07/10/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Wolves in the Crossfire, Again

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 On Monday, June 1st, the Billings Gazette published a piece I wrote on the problems of prematurely removing endangered species protections from Northern Rockies gray wolves.  I shouldn't have been surprised at the number of comments (28 total) posted in response, but I was, I admit, taken aback at the hateful, even threatening, nature of many of them.  Here are some of the choicest:

James June 1, 2009 7:46AM MT

Louisa, you have the mistaken impression we want a wolf recovery program, we will continue to shoot these varmints at every opportunity and we don't care what you think about it.

River Rat June 1, 2009 9:14AM MT

Tough. Let 'em die off if there aren't enough. We already have too many...

DamSkippy June 1, 2009 2:09PM MT

SSS, Shoot, Shovel, and Shutup. This is the farmers and ranchers plans for control if government fails to do it for them. Trust me, Montana is vast and game wardens are few and they do not patrol private property. A rancher seeing a wolf crossing his property will not hesitate for a second to administer an anesthetic in the form of a 30-06 pill. Just something for you foam at the mouth enviro's to chew on.

Dave Skinner June 1, 2009 3:07PM MT

...As for concrete actions, the best would be to implement shoot on sight. Trust me, the survivors would be healthy.

River Rat June 1, 2009 4:05PM MT

After reading these posts, I want to take a minute to thank Defenders of Wildlife for making me proud of America again! All the SS&Sers are coming out of the woodwork! It's the Boston Tea Party all over again! The Founding Fathers would be proud to know we're tellin' the gummint to put it "where the monkey put the peanut." God bless America!

 So here we go again-these irrational, even pathological, eruptions about wolves are as far removed from a civil discourse as you can get.  It would be easy to dismiss the rantings of a few vocal ruffians who advocate for nothing short of the elimination of wolves from the landscape altogether.  But in this case, these angry people are organized, armed and hell-bent on expressing their misplaced anger with bullets. 

 Last year, some of them stalked wolves on the elk feedgrounds in Wyoming and gunned down, among others, the famous Druid wolf Limpy.  And, in Idaho, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's annual wolf report, 100 wolves were killed illegally.  Those are the ones the government knew about.  But given the nature of the "shoot, shovel and shut up" culture, how many wolves were really killed?  The number could be far greater, potentially explaining in part why, last year, the wolf population grew at the slowest rate in the history of Northern Rockies wolf recovery.  (Another reason could be that disease wiped out a number of the pups.)

 Adding fuel to the fire is a recently passed law allowing people to carry guns in national parks.  This law was attached to the credit relief bill, by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK).  It could result in more poaching of wolves, grizzly bears and other wildlife in a huge landscape (Yellowstone, for example, is 2.1 million acres), and where law enforcement in the backcountry is sparse.

 There is still enough deep-seated hatred of wolves (and the federal government and conservationists) among well-armed people to make this a truly dangerous situation.  In a democracy, laws matter, and, in this case, they are necessary to protect wolves against excessive killing.  That's why we are back in court challenging the delisting decision. 

 In the West, the "shoot, shovel and shut up" mentality is never far away.  Veiled or direct threats of violence permeate the policy processes.  Go to some of the state game commission meetings or hearings on the proposed hunts, and you can feel the daggers in some of the bullies' eyes.  It can be downright intimidating.  It is also the antithesis of a fair and democratic process.  Wolf management continues to reflect the tyranny of a well-armed minority that reflect the values of yesteryear.

 What we have in the West with wolves today is mounting frustration on all sides, exacerbated by the anonymity provided by the Internet, which is further inflaming the debate.  Another contributing factor to this growing frustration over wolves is the complete failure of the government to provide for a constructive dialogue among diverse parties in the hopes of resolving conflicts.  Instead, key government officials fan the flames with wisecracks in the press

 Government leadership is sorely needed to bring all parties to the table in some new creative ways to help us honestly discuss our differences, and explore new solutions based on areas of common interest. For this to work, curse words and disrespectful behavior need to be left at the door.

 Until then, we will be in court, and wolves will be in the crossfire, again.

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This post originally appeared on NRDC"s Switchboard blog.