By Barbara O’Grady
I just returned from the International Wolf Symposium in Duluth, Minn., where scientists, researchers, wildlife managers and wolf advocates from around the world gathered to exchange ideas and information on the many subspecies of Canis lupus that inhabit the globe.
Not surprisingly, many of my friends and neighbors attended. I live in Gardiner, Mont., at the northern gateway to Yellowstone National Park. It was here that the gray wolf was reintroduced in 1995, and where the debate about the value of this species continues to rage on in coffee shops and bars, in the market and at the gas station, in newsprint and scholarly journals. The jury is out, but the verdict is in. According to many, wolves are recovered in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, thus we must begin to knock the numbers back.
The world perceives our Yellowstone wolves as the superstars of the reintroduction effort. From the far reaches of our planet, people know the Lamar Canyon Pack’s 832F, the Druids’ 21M and 42F and the much-loved wolf 302M. What struck me most at this conference was that our Yellowstone wolves are superstars in the scientific community as well.
The wealth of knowledge about the species that has been reaped by studying these individual wolves over the past 18 years fills tomes of scientific literature. And yet the question that I have struggled with personally over the past few years—the same one that was asked of me so many times at the conference—remains unanswered. Why is it that the state of Montana will not fully protect the Yellowstone wolves from hunting?
Last year, Montana hunters killed seven Yellowstone wolves, animals that live 95 percent of the time in the park. This year hunters can kill that many again. What is wrong with your governor, I was asked, that he allows this to happen? Why doesn’t someone do something?
You will have to ask Gov. Steve Bullock yourself. I have, both as a private citizen and as President of Gardiner’s grassroots conservation group, Bear Creek Council. He did not give me an answer. These wolves belong to you, too, and it is high time for a national constituency to ask him. I have some ideas about what’s holding him back—it’s about political capital. It’s about the ranching and hunting lobbies. It’s about that age-old power struggle between states, especially western states, and the federal government. And it’s about time to change.
Many of us locals have been trying to do something for years. We have been working diligently within the system to bring attention to the issue and to effect change. We have written letters, submitted comments and traveled many miles to testify before commissions and lawmakers. Although we have won some small concessions for which we are grateful, our frustration lies in the realization that, at this pace, we may never be able to make a significant difference. But you can. Call, write, come and see for yourselves. Be an advocate, be vocal, call your representatives. Make some noise, keep making it, and make it again and again.
Montana hunters have hundreds of wolves available to kill during the seven-month hunt. Why can’t we let a few wolves that arguably belong to all Americans just be? Please, please tell Governor Bullock to stop allowing the killing of Yellowstone wolves. Tell him now. Tell him often. Tell him until he listens. Tell him until the killing stops.
Barbara O’Grady is a geologist and owner of Wild Bear Adventures, an ecotour company. She is president of Bear Creek Council, a grassroots conservation group based in Gardiner, Mont.