Suzanne Stone, Northern Rockies Representative
The last few weeks have been a whirlwind for wolf advocates in the West. My colleagues and I have been traveling from city to city and state to state organizing wolf supporters to attend meetings set by state wildlife commissions and agencies. Some of these were set to vote on proposals that could be particularly dangerous to wolves, while others opened up a broader conversation about wolf management. But for all of these meetings, it was important that people who care about the future of wolves in the region were in attendance to testify, to question, and to learn.
On January 16, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission held a public hearing. There were many important issues on the docket, but we were most concerned about agenda item #6 – a measure to set aside $50,000 exclusively to have the federal government kill more wolves in order to boost elk numbers for hunters. We sounded the alarm to our members in the area, and they answered the call. I met a group of them at a reception before the meeting, and we talked about the challenges that often come with advocating for wolves in an area where myth and misconceptions about these animals are still widely regarded as fact.
The hearing was amazing. The first hour of public testimony on agenda item #6 was nothing but 100% positive support for wolves. In fact, everyone who spoke about this issue opposed the measure and supported more protection for wolves. Our members were respectful, eloquent and well-informed, and the commission was visibly blown away by their testimonies. When my turn came, I was able to focus on specific concerns with the measure, including the fact that the proposal could allow for the use of more controversial “management” practices, like aerial gunning. And the fact that lethal control fails to work in the long term – no matter what the reason for wanting more elk, killing wolves is not a solution. I spoke about our Wood River Wolf Project and its success in protecting 27,300 sheep living among three resident wolf packs with only one incident that resulted in the loss of 4 sheep. I asked them to use the $50,000 for nonlethal methods of preventing predation on livestock instead of just continuing this endless and wasteful cycle of loss and killing.
Sadly, when it came to the vote the following morning, the commission approved the proposal. Even though they heard that so many residents were staunchly against it, they still designated $50,000 for federal wolf killing. Defenders is working to raise twice that amount to put toward protecting wolves and other wildlife in the region. Though the commission approved the proposal, I think our collective testimony surprised them. To have so many people willing to speak out on behalf of wolves here in Boise is unprecedented, and at a public hearing like this one, it showed the decision-makers that the people of Idaho care about how wolves are managed, and we’re watching their actions closely. The days of passing awful management proposals without public opposition is over.
Later the same week, I set out for Seattle. After the fiasco with the Wedge Pack last summer, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is making an effort to keep the public better informed about their management methods. We let our members in the area know about this great opportunity to learn more about wolves in their state and to ask questions of the agency in charge of managing them.
The meeting was a bit of a challenge. First, the location of the meeting was moved, so we sent out an update. Then, the new location proved very difficult to find, so we posted signs along the road to point the way. Once WFDW arrived they quickly realized the space was far too small and moved the meeting to a warehouse across the street for the more than 300 people who attended! It was incredible to see so many people interested in wolves in a state that is still welcoming the species back to parts of its native range that have been wolf-free for over a century. Carter Niemeyer, retired wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was one of the key speakers and did a great job answering questions and providing an expert overview of the challenges and opportunities of restoring wolves in Washington. Similar meetings took place in Spokane and Olympia, and we were able to have someone from Defenders attend each one.
We have some great supporters here in Idaho, out in Washington, and across the nation who are invested in the future of wolves in the U.S. Wolves are still looking at a tough year ahead, with premature hunting paring down their numbers, and dangerous legislation in most states in the region threatening to strip them of their remaining protections. But it’s encouraging to know that despite the misinformation out there about wolves, and the many industries and agencies interested in halting their recovery, there is still a growing number who want to see these majestic animals protected and restored to their rightful place in the ecosystem. We’re going to have to unite with other like-minded residents in the West and build a great network of activists who will work together to safeguard the future for wolves in the region.