Monday, January 5, 2015

“In Wolf Country,” important new book by Jim Yuskavitch

About the politics of wolf reintroduction in the Northern Rockies-

Jim Yuskavitch begins his book with the story of wolf B45, the first Idaho wolf to venture into Oregon. She (B45) was a first generation offspring of the wolves brought down from British Columbia for release in Idaho in 1996. Most of his examples and descriptions early on in the book center on Idaho. Most past books begin with Yellowstone National Park.

As an Idahoan, I enjoyed reading for the first time about the “exploits” of a number of the wolves reintroduced to Idaho. Their stories are as interesting as the many about the individual Yellowstone wolves and wolf pack. I had hoped someone would do this.

Before you are through reading In Wolf Country, he has discussed almost every issue surrounding wolf restoration to the Northern Rockies. Most of these have been topics in The Wildlife News. Our readers will find the book to be a fine companion giving the factual history, the various controversies about the wolves, the players, the politics, and the world view of the ranching and hunting interests that largely dominate the management of the outdoors east of the Cascades and the Sierra Nevada and west of the Missouri River.

The author shows in detail how wolf management is just barely about wolf biology. Instead it deals with people and politics, many of which are guided by beliefs about wolves that include few facts, many errors, and a lot of emotion. I have wondered for years why wolves raise so much hostile emotion in some groups of people. One answer he finds is that the controversy for many on the anti-wolf side is a stand-in for different worldview. Wolf supporters, according to the ideology found in many writings and opinion pieces, value animals over humans. They would push God off his throne ruling over all, but giving  to “man” dominion above all else. Support for predators presumably means hostility to property rights and guns, belief in a overpowerful federal government. Wolves are pretty much a plot to destroy the rural West.

Of course, he is careful to point out that there are ranchers and hunters who do not subscribe to idea that wolves-put-on-ground represents some cosmic battle between good and evil. Many just go along with what they see as the dominant opinion where they live or work. In the rural towns social pressure makes it hard to differ on this subject and often costly for those of their number who have a less emotional view to speak up. An example he uses is the Wallowa County, Oregon unsuccessful attempt by the Barking Mad Farm Bed and Breakfast to get a conditional use permit to expand onto property zoned for agriculture. The application was made into a much larger issue and something to be stopped because the kind of tourism the expansion might generate, it was argued, would bring the wrong kind of people as visitors to the county and give support for wolves. It would threaten priority of ranching there. If I recall correctly, that this dominance of ranching was explicitly stated by opponents of the permit.

He also retells Don Peay’s successful effort in Utah to extract large sums of money from the Utah Legislature to lobby to prevent the federal government from introducing wolves to Utah, something no one was asking the government to do. Peay, who founded Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, was also successful getting a Utah ballot proposition passed making it so that it would take a supermajority (2/3) in future for any other ballot proposition to directly change the rules and take of hunters and fishers.

To date, not many books have written about the work in Idaho by the Nez Perce Tribe (Tribal Wolf Recovery Team) which was tasked with managing the reintroduced wolves when the Idaho Legislature rejected doing so, though they claimed that role later. A major task, and one that continues to a lesser degree, was to estimate the number of wolves and wolf packs in Idaho each year and collect information on their whereabouts and habits for the Department of Interior to asses the degree to which the recovery effort had succeeded.

Yuskavitch was able to go on a number of trips to the woods with the Team. His observations were interesting, both of finding the wolf packs, and finding the people who actually feared them in remote and small, Elk City, Idaho. I can testify to the correctness of his observations because at the time I had an in-law who lived there. Observing the fear his girlfriend had of the unseen menace, and how hard it was to abate it, shocked me. She had seen what she thought were wolf tracks on her property. I told her I found something far worse she needed to pay attention to — spotted knapweed just getting started.

This author, like many others, debunks the common idea that wolves are especially dangerous to people. No, it is not the case that they are fixin’ to eat us, but want to eat all the other animals first. He relates his conversation with Utah State University Professor Dan McNulty pointing out that wolves are quite weak for large carnivores; far from being killing machines. Compared to the cougar, for example, they are less muscular, have a weaker bite, have weak legs when it comes to attacking. Their legs are “just sticks,” and they cannot rotate them at the knee. Their claws do not grab or hold.
He has two chapters that are pretty much about hunting; wolf hunting and hunting deer and elk. There is a chapter on the return of wolves to the Pacific Northwest with stories about “Journey,” wolf OR7 and other important Oregon wolves.

He concludes that “Wolves are Here to Stay,” and that hunting wolves actually facilitates their dispersal to places far from their birth.

I have only touched on the many topics of the book which is available in paperback for order on-line. It was released just before the New Year. It is hardly a dull academic tome despite its many facts and analysis of the policy controversy. For the person greatly interested in wolves on the ground in the West, the book should be of intense interest.

via The Wildlife News