Montana’s 2021 Legislative session left wildlife advocates and wolf biologists aghast. New for the 2021-2022 hunting and trapping season is the use of bait and electronic calls, the use of neck snares, night hunting on private lands, a bounty program for so-called ‘reimbursement’ of costs accrued while hunting or trapping wolves, a 20-wolf ‘limit’ per person for hunting and trapping, and an extended trapping season.
However, this kind of extermination program is what some in the northern Rockies states have been working toward for years. Now, the cruel measures, once just words on a page, are playing out in real-time, rekindling outrage and backlash. But the outrage continues to fall on deaf ears.
In Montana, our governor is not only sympathetic to those set on decimating the state’s wolf population, but is himself an active participant in the wolf slaughter. Almost as a foreshadowing of what was to come, Gov. Gianforte illegally trapped and killed a collared Yellowstone wolf during last year’s tumultuous legislative session.
Now, with new laws allowing barbarous wolf killing techniques and the removal of quotas from the wolf hunt areas surrounding Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks there have been at least fifteen Yellowstone National Park wolves killed in Montana during the 2021-2022 wolf hunting and trapping season.
The wolves killed include at least three from the world-famous Junction Butte pack and the entire Phantom Lake pack. Outside of Montana, at least five additional wolves have been killed when crossing the Yellowstone Park boundary into Idaho or Wyoming. This means that nearly 20 percent of Yellowstone’s wolves have been killed this year, the largest number since reintroduction.
Along with the removal of quotas from the wolf management units surrounding Yellowstone National Park, Montana also now allows baiting and the use of electronic calls. This means that hunters and trappers can lure wolves out of the Park for slaughter, highlighting the least ethical tactics in an already unethical hunt.
The controversy over Yellowstone wolves being killed for sport just outside the park boundaries is nothing new. In fact, back in 2012 during the first legal wolf hunt, wolf 832F, also known as “06,” was killed after wandering outside of the Park boundaries. The outrage over this and the killing of numerous other famous and collared Park wolves during 2012-2014 helped kill a Congressional rider in 2015 that otherwise would have delisted wolves in Wyoming and the Great Lakes region.
In 2016, a study was published that found wolf sightings increased by 45 percent in Yellowstone following years where no Park wolves were killed by hunters or trappers. An incredible number of people travel from all over the world for a chance to see a wolf in Yellowstone.
Protect The Wolves, an Indigenous-led nonprofit organization, interviews hundreds to thousands of visitors on site in Slough Creek each year, and when asked why they visit the Park, the overwhelming answer is, “to see wolves”. Yet, the states that stand to profit seem to not care.
In 2020 alone, 3.8 million people visited Yellowstone National Park and spent over $444 million in communities surrounding the Park. That year’s spending supported 6,110 jobs in the local Yellowstone area which had a total cumulative benefit to the local economy of an estimated $560 million.
Visitor spending in National Parks across the nation supports around 234,000 jobs with over 80 percent of those jobs found in gateway communities. Communities surrounding Yellowstone rely heavily on wildlife watchers visiting the Park.
The lodging industry in Paradise Valley, just north of the Park in Montana, generates an estimated $1.8 million in state taxes. The industry is largely fueled by visitors to Yellowstone. Just last week 30 ecotourism businesses sent a Letter to Secretary Haaland asking her to re-list wolves because of the impact the slaughter is sure to have on their businesses.
This past year’s removal of any semblance of decency from Idaho and Montana’s wolf hunting policies has in fact been a long time coming, and the goal of many all along. In 2017 Protect the Wolves proposed a 31-mile (50 km) Sacred Resource Protection Zone around Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in an attempt to provide additional protections for Park wildlife. There would be no hunting or trapping of wolves within this protection zone. However, the states ignored the proposal.
Protection of these sacred species that originated from these historical sacred landscapes is necessary for the survival of America’s Indigenous unique sacred beliefs, cultures and religions. Wolves are no different from water in Indigenous Sacred Beliefs. Water already has case law protecting it because it originated from within an Indigenous Sacred Landscape, and as such, wolves, bison and grizzlies should be afforded the same protections under the law.
It is now more clear than ever that wolves need additional protections and with the lack of empathy and scientific integrity apparent in state leadership in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, the protections must come from the federal government. We have asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to relist gray wolves, but even while they are studying this possibility, more wolves continue to be killed.
Secretary Haaland has failed to meet with tribal leaders to discuss a Wolf Treaty demanding wolf re-listing. The Secretary must act now to protect these sacred species. Perhaps Congress should pass a bill modeled after the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, already in effect, and the proposed Tribal Heritage and Grizzly Bear Protection Act, to protect wolves from killing nationwide.
The options are numerous, and it is high time this wolf slaughter is recognized for what it is and the necessary protections are implemented. Wolves and the ecosystems that they help to shape demand it in order to survive, and be available for our children’s children. Failure to do so is bluntly ignoring Indigenous Sacred Beliefs.
Jocelyn Leroux is the Washington-Montana Director with Western Watersheds Project, a nonprofit conservation group dedicated to protecting and restoring wildlife and watersheds throughout the American West.
Roger Dobson is a Cowlitz Tribal member and President of Protect the Wolves Sanctuary, a Native American nonprofit that incorporates religious rights, treaty rights, Indian trust, public trust, and nature’s trust into their plan of action.