Long, long ago, when the world and I were both much younger, I went camping in Algonquin Provincial Park with a very pretty girl and my two dogs. It was in the beginning of the off-season, so while the weather was lovely, we had the place pretty much to ourselves; in fact, I don’t remember seeing another human being in the two days we were there.
We had cooked a meal, sat around the fire talking, and were just heading into our little tent for the night when suddenly a pack of wolves began to howl. It froze me in my tracks, and the effect on the dogs was amazing. One of them was a big, tough Briard, but even as their hackles went up and they both began to growl, I could tell they were terrified. To be honest, my hackles went up and I began to growl, with about the same degree of conviction and for much the same reason.
I know now that the pack was probably about a mile away, or even more, and that it was probably just a normal pack of wolves, not the several hundred animals it sounded like, but at the time, all by ourselves, barely out of our teens (we were on our way back to college), unarmed, it was a—you should pardon the expression—hair-raising experience. For all four of us.
Since then, I have heard other wolves, seen fresh tracks while bird-hunting in northern Minnesota, visited with some semi-tame ones in a scientific compound where the wolves were part of a genetic testing program, and I have also grown up considerably and learned a good deal more about this most magnificent ancestor of my dogs and ancestor of the genetic tribal memory—for good or ill—that runs in each of us.
So it was with mixed feelings that I received link to an article in the Idaho Statesman with the following headline: “Lawmakers: $2M aimed to kill more than 500 wolves.” Putting aside the less than graceful headline, the lead paragraph succinctly sums it all up:
“Republicans promoting Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s proposed $2 million taxpayer-financed fund to kill wolves hope the cash helps reduce Idaho’s population of these canine predators by more than 500 animals, to just 150 wolves in 15 packs.”
Predictably, the so-called animal rights organization Defenders of Wildlife (an organization with only a “D” rating—as in A, B, C, D, and F—for spending only forty-three percent of its total expenses on its programs) denounced the proposed action.
“This is just another example of Idaho’s unwillingness to manage wolves as a wildlife species,” said Jonathan Proctor, a Defenders of Wildlife spokesman in Denver. “They’re singling out wolves for special persecution. The majority of Idahoans expect state managers to manage all wildlife appropriately and not exterminate them to the bare minimum they think they can get away with.”
In the spirit of full disclosure, I have no desire to hunt wolves. (I don’t even like to shoot the ubiquitous coyote, though I have done so at the specific request of ranchers.) And in the spirit of full disclosure, I have little regard for animal rights organizations, with their cuddly portrayal of a Disneyesque natural world and their use of emotion to trump both science and reality. But in this particular case, I happen to agree with Defenders of Wildlife. Not because I want to cuddle up with wolves in my tent, but because this makes less than zero economic sense. Let’s review the bidding.
Wolves in Idaho have drastically reduced both the resident deer and elk herds. The elk herds have been particularly hard hit. Elk hunting represents a significant economic boost to the economy in Idaho, and the wolves’ reduction of the herds has had a predictable effect on outfitters, with some of them simply closing their doors and looking for other lines of work.
The economy is hurting generally throughout America. When the economy is in the toilet, fewer people go hunting. When there are no elk to attract hunters, even those lucky people with extra cash go elsewhere where they can reasonably expect to find elk. State fish and game departments are funded largely by hunters and fishermen. State fish and game departments are responsible for managing fish and game in their respective states. Since the economy in Idaho is no better off than the American economy generally, and they no longer have the hunters coming into the state in the numbers they used to, their fish and game department is feeling the pinch.
Soooooo….. The Idaho state legislature puts two and two together and comes up with three. Instead of offering many more, and more liberal, wolf-hunting licenses and various inducements to encourage hunters to come to Idaho and spend the money that would put much needed revenue into the fish and game department’s coffers, the state legislature decides to spend the tax-payer’s money to achieve the same goal they are going to spend two million dollars on.
I know very well that hunters, even in large numbers, are very unlikely ever to take five hundred wolves in a single season, but it would reduce the wolf population while bringing in money, and hunting pressure has been shown to have an impact on the surviving animals, making them more wary around humans and consequently less likely to prey on domestic animals.
Didn’t the politicians in Idaho learn anything from the boneheads in California? Twenty years ago, voters in California, influenced by cuddly and emotional anti-hunting campaigns that had nothing to do with reality, banned mountain lion hunting over the objections of the scientists at the California Dept. of Fish and Game. Today, the very predictable result is: an out of control mountain lion population; increased (and historically unprecedented) confrontations between humans and the big cats; drastic reduction of deer numbers in some areas and (more importantly) of desert big horn numbers in the mountains east of San Diego, where the sheep had been re-introduced at the tax payer’s considerable expense; loss of revenue from mountain lion hunting fees, a loss that the most under-funded (California game wardens earn less than any other form of law enforcement in the state) fish and game department (relative to the population) in the nation could greatly use; and an increased expense for the tax payers because today professional hunters are paid (by the tax payer) to kill more mountain lions annually than were taken by hunters who paid for the privilege twenty years ago. Yep, that sure makes a lot of sense, by golly. They say that California leads the way for the rest of the nation. Is that supposed to be a good thing? Not if Idaho imitating the Golden State is an example.