Does wolf management have to mean killing wolves?

In order to save wolves, do we have to kill some of them?  Some thoughts below. I’m still grappling with this, so I welcome thoughts and ideas.

It is accepted in wildlife management circles that in order to ‘manage’ wolves, some wolves must be killed. This has always troubled me.  My head tells me that if so many of the smart scientists I respect–and who know a lot more about wildlife management than I do–believe that controlling populations by killing wolves is necessary for the survival of the species, I should bow to their expertise. But my heart balks at the killing of wolves in order to save wolves.

I had the opportunity to hear some wonderful lectures on wolf re-introduction and management at the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota last year. Jim Hammill, a former wildlife biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, was particular eloquent, and his talk formed much of my thinking. (Since I can’t remember everything he said, I hope that I am not misstating his views.  I do want to give him credit for inspiration and apologize for any misrepresentation of his beliefs.)

Based on the terrific IWC talks, and a good deal of reading and thinking, this is where I’ve landed. For now.

In a better world, there would be sufficient wildlands for wolves to have the room they need to live, hunt and reproduce naturally, and we could let nature control wolf populations as it did for a long time before we meddled. The reality is that we do not live in that world (although I hope we can get there, see below). And the reality is also that wolves are highly politicized and the battle for their survival is as much about public relations as it is about biology.

Just as there are those of us dedicated to preserving wolves, there are people out there dedicated to obliterating them. Completely and forever. There are also people who, understandably, are undecided about the role of wolves and about whether or not they should be protected. Those who wish to eradicate wolves do everything they can to convince those who are uncertain that wolves are dangerous and that they threaten our “right” to use as much land as we want however we want to use it, and that wolves are vermin to be exterminated. When the public gets the impression that there are “too many” wolves, and that those wolves are a threat, people are more receptive to full-scale slaughter.

We need to take the time to educate people about the truth of wolf biology and behavior, and we need to provide more room for wolves to thrive. It is my hope that someday we will be able to give back more of the land to wolves and other wildlife, and to the trees and other plants we really do need to survive. I think doing so is important not just to the survival of wolves, but to our own well-being and that it is one of the most important things we can work toward.

But that’s going to take time, and it would be much too easy for those who want to get rid of wolves to kill off enough of them to ensure that we cannot have a healthy population in the future. So as much as I hate it, I accept that in order to manage the people who hold the fate of wolves in their hands, wolf management, for the time being, does have to mean ‘controlling’ populations. So that when we do have the land and the knowledge to truly let wolves thrive, the wolves will still be there to enjoy it.

That being said, the wolf ‘management’ plans in the Rocky Mountain region are a disgrace. Please go to Defenders of Wildlife  or NRDC to learn how you can stop the unnecessary slaughter of wolves by getting the Rocky Mountain wolves re-listed as an endangered species and by calling for more stringent regulations against wolf kills.


  1. Sadie Beck says:

    Hello. I just had to comment in some way or another. My dad lives in kalispell montana and has 16 wolves. He eats and sleeps with them everyday which is why i have a problem with taking the wolf off the endangered species list. What is the point of taking them off, killing them, and then putting them back on the list?? That’s what is going to happen if they keep it up… Their reasons for killing is to control the population not kill it off, but it will happen. And i know the history of wolves very well. Im only 17 and i have been studying the wolf since 5th grade. Wolves dont just go onto someones property and kill cows just because. They do it because its a last resort for them. They arent dumb in any way and they know what happens and what kind of trouble they get into when they make a kill on a farm…If Sarah Palin would maybe put a smaller limit on the hunting of deer and elk and other animals, it might be alot easier for wolves to cope and find food.

  2. I agree with those who say that the wolf (certain species anyway) no longer needs to be on the endangered list. At least here in MN where, from what I have heard and read, we have plenty of wolves. However I also agree that we should find other ways to keep the populations in check. Truly I don’t think we have a right to try to keep them in check, but no one would listen to that.
    I personally am trying to get a job to work with wolves somewhere here in MN. I love them and would love to try to find a better way to watch the population sizes and movements, and also the habits of the packs here. Hard then I thought it would be to find work, but I still try what I can.
    I think that the government should just keep their “Government land” exactally that, Government land, where they can be sure to let animal life live. I have heard that the government has been selling and buying land and it just would make it harder to make sure that wildlife has a chance.
    Well I am sure I could write more, but I would rather not write too much and bore you to death.

  3. Granted, I don’t know much about “population management” or whatever they want to call it, but here’s what strikes me as odd….
    They want to kill off some of the wolves to “manage” the population (though some would do it so there’s more deer for human hunters).
    But once the wolves’ numbers are reduced, they need to start killing deer and others of the wolves’ natural prey to “manage” those populations, so that the prey animals do not become overpopulated and starve themselves.
    So…what’s wrong with just letting the wolf population “manage” the deer population like they naturally do? And letting nature manage the wolf population like NATURE normally does?
    Why do humans need to come in and kill animals for no purpose other than to have fewer live animals?
    As to the comment about wolves threatening our “right” to use this land, etc, etc.
    I say: “Yeah, right.” We have no more right to this land than they do. Wolves were here first; even those who try to use religious arguments should be aware that wolves were here first (man and woman WERE the last things created….)
    And speaking of religious arguments: way back when, a king’s job was to SERVE his people, not rule over them. So what does “dominion over the earth” REALLY mean?
    I say guardianship.
    And back to non-religious arguments: like it or not, we’re part of this eco-system. With every species we drive to extinction, we drive ourselves to extinction.
    And the “right to use” argument again, and wolves being vermin to be exterminated? Guess these people haven’t seen The Matrix. Modern humans have a lot in common with viruses. The difference is, we (presumably) have the capacity to change that, to choose not to be parasites on our planet.

  4. I agree with Sadie, Tamie, and Garry. Humans are the problem. Wolves did jst fine before we interfered. If we have to “control the population,” why do we have to kill them? That’s not how we control the dog and cat populations. Why can’t we take a certain percentage of wolves each year, and alter them? (FYI, alter means to spay or neuter them.) It can’t be that expensive a procedure, if there are so many free programs offering pet altering services.
    If you want to “make the effort to save the wolves,” actually make a helpful effort!

  5. Kiara Clinton says:

    I’m from Australia, and we have no wolves. But I agree with Katherine, can’t they gather up whole packs of wolves and alter them? It’s not that hard, a quick procedure, and it’s done. But, wolves also have a hard time re-emerging into their packs if they have foreign smells on them. I am appalled that the American government wants wolves off the endangered list, we have Australian “wolves”, dingoes, and they were never put on the endangered species list, they were never protected. And out of all the dingoes we started with, there is ONE pure-bred breeding pair left in my country. Is that what the government wants? To lose one of the most important animals vital to their environment?

  6. In short I think the answer is yes. Here in Canada when you have wolves surrounding children while tobogganing, stalking people who are on a walk, killing live stock and pets then yes, a wolf is going to get shot and killed. Conservation officers will come in and kill them, hunters have tags for them and in other cases private land owners will kill them when they continually pose a threat to them, their pets and/or live stock. Wolves have been reintroduced into a different world, they have habituated to new scenarios and I’m not sure why people are so surprised at the outcomes.

  7. good read

  8. Anthony Beals says:

    I’m currently working toward a B.S. in Fisheries and Wildlife Management with a concentration in Conservation Biology. I wrote a 15 page paper on apex predators specifically wolves and though my current interests are running towards bears- specifically grizzlies- all apex predators interest me. I agree with you that it is hard to think with your head when your heart is so much louder. I hate the thought of management through killing but that is the unfortunate reality. We live in a political climate that sees nature as the enemy or a source of resources for the taking at any costs. The problem with trying to manage animals effectively is that animals don’t always stay in the man-made territories we’ve made for them. The spaces we’ve set aside for them are so few and fragmented that it is almost impossible to effectively avoid animal-human confrontations. As a future biologist one of the things I want to do is to bring awareness to the public starting with kids and get them to realize we can and should learn how to live with animals. I want to build support for ‘re-wilding projects and lessen the fragmentation of our wildlands.

  9. Anthony Beals says:

    Also wanted to mention I’m from Michigan and think it’s cool you were able to listen to someone from our DNR.

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