Yellowstone Reports

Printer-friendly version

Why Kill More Wolves in Montana?

Comments Needed to Quell the Hysteria
by Dr. Nathan Varley

June 8, 2012

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission is proposing a wolf trapping season, as well as, eliminating quotas on the number of wolves that may be killed (i.e., unlimited harvest) for the 2012-2013 season beginning this fall. The intent is to vastly reduce the state’s wolf population numbering about 600.

Parts of the north and west boundaries of Yellowstone National Park will be included in the unlimited take areas proposed by the commission, endangering nearly all of the park’s watchable wolf packs.  The commission will make a final decision on the matter by July. 

I submitted the following comments:

Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Commissioners,
I am writing about the commission’s hunting and trapping proposal, which is way too extreme, and want to comment about the role of predators and wolves specifically in our state, and their impact on the economy.  I am among many who see this proposal as a reflection of a modern day “witch hunt,” the pursuit of which by commissioners is a politically-driven exploit riding the current trend of runaway anti-wolf sentiment.  In this letter I will outline the facts that should be guiding the collective thinking of the commission, rather than the outrageous rhetoric.

The commissioners should make a good-faith and equal effort to understand all the effects, including the significantly positive effects, of wolves and other predators on the ecosystem and economy.  In these two categories I have a depth of experience which I clearly need to share.

Studies from academic scholars have demonstrated the considerable impact wolf recovery has had on the local and regional economy.  A recent University of Montana study that is often cited and nonetheless ignored found that visitors to the Yellowstone region hoping to view wolves spend on the order of $35 million annually in gateway areas of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.  Bozeman, Billings, Red Lodge, West Yellowstone, Livingston, Silver Gate, Cooke City, and Gardiner are some of these prime gateway beneficiaries.

Our small business is among a growing number of businesses that cater specifically to this tourism segment, informally known as wolf watchers.  We offer programs throughout the year that utilize Montana businesses where we use local transportation (including airlines), hotel accommodations, outdoor stores, gift shops, and restaurants.  In recent years, our company has hosted thousands of guests and channeled hundreds of thousands of dollars into Gallatin and Park county businesses.  Our business has grown during the recession, which indicates the wolf industry is growing and thriving.  I speak for the many businesses of this industry that rely on healthy wolf populations to generate revenue locally and provide jobs:  even the perception that locals are hostile toward wolves and other predators impinges heavily on our business potential.

Such notions as bounties and trapping send a clear signal to would-be visitors to our region that the locals do not respect the wolf’s place as valuable native wildlife.  Trapping of animals in the county opens a Pandora’s Box of imposing public relations nightmares.  In the era of the internet and social networking the abuses of these activities become easily accessible; and therefore, will reoccur in front of increasingly large audiences who are not going to be tolerant of perceived inhumane treatment of animals portrayed in these activities.  Tourism boycotts following these types of events could easily occur.  Lastly on this topic, many pet owners are going to see wolf traps and snares as inappropriate hazards obstructing their enjoyment of the outdoors.

Prior to entering the wolf watching industry, I was an academic that earned two degrees in wildlife sciences at Montana State University.  Subsequently a third degree I earned, a PhD in ecological sciences, entailed a multifaceted study of wolf-prey interactions in the Yellowstone region.  The sum of this experience agreed with the copious published studies that render a clear picture:  the wolf is a valuable ecological agent whose role is imperative to the integrity and maintenance of natural ecosystems.  Contrary to popular misconception, elk numbers in Montana have increased since wolf recovery.  The 1992 Montana elk management plan estimated 89,000 elk were in Montana. By 2007 an article in Montana Outdoors stated as many as 150,000 elk were in the state.

Nevertheless, opponents have looked to scapegoat wolves for problems that would be more appropriately addressed through better management of land development, hunting quotas, excessive outfitting, and land access.  These factors, along with severe weather and a diverse assemblage of predators has effected an elk herd decline in the Yellowstone area, but has not decreased the visitation or the success of tourism in the region.  On the contrary, visitation to Yellowstone has steadily increased in recent years and an estimated 80,000+ visitors have based their decision to visit Yellowstone on the presence of the wolf.  Mismanagement of hunting opportunities in the Yellowstone area has affected the elk population as much or more than wolves, scientific studies indicate.

On these topics, it is clear the commissioners need to reassess their intent to “kill more wolves” and ask what part of the public is this serving?  What narrow special interests with an ‘elk farm agenda’ are pushing for these changes?  Are the majority of Montana residents (whom you serve!) really going to go hunting and trapping wolves?  I believe that when all the facts are weighed, the perceived need to kill more wolves will appropriately dissipate.

Lastly, please reconsider having unlimited take on the northern boundary of Yellowstone.  That way you won't kill the goose that lays our golden eggs…..

Respectfully submitted,

Nathan Varley, PhD
Co-owner, The Wild Side, LLC
Gardiner, Montana

Please send in your comments about the 2012 FWP Wolf Hunt Proposal to the Montana FWP Commissioners. Public comment period is open until June 25, 2012.  If you are from Montana PLEASE comment.  If you are not from Montana, please comment on why you visit Montana.  Email your comments at this web address:
 Or this email: 
You'll also find a summary of the Proposal if you click on "Letter to Interested Persons."
FWP Commissioners seem to have differing views on the Proposal, so your voice can make a difference!

ALSO send your comments to the Gallatin County Commissioners who are conducting their own witch hunt, or study of issues surrounding wolves, at the county level.  Gallatin County includes Bozeman and West Yellowstone.  Email your comments to Joe Skinner, heading up the study, at, and the entire commission at  You can mail them to Gallatin County commissioners, 311 W. Main St., Room 306, Bozeman, MT 59715.


The Blacktail Wolves