Wolves in Yellowstone on PBS NewsHour tonight

If today's broadcast schedule continues as planned, The PBS NewsHour will air a piece I helped Miles O'Brien shoot in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho about the return of wolf hunting for sport in the American West. Some of it, I must tell you, we shot on horseback.

As Miles reports in the story, wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park some 16 years ago, after being completely wiped out in an extinction campaign. The wolves have come back in numbers better than anticipated, and ranchers have lobbied for a return of sport hunting, to keep the wolf population numbers down and minimize "depredation"—that's cow-country jargon for "killing cattle."

As you might imagine, there is intense controversy over the science, politics, and resources involved. Pro-wolf advocates say the number of hunting tags issued will bring the wolf numbers back to extinction status; ranchers argue that without some intervention, it is the American rancher who will become extinct.

Miles speaks to pro- and anti-wolf ranchers, cowboys, environmentalists, biologists, and amateur wolf-lovers who wake up every morning before dawn to go out and observe the wolves in their natural habitat. In the process of shooting this piece, we joined the "wolf nerds of Yellowstone," and saw the wolves out in the wild. That, for me, was a once-in-a-lifetime wonder. Wolves are amazing creatures.

Above, a snuggle in the back seat of a rancher's truck as we drove to a higher-altitude summer pasture in search of some wandering cows. Kit is a working dog on the Flying Diamond ranch, run by Martin Davis (who you'll meet in the NewsHour piece). I realize I may be breaching ethics rules by falling in love with the doggie talent, but ethics be damned. PBS NewsHour's Jenny Marder shot the snap, and produced the "Wolves" story.

Search for your local PBS affiliate that carries NewsHour here. I'll post video here later when it's available online.


    1. Kit was riding in the outside truck bed, but snuck through the window to come inside and snuggle with visiting girls. A real working dog knows that when an opportunity to snuggle presents itself, you seize.

  1. Beautiful country and it’s great you’re in it.
    Have to say I’m about as cynical as to where PBS will land as I would be were it to come from Fox News. Ranchers gotta ranch; wolves gotta eat. I suppose the only reasonable path is a quite strict hunting limit.

    1. Well maybe …

      But before you try to draw any equivalence between PBS and Fox, let’s consider the extent to which facts will be bent. While I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mr O’Brien be a little more sympathetic to the conservationist side, I can imagine Fox proceeding by demonizing and ridiculing conservationists while practically canonizing the ranchers and the Forces Of The Free Market and Capitalism, and so on.

      Are you sure you want to compare the journalistic integrity of PBS with Fox? ‘Cuz you’re in for a long slog if you try.

  2. Ranchers graze their animals on PUBLIC LAND, which of course destroys whole ecosystems. Then we eat their “product” (beef) which of course creates even more suffering in the world. 

    Cows and sheep are hooved locusts. My only concern about the cows and sheep are this: are the wolves eating enough of them to keep the wolves sleek and well fed?

    Not to mention the special kind of cowardice it takes to hunt these animals with little chemically propelled pellets. Shameful.

  3. I grew up near the development of this controversy. Much of this debate is centered around rednecks that really want to kill things with impunity. They exaggerate the stats about how much livestock wolves actually kill so that they can head out and bag ’em a goddamn wolf when they want to. I wouldn’t say this if I hadn’t been around so many candid conversations that conveyed these feelings. They always fail to acknowledge that losing cattle to a wolf every once in a while just may be the cost of having your cattle trampling the national forests and public lands. Believe me, the destruction that cattle herds that are “openly grazing” is far greater than that of the wolves. This is simply a group of people that want everything their way. They want to decimate the wolves so they can profit more efficiently. It is about cutting away pesky regulations in the name of profit, even if the regulations are there to protect the environment or other interests that are simply not profitable. The American dillusion, that we, as humans, can take every resource in our sights and manipulate it for our own personal gain. Too many people in this country have confused this as being a right and an entitlement. 

    1. While I agree with you and Blade above, I think it’d also be good to mention as an addendum to both posts that if we could lower our demand for beef as a nation then less cattle would be bred and so on and so forth. So all good points, but I hope at some point Americans are encouraged to check our meat-eating habits for the good of the environment as well.

      1. A damn good point. As is the case with many of our industry related environmental issues, its primary cause is our insatiable appetite for the good that is produced by the profiteers. A smaller market would make it infinitely easier to produce the product in a responsible and sustainable manner. It would also give us more credibility when we demanded that they do so.

  4. That looks to be a border collie, therefore you are free to fall in love. Mine likes to wear a Superman cape and generally be awesome.

  5. Border collies and cattle dogs should come with a warning:


    1. That’s an understatement. They are smart dogs and get bored easily. It’s not just keeping them active but challenged. But if you have the time to commit to them, they are incredible companions. I work from home, so I get to spend my lunch goofing off with my dog. Playing together keeps us both from destroying the house when we’re unsupervised.

  6. Wolves are amazing creatures

    Indeed they are. I ‘adopted’ one at the Wolf Park preserve in Indiana. Drove out there, and they let me romp around with her and the rest of her pack. Right in there with them for about half an hour, getting completely showered with affection and curiosity. The best way I can describe it is they would be the boldest, friendliest, most playful, and worst behaved dogs you could imagine.

  7. Sorry, nearly forgot the obligatory (not that I disagree) quote about hunting, and I paraphrase very freely to inject a little of my ideas: 
    If you want to hunt, hunt naked, animal to animal, tooth to tooth, claw to claw. Badger, bear, wolf or fish, pit yourself against an animal on its own terms.  No knife, no line, no gun. Instinct against instinct.  Good luck.


        1. It’s Florida. If there is something stupid to accomplish someone in Florida does it first. It has to be the humidity.

    1. That seems a little unfair. Animals get to use all their abilities but humans aren’t allowed to use our greatest weapon (our brains)? Areas that allow hunting will often let you use less advanced weaponry earlier in the hunting season. Bows and black powder guns usually.

  8. One of the border collie herd dogs we “met” in the course of this story was out herding a 500+ head herd of cattle all day in the summer heat… running around, nipping at heels, talking to the cows… and at the end of the day when the humans were dead tired, after a long day of cattle ranching? this dog wanted to play fetch. DEMANDED to play fetch. indefatigable!

  9. We don’t get PBS over here on Airstrip One, well, not the same kind.  So if anyone ups it to the ‘tubes, please let us know.  Then I can judge the Kit/Xeni popularity contest from here.  
    I’d love to tell you about a TV show we have here called ‘One man and his dog’, but you’d be incredulous.

  10. I can almost see Kit’s tail thumping somewhere in the background.

    When I was a kid working at a vet clinic, I developed a basic theory of dogs: dogs bred for work are always lazy cuddle-slobs, dogs bred to be pets or ornaments are always curmudgeonly and dogs bred for war or fighting are always trying to lick people and play. That’s just how it goes; mankind’s every effort to direct canine development has backfired wonderfully. Kit looks like a great dog.

  11. If you kill the predators at the top of the food chain to extinction, you deserve to go extinct.  I say this coming from a family that has had cattle ranching (now transitioning to bison) blood on their hands for three generations in Montana.  Although I’m not a direct participant in the ranching, I find it utterly ridiculous that ranchers still have the mentality that the land that they stole from the Native Americans ‘belongs’ to them, and that they continue to proclaim this at the top of their lungs, as though shouting it gives them clear title to everything and anything that walks on it.  Ranchers, without us buying your food, or the massive amounts of federal dollars you have received and continue to receive to develop the dense network of transportation, communication, and water delivery links, or the federal invasion and continued subjugation of Native Americans, you wouldn’t have a pot to piss in.  The bellyaching that wolves are destroying your livelihood is beyond pathetic, it’s criminal, and if there was any justice in the world, the world would see fit that a poorly developed food supply system comes to an unceremonious end, whose end result is some fattie at McDonald’s being able to wolf down their 3rd Big Mac of the day.  Fuck you, and fuck the billions of dollars in wasted agricultural subsidies, the silted up salmon destroying dams, the poisons you’ve pumped into the water system (and the water systems you’ve drained dry).  Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?  I’m more afraid of the ignorant rancher…

  12. One can’t help but love a border collie. My beautiful Lady Hedy worked me for a few hours every day, usually on our beach walks, for years. Herding seagulls was pointless, I admit, but she was in it for the commands, which she lived for. A clueless tourist lady once accused me of “bullying” my dog. Hedy’s I.D. tag, her canine tattoo, was engraved “Born To Obey.”

  13. People interested in this topic may enjoy Bob Hayes new book: Wolves of the Yukon. Hayes was a government wolf biologist in the Yukon for 18 years. At various points during his career, concern over low numbers of moose and caribou (prey animals for humans and wolves) on public land led to government programs of wolf control using poison, aerial hunting and (later) the neutering of alpha pairs to try and limit wolf numbers without (too much) disruption of wolf packs. At the same time, government biologists tracked numerous wolf packs documenting their movements, pack kill rates, changes in prey animal numbers after wolf culls in their region and other relevant data. Yukon is not Yellowstone, but years of well-documented info about the relationship between wolves and large prey in the Yukon should be relevant for what might happen/is happening other places with wolves.Oh yeah…after active involvement in various efforts to control wolves in favour of their prey over many years, Hayes thinks it’s not worth it. It’s very expensive, it damages public opinion of any kind of wildlife management and IT DOESN’T WORK.  The culled packs rebound and their prey starts declining again quite quickly. If you want wolves in your area, you have to be willing to accept their behaviour…including the fact that they hunt/eat large herbivores.  Very interesting stuff..definitely worth the read… 

  14. Xeni, could you tell a bit more about your role in creating the segment?  Just curious about the equipment and techniques used to produce the news these days.

  15. is this a repeat? I saw a program on wolves in Yellowstone maybe a couple of years ago.
    The parks people were concerned that many river and stream banks were eroding away much more than they normally would and so they looked at what the cause may be. They noticed there were very few trees on the banks, the few trees there – were older than 50years.. So they said what happned 50 years ago? Well 50 years ago all the wolves were hunted out or removed, which allowed the game to  overgraze the banks, and hence no saplings survived, eventually leading to erosion..   Fascinating – it illustrates the seemingly unrelated causes and effects in nature.  Kind of like a volcano in the Aleutian islands spewing iron rich ash in the ocean – thereby increasing growth in phytoplankon – which causes growth in zoo plankton and subsequently a record salmon run.

  16. @yahoo-Z2PCUJLFNNZNVRIBXBER67IBTI:disqus….umm, this would be the sequel, where some hunters/ranchers ask to re-introduce wolf hunting subsequent to the reintroduction of wolves into the ecosystem degraded by their removal.

  17. So let me get this straight. Landowners build fences in wilds where predators exist. They introduce domesticated cattle into these fenced areas. They complain when indigenous predators — which have been reintroduced because they’ve been shot and poisoned to near extinction — show up and do what predators do in the wild. They take no precautions beyond rudimentary fencing.

    And their solution isn’t any measure except open season on the predators that range across the lands to which the cattle are most certainly not native, much less evolved.

    I don’t believe it for a minute. I think this is nothing but speciocentric entitlement, the same mindset that causes homeowners who move to the country to eradicate native animals that prey on their unprotected pets. The same mindset that causes sharks to be hunted and killed after attacking land creatures that have visited the environment to which they have been adapted for literally hundreds of millions of years.

    Human beings seem to have a vested interest in proving and displaying dominance over other species, even if doing so not only harms individual animals but ultimately threatens a species itself. We establish criteria for sentience that only we can satisfy and then justify our harmful actions toward creatures that don’t meet those criteria. We remain wilfully ignorant of the impact of our sheer numbers upon the ecosystem. One man shooting a buffalo makes no difference, and each of the hundreds of thousands of men who did so considered himself one man making no difference. The inevitable result being the eradication of buffalo.

    If they declare open season on the wolves, it’s over for the wolves. People won’t shoot them to protect their livestock. They’ll shoot them because they can.

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