It doesn’t really amount to much to only present a video, done by the Public Broadcasting System, depicting wolves as harmless, loveable creatures that only a handful of people refuse to “understand” and “co-exist” with. The PBS presentation was biased (you need to pay attention to what is said and how things were presented), misleading, and contains several errors. Why I am going to spend the time to do this rattles my brain and really PBS doesn’t even deserve the attention. Regardless, here’s a closer look.
The reporter for PBS, Miles O’Brien, gives us, early on, an example of his biased reporting. This may have been an attempt at a bit of humor, although I am really stretching things here in hopes of giving him the benefit of the doubt.
The video begins with O’Brien introducing us to a rancher, Martin Davis, who can’t seem to locate half of his cows. O’Brien says: “Among ranchers like Martin Davis, the wolf is always guilty until proven, well, soon-to-be-guilty.” Note also in the way that Mr. Davis is portrayed in the video. Do you get the sense that he is being made out to look stupid? Inept?
This is biased and misleading. There are many ranchers who deal with various predators and grazing issues and not all ranchers are “always” pointing a finger at the wolf. I don’t think Mr. O’Brien knows anything of the struggles and countless issues that face ranchers. Dealing with predators such as the wolf is but a thorn in their side, albeit a costly one. The ironic part is that later in his piece, O’Brien spends a fair amount of time with his focus on some ranchers who are trying different methods to combat against livestock losses. Note again here how these ranchers are being depicted.
Rancher Davis makes reference that wolf numbers need to be reduced to help alleviate depredation of livestock. O’Brien, first, gets in a typical description used by wolf advocates for years by saying that wolves are “misunderstood”. He fails to explain just what that means and who is purportedly misunderstanding wolves or why that is so. The intent here is to wrongfully paint anyone who would like to see wolves controlled and properly managed as misunderstanding the wolf. This is a very inaccurate assumption.
While there is a fair amount of misunderstanding of the gray wolf that occurs at all levels of this debate, it seems more which “science” is injected into any wolf debate that stirs the most disagreement. It is this very explanation as to why this PBS television report is a bad piece of journalism. The reporter simply accepts as fact the information told to him and offers very little in the way of opposing views and differing scientific data. Everybody loses when this happens, but I argue that this is the intent of PBS, to mislead.
Perhaps intentional, perhaps not, O’Brien makes the following statement: “gray wolves returned 16 years ago after a 70-year hiatus.” They “returned”? A more accurate description here would have been “introduced”. However, later on Mr. O’Brien does allude to the use of “reintroduction” of the gray wolves to describe the presence of wolves in the Rockies today. Regardless, omitting the proper term is misleading.
He continues: “Starting in the early 1900s, they [wolves] were systematically poisoned, trapped and gunned into extinction in the Lower 48, a good riddance for ranchers, an unconscionable extermination for environmentalists.”
If O’Brien was intending to educate his audience to the truth of historical accounts – bearing in mind he was probably limited in how many minutes he had to present his puff piece – he could have slipped in a few words like; the wolves were poisoned, trapped and gunned with the eager assistance of the United States Government. I’m also confused here as to what message, if there is one, that O’Brien is trying to convey by saying that during the time that wolves were being extirpated, I doubt there existed very many, if any, “environmentalists” who opposed such mass killings. The environmental movement of “true believers” is a recent phenomenon and played no role in early Western settlement. Also inaccurate and again misleading is to point out that killing off all the wolves was only a benefit to ranchers. Mr. O’Brien should open up some history books and learn all the reasons wolves, in addition to other larger predators, were disliked and virtually all citizens wanted them gone.
If Mr. O’Brien, or any other readers, are seriously interested in historic accounts of what was transpiring during this poisoning, trapping and gunning down of wolves, coyotes and grizzlies, I have several articles with links and information from the writings of Charles Gordon Hewitt – here, here, here, and here. Or you can simply find Hewitt’s book, “The Conservation of the Wildlife in Canada“, here. (Don’t be distracted by Canada in the title. He covers both Canada and the U.S.) There are of course countless other documents readily available for research.
Mr. O’Brien then brings in Doug Smith, a controversial member of the Yellowstone Park Service, much involved in the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone and Central Idaho in the mid-1990s. O’Brien asks Smith: “Is this ideal wolf country?”
Here was Smith’s answer: “This is. Some people said before we reintroduced wolves to Yellowstone that this was the best wolf habitat in the world, and had no wolves.”
In addition to this O’Brien then makes the following comments: “The wolves are thriving here. They are, after all, at long last, home. What began with 31 individuals imported from Canada has blossomed into a population of more than 1,700.”
All I will say about the “1,700” gray wolves invoked here is that this is nothing more than a low-balled guesstimate used to politically appease and mislead the masses. The real truth is nobody knows how many wolves there are because, like most wildlife, models are used because no actual head counts are taken. Dr. David Mech, one of the lead guys with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service leading up to, during and after wolf reintroduction, in an interview for a documentary film “Elk in Peril”, said that there could easily be as many as 3,000 – 4,000 wolves in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.
Perhaps Mr. Smith is correct when he states that at the time of reintroduction, Yellowstone was good wolf habitat. I’m not sure it was the best in the world but we got the point. However, O’Brien conveys to viewers of his piece that “they [wolves] are, after all, at long last, home.” This misleads viewers of accurate history in this event. There have been years of argument and speculation as to whether or not the Canadian wolves brought down from Canada were the best choice for reintroduction.
I did a piece some time ago while researching and examining the historic documents of Teddy Roosevelt’s travels in and around the Northern Rockies in which he describes the wolves/prairie wolves and coyotes he witnessed and at times describes them in detail. He also makes reference to the bigger, more feared wolves north of the Canadian border.
We could spend forever discussing historic accounts, which brings me to a piece written by Dr. Charles E. Kay, “An Alternative Interpretation of the Historical Evidence Relating to the Abundance of Wolves in the Yellowstone Ecosystem”. (I have a copy on my desktop for anyone interested.)
Dr. Kay presents historical documentation that refutes the oft repeated claim that Yellowstone was some “paradise” for wildlife, that wolves, elk, deer, bear, and perhaps even a unicorn (just kidding) freely romped about the wilderness waiting for the destructive hand of mankind to interrupt their nirvana.
Kay examines the historic documents and accounts of 20 different exploration parties between the years of 1835 and 1876 comprising a total of 765 days accounted for in the field. Of that amount of time by that number of people, Kay writes: “no reliable observer reported seeing or killing even a single wolf, and on only three occasions did explorers report hearing wolves howl.”
Dr. Kay reports that a similar observance can be found as it pertains to ungulates, i.e. elk, deer and moose and that bison were a rare sighting.
It may make us all somehow feel better to simply believe the information all too often given that before Europeans arrived, the United States was “pristine” in its nature and landscape. Or we could question this belief, review our recorded history that hasn’t been purposely tainted, and gain a truthful understand of how things were, why and what really happened after that, in order to move forward from a position of fact rather than fiction. But I contend this doesn’t fit the narrative of those protecting wolves nor that of PBS. It’s a shame really.
Once the Yellowstone Park was opened, protected and managed, prey species and habitat probably became quite ripe for the notion of bringing in wolves. In its “natural” state, Yellowstone was not the best wolf habitat in the world.
Of all things, Mr. O’Brien brings in a lawyer to support his story about how wonderful the wolf introduction has gone and the “whoa is me” attempt at painting the Center for Biological Diversity as some helpless little organization trying to help save wolves. Bill Snape is an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.
See what Snape says: “Using their political muscle, the ranchers got their members of Congress to put a provision in the federal budget bill that took the wolves off the endangered species list.” In the way this is presented, it sounds as though everything was fine and dandy with wolves, that they needed protection as have been since 1973, when the big bad ranchers used some trumped up “political muscle” to force Congress to allow them to kill all the wolves off again.
My point is, that how difficult would have been for O’Brien and his editors to have done a bit more work and presented at least just enough facts to counter the clear intended misrepresentation of the history of wolves and the statistics to back it up. The history of getting to this point in time for the people of Idaho and Montana, pertaining to gray wolves, is critical to any discussion that brings up the delisting process which he did. This is a huge mistake by O’Brien which detracts from any credibility of this report.
For instance, Mr. O’Brien states: “Since the wolves returned to Yellowstone, they have been linked to more than 4,500 cattle and sheep killings.” Just one more sentence or two here could have gone a long way to explain that 4,500 killings are “linked” to wolves doesn’t mean that’s all they have killed. It has been conservatively estimated that for every 1 livestock kill officially blamed on wolves, 3 go by without such a designation, simply because it can’t be proven by an eyewitness. There is substantially more private property loss than what protectors of predators want people to know about.
But here’s a claim by Mr. Snape that goes completely unchallenged by Mr. O’Brien. This makes it obvious that Mr. O’Brien went to do his story unprepared and failed to substantiate claims made by those he interviewed before presenting it. Snape says: “They want to shoot hundreds of wolves through a private hunting scheme that would decimate the pack structure and really change the dynamics of the wolves’ success.”
In an attempt to help discerning readers understand the text of this interview, I’ll point out, not simply to become nit-picky, that the text becomes confusing as to who Mr. O’Brien is referencing. Before he quotes Snape on the “private hunting scheme”, O’Brien is talking about ranchers and calling them repeatedly “they”. Whether he is confused or has no specific identity to lay his information in the lap of, I’m not sure. He says: “They claim the wolf population is now large enough to sustain hunting.” This coming in the next paragraph after talking about ranchers and referring to them as “they”.
This leads into his discussion about wolf hunts. So, I’m guessing O’Brien shifts “theys” in midstream and “they” become hunters? perhaps?
Assuming so, Snape says “they” (hunters?) want to shoot hundreds of wolves “through a private hunting scheme”. I’ll address the rest in a moment. A private hunting scheme? In O’Brien’s ignorance he is clueless about questioning Snape’s referral to a claimed “private hunting scheme”. There is nothing private about the wolf hunting season. It has been put together lawfully by both the state’s of Idaho and Montana and is open to the public for anyone wishing to buy a hunting license and a wolf tag. If Mr. Snape is making implication that this perceived “political muscle” of the ranching community has created some “private hunting scheme”, he is delusional. His choice of words, left unchallenged by the reporter places hunters and ranchers in Idaho and Montana in the light of being something other than lawful citizens and going against the laws of the land to become wolf vigilantes.
But Snape also says that: “Montana will grant licenses for hunters to kill 220 out of about 600 wolves. Idaho has 1,000 wolves and will allow hunting until the population drops to 150.”
Again, this is extremely misleading. Remember, I’ve already educated you to the fact that there are far more wolves than what is “official”. Snape wants viewers to believe that simply because there is a wolf hunt season, the landscape will be running red with wolf blood. O’Brien also fails in presenting the facts behind wolf introduction and the plan by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove wolves from federal protection once wolf populations reached 300 across three states. He never mentions either that it was Snape’s organization and others that were successful in convincing the courts that at least 5,000 wolves were necessary before they would survive. Is this somehow no longer important evidence?
Nearly two years ago, I spent hours researching and crafting a four-part series called, “To Catch a Wolf“. Utilizing historic accounts from around the world, including the United States, and information contained in the work of Will Graves’ in his book, “Wolves in Russia: Anxiety Through the Ages“, one can read this. Just follow the link provided and learn for yourself the near impossible task of hunting wolves to extinction.
In the early 1900s it became possible only after the government became involved and it became financially motivational to go and kill wolves. Nothing of the sort will ever happen in Montana or Idaho, regardless of the image people like Snape want us to believe. What is hoped to happen is to haze wolves to gain a better understanding that man is also a dangerous predator and to reduce wolf numbers to ease the threats of property losses and public safety concerns.
To listen and view attorney Snape in this video piece one would think the end of the world had arrived. Perhaps his fear is his cash cow will dry up.
The rest of the report is spent making every effort to show that everybody wants to live with wolves and that the wolf is some kind of magical beast that “balances” nature, which science clearly refutes and that which Dr. Valerius Geist refers to as “intellectual garbage”.
While the overwhelming majority of people who watch this piece will go away, once again, thinking that the ranchers and hunters are bad, which is clearly the intent of the piece, efforts to educate remain difficult. To further fortify the indoctrination they have been forced to swallow for decades, organizations like PBS continue to present one-sided, misleading and biased “puff pieces”.
What is never mentioned in this report is the biggest crime of all. This reporter never even hints at the fact that little in this report would be possible if it hadn’t been for the efforts of the sportsmen who have forked over hundreds of billions of dollars over the years to grow and protect wildlife. We are the greatest conservationists on this planet and we are scoffed and demonized and ridiculed.
Had it not been for the effort of these sportsmen, this “world’s greatest” wolf habitat in the Yellowstone ecosystem would never have been possible. And what do we get for it? Pissed on.
PBS has tons of resources at their disposal. Had they used some of them, they could have put together a factual narrative to go with the video clips. Clearly, this was not their intention. I am just one person, working from my office at home, with a computer and a telephone, and I can provide the information this report should have had in it.
It’s all quite a shame.