Wolf and Wildlife Studies
   
Sceyefal Wolf Research

I've been waiting a long time. Years, in fact. When Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MFWP) eliminated the entire Fishtrap pack for apparently killing someone's cow, my decade-long study came to an abrupt end. It was the longest behavioral study of wolves in Montana's history, outside of Yellowstone National Park. Yet, they're gone. Recently, however, another pack has made its presence known. Over the past year and a half, I've documented their occasional visits through the area, but now it is consistent. They are here to stay. 

In March 2019, I began a new research project to find out more about these unknown wolves and study their behavior. At present, there are at least three adults and their vocalizations have been recorded. I’ve also documented at least one major travel route. It stretches over 10 miles and provides the wolves access to four different drainage systems. There has been no evidence of pups throughout the denning time of year, but finding such a specific location often takes years. Perhaps rendezvous site season, when pups are trained by pack members at various locations throughout the summer, will indicate something quite different. Along with scientific research, my project will include direct action to stop the tragic consequences of wolf management, of which there are many. I established Sceyefal Wolf Research to achieve these goals, and I invite the public to participate in stopping the mass destruction of their wolves and our environment.

The name Sceyefal is in reference to the James Bond movie of the same name but different spelling. Its meaning is a good moniker for the wolves’ situation and my research in Montana. Bond spends most of the movie attempting to protect his boss/mentor from being murdered by a terrorist. He eventually kidnaps her and they drive to the isolated area in Scotland where he grew up. His family’s land was named Skyfall, and it now becomes a bastion to make their final stand - much like a wolf pack’s territory, which is defended at almost all costs. However, Bond fails. She is killed before he can eliminate the threat. I’ve found the wolves’ Sceyefal, and I too face the same dilemma. Similar to the movie, there is currently no way to stop the unrelenting, compassionless force that will end the wolves’ lives through hunting, control actions and poaching.

According to MFWP statistics, over 300 wolves, about 50 percent, are killed every year in Montana. They claim that science is used when determining the numbers of wolves in the state which is then used to help set hunting policy and how many wolves will be killed. I published a review of their wolf population data in a scientific journal and found their claim of science to be false. Yet the killing continues. Without public support that confronts management agencies directly, most wolves will die young, but the science shows how important it is to keep them alive.

What does the science say?
Only a fraction of the U. S. wolf population lives in National Parks which afford full protection, although this safeguard evaporates should the wolves cross the park boundaries. Most live in national forests: natural areas highly manipulated by people. Collectively through the federal government, the American people own national forests and everything in them. These are your wolves. Overall, the Department of Agriculture manages the forests for us, but some aspects are managed by specific agencies. One of these is MFWP. They use hunting seasons to supplement their budget and as their main management tool. This practice sets in motion processes destructive to the environment.

Wolf management is based on the number of animals killed rather than the individual’s contribution towards maintaining intact ecosystems. This mindset has had detrimental consequences at several levels. Current studies confirm that the killing of wolves does virtually nothing to help ranchers protect their livestock and can even make the situation worse. However, killing wolves provides a quick and convenient way to satisfy the anger of some ranchers, along with a bigoted local public who provides loud, vocal support. Plus, the federal government requires Montana to maintain a minimum population of only 100 wolves. The remainder can be killed. The entire process disregards the studies that demonstrate how the killing of predator species globally degrades ecosystems, both aquatic and terrestrial.

Predators have profound positive effects which maintain the integrity and health of ecosystems. This process is known as trophic cascading and it fosters higher biodiversity. The science shows that destruction of predators is one of the worst practices we’ve inflicted upon the earth. This is reflected in the current United Nations biodiversity report which demonstrates at least one million species face extinction because of human disruption to the environment. Biodiversity is plummeting. Having a wide variety of organisms provides a buffer that allows “life” on earth to adapt to a constantly changing environment. If the changes range too far then you cease to exist. Therefore, lower diversity threatens the existence of all life forms, including us.

The hunting of wolves is also arbitrary. Killing individuals from random packs can destabilize pack structure and dynamics. Packs may break apart or become less effective in dealing with their surroundings, thus creating disruptions to wolves and the species that depend on them. These are emotional creatures, as necessitated by living in social hierarchies. Survivors of being shot or traumatized can develop PTSD. In fact, behavioral changes have been documented globally in larger mammalian species. Many have become more active at night to avoid human presence, although there are now fewer places for them to retreat. Therefore, consequences of human activity are documented at the global, species and individual levels. 

The nature of wolves
The reasons for killing wolves are many, some of which are fear, economic loss from depredations, extreme bigotry, and misconceptions about their behavior. For example, unless some extreme and unusual circumstance developed over time, wolves don’t attack people. It is quite the opposite and they want nothing to do with us. This makes them very difficult to study in the wild and they are rarely seen. However, occasionally I meet one of the current wolves I’m studying when I walk through the forest on a survey, always accompanied by my black lab.

On one occasion, a lone wolf had exited a thick patch of forest and stepped onto the path in front of us, about 30 yards ahead. It was a tricolored adult, mostly brown with a mix of white and black sprinkled throughout its coat. I abruptly stopped walking, as did my dog. She sat next to me on her haunches and calmly watched as the wolf briefly looked at us, but never stopped moving. Wolves are funny creatures. Sometimes their indifference to our presence can be startling. It glanced at us fleetingly, as though we weren’t actually being acknowledged. It just happened to turn its head that way. The wolf then turned its backside toward us and slowly loped up the path and out of sight. It was in no hurry, never looked back, and displaying an air of complete control. 

Several years earlier a similar incident occurred. Two wolves crossed the road about 50 yards in front of us during one of our walks. They were just passing through the area. Both had come out of a meadow system to our right. The first wolf didn’t bother to look at us and slowly trotted to the other side of the road and back into the forest. The second wolf followed a few seconds later. As it kept its stride, the wolf briefly glanced left to look at us and was in no particular hurry to cross the road. Yet, it was gone within seconds. 

Whenever I encounter wolves in the wild, I am always in awe of their ability to remain poised, at least when no threat is perceived, as if they understand they are in control. Their actions are deliberate, no wasted motion, and carried out with an efficiency that seems as if the entire situation had unfolded as planned. This is unlike the black bears we often chance upon who immediately show us their rears as they sprint in the opposite direction. Unless you’re perceived as an imminent threat, wolves have every intention of getting out of your way, but never seem to be in a hurry to do so. It’s this behavior that gives the impression of extreme confidence, whether they do or not. Added to this quality is another subtle characteristic that defines them, at least in my experience. 

As always, I keep a wide berth from all wild animals and respect their space, but sometimes circumstances don’t allow this to occur. Over the years, I occasionally have been warned by some wolves not to advance further, although I didn’t know they were there at the time. They produced quiet “ruffs” while standing nearby, or deliberately making additional noise as they trotted closer. Wolves are usually relatively stealthy. These were warnings, not aggressive acts. With wolves, there seems to be a healthy tolerance of my presence as long as I’m not too close, although I’ve had them run right by me at full speed not 20 yards away. Despite chance encounters, I feel very comfortable walking through wolf territory.. 

In the forest, maintaining adequate distance helps to prevent most potential conflicts with anything. Wolves seem to know how to do this very well. Although I remain attentive, I don’t expect to be surprised by one. This is in contrast to walking around a corner and seeing a black bear standing there with a cub. That’s different. Surprise is not a good thing. But for wolves, that’s the point. They never seem surprised: calm and confident. That’s who I’m tracking now, as I slowly piece together how they utilize their territory.

What can be done?
Throughout my decades of field research and interacting with many kinds of management agencies, I’ve learned that there is really only one viable solution to end the mass killing of our wildlife, in this case wolves. You are the solution - the general public. The premise and procedures of wolf management act more like a belief system rather than a process of logic, reason and science. And, it’s profitable. Through hunting permits, MFWP makes money promoting the death of wolves and other animals. It’s a business, so they have no motivation to stop. Nevertheless, the consequences of their actions contribute to environmental destruction, which is everyone’s business. This is especially true because you own these wolves and have a say on what happens to them. It’s not like management agencies have lots of power. They are just empowered by the public’s apathy or unfamiliarity with the issues, and they need to be made accountable for their actions. If you would like to help, here is a good way to begin:

1. Make sure you are informed properly, i.e., visit reputable sites online that base their information in proven facts, or consult experts in your field of interest.

2. Stop. Now start “doing.” Don’t get lost in the forest of information, much of which is incorrect. Pick a state that has wolves, perhaps the one you live in, and send emails directly to those management agencies or call them.

3. Be civil and let the facts speak for themselves. When it comes to solving problems, base your actions on what is already known to be true, not your version of it. Ignoring reality, no matter how it feels, has gotten us into our current environmental mess.

For a more comprehensive background on the mind set of MFWP, please read some of my past email exchanges with them that demonstrate how the system really works. This can help clarify what you might encounter when you contact them and even other management agencies.

When I began studying wolves, they had just returned to Montana. Over the next 27 years, I watched as they transformed from icons of conservation to consumable commodities. My awareness of their environmental importance evolved too, but now I also feel sadness. Often times Montana is an apocalyptic place. Human activity can cause suffering to our wildlife that is incomprehensible. In society as a whole, this is fueled by the still present archaic attitude towards animals which portrays them as having no meaningful feelings or emotions, they can't suffer, at least like us, and overall they are here as a resource for us to use however we see fit. Information has been pouring in from science that shows such an attitude is baseless and ultimately causes environmental degradation.

But now the wolves are back and a new feeling of hope is present. Outside of Yellowstone National Park, I am the only scientist that studies wolf behavior, a vital part of ultimately protecting these animals. Their locations and interaction with wildlife and domesticated animals is largely unknown. Yet, yet management policy is based on questionable data and hundreds of wolves die each year as a result. With the public's help and support, Sceyefal can help create a situation where the destruction of life can be mitigated. Given what science knows about the influence of predator species throughout ecosystems, and the rapid loss of biodiversity, continuing to kill wolves and other predators is madness. They can help heal the many wounds we've inflicted upon the world, by just letting them do their jobs. 

   

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