The war on wildlife in the United States presents some very surprising twists as wolves are being set up and sold out and various organizations don't speak out on their behalf. It’s difficult to fathom why conservation groups aren’t outraged.
Who's really defending wildlife and who's not?
It's no secret that wildlife in the United States is under siege by various organizations. A web search for topics such as "United States war on wildlife" yields a sickening number of sources that show that we all should be deeply concerned with what is happening to wildlife across our country and abroad. And, not surprisingly, predators are the targets of choice and get the short end of the stick -- bullets from guns, legs or other body parts caught in traps and in snares, or non-specific poisons that are highly inhumane and cause horrific pain and suffering before the individuals die. And, all too frequently, humans, individuals of endangered species, and companion animals get caught in the melee and suffer from being what is dismissively called "collateral damage" (please see, for example, Dr. Mark Mansfield's essay "Commentary: USDA Wildlife Services poisoned my son").
Two recent films also clearly document what is happening. In the first, Predator Defense's award-winning EXPOSED: USDA's Secret War on Wildlife, three former federal agents and a prominent Congressman blow the whistle on the USDA's barbaric and wasteful Wildlife Services program and expose the government’s secret war on wildlife. Of this film I wrote,"EXPOSED is one of the most disturbing videos I have ever seen. Wildlife Services could easily be called ‘Murder, Inc.’ Their horrific, intentional and secret slaughter of millions of animals in the name of ‘coexistence’ is appalling. They need to be put out of business." Many others agree.
The other film that is a must-see is Project Coyote's "KILLING GAMES ~ Wildlife In The Crosshairs."
A perfect storm: The war on wildlife in the United States presents some very surprising twists as wolves are being set up and sold out and various organizations don't speak out on their behalf
There are some major problems in how human-animal conflicts are handled, and now, a third film called "The Profanity Peak Pack: Set Up and Sold Out," has been released by Predator Defense that continues on with the sad story of the incessant horrific war on wildlife and some surprises about who is not speaking out directly about it. And, as I write, a kill order has been put out for several wolves in the Smackout pack, also in the state of Washington, and Idaho is considering using baiting to attract and to kill wolves.
As of July 27, one wolf has already been ”removed” from the Smackout Pack. More details can be found in Lynda Mapes' essay titled "State’s wolf kill turns up the heat in Washington cattle country," in which it's noted that Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's secrecy is a huge problem. She quotes Amaroq Weiss, West Cost wolf advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, as follows: “It’s outrageous that the department issued a five-word report about this very serious issue ... The public has over and over demanded transparency from this agency, yet the deeply flawed wolf-livestock protocol adopted by the department in June requires only that the public be notified how many wolves it has killed each week. That’s not transparency, that’s a travesty.”
An interview with Brooks Fahy, Executive Director of Predator Defense
I was able to catch up with Brooks Fahy, Executive Director of Predator Defense, about their new film "The Profanity Peak Pack: Set Up and Sold Out." He explained a lot of the twists and turns in the war on wildlife and our interview went as follows.
Why did you make this film?
I made this film because I was outraged on so many different levels about last year’s wolf slaughter of the Profanity Peak Pack in Washington State. It was unjust, and it was unnecessary. It happened on remote, publicly owned lands in Colville National Forest. I am so tired of seeing livestock get priority over native wildlife on public lands, and this slaughter took place on some of the best wolf habitat around. So, for starters, I had to ask, “If wolves can’t live there in peace, then where can they live?” (For more discussion on this please see "It’s time for the ag industry to end its war on native wildlife").
I also was disturbed because of the conservation/animal welfare groups that were party to selling out the wolves. And I was outraged because the rancher did virtually nothing to protect his cattle. In fact, he set the wolves up to attack his cattle.
There also was Washington's Department of Fish and Wildlife that let the rancher off too easy and misled the press about what happened. They let the rancher get away with not meeting anywhere close to minimum requirements for protecting cattle using nonlethal methods—let alone anything truly proactive.
And last, but not least, there was an ominous issue involving academic freedom. Washington State University (WSU) silenced their top wolf researcher, Dr. Robert Wielgus, for speaking honestly to the press about the rancher’s irresponsibility. They suppressed the fact that his remote surveillance video show the rancher’s cattle grazing within several hundred feet of the wolves’ den and rendezvous sites, as well as salt blocks the rancher placed there to attract the cattle. WSU also nitpicked on a couple word choices Dr. Wielgus made in one interview and ignored his whole body of work, which shows that killing wolves increases attacks on livestock. [For more more on this case please see "WSU wolf researcher appears to be partly cleared of misconduct.")
This combination of factors made for a perfect storm for killing wolves. It was a set up that allowed the state to eventually authorize killing the whole pack. The slaughter was a travesty. And they just announced they want to kill several members of the Smackout Pack, in 2017. The killing must stop!
What conservation/animal welfare groups were parties to the decision to kill the Profanity Peak Pack?
There were four surprising “pro-wildlife” groups that were party to this decision. They included Defenders of Wildlife, the Humane Society of the United States, Wolf Haven International, and Conservation Northwest. They were part of a collaborative of stakeholders called the Wolf Advisory Group (or WAG), which also included state officials and hunting and ranching interests. WAG was led by a consultant who was paid over $800,000 and tasked with getting all players to compromise. Once WAG decisions are made, no dissent is allowed, so the “pro-wildlife” groups could not speak out against the slaughter. They could only say they were sorry that it “had” to happen, given the agreement made between the parties involved. [Additional details and the full text of the Joint Conservation Wolf Advisory Group Statement from these groups can be seen in this essay. WAG uses the phrase "authorized removal" to refer to killing the wolves.]
People might be surprised to hear how much of my frustration and anger had to do with capitulation by these pro-wildlife groups who gave their stamp of approval on what they referred to as the “administrative removal" of the pack. “Administrative removal” really means killing! These groups used the same language in a public statement that wildlife managers had used to conceal or sanitize what is really being done.
Mind you, some of these organizations have been aggressively raising millions of dollars off the backs of wolves for the last quarter century. For me, the destruction of the Profanity Peak Pack was a flashpoint for what has become one of the biggest “political” failures in wildlife recovery in my lifetime. I find it both tragic and ironic because reintroducing wolves into the Northern Rockies was also probably the biggest ecological success story in my lifetime. Wolves thrived during their first 16 years of protection under the Endangered Species Act. During the campaign to reintroduce wolves in the mid-80s many of the wildlife groups marketed them unlike anything I've ever seen. They sold wolf tote bags, books, posters, jewelry, rugs, pillows, and artwork, just to name a few items. They made copious amounts of money and continue to aggressively market wolves to make money to this day.
So, you are saying that these groups pretend to want to save wolves and make money off of that, but that they have been secretly okay with wolves being slaughtered?
Yes. That’s exactly what I’m saying. It’s infuriating that these organizations never happened to mention to their members when they were selling all their merchandise that wolves would eventually be hunted again and that they were OK with it. For me this is the biggest deception of all.
I also see it as a huge failure on the part of the big NGOs that they have been terrified to just come out and say that individual animals matter, both from a scientific and ethical standpoint. Keeping pack social structures intact is vital to balanced ecosystems. Wolves’ desire to live is just as strong as ours. They experience pain and suffering and grief.
Many of these organizations are not against hunting. For them, it’s a matter of having a certain number of animals alive at any given time, an arbitrary number that they can point to and say something like, “Look, these wolf populations are recovered.” Ironically, what we know about wolves and other predators is that, for the most part, their populations are self-regulating, so they do not need to be managed, let alone hunted!
Wolves were supposed to recover to the point of being able to live in peace in at least parts of their historic range. But there is hardly a place in the 10 states wolves now occupy—with the exception of California—where they aren't being aggressively hunted, trapped, or killed. Around 5,000 wolves have already been killed by hunters and trappers alone since protections were removed in 2011. This number doesn’t include the scores of wolves slaughtered by poachers and federal and state predator control programs. So I have to ask, “did we bring them back just kill them all over again?”
We all knew someday wolves would be federally delisted and “management” would be turned over to state wildlife agencies. But ironically the policies of most state wildlife agencies are not based on the best available science. Little time or effort went into reforming these agencies. They are still primarily controlled by hunters who view predators in a very negative light. They see predators as competing for the same species they hunt. So state agencies essentially supply animals for hunters to kill and aggressive killing of predators like wolves, cougars and bears is the norm. Meanwhile we have known for decades that predators actually make prey species stronger by taking out the weak, diseased, and infirmed, and new science that confirms these findings is continuing to emerge.
The “pro-wildlife” organizations that have made so much money have done little to nothing to try to reform state agencies. Groups like the National Rifle Association, Safari Club International, and others are incredibly influential and adept in having pro-hunting, anti-predator appointments to the states wildlife commissions.
What is the major message of the film?
It’s a multi-part message. If I were to boil it down I’d say the message is that livestock should not have priority over wildlife on public lands; that wolves need places to live in peace, so they can serve their vital functions in our environment; and that it’s a myth that we need to kill wolves to control their populations. In reality, killing wolves increases attacks on livestock because of disruption to the social structure of the pack.
Who is your intended audience?
Well, as broad an audience as possible. Obviously, people who love wolves and understand their vital role as apex predators will want to see it. And we want people who appreciate nature and visit Yellowstone and other national parks to see it. We also want people who hate injustice to see it. We'd also like to reach members of the supposed “pro-wildlife” organizations that are selling out the wolf for profit.
Do you think many people are aware of what has been going on?
No! Not yet. People still want to think everything is being taken care of by the “pro-wildlife” organizations and agencies for the benefit of wildlife. But these organizations speak out of both sides of their mouths. We should never forget we're talking about a great deal of money being made off the backs of wolves. Money can be corrupting. I actually have friends that work for some of the organizations that are mentioned in the film. They often share their frustration with me about all the things I’ve mentioned.
We need to pay very close attention to who lives, who dies, and why: Is not saying "no" saying "yes"?
"It's not great if someone believes it's okay for people to do some horrible, damaging act. But more of the world's misery arises from people who, of course, oppose that horrible act ... but cite some particular circumstances that should make them exceptions. The road to hell is paved with rationalization." (Robert Sapolsky, Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, p. 674)
Thank you, Brooks. I'm sure your exposé -- your words and film -- are going to ruffle many feathers and that there are people who will agree with you and also naysayers who will say you're missing the proverbial boat on their real intentions. Of course, the term "authorized removal" in WAG's statement really boils down to an effort to sanitize killing the wolves.
Some will say, as we've already heard, that it's essential to kill some wolves to save others -- to trade dead wolves for live wolves -- and that you're over-stating what's really happening. Some might say something like, "We don't like what's going on, but that's the way it's got to be." However, they conveniently ignore the fact that no one has to kill these wolves. It's their choice to do so, and they have to live with their decision.
So, not saying "no" and allowing the killings to happen is really saying "yes" to killing wolves and other animals. And, from the individual animal's point of view, she/he doesn't really care about what motivates people to take their life, either by choosing to do so and actively taking part in the slaughter or by not saying anything and allowing others to do the killing. By choosing the latter option their hands remain sort of clean, but in the end, the wolves are dead and that's what really matters.
All in all, it's clear that some of those who broadly claim to be defenders of wildlife are really only defenders of some wildlife and not all beings who, in fact, are considered to be wildlife. It is difficult to fathom that groups who work for wildlife aren't outraged by what is happening.
I'm pleased to be the messenger here because it's essential that there be open dialogue and debate about what's happening and who's doing what needs to be done, or who isn't doing what needs to be done, to protect wolves and other animals. Is it asking too much for organizations and individuals "to come clean" about where their loyalties lie? I don't think so, but I know there are different opinions on this question, so you can be the judge and decide what works for you.
I'm also sure that conservation psychologists and anthrozoologists who study human-animal relationships will be interested in figuring out how people choose who they're going to defend and who they'll let die. (Conservation psychology is a recognized subdivision of the American Psychology Association (APA).
Animals need all the help they can get, and people need to know what's going on in this horrific and never-ending war on wildlife. The life of every single individual matters and they all desperately want to live in peace and safety. Each individual's feelings matter to them and they should deeply matter to us.
There are many lessons to be learned from the rapidly growing international field called compassionate conservation, for which the guiding principles are "First do no harm" and all individuals matter. Individual animals have intrinsic value because of who they are and because they're alive. Their value is not determined by how they can serve us (this is called instrumental value). Compassionate conservation offers many different ways for dealing with human-animal conflicts without blood being spilled. (For more information on compassionate conservation please see "Compassionate Conservation Meets Cecil the Slain Lion," Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation, "Compassion as a Practical and Evolved Ethic for Conservation," The Animals' Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age, and references therein.)
I look forward to the discussions that follow, and can only hope that all nonhuman animals will benefit from these open exchanges. We are other animals' lifelines and they totally depend on us for their well-being. It bears repeating that no one has to kill these wolves, and by not actively voicing opposition, an individual or organization is complicit in the process.
Note 1: This essay follows up nicely on other pieces about what's happening or not happening in zoos (please see "Zoo Ethics and the Challenges of Compassionate Conservation"), New Zealand's war on wildlife in which youngsters are encouraged to kill other animals as part of school programs (please see "Imprinting Kids for Violence Toward Animals," "Scapegoating Possums: Science, Psychology, and Words of War," "Long-Term Effects of Violence Toward Animals by Youngsters," "Youngsters Encouraged to Kill Possum Joeys in New Zealand," and links therein), "The Charter for Animal Compassion for Non-Humans and Humans," and "The Whale Sanctuary Project: Saying No Thanks to Tanks."
Note 2: The description for Killing Games reads as follows: "On any given weekend, some of America’s most iconic wild animals are massacred in wildlife killing contests. Bloodied bodies are weighed and stacked like cords of wood, and prizes are awarded to the “hunters” who kill the largest or the most of a targeted species. Coyotes, bobcats, wolves and foxes are common victims of these contests; children as young as 10 are encouraged to participate. Fueled by anti-predator bias, these legally sanctioned but relatively unknown contests are cruel and foster ignorance about the critical role apex predators play in maintaining healthy ecosystems. These contests occur on both public and private lands in almost every state except California — where killing predators for prizes has been outlawed. In KILLING GAMES, a groundbreaking exposé, actor, conservationist and Project Coyote Advisory Board Member Peter Coyote — with environmentalists, ranchers, public officials and Native Americans — brings these shadowy contests to light and speaks out against this hidden war on wildlife. Project Coyote’s KILLING GAMES inspires viewers to call on their state and local legislators to bring an end to these brutal contests where wild animals become living targets."
Marc Bekoff’s latest books are Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears (with Jill Robinson); Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation; Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation; Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence; The Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson); and The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age (with Jessica Pierce). Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do will be published in early 2018. Learn more at marcbekoff.com.