Rod Miller: Wolves, Bears, the Endangered Species Act and Bedtime Stories

Columnist Rod Miller writes: "The root of the problem is an American public that views wolves, bears and feral horses as something other than what they truly are – resources needing human management in a fragmented and urbanizing West."

Rod Miller

March 26, 20234 min read

Rod miller headshot scaled
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

I’ll ask you to put away your book of fairy tales for a minute. While you’re at it, forget all that mythology about wolves, bears and other beasts. Let’s talk about the real world where all those bedtime stories mean nothing.

Our Wyoming congressional delegation and our governor are sounding the alarm about the Endangered Species Act. They are raising their collective voices that the grizzly bear in Wyoming should be removed from the list of endangered species. They maintain, and rightly so, that grizzlies have recovered far past the point where endangered status is scientifically justified.

Add to this chorus pleading for sanity in the administration of the Endangered Species Act, Brian Nesvick, Director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. He agrees with our delegation and governor that the State of Wyoming is best equipped to manage the grizzly.

And they are right as rain! There are bills being considered in Congress as we speak that would remove the grizzly from the endangered species list and vest its management with western states. These bills should become law.

These Wyoming officials want Congress to bring a screeching halt to the bureaucratic and judicial gamesmanship that has made recovery numbers under the ESA into a mockery and a moving target. And in the current emotional atmosphere surrounding endangered species management and recovery, Congress is the only actor that can get the job done.

In the case of the griz, the populations in Wyoming long ago surpassed the numbers necessary to guarantee their survival and to prevent another decline to trigger levels. That they haven’t already been de-listed is due to politics and mythology, not to biology and numbers.

Grizzlies have almost lost their identity as real critters, and become instead poster-symbols of bedtime stories that lend themselves perfectly as tools of zealots. Their needs have become secondary to their utility as political chess pieces and emotional levers. 

Political power is what is at stake, not the wellbeing of the bears.

And what uber-rich donor on either coast could resist a photo of 399 and her adorable li’l cubs? Face it, emotion makes folks open their wallets and contribute to emotional causes. Chalk that up to endangered species being mythologized by a gullible public.

Science has to swim upstream against this strong current.

To a great extent, wolves and feral horses can be included in the list of critters that have become mythologized. That makes things incredibly tough for professional managers. When science-derived measures are required to balance animals with habitat, fairy tales always raise their gaudy heads.

Folks who have watched Dances With Wolves a time too many rise up and resist professional managers’ attempts to control populations. They weep that these critters are living symbols of the Old West and should live free in an unfettered nature. Proposals to reduce populations to fit available habitat prompt these folks to gasp and reach for their wallets.

That money flows to environmental pressure groups and activist lawyers who thwart any attempt at sound scientific management.

Congress passed the Endangered Species Act almost fifty years ago, and there are some remarkable success stories in species conservation that have resulted. So, it’s not the legislation itself that is the problem. Nor is the problem with the Wild Horse and Burro Act of the same vintage.

The root of the problem is an American public that views wolves, bears and feral horses as something other than what they truly are – resources needing human management in a fragmented and urbanizing West. 

The symptom of the problem is politicians who look at these critters in terms of number of votes instead of population numbers, and advocacy groups who regard them in terms of dollars.

The result of the problem, when witch doctors trump scientists, is harm to the habitat, to the animals themselves and management inertia. 

Congress must step in and put an end to the nonsense. That is the only solution.

Share this article



Rod Miller

Political Columnist