A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Sacred Cows and Sacrificial Wolves


This is a story about what goes wrong when well-meaning animal advocates make deals with the devil and get into bed with businesses and agencies that don’t have the interests of the animals at heart.

Two weeks ago, the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife ordered the killing of an entire pack of wolves. The wolves had killed some cows who were grazing on public lands, and last I heard, the hunt was on for the last remaining adult wolf, who was still struggling to provide for her four pups.

As an endangered species, wolves are protected in Washington State by the federal government. But the state has the right to “remove” them if they start to impact the interests of cattle ranchers. In this case, the rancher, Len McIrvin, who leases grazing rights in the Colville National Forest, placed salt licks right next to the wolf den, thus putting his cows at risk.

You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to speculate that McIrvin did this deliberately in order to provoke the outcome he’s now achieved.

When you make deals with those who exploit animals for personal gain, you become party to more cruelty and more suffering.Worse yet, the extermination of the wolves was agreed to by several of the best-known animal advocacy groups in the country: Defenders of Wildlife, the Humane Society of the U.S., Conservation Northwest, and Wolf Haven International. In a joint statement, they wrote:

The authorized removal of wolves in the Profanity Peak wolf pack in northeast Washington is deeply regrettable. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is however following the protocol developed by the Washington State’s Wolf Advisory Group, a diverse group of stakeholders.

By “authorized removal”, they mean, of course, authorized by themselves. These very groups had sat down with the ranchers, state agencies and other “stakeholders”, and agreed to protocols by which the state would be “authorized” to kill wolves. The justification now offered by these so-called animal protection groups is that it has given them “a seat at the table” to be part of the negotiations with the ranchers.

Squirming under a barrage of questions from their own donors and the news media, these groups were reduced to coming up with meaningless PR-speak remarks like this one from Defenders of Wildlife President Jamie Rappaport Clark. (Note, once again, her use of the “authorized removal” euphemism. She could at least have had the courage to call it what it is: Legalized murder.)

This has been a tough week for wolves and those of us who are committed to their recovery.

… As gut-wrenching as this loss is, the work we do every day is creating a safer landscape for wolves … Because of our expertise in wolf recovery and coexistence, Defenders of Wildlife has a seat at the table once more

… While the authorized removal of the Profanity Peak wolf pack is a distressing loss to process for all of us, we strongly believe that this tragic situation will not undermine our overall goal of achieving wolf recovery in Washington State.

The simple fact, however, is that when you make deals with those who exploit animals for personal gain, you inevitably become party to more cruelty and more suffering. It’s always the case, whether we’re talking about deals with the factory farm industry, the vivisection industry, the pet-breeding industry, the hunting industry – all of them. In order to be allowed to sit down with them in the first place, you have to accept the basic assumptions by which they operate.

In the case of the ranching industry, those assumptions include that personal profit takes priority over wildlife, and that grazing cattle on public land is an unquestioned right, even a sacred right.

But there’s nothing sacred about the cattle industry or the enormous subsidies it collects from Congress, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer. Nor is exterminating an already endangered wolf pack an “authorized” necessity.

Rather than making Faustian bargains by which they inevitably forfeit their souls, advocacy groups like Defenders of Wildlife and the HSUS would do better to stand their ground and spend their time and money actually defending the wildlife they claim to represent.

Other Voices

* The always eloquent and prolific Marc Bekoff has been leading the charge in calling out the shameful behavior of the ranchers and their enablers. In one post, co-authored with Brooks Fahy, he charges Defenders of Wildlife with “letting a repeat offender rancher get away with putting his cattle on pristine, rugged public land right on top of a wolf den.”

* In a Seattle Times op-ed, filmmaker and advocate Brooks Fahy exposes how the ranching industry uses the mythology of the lone Western cowboy to fuel its parasitic business model.

Most ranchers don’t want to spend time and money guarding [their cattle]. Why should they? They know the government will come in and kill predators on the taxpayers’ dime.

They also know they’ll be compensated for their losses, and many ranchers now consider these handouts a right, not a privilege. No other industry has been more adept at externalizing their costs.

* Amaroq Weiss of the Center for Biological Diversity tells reporters:

“These [killings] occurred on public land managed by the Forest Service that they manage for all of us. These are the public’s endangered wolves, and we simply should not be killing the public’s wildlife on public land in order to benefit private parties who are conducting for-profit business.”

* Conservation biologist Adrian Treves explains the flaws in the belief that killing more wolves leads to less predation of farmed animals. While removing carnivores to ease livestock loss sounds like it makes sense, research suggests that coyote populations subjected to culling have higher pup survival rates, and that male cougars expand their ranges in response to hunting. Guard dogs and other deterrents are more effective.

* Author and ecologist George Wuerthner notes that:

“The typical reaction of state wildlife agencies to any predator conflicts is to remove the predators, rather than remove the livestock. However, grazing on public lands is a privilege, not a right … Killing predators does not solve conflicts in the long run.”

And he concludes by asking “why a private business exploiting our public lands should be given preference over the public’s interest in wildlife like wolves.”

* Robert Weilgus, director of the Large Carnivore Conservation Lab at Washington State University, tells reporters:

“This livestock operator elected to put his livestock directly on top of their den site. We have pictures of cows swamping it.”

And finally Stephen Capra, director of Bold Visions Conservation, states the case succinctly:

So this wild and beautiful pack of wolves must die so a rancher – one with a clear vendetta against wolves – a man who has learned well in his family’s 73 years of enjoying the subsidies and special treatment afforded ranchers on our public lands [can continue] to “game the system.”