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Matt Skoglund’s Blog

A Hunter’s Take on Montana’s and Idaho’s Wolf Hunts

Matt Skoglund

Posted August 28, 2009

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I hunt.  In fact, I love to hunt.  As the days get shorter and the nights cooler here in Montana, I find myself restless, thinking about chasing grouse in the mountains and ducks on the rivers this fall. 

I didn't grow up hunting.  Not even close.  I grew up in suburban Chicago in a household where asking for a BB gun was a non-starter and slingshots were confiscated by worried parents.

But then I went to college in Vermont, where a hunting culture still exists, and I had the great fortune of meeting a dentist named Kim Montgomery, who is a passionate hunter and environmentalist.  Kim taught me how to hunt, and, more importantly, he instilled in me a strong hunting ethic. 

The more Kim and I discussed hunting (often in a duck blind on Lake Champlain), the more I realized how ignorant I was about the sport.

Unfairly and erroneously, hunting gets a bad rap in big cities.  Hunters are often portrayed as ruthless, mindless, moronic killers, who get ridiculously drunk in the woods and shoot deer from inside their pickup trucks.  In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. 

The modern conservation movement owes a huge debt of gratitude to hunters.  Long before Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962, hunters were fighting to protect America's priceless land and animals.  Theodore Roosevelt?  George Bird Grinnell?  Aldo Leopold?  All ardent hunters.  Without hunters' early conservation work, the American landscape -- and the critters that roam it -- would look much different. 

The hunters I know are dedicated conservationists and thoughtful wanderers of wild places.  They love wilderness, and they love to hunt because it affords them opportunities to spend countless hours in beautiful country.  How often would I find myself sitting at the edge of a lake or river in below-freezing weather mesmerized by a sublime sunrise if I didn't hunt?  Probably never. 

And with that love of wild country and wildlife comes a fierce desire to protect both.  With less kids hunting and fishing (and more kids bedazzled by Nintendo Wii), the conservation voice is in great danger of being sadly quieter in the future.

Hunting can also be an effective wildlife management tool, which we desperately need, because we've eradicated most predators across the country.  Hunting is also highly regulated; it's generally not a guns-a-blazin' free-for-all in the hills (though the planned wolf hunts in Idaho and Montana look like they will be). 

And, in today's world, with global warming the environmental issue of our time, what is greener than hiking into the mountains to kill a deer?  The livestock industry contributes more global warming pollution than the transportation industry.  In fact, NRDC estimates that if all Americans eliminated just one quarter-pound serving of beef per week, the reduction in global warming gas emissions would be equivalent to taking four to six million cars off the road.

Do you buy organic produce?  Do you strive to be a locavore?  What's more organic and local than wild game? 

I know what you're thinking: it's the killing part that troubles you.  I shared the same concern at one time, but then I thought about all the beef, pork, lamb, bison, venison, duck, chicken, turkey, and other meat I've consumed over the years.  Animals were slaughtered (and more often than not raised in miserably cruel conditions) for me to buy their meat. 

That's reality, and it changed the way I look at meat -- and hunting.  It's simply shamelessly hypocritical to disparage hunting over a medium-rare porterhouse.

In short, I started hunting later in life (I wasn't raised hunting, as most hunters are), I've thought and read a great deal about it, and I vigorously support and defend hunting and hunters.

With that out of the way, let me cut to the chase: Montana's and Idaho's wolf hunts planned for this fall must be halted.

Wolves have not yet fully biologically recovered in the Northern Rockies, and thus the hunts are premature.

Of critical importance to the long-term health and viability of Northern Rockies wolves is a larger wolf population with legitimate genetic exchange between the subpopulations of central Idaho, northwest Montana, and greater Yellowstone.

Such connectivity has not occurred yet.  And neither Montana's nor Idaho's wolf hunt protects wolves in the corridors between the subpopulations, which will only make meaningful genetic connectivity more difficult to achieve.

All of my above comments about hunting assume the animal population being hunted is healthy and stable.  That's not so with wolves in the Northern Rockies yet, which is why NRDC and other conservation groups, represented by Earthjustice, are seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent the hunts and restore Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in Montana and Idaho.

The impetus for the hunt is also disturbing, as the rhetoric coming from some hunters in Idaho and Montana is full of venom and hate.  (Like all facets of life, there are plenty of bad apples in the hunting world, notwithstanding my complimentary remarks above.) 

If our motion for a preliminary injunction is denied, these animals will not be hunted; they will be persecuted and slaughtered out of a misplaced hatred for wolves.  These hunters don't love wolves (as duck-hunters do ducks, deer-hunters do deer, etc.), they despise them.  And starting September 1st in Idaho, if we lose our motion, they'll take to the mountains to exact revenge on an incredible symbol of wildness they mistakenly think is ruining their lives

Hunters, and all outdoor recreationists, in the Northern Rockies are lucky; we live, work, and hunt in a generally intact ecosystem.  Unlike the rest of the country, the animals that roamed the mountains when Lewis and Clark passed through here over two hundred years ago are still here.  And most hunters embrace and adore the Northern Rockies' wildness.

But some angry, vocal hunters have demonized the wolf, and they want to rid it from this region.  What a shame, as these parts wouldn't be as awe-inspiring without them, and those hunters are ruining the name of hunting for everyone else. 

Hopefully, in the near future, wolves will be fully recovered in the Northern Rockies, with significant genetic connectivity between the subpopulations and adequate state management plans in place.  At that time, we won't oppose a sustainable wolf hunt. 

I won't partake in it, because I won't hunt something I won't eat.  To me - and most hunters - honoring the life you took by preparing a celebratory meal with close friends and family is an integral part of the hunting experience.  I also just generally loathe the idea of hunting wolves, an animal we exterminated from this area last century. 

But if, when the time for a sustainable hunt finally arrives, an ethical hunter, with a true reverence for wolves and the wildness they represent, hikes into the mountains and kills one, I won't complain. 

Because that means a healthy, robust wolf population exists in the Northern Rockies and is here for good.

I yearn for that day.


(Wolf photo by haglundc on Flickr)

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Sean WilsonAug 28 2009 03:10 PM

As a hunter and lifelong outdoorsman, I agree with you. I'm against the wolf hunting, think they should only allow shooting those directly attacking livestock. Even then, I think our environment is better off if with them than without. I would rather see more wildlife and less people.

Eat what you kill. It's the most basic hunting ethic there is and not following it is what leads rapidly to extinction--just as does killing/eating too much without any concern for the consequences. For my part, I've always despised trophy hunters, baiters and don't think very highly of sitting in tree stands either...which is besides the point.

Here in Oklahoma, they are going to issue a limited number of black bear tags (50 I think) but I wish they wouldn't. They are wonderful creatures and after being absent from southeast Oklahoma (Kiamichi, Ouchita, Ozark regions) for so long, it's great to have them back.

The sad thing is that hunting wolves and black bear--any predators really--is that it so often boils down to politics or who can make money rather than a true issue of survival, be it personal safety or making a living. Besides, I'm descended of the Bear clan of the Otoe, and it feels good to know they're out there roaming, keeping the food chain strong and life sacred.

I've gone predator/varmint hunting more than once. I never come back with anything not because I'm not a good hunter or a poor shot (expert w/several weapons and trained as a tracker by Army, grew up in woods hunting...), but because mostly I'd just rather look and enjoy. Even deer hunting, sometimes, I'd just rather enjoy the presence of animals.

I once sat down on an ice covered log and enjoyed watching 13 deer feed all around me, some as close as 15 and 20 feet away, all aware of me and apparently not minding. I was not hunting, just taking a breather having run along some trails on a winder day. I think they know far more than we are aware of, but maybe that's just a poetic notion of mine. In any case, hunting is about respect for life first and foremost. Predator and prey alike understand their place in the great circle of life, but there are many who don't care anything about life or its importance, and hunt only for personal satisfaction, gain, glory, bragging rights or something to mount on a wall.

As a hunter, I wish Idaho and Oklahoma both would not allow hunting of wolves and bears. If they are a danger in a particular instance, people should defend themselves. Otherwise, I'd sooner have those predators roaming wild and free and see the cattle/sheep ranchers and land developers and wealthy elitists ruining the landscape to build a getaway in the wilds gone--so the average person could enjoy the great outdoors more. Those people do more to harm me via pollution and bad politics than any wolf or bear ever did.

Great article.

JJ EnglandSep 1 2009 01:21 AM

I consider myself a passionate environmentalist, but I am certainly limited by my upbringing. As somebody who grew up in the suburbs, hunting (even talk of it) was definitely frowned upon and taboo—a sentiment which became strongly ingrained within me. This article definitely served as a reality check for me and I appreciate your refreshing takes on this, Matt and Sean. Like you were at one point, Matt, I am certainly ignorant of the sport as well.

I’m not sure if I could ever bring myself to take the life of a majestic animal that I loved and respected. If unable to do it myself, perhaps I need to reexamine my carnivorous habits altogether.

Either way, I do believe that even though hunting your own food is undoubtedly better for the environment (and our connection with nature, and our food) than buying meat from a supermarket, “hiking into the mountains to kill a deer” is not the greenest way to eat. While a sustainable hunt should result in zero carbon emissions for the lucky few that are able to participate in the hunt, this is untenable when trying to feed a large population. I know this is a slight digression from your post’s original point, but realistically, it seems that the only truly green way to feed a large population is through vegetarian, locally grown foods.

I would also like to thank you for bringing up the painful difference between wolf-hunts and most other hunts. I firmly agree that hunting an animal out of hatred is deeply disturbing, especially when that species is already in peril.

Thanks again for this thought provoking post. I wish you the best of luck with your wolf conservation efforts and pending injunctions.

JJ England
(Palm Beach Gardens, FL)

Jo BrunoSep 6 2009 06:53 PM

Beautifully said! I've been all over the web reading blogs, news stories and updated information from the Fish & Wildlife websites. This is the first time I came across something that focused on the true issue most people are having with this wolf hunt. It isn't being done for purpose of food. I personally have never hunted, but I have nothing against it if it is for purpose of food, not just because there are "too many" of that particular animal. Thank you very much for your blog posting! I enjoyed reading it.

Matt SkoglundSep 9 2009 03:36 PM

Sean, JJ, and Jo,

Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I enjoyed reading them, and I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts.

And thanks for supporting gray wolves in the Northern Rockies; they need all the help they can get these days.


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