How can it be that people can see wildlife so differently? By that I mean, one group can love the wildness, the spirit, and beauty of an animal, while others see it as a commodity. Some view it as something devoid of spirit, something they have a right to abuse, torture and kill. They seem unable or unwilling to except wildlife as creatures with families, emotion or true feelings; the idea of truly being able to feel pain is something they simply deny.
This is a world of what I refer to as people who are missing a critical gene. This gene of love and compassion for animals is one that some seem to be lacking. That was apparent this past week when we held our “Ending trapping in the Urban Interface” forum in Missoula. After a week of trappers brutally threatening and ripping Imagination Brewery over their allowing us to present there, which included blasting them on Yelp and other social media sites, this group of missing genes appeared at our forum. They listened while staring straight forward. When they spoke they questioned, “if animals really felt pain when caught in a trap”; they talked about us taking “their lands.”
Their big message was that their payment of $28 dollars a year to trap, including the right to destroy five wolves each, gives them the right to control the fate of wildlife and the public lands we all use to recreate on because we pay nothing. How many non-target animals were killed in wolf traps? We’ll never know.
Let’s think about that for a moment, for $28.00, they can kill at will wildlife in numbers that can be staggering if you include animals like coyotes that don’t even need a permit. Coyotes--you can trap unlimited numbers for free. Pain, suffering, destroyed packs, more spread of disease, increased numbers of coyotes. Take out the alpha male or female and they all breed because the family structure is destroyed, and females can have up to 19 pups each to fill the vacuum. It also comes at the loss for us, the general public that long to see beavers in the river, who want to hear the coyote songs and wish for wolves to restore our lands, to keep our wildlife populations healthy. People do not want to see bald eagles caught in traps or grizzly bears. The by-catch of this indiscriminate killing is species that are threatened, endangered or your dog.
As the forum progressed, it was clear that we were not speaking the same language and more importantly, the strong urge that many people have to protect wildlife, to treasure it, was seen by those who trap as somewhat sentimental, silly and was constantly brought back to their needs, their desire to kill and their self-righteous belief that what they did was acceptable in modern society.
So I go back to a missing gene, a missing something that allows people to club innocent animals to death, to make jokes about picking up baby chicks at a store and bringing them home for "dog treats”.
This battle, this war, to save wildlife from the jaws of death at the hands of trappers is not an easy fight or something that will end overnight. It will be a fight for the right of animals to co-exist and to be part of our collective lives. We want beavers in the river, we want eagles in the sky, we want wolves on the ground and we want society to mature and finally understand the value of wildlife alive.
We want those that lack a gene or the capacity to love wildlife, to mature as well. We cannot progress with blood on our soil and in our rivers. We can only progress when the steel jaws and snares are removed from our public lands.
When I see images of the fear and desperation that animals have when caught in a trap and I understand their final moments are met with a club or a gunshot, I understand more deeply the many historical tragedies that humans have done to each other and to this earth. Many did so in the name of county or religion, but mostly because of ignorance and greed.
We have reached a point in society where we no longer want racism; we no longer believe in glass ceilings, we believe in the power of diversity. But on the long windswept prairies and tall mountains of Montana, there remains our country’s darkest side. It is a place where some kill and torture animals without fear of retribution. They are sanctioned by the state and proud and determined to keep killing without fairness, without heart and devoid of soul.
If there is a gene missing, perhaps I would feel better, to understand why. But what I know is we will never stop fighting, educating and demanding an end to this insanity or condoned cruelty and persecution in our country. Trapping must end and it must end not just in Montana, but across this country.
When I look in the eyes of the coyote or wolf, I feel shame, shame that we have not stopped this and awed by their strength and wisdom. They ask only for freedom and space to live, we must honor that and stop their suffering. We must be better.
For those unwilling to change, we must force the change, we are not taking their lands; we are reclaiming ours. Not just for us, but for the wildlife that calls it home.
We stand here today to express our love to an animal; one we call-wolf. Wolves are not just magnificent; they are in life the symbol of beauty and grace. They are a family, a pack, a group that moves as one and makes the land their territory.
We also live in a time where ignorance, cultural hates and the loathing from rural communities is being aspired to an animal they see as a symbol of all that is wrong in our country. Wolves are the multicultural, Black lives Matters, Gay, transgender child or friend, in other words, they stretch the tolerance of those that want a life devoid of personal growth and understanding, but choose to live on the land, not co-exist. Wolves challenge their norms, but like much of American today; wolves in Montana are being met with hate, intolerance, and death at the hands of those who live to kill.
It is also a time when groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation have gone from responsible wildlife supporters and approaches to one that has devolved into a group that demands the killing of wolves and other predators. Funding shadow groups that push state agencies to kill wolves and in the funding for paid bounties ($1000 each, Foundation for Wildlife Management) on wolves in Idaho.
So the reality we face is we have work to do and a strong need for vocal voices and boots on the ground for the critical battles ahead, which begin on February 13th in Helena. There the commission will begin the process of trying to follow the lead of the Idaho Game Commission in expanding the ability of trappers to double (triple in Idaho) their take of wolves and expand the wolf hunting season so more wolves can be slaughtered. If they get their way expect a push to remove wolves from parts of our state entirely as Idaho is pursuing.
This is not a time for silence; rather it is time to raise HOLY HELL with a Commission that seems determined to promote the destruction of wolves in Montana. This livestock industry, trapper inspired effort, needs to be crushed by the outpouring of support for wolves and a need for people to overwhelm this commission with calls, emails, and letters.
Once again we must remind ourselves of one basic question: who’s wildlife is this? Does it simply belong to trappers; is the endless control of wildlife acceptable? Is it warranted? The answer seems to be- the will of livestock interests, trumps sanity. Where is our will being represented? Where are our voices? Do we, as the clear majority, in this state not have the right to view living, breathing wildlife?
Why are trappers allowed to kill more than 200,000 animals every year? Since when is suffering part of our constitution? Why does the commission not have a single true conservationist on it?
Part of the answer is because many of us being well-meaning, believe that Fish, Wildlife and Parks is doing a good job. Many do not question that premise. The other part is simple raw political muscle being flexed by those that directly profit from the land, they are dictating policy. It’s time for sobriety.
Time and time again this agency yields to poor science, no science or political winds. They do the bidding of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and bend over backward for trapping and livestock interests. They do this because so few of us show up or demand more. February 13th is the day we can begin to right the carnage wrought by trappers, livestock interests and this agency. It is the day we can speak in one, very loud voice for wolves. They deserve our voice, our heart. They deserve our rage at a Commission that shows no courage.
Wolves are what keep the balance in nature. They are what stops chronic wasting disease, they are what keeps our elk and deer healthy and moving. They are the spirit of the land. They are what gets our heart pumping and allow us to witness true wildness. Their return was a turning point in our relationship to the wild nature and we cannot let that day, that victory, be in vain.
We must fight like never before, for those that want wolves to die are winning. We must be the blockade in the road, the voice that speaks for them and rallies our community, our state and our people to demand justice and the end of this killing spree.
We are not here to cry wolf, we are here to stand with wolves!
— Be a voice for change; join us on February 13th in Helena!
— Tell the Commission no to expanded killing, period.
—Justice begins on that day.
CALL TO ACTION!
We need everyone--an army--to protest planned wolf slaughter!
Montana’s FWP Commission meeting Feb. 13 will consider expansion of wolf trapping and hunting.
In Region 1, NW Montana
1. NW Montana, double number of wolves allowed to be killed from five to 10 per person;
2. Extend wolf trapping season close date to March 15 from Feb. 28.
3. Extend general hunting season to begin Aug. 15 and end March 31. This makes a 7.5 month-long season wolf hunt annually. What is the rationale for this? There isn’t one given. The wolf population is already suppressed to the edge of –or beyond—the endangered list. We cannot rely on FWP for accurate numbers. The agency’s agenda is to wipe them out in Region 1.
Proposal will not reduce number of wolves (two) that can be killed in Units 313 and 316 on northern boundary of Yellowstone National Park. This absurd quota legalizes the trapping and killing of Yellowstone wolves if they step over the boundary. Wolf killers line up to get their trophies; there is no penalty for going over the quota.
It is imperative that a multitude of people show up at the FWP Commission meeting to voice their objection to this indefensible slaughter of wolves. In Region 1, the hard winter of 2018-19 reduced the elk population according FWP’s own biologists. Yet wolf haters there demand getting rid of wolves, and the agency is doing their bidding.
You can attend in Helena or at the regional FWP headquarters where the meeting is live, by satellite TV, and make comments from there. FWP uses the excuse that more trappers show up than opponents to trapping so they go with the majority. It’s time we change this!
We expect this agenda item to be considered sometime after 2 pm.
Here is what we need you to do:
1) Please attend the next Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting Feb. 13 in FWP Helena office at or any Regional FWP office. It's live, so you can comment via satellite TV directly to the Commissioners in Helena. The agenda shows that the wolf slaughter will likely to be discussed after 1 pm but be aware that FWP can easily change the timing
2) Please also write the commissioners to condemn these disastrous plans. firstname.lastname@example.org
Talking points (please use your own words)
FWP Commissioners, I am asking you to reduce the number of wolves allowed to be killed in Units 313 and 316 two one or zero, to NOT accept the proposal to extend the wolf hunting and trapping seasons in Region 1, and to NOT increase the bag limit to 10 wolves. Instead, please consider the following:
Montana needs to recognize and value the importance of wolves for healthy ecosystems, in particular under the threat of climate change where healthy ecosystems are our best defense. Wolves should not be managed based on politics, but according to the best available science and with compassion.
Wolves contain Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). Dr. Valerius Geist, has stated that “Wolves will certainly bring the disease to a halt … They will remove infected individuals and clean up carcasses that could transmit the disease.” He along with other biologists even theorized that killing off wolves “allowed for CWD to take hold in the first place.”
FWP caters to wildlife killers and not to the general public, who increasingly opposes killing wild animals for ‘recreation.’ Wolves should not be managed for those who enjoy killing them but rather for the majority of the public who wants to see them alive.
Indiscriminate slaughter of wolves disrupts their social systems and may contribute to greater human conflicts when killing of key family members leads to a reduced effectiveness of the wolf family for hunting or cause them to lose their territory.
Killing wolves for recreation and trophies is appalling human behavior.
Trapping of any animal, whether wolves or members of other species is barbaric, cruel and there is no justification this type of torture of wild animals.
FWP’s Regional Offices:
Helena Headquarters 1420 East Sixth Avenue, Helena, MT
Region 1: 490 North Meridian Road, Kalispell, MT 59901, Phone: (406) 752-5501
Region 2: 3201 Spurgin Road, Missoula, MT 59804, Phone: (406) 542-5500
Region 3: 1400 South 19th, Bozeman, MT 59718, Phone: (406) 577-7900
Region 4: 4600 Giant Springs Road, Great Falls, MT 59405, Phone: (406) 454-5840
Region 5: 2300 Lake Elmo Drive, Billings, MT 59105, Phone: (406) 247-2940
Region 6: 1 Airport Rd, Glasgow, MT 59230, Phone: (406) 228-3700
Region 7: 352 I-94 Business Loop, Miles City, MT 59301, Phone: (406) 234-0900
THANK YOU for supporting wolves in Montana. We need to take FWP back!
We have an agency charged with “managing wildlife” in Montana. It works off the tired North America Model of Wildlife Conservation, one that is outdated and lacking in current scientific understanding. Rather than managing people, the agency obsesses with controlling wildlife. Their true mission is not management, but to follow the orders of the livestock industry that controls not only the state legislature but most wildlife agencies across the West.
But what if we could reimagine a new and different Fish, Wildlife and Parks? If you could start over with the wisdom of our experience, with the science unbiased and relevant and with the input of not just sportsmen and the livestock industry, but the voices of all of us that love and wonder at wildlife.
It would start with the concept of managing people not wildlife. By this I mean, rather than shoulder seasons and destructive predator management and killing, we would demand, not ask, the livestock industry to co-exist with all wildlife. Thus we would be managing their actions, not those of the coyote or wolf. The agency would work to make landscapes and waterways protected while working with property owners to enhance habitat for all species.
The agency would demand the ending of trapping on all state and public lands. There could be no justifiable rationale to allow this torture of wildlife to continue and the penalties would be severe for any that decide to ignore the regulations, once again managing people, not wildlife. They would also be voices that speak for wildlife, not conduits for destructive practices and cultural prejudices that focus hate on predator species.
No one would end the right for sportsmen to hunt and they would remain part of any commission. Ending trapping will not end hunting and a healthy commission and department would make hunters understand this and enhance their long and important alliance with those other conservation groups that share supporting wildlife.
The agency would be governed by a commission that represents all people. This means appointing people that demand modern conservation principles, perhaps who make a living from wildlife viewing or understand this is the largest constituency for wildlife nationally. This commission would understand that predator species are vital to a healthy and thriving wildlife population. These predators are our first line of defense from species acquiring chronic wasting disease or dealing with the influx of feral pigs on our northern border.
Real science would matter. It would be the focus of the agency, but rather than controlling everything, we would use science to educate the public, to enhance habitat and waterways for wildlife, not just for the purpose of killing species. Being able to speak about family units and the suffering a species can and does feel, is not something to hide, but through education change societal thinking.
This agency, which has long been the public voice for the livestock industry, would morph into one that forces change in this Pleistocene operation. Cattle would not have the dominant voice on public lands and would face new restrictions. The killing of predators would end and the industry would either adapt or like any business be finished. No industry is given more government handouts than livestock and their continued power to control our public lands and wildlife denies all Americans their rightful ability to view wildlife on public lands.
Such changes would allow wildlife to thrive in our state. With more wildlife, tourism and spending to view wildlife would grow exponentially. Our personal experiences with wildlife would shift from momentary glances to real interactions. Our relationship with wolves and other predators would evolve and the land and waterways would be far healthier, not denizens of death. We would understand what it means to co-exist.
If we or anyone believes in the idea of legacy, then our legacy should be about changing this agency that was born not to help wildlife, but to enhance opportunities for sportsmen. Demanding it evolve into an agency that makes wildlife the priority. That ends the horrid practice of trapping and reflects the diversity, not just of species, but of people that understand that wildlife is what makes life on this planet so very special.
If I could dream of a new agency these are but a few of the things I would start with. As for the one we have, it is our mission and your voice that will force the changes necessary for progress and to ensure the life of species that deserve simply a chance to survive.
Wildlife does not need management, but people do. Be a voice for change!
This article by Stephen Capra appeared as a Guest Column in the Sunday, October 6, 2019 Edition of the Missoulian.
In 1990, I walked the length of the Continental Divide from Mexico to Canada. Over 3,200 miles, I saw for myself that species like fisher, beaver and bobcat were nowhere to be found, until I entered national park lands. There, free of traps, I saw diversity in wildlife, a freedom in their being lacking on much of our trapped filled public lands.
We live in a land blessed with wildlife, a place of wild rivers and wilderness. We also live in a land that sanctions the torture of wildlife, the slaughter of wolves at the hands of those who call themselves trappers. This group, who use threats and intimidation to continue their macabre existence, are back in the field, setting their traps near trails or next to closed roads where unsuspecting families and pets beckon.
Their mission is to steal the life, without fair chase, of so many creatures great and small. Their theft comes in the suffering and torture of wolves and fishers, bobcats and cougars, and the endless assault on beavers. It comes from the endless bycatch of eagles, family dogs, deer, ravens and any poor creature unfortunate to find itself in a leghold trap, a snare or the crushing punishment of a conibear.
This disgraceful practice is condoned by our own Fish, Wildlife and Parks, which continues to give in to trappers' threats and demands. FWP shows its support by holding a class on trapping wolves that is held statewide. They sell this as “creating integrity in trapping,” a clear oxymoron. This is a class that recruits people to trap wolves, giving tips on how to torture wildlife — wolves in particular — without conscience.
Why are we allowing more than 50,000 animals each year to be left to suffer in traps for days, only to have a trapper club or shoot them? What does it say about us as humans in 2019? What does it say about the majority of the FWP Commission that refuses to even make common-sense protections for families, a priority over that of the 0.5% of people that demand control over our public lands?
Recreational trapping is not a tradition that deserves to be part of our modern world. It must be ended forever. We cannot allow the very spirit of all that is wild, wolves, to be tortured and their packs decimated when science clearly shows them to be self-regulating, and their pack destruction clearly what leads to depredation.
Last year more than 300 wolves’ lives were lost in this state, many at the hands of trappers. Many continue to believe, without science, that wolves are harming elk populations. In this scenario fires, forest growth, disease, changing habitat due to climate change and other predators are ignored so that wolves can be the scapegoat.
Science and plain observation proves that animals feel pain, that they have emotional connections. How can we allow such incredible arrogance and so-called “tradition” to continue to be maintained when it is clear the importance that wolves and other animals bring to a healthy environment?
Wildlife deserves far better. They deserve the right to live their lives free of traps.
Winter is in the air these days. The fresh snow will show you footprints that leave the trail; they lead to traps and snares, they tell a story of a people devoid of compassion and the resulting misery for animals so deserving of our respect.
This is our winter of shame. It is our time as owners of our public lands to evict those who trap our beautiful and vital wildlife. It is time for change.