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Stephen Capra, Bold Visions Conservation

We work in a counter-intuitive place. They are lands that are graced with beauty and wildness. It is a landscape that many dream of, and few are lucky enough to spend time in. In essence, we are part of a vast bucket list for many people. Yet, within the confines of Montana and Idaho, we are decomposing with the ignorance that fears wildness.

There remain people who live in fear of wildness in its many forms. Some fly flags to show their Americanism to all, while others conspire to destroy wildness so they assuage their personal fears and inadequacies.

Such people are trappers, trophy hunters, ranchers, and those who continue to push the myths that wolves and grizzlies must be feared and that all predator species must be removed.

Social media today is the cancer that feeds them such nonsense. They follow other trappers, listen to the NRA and groups like the Foundation for Wildlife Management and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, and are fed a steady stream of misinformation. Lust for killing and creating anger against those of us who clearly understand the genocide they are using against wildlife builds their anger and commitment.

Why is it that so many people flock to Yellowstone from the world over to glimpse a wolf or a bear? As one woman told me, seeing a grizzly “brought her to tears and was a moment she will never forget.” Yet others see the bear and want to destroy it for bragging rights.

The opposition has succeeded in tying the killing of wolves with supporting ranchers. The very people who are on the federal dole and are given the “privilege,” not the right, to graze on public lands. But in a small town, that rancher is your neighbor.


Montana Wolf Trapping Season Comment Period Open!

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks are accepting public comments regarding their upcoming wolf trapping and killing season. We encourage everyone to participate and provide a letter or “comment” calling for policies that stop the slaughter of wolves and support legislation that promotes non-lethal management and restores protections for the Montana wolf population.

The comment period closes this Monday, July 24th. Comments can be submitted on the state website by scrolling to “TRAPPING AND WOLF SEASONS” and clicking the drop-down. You can also email your comments to fwcomm@mt.gov, you are not required to provide the state that you live in, and your wolf comment will be sent to the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Commission.

Below are a few talking points to help guide your comments. Right up front, please tell the Commission how you personally feel about wolves and why they must be protected. Personalizing the letter, even a little, makes a HUGE difference.

Thank you for your advocacy on behalf of wolves in Montana!

Gray wolf management should be science-based, not political.

Ensure equal representation of all stakeholders, including non-hunting communities.

Increase transparency in wildlife management decisions.

The model used to estimate the statewide wolf population, IPOM, is full of compounding errors, meaning the actual size of the state’s wolf population is unknown.

Improve accuracy and proper usage of IPOM.

Halt wolf quotas until a new and accurate method of counting is established.

Traps and snares are inhumane and indiscriminate. They cause suffering to animals beyond wolves and lead to unnecessary livestock casualties by disrupting wolf family groups.

Trapping should be ended on public lands, and snaring is a primitive, archaic, and torturous method of killing animals and fails to pass the rule of Fair Chase. It also damages Montana's public image as a state that respects wildlife and will deter tourists from visiting.

Recognize the positive economic impact of Yellowstone wolves on tourism revenue ($80 million a year) all of which will be at risk if Yellowstone wolves continue to be baited out of the park and slaughtered.

Increased wolf trapping endangers other species federally designated as threatened, including grizzly bears and Canada lynx, as well as family pets – like domestic dogs and outdoor recreationists.

Snares are cruel and inherently indiscriminate.


Stephen Capra, Bold Visions Conservation Recent months have seen a continuation of some real insanity on the part of those who lease federal lands but continue to think that gives them ownership, even when combined with private holdings. The rancher in question sued because hunters crossed the corner of his private property to gain access to public lands. A federal judge in May ruled that hunters or hikers who travel from one corner of public land to another did not trespass on adjacent private lands. The ruling was concrete to the BLM and Director Tracy-Stone Manning. Her response was to make clear to state directors that such crossing is legal. This issue had been in limbo for some time at the agency. This ruling was important because ranch owner Fredric Eshelman’s lawsuit sought more than $7 million in damages from four hunters who climbed over fences at a corner of his property in Wyoming in 2021 to hunt on public lands. Hunting is not our world; in fact, hunters that kill predators remain our mortal enemy, but the reality is this is part of what ranchers have been doing to keep people off our public lands. By saying the crossing was illegal, he claimed exclusive access to some 6,000 acres of land for his private hunting grounds, which is disgraceful. This attitude is part of a pattern of livestock interests on the federal dole while trying to keep the people from recreating on these public lands that belong to all Americans. It also allows them to kill predators at will with little for the public to see or report. From my years of experience, this is why so many ranchers oppose wilderness or other federal land protections. First, in the case of National Monuments, it requires one extra page of paperwork. But mostly, they are driven to keep people away and control these lands as though they are private. The passing of SB-295, the bill to delist grizzly bears, would allow cattlemen to kill grizzlies on remote portions of Forest Service lands, lands that many could be utilized for recreation, but gives livestock priority protection, the cover for grizzly slaughter. Again and again, we see the results of grazing on public lands, much like oil drilling on these same public lands. The oil industry leases these lands, contaminates groundwater, and then sells off assets to avoid spending the money for cleanup, which will one day allow the federal government to clean up their mess at great expense to taxpayers. The federal government is subsidizing those who graze on public lands and often degrade the public lands that are grazed, leading to erosion, senseless wildlife killing, and the trashing of rivers and other waterways. The time has come to make part of any lease agreement that the lessee cannot kill wildlife to protect its herd. They can use non-lethal methods, but like any business, accept the fact that losses are part of the risk of this business. Similarly, many people are beginning to understand this with homeowners’ insurance as climate change wreaks havoc across the country, and their coverage evaporates. But the cattlemen and their protectors in Congress—spelled Republican Party—must realize that they lease these lands, accept responsibility for their actions, and should be fined if the lands is degraded or the public is prohibited. They should also face the prospect of losing their lease if they kill valuable wildlife such as wolves or grizzly bears. At Bold Visions Conservation, we are working to protect our federal public lands and wildlife. Being Bold means demanding change from the status quo that has allowed our lands to be controlled, not by citizens but by the livestock industry, and the time has come to enact fundamental changes to land management plans devoid of special interests. We need to remove livestock owners from our Game and Fish commissions and clarify the price for leasing lands demands co-existence with all wildlife; it should also include insurance that will pay for the degrading of our natural resources by grazers. We cannot continue down this road of ignorance; the time has come for real change. We will clarify that wildlife on our public lands is worth far more than the price of beef and cattle across our arid western lands. If we are to create lands for wildlife to thrive, such change must begin now.


Stephen Capra, Bold Visions Conservation

"We stood by and allowed what happened to the Great Plains a century ago, the destruction of one of the ecological wonders of the world. In modern America, we need to see this with clear eyes, and soberly, so that we understand well that the flyover country of our own time derives much of its forgettability from being a slate wiped almost clean of its original figures."

― Dan Flores, American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains

There is a brick wall of stupidity that lands at the offices of the governors of Idaho and Montana. They and those that control their respected Republican-controlled legislatures seem to hate any animal that is beautiful, smart, and vital to the health of the lands and waters of these two states. That is unless they are deer or elk.

In Idaho, Governor Brad Little is suing the government to get grizzlies delisted so they can be killed. In Montana, the gutting of the Fish, Wildlife and Parks at the direction of the Governor continues, with key personnel running from the agency as they see their life's work undermined by a fool.

Without even consulting with the average sportsman or conservationist, they now have their sights on killing grizzlies and mountain lions following their slaughter of wolves. Bison are being shot at the entrance to Yellowstone, and we again see a river of blood that cascades across the mountains and valleys of the West that less than 200 years ago destroyed native species and people.

Ignorance is hard to stop. Within the ranching community, it is time that maturity and coexistence become the mantra of those that seek to control our public lands rather than share them.

There is a clear path; we must make clear that ranching, like any other business, understands the risk, and part of getting a lease makes clear they can kill no predators-period. These are federal lands, not cow pastures, and less than ½ of 1 percent of cattle die from predation.

Second, we must make Game and Fish agencies enter the 21st century. The Governor should not pick who is on the commission, and no one should ever be allowed to profit from such an appointment. It should be an independent agency that has its members picked based on science, their education, and understanding of wildlife. It should not be to please trophy hunting interests, trappers, or ranching interests. Its focus must be on the long-term sustainability of wildlife.

It is also time our elected officials and wildlife agencies stop and take seriously the fact that they laugh off and try to deny; that wildlife has feelings; they can and do feel pain and suffer the loss of a mate and packmate.

My good friend Norm Bishop, a wolf extraordinaire, who spent many years in Yellowstone, shared this with me. It sums this up with observation, science, and heart.

Dr. Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, interviewed wolf biologist John Vucetich about his book for Psychology Today and comments: John's wide-ranging book goes beyond the lives of the wolves, and he is right on the mark in his unyielding claim that wolves are excellent for forcing us to think about how "compassion-soaked reasoning…may be essential, for favoring fair coexistence with biodiversity."

Vucetich's response included this: "The most important lesson that I've ever learned is difficult to tell in the August pages of scientific journals. But I am free to tell it here in his book Restoring the Balance. It's a lesson that I've known for some time now. Very simply: these animals-the wolves of Isle Royale-they have lives, individual lives like you and I. They know what happened yesterday, they have plans for what comes next, and they have interests. To see that unfold in all its particulars really changes a person's view of nature, all nature. Because if wolves have lives, then it is only a small step to realize that squirrels and robins have lives. All living things creatures we share the planet with—they all have lives. They are not the resources for us to conserve, so much as they are the brothers and sisters with whom to share."

We can move forward, but we must defeat ignorance, greed, and ego. We must do so with compassion but without hesitation, for wildlife needs us now like never before. We must fight the powers that be who see wildlife as a trophy or as a crop in need of harvesting. They should look in the mirror and ask what gave me the power to be God over other species? If religion truly guides them, hopefully they can evolve to show love, respect, and compassion. But that will require an intervention, one we must force. We need not be enemies but work together while understanding the mistakes of the past, to do what is suitable for the species that remain, while ensuring generations to come are as awed as we have been by the presence of wolves, grizzlies, beaver, and fox, all the species, that make life on earth so extraordinary.

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