Railing Against a Wolf Hunt

As a wolf hunt begins in Idaho, The New York Times isn't happy.

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The first legal wolf hunt in the continental United States in decades may be off to a slow start, but the debate surrounding it is not. On the East Coast, The New York Times editorial board strongly condemned the hunts in Idaho and Montana, calling them "misguided and, at best, premature." The bottom line of the argument is simple: there aren't enough wolves yet. Only recently off the "endangered" list in these states, wolves have reached a population of "just under 1,600," while the New York Times and environmental groups believe "wolves should be left alone until there are at least 2,000." As the editorial said:

To us, the wolf hunt in Idaho and Montana seems indecent. Hunters want to kill wolves because wolves kill elk — and the human hunters want the elk. A second reason is a love of killing things. A third is an implacable, and unjustified, hostility to the wolf. It is well past time to let gray wolves find their own balance in the Rockies.

Out West, there are plenty of counterarguments. Here are the best ones.

  • Concerned Citizens of Idaho  A September 1 collection of letters to the editor in the Idaho Statesman was largely pro-hunt. Environmentalists, one writer argued, have introduced human-habituated wolves, turning the "shy highcountry Idaho wolf of a few years back" into "the more aggressive killing machine of today." Another previously ambivalent citizen wrote of being "afraid" to enjoy the outdoors, and seeing far fewer deer and elk in recent years. Others are just plain angry. Sarcastically thanking the environmentalist lawyers who had challenged the hunt for "pushing [him] off the fence on wolf hunting," Rob Strong of New Meadows chronicled wolf supporters' increasingly high population targets.
  • A Call for Management  The more measured responses involve an argument for management. "Neither side is going to be completely satisfied," wrote the editors of the Idaho Press-Tribune in a cautiously pro-hunt position. "Some don't want any wolves hunted; some just don't want any wolves." The bottom line, though, is that "wolves have no natural predators" and require population control, even while the "great expense and toil" of reintroducing them argues for care in this enterprise.
  • Number Crunching  While Brian Merchant at TreeHugger was concerned, comparing legal hunt limits, licensed hunters, and population targets, a Cornell ecology graduate calling himself The Obligate Scientist came to a different conclusion: "unlike rabbits or squirrels," the blogger wrote, "wolves aren't so easy to find so the vast majority of hunters are going home empty handed." Considering various variables with the Idaho and Montana wolf numbers, he concluded: "the population seems like it'll be maintained at near their current levels, maybe with a small decline the next year or two."
  • Are Wolves Dangerous to Humans?  Dr. Valerius Geist thinks so (although he is a deer specialist). But there's a solution, argued the University of Calgary professor emeritus: "at low wolf-to-prey ratios wolves grow into very large, shy specimens that shun humans, while greatly enhancing our landscape and quality of life."

Wolves have long been a hot topic. As we head into the fall hunting season, there is no sign of a cool-down.

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