Editor's Note: Wolves have become a heated issue across the American West. With their spread, the controversy over managing their growing population - and protecting the wildlife and livestock they've decimated in some regions has grown to a near flash point. Today, seven wildlife organization's leaders are calling for calm.
Calling for Order in Wolf Debate
Many hunters are rightfully angry that a federal judge has put the gray wolf back under federal protection based on legal technicalities. Taking management away from state authorities allows wolves to multiply and spread. Wolves are already so plentiful they are cutting down herds of elk, moose, and deer, and are also killing livestock and pets. Wolves need to be controlled and we must continue toward that goal in an orderly fashion.
We sportsmen want to bring wolves under state management because this will sustain wolves, control the problems that wolves cause, and protect wolves from poachers. To do so, we look forward to working with other affected citizens, government, and other allies to clear up the legal technicalities and finalize the transfer to state management. This way wolves will be managed the same way as other wildlife based on the best available science with protections against illegal killing.
State management of wolves is best for the wolves and people, and wolf populations are so large now that the time is past due.
State management will be the best deal wolves have ever had. Wolves have never been managed sustainably in the lower 48 states. State and federal governments purposefully eradicated wolves, and then restored them under complete federal protection. This full protection has restored wolf numbers far beyond recovery goals: all 6 states with gray wolves in the lower 48 have at least doubled the number of wolves beyond their recovery goals. Idaho is at least 8 times over its goal. There are about 3,000 wolves in Minnesota, 600 each in Wisconsin and Michigan, at least 800 wolves in Idaho, 500 in Montana, and 300 in Wyoming.
Switching to state management will not be easy: federal and state managers have tried it 3 times in the last 7 years, having each effort struck down either because the law was fuzzy on how it could happen or too strict about why it cannot. These interpretations in federal district court are the latest examples of judges second-guessing government experts - an error for which the next highest appeals court has admonished its judges.
To achieve state management, hunters need to turn their anger into passion, speak up, and ask for hard but fair commitments from state and federal government. We need passion the way Theodore Roosevelt had passion in creating American conservation, which is our legacy and heritage to perpetuate. We need to stay in the arena of debate and decision and stay out of the bogs of blame and bad-mouthing. It is self-defeating to blame or antagonize federal and state officials. They agree with us on what needs to happen and we need their help. We need hard commitments from them to try new approaches within current law and, ideally, to change law and policy to close loopholes.
This complex task is already underway through a cooperative partnership between the state and federal governments. The Obama Administration has already filed an appeal of the recent federal court ruling. States have petitioned for greater management authority. Legislators from Montana, Wyoming and Idaho have begun meeting to devise a solution and have invited the federal government's participation. We appreciate these straight-up attempts that demonstrate the resolve of our government. We acknowledge the sovereign authority of each state to manage its own laws and budgets.
Finally, as we seek hard commitments from government, we also need to draw a hard line for ourselves: we are sportsmen, not wolf-haters. Statements on the Internet about poaching wolves are an affront to the American conservation ethic. Illegal killing is wrong, self-defeating, and exactly opposite of how sportsmen created conservation and the privilege of ethical hunting in the first place. Hunters in America fought poachers and pushed for laws to regulate hunting. Later, sportsmen paid fees and taxes on our own licenses and equipment to fund wildlife restoration that brought wildlife back to abundance, including the game we hunt. Ours is a history of self-restraint and respect for wildlife.
Today we are asking for wolves to be brought under modern state management. We will pursue this goal with the diligence we take to hunting itself, working professionally with the agencies, seeking allies, and pushing forward the policies that will prevent this tragedy from happening again with other wildlife.
Boone and Crockett Club
Lowell E. Baier, President
Mule Deer Foundation
Miles O. Moretti, President/CEO
Pope and Young Club
Roger Atwood, President
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
M. David Allen, President/CEO
Safari Club International and Safari Club International Foundation
Dr. Larry Rudolph, President
Wild Sheep Foundation
Gray N. Thornton, President/CEO
Wildlife Management Institute
Steven A. Williams, President