A Montana Wolf hunt

Randy Newberg has either the second or third best hunting show on television; Meat Eater is consistently better, and at it’s best (which isn’t all that often) Solo Hunter is too. It is worth mentioning that the competition is not very fierce, most hunting television is trite, formulaic, and fulfills negative stereotypes in an appalling predictable manner.  Newberg’s work is so good both because he holds himself to a fairly strict fair chase ethic, and is articulate and forthright in portraying it.  The winter before last, when wolf hunting was newly legal in Montana, Newberg filmed a successful hunt.  As of today you can watch the first of two episodes covering the hunt on Carbon TV, for free.  The second episode should be up in a week or two.

It’s a noteworthy effort for several reasons, with the most prominent by far being his forceful and succinct articulation of the argument for wolf hunting.  His formulation isn’t the only version, and it’s quite mild compared to some, but if you’re not acquainted with the “local” side of the argument the above 22 minutes of TV is a good place to start.

On a theoretical level I don’t have an issue with wolf hunting.  There are compelling reasons to think that the current population in Montana and Idaho, and to a lesser degree (outside the GYE) Wyoming, will suffer minimal longterm effect from hunting and trapping, provided they are carried out in a lawful and ethical manner.  (There’s been rumbling about legalizing hunting from aircraft and over bait, which is an entirely different matter, both biologically and ethically.)  I have many practical issues with wolf hunting as it is most often carried out today, and Newberg, ordinarily a compelling and well-reasoned voice, falls into some of these pitfalls.

It is unfortunate that he allowed the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation space on his show.  The RMEF does good work, foremost the land acquisition mentioned in the episode, but they’ve fallen down on the job by pandering to the worst parts of the hunting community over modern wolf policy.  When David Allen (RMEF CEO) says on the episode (I paraphrase) that wolves and predators managing their own populations in concert without human interference is an impossible “oxymoron” one is moved to congratulate him on learning to speak in complete sentences in the first place.  What he means of course is that when left to their own devices predators and their prey will not manage themselves in a way which humans will find completely innocuous and non-interfering.  If Mr. Allen, and Mr. Newberg, believe in a purely anthropocentric, instrumentalist approach to wildlife management in general and large predator management specifically, they should say so, but they should not expect the coming generations to take them very seriously.

The vilification of environmental groups, and the stereotyping of their members, is also not productive.  Firstly, western states like Montana have an extensive and protracted history of being poor managers of public land, going back to before statehood.  States may have gotten on the bandwagon and preserved public lands for access and wintering range in the last 40 years, but without federal intervention in the 19th and 20th century there would be little productive megafauna habitat within the public sphere to access.  Western states should spend the next 50 years doing better than they ever have in this area before any of them complain.  To say nothing of the extensive federal dollars (taxes from those liberal enclaves on both coasts) without which western states would have, at best, anemic infrastructures and economies.  And the idea that in a republic national identity and privilege supercede that specific to your state of residence (we’ll leave astronomical out of state hunting and fishing licenses for another day).

People who live with (and this shouldn’t just mean “with 50 miles of”) wolves do indeed have different and in many cases more intimate and better knowledge of wolves, and by proxy the human relationship with the rest of the living world.  I am quite sympathetic to those who view the wolf watchers in Lamar, seemingly never further than 10 feet from either the pavement or their 3000 dollar spotting scope, as having a rather superficial, even theoretical, appreciation for wolves.  At the same time, everyone would do better to admit that the folks at the Center of Biological Diversity usually know what they’re talking about, and don’t keep suing state and federal agencies out of some conspiracy to keep themselves funded.  You can disagree with the CBD, the RMEF, Randy Newberg, and me, but the kneejerk stereotyping and tinfoilhat hysteria does no one and nothing any good.  If there is an enemy here, it is the indifference which will paper over why elk and wolves do what they do, and pave more of the world in the process.  In 2014, people who care passionately about the wild fighting with each other is nothing but shameful.

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