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Blue State Wolves


Like a lot of environmentalists, I’ve been following wolf reintroductions closely for the past decade or more. The introductions have taken place in 2 areas: Yellowstone and the Gila Mountains of southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona. Both of these places are profoundly conservative and have proven a real impediment for the long-term survival of the wolf in the American West.

The reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf (which is probably at most a subspecies of the wolves in the rest of North America and may not be genetically different in any meaningful sense) has been a total disaster. The ranchers of Arizona and New Mexico have declared war upon the wolf and they are shot on sight, despite the federal protections. This is “Get the US out of the UN” tin-foil hat country and these people just don’t care. I saw a presentation by a leader of the New Mexico Cattlemen’s Association in about 2004 that argued, quite literally, that wolf reintroduction could not happen because they will eat our children. Given these attitudes, despite yearly infusions of new releases, the wolf population has not been able to grow substantially.

It’s been a lot more successful in the Yellowstone region. This is despite of extremely hostile politicians in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho that would like to take the same strategies as New Mexico and Arizona. But because of the large amount of protected land in northwestern Wyoming with the two national parks and the National Elk Range and because of the huge amount of tourists who flock there to see the wildlife, conservatives have been stymied in their hopes to eradicate the wolf. Here the wolf has thrived and spread. Within a few years, packs were in several parts of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. They remain threatened in the long-term in these places, especially Idaho and Wyoming, because of widespread hostility. Hunts have developed in these states that remain managed for the present, but who can tell with what vigor the government will enforce environmental regulations, particularly if the nation continues with its ever more conservative bent.

That’s why the continued migration of wolves to the west has been important. A few packs have crossed from Idaho into Oregon. This is hugely important. The ranchers of Wallowa County, Oregon are no more pro-wolf than in Idaho or Arizona, but they are politically overwhelmed by the Democratic Party of this blue state. Local poaching could take place, but the state is likely to vigorously protect the wolves for the long-haul because of the strong environmental leanings of the state.

Still, the migration of one wolf into western Oregon is hugely important. The first wolf west of the Cascades since 1947, this wolf has caught the imagination of environmentalists in Oregon and around the world, building political capital for the long-term existence of the gray wolf in the state. No one knew what it looked like, although it was tagged as a pup which has allowed the public to follow its ramblings. But a hunter’s camera recently caught a picture of the wolf:

It has since crossed the border into California, making it the first wolf in that state since 1924. Of course, it may not stay there. As it continues searching for a mate it won’t find, it may journey east into Nevada, putting it back into hostile red state territory. But that one wolf has headed through is a good sign that future packs, looking for new territory, may move west as well. This can only be good news for its future, as the public is enamored with these beautiful animals. It’s true that animal-human confrontations can be bad for both and increased numbers of wolves will lead to more of this, but these are management problems that can be dealt with. Overall, this is a very positive story and is one more step toward a permanent place for wolves in the American West.

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  • Vance Maverick

    So the relevant features of the environment that affect the flourishing of a species now may include the political orientation of the nearby human population! Seriously, this is good news.

    • NBarnes

      The actions of the local human population has been the single dominant feature of any animal ecology for thousands, if not tens of thousands, of years.

      We are a very, very successful species.

      • Vance Maverick

        Indeed. Just to be clear, the “good news” I was referring to was the reintroduction, not the dependence of animals on our politics.

  • mark f

    Is Blue State Wolves a new Arena Football League team?

  • Kurzleg

    That people feel this way about wolves scares me a little since we recently adopted an Alaskan Malamute mix that looks very much like a wolf. For all we know he could be a wolf hybrid, but whatever the case, he’s a sweet, sweet dog. Luckily, we live in the city in a Democrat-dominated ward and likely won’t encounter any problems. Still, it only takes one yahoo to follow through on his/her craziness.

    • Murc

      I think the vast majority of city dwellers, regardless of political orientation, are not going to be able to distinguish between a dog and a wolf, especially since a tame, well-fed, clean, well-groomed wolf doesn’t look or act very much like a wolf does in the popular zeitgeist. Your malamute is probably fine.

      For that matter, a lot of the rancher community that’s so dead-set against wolves likely doesn’t know much about them either. The number of ranched animals lost to wolf predation is so low as to basically be a rounding error, they won’t attack humans except in extremis. But dammit, their great-great-grandaddies hunted the dangerous predators to near-extinction to protect their herds, and it is their god-given right to continue to slaughter any of the four-footed vermin that might cross their paths.

      • Njorl

        I don’t think you can look at the matter statistically. One steer is worth a lot of money. To the rancher who loses that steer, it isn’t statistically insignificant. He doesn’t care that the vast majority of ranchers are completely unaffected, and he’s the one with the gun.

        Wolves will always have a tough time of it. People are coming to realze that many predators, even those which sometimes kill livestock, are economically beneficial. Coyotes kill enough vermin that they are actually an asset to agriculture. That’s never going to be true for wolves. Wolves cost people money, and always will.

        Wolves are also unsympathetic because of the way they kill. Few predators inflict so much terror and pain on their prey. People tend to forget the amorality of nature, and assign evil motives to wolves.

        • LKS

          This isn’t mainly about wolves. It’s mainly about (a) the great US-UN one world government conspiracy, and (b) them damned hippy tree-huggers/east coast latte-drinking libruls telling us real Murkins what to do. The wolves are unfortunate proxies for the real targets of these morons’ hatred.

          Of course, a lot of these ranchers are allowed to let their cattle graze cheap or free on federal land, and benefit enormously from the federally built and funded highway system, without which access to many western ranches would be extremely limited.

        • Coyotes kill enough vermin that they are actually an asset to agriculture. That’s never going to be true for wolves.

          I’m not sure that’s right. I seem to recall reading that the majority of the calories in a typical wolf’s diet consists of rabbit-size and smaller prey.

          • LKS

            A BIG difference between wolves and coyotes is that wolves are pack hunters, while coyotes are not. Even when coyotes are seen in groups, they don’t hunt cooperatively. Wolves are also bigger and more powerful. So wolves have the capability of bringing down much larger (elk, cattle, etc) even if they don’t do it all the time. A coyote is never going to kill a healthy steer.

            All canids are scavengers as well, and a lot of “wolf kills” are most likely livestock that was already dead or dying that wolves, coyotes or feral dogs ate. If you drive around the Soutwest grazing areas enough (as I have because of a sales job I had years ago), you’ll see plenty of cattle lying around dead, and clearly not the result of wolf attacks.

          • Njorl

            If large or medium prey are available, wolves will feed on them preferentially. I suppose if we were talking about farmers, instead of ranchers, they wouldn’t care so much. They also kill coyotes and foxes, though, which feed more predominantly on the pest animals than wolves do. Wolves could actually increase the pest population. That is the point of killing rival predators which are not a physical threat.

            People killed off wolves out of selfishness, not pigheadedness or fear. Bears have always been more dangerous to people, but bears don’t cost as much to have around, so we have plenty of bears.

            People do tend to stubbornly cling to outdated truths, though. It might be very easy to avoid economic problems wolves used to cause, but very hard to convince people.

      • McKingford

        Unfortunately, it isn’t only the number of cattle killed by wolves that cause concern to ranchers. In fact, I would venture to say that it isn’t primarily the loss of cattle that drives ranchers’ concerns.

        A nearby wolf pack can cause serious distress to a cattle herd. This can dramatically impact weight gain (or not) of each individual steer. It isn’t the loss of an individual animal that is the real economic loss, but the potential difference of upwards of 100 lbs per animal x dozens or hundreds of steer.

        I’m not saying I have much sympathy for this. To begin, much of the ranching is done on land the ranchers don’t even own (usually federal land), so it takes some gall to complain about other animals on that land. And of course, I don’t eat animals, so there’s that too…

  • What’s the status of the eastern wolf? There were noises here in Maine eons ago about a re-introduction. And IIRC there were actual programs in the Adirondacks and the Smokies.

    • Njorl

      We could certainly use some wolves roaming the streets of the DC suburbs. The deer are like rats, and their only predator is the automobile.

    • witless chum

      They’re filtering back into the upper Midwest. Michigan’s actually talking about a tiny wolf hunt in the U.P. When I was a kid, they were extremely rare, but now they’re around enough that there’s been some complaining in the paper where I’m from about wolves killing people’s dogs.

    • JB2

      There are several hundred in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, about the same amount in northern Wisconsin, and I think at least a couple thousand or more in Minnesota, where they were never extirpated.

      I saw a wolf near the Lake Superior shore in the UP a few years ago. Unforgettable – and we knew right away that it wasn’t a coyote or a dog.

  • Mark K

    Thanks for this post. Really interesting stuff.

    While at the movies to see “The Descendants” and wincing through the 1 trillion decibels previews the showed one p.o.s. called “The Grey” with Liam Neeson. The frickin wolves are hunting them down! Oh great, another bunch of lies about wolves who never ever attack humans.

    Man, is there a lot of crap coming out of Hollywood….and I don’t mean stuff that offends the (Ugly)Family Research Council, either.

    • Richard

      I haven’t seen the movie (nor have you) but my understanding is that the plot has a bunch of rough necks landing in isolated Alaskan territory, taking unwarranted aggressive actions against the wolves and the wolves, thinking that they are being pushed out of their territory, attacking back. Maybe not plausible but I don’t think the movie is anti-wolf. Its Jaws transplanted to remote Alaska

      • But Jaws had a VERY negative impact on people’s perception of sharks.

      • mark k

        “I haven’t seen the movie (nor have you)” Thats what I said dipshit. I saw the preview.

    • Njorl

      The “never attack humans” bit is not quite true. One place where wolf attacks were almost non-existant, though, was North America.

  • proverbialleadballoon

    dances with wolves, i am wind in his hair! can you see that i am your friend?! can you see that you will always be my friend?!

    • Njorl

      You got the wrong guy. I am Waltzes-with-bears, but you can call me Waldo.

      • proverbialleadballoon

        uh, hi. do you wanna be friends? can you see that i want to be your friend?!

  • Ned

    There are a few wolves in Switzerland, and there are also herds of sheep left on their own for long periods in out-of-the-way pastures in the mountains. This can lead to problems: Last September one wolf killed 80 sheep over the course of a few weeks, and there are regularly reports of sheep being killed by wolves. If the wolves are not to be exterminated again, there will have to be changes in how they are kept. One possibility is for a shepard to always be with the herd, another is to employ specially bred guard dogs (the dogs identify with the herd, and will ward off both wolves and hikers).

    • Njorl

      Lone female wolves have been known to mate with sheepdogs. I wonder if she then snags a sheep when he inevitably rolls over and falls asleep, or runs home because he has to get up early tomorrow.

  • The ranchers of Arizona and New Mexico have declared war upon the wolf and they are shot on sight, despite the federal protections.

    And do these tinfoil-hat-wearers own the land they ranch, or lease it from the Feds?
    In a world where the actions of the Feds were not ruled by wingnuts, I could imagine a program whereby most/all wolves reintroduced here wore tracking devices with telemetry capability. Wolves dying on your leasehold would be a good way to get your permit renewal denied.

  • bobbyp

    There are 4 or 5 gray wolf packs in Washington State. They are mostly in the remoter parts of NE WA.

    This, however, has not prevented widespread tales amongst the nutters in the (now largely metropolitan) Spokane Valley from claiming that the wolves are killing cattle, horses, and small abandoned children throughout the area.

    What makes them (the nutters) that way?

    • Allen

      One of the larger packs in Washington in Asotin County in Wa. and neighboring Wallowa County in Oregon

  • bobbyp

    Wolves dying on your leasehold would be a good way to get your permit renewal denied.

    Drone strikes.

  • Allen

    It’s getting a “lot” of positive news here in Portland, being as blue as it is (refusing to host another Republican Debate). One of Middle Schools has (had) a program to send students temporarily live with ranchers and farmers to learn about how they live (good) and everyone learned a lot about how each other lives (better).

    As an aside I don’t know why we just can’t take 1% of our military budget and pay ranchers for proven predation.

  • rea

    In my youth, and I believe still, the ranchers out in the Gila still followd the old practice of turning their cattle loose to graze on their own over large areas of land. Occasionaly, they have roundup to count, brand or cull the heard. The cattle, left largely to their own devices, on occasion die–finding the bones of dead cattle was very common. The cause of death is often unclear–the only way they know they’ve lost any is by a count. Naturally, they blame predators rather than any of the myriad other causes of death–in my youth, they wanted to kill mountain lions, and now, evidently, wolves.

  • Amanda in the South Bay

    How would the wolf get to Nevada? I’d imagine that crossing I-5 would be very, very hazardous. Even around Redding to Yreka there’s enough traffic that it’d be risky.

    • Allen

      Actually, the wolf that made it to California has to date had to cross two freeways plus numerous highways. Started in the very northeast to the very southwest of Oregon. Had to cross every major north,south; east,west highway in the state.

  • Karen

    I wonder why they introduced the Mexican wolf into that old Gadsden purchase area instead of Big Bend Nat’l Park? The park is huge and extremely isolated, which should make the place ideal for this kind of project. Heck, they have enough bears and mountain lions in the park now to require warnings.

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  • Bruce Ross

    Rural far Northern California is of course governed by the laws of California, but if you think a healthy number of the residents up in these parts won’t shoot a wolf on sight, you’ve obviously not had the blessing of spending time within view of Mt. Shasta.

  • Eric Titus

    I think it’s important that environmentalists treat the wolf issue with empathy and understanding. Even if wolves are unlikely to be a threat, there is a reason they are perceived as dangerous.

    A friend recently told me about a liberal suburban community that was worried by a roving coyote. If there was a wolf about, would you let your children and dogs run about, even if you knew the chances of them actually being attacked was insignificant? Many people would be fearful in that situation, regardless of the likelihood of the wolf actually doing something. Ranchers may not have the best of motives in hating wolves, but they are highly protective of their herds and are willing to do what it takes to keep them safe. And the short-sighted actions of some environmentalists have only fed the fires of anti-wolf sentiment.

  • roger rainey

    Introducing politics into a story like this is lame, and probably indicative of some sort of mental illness.

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