elk herds, I will be there. I will have my rifle, and I will have my tags, and the wolves will be in trouble.”