60 MINUTES OF SPIN:  “The Return of Wolves to Yellowstone Park”

The PBS documentary “In the Valley of the Wolves” and the hugely successful Sustainable Man production “How Wolves Change Rivers”, have combined for over 200 million views.  Since both of those films obviously provided most of the talking points for the much anticipated 60 Minutes segment, “The Return of Wolves to Yellowstone Park”,  it was not surprising that the CBS piece shoveled virtually the same misguided messages into the homes of an additional 12 million viewers, albeit in an abbreviated quasi-news format.   The 60 Minutes wolf promotion segment aired on December 23,  which fit in nicely with all those other holiday fantasies about flying reindeer, mischievous elves, and runaway trains headed for the North Pole.

Not to be outdone by the well crafted indoctrination of previous wolf films,  CBS correspondent Bill Whitaker opens the 60 Minutes piece by blaming mankind’s misplaced and irrational fear of wolves on “fables, legends, and the Bible”.  Doing his best impersonation of a wise man seeking to impart knowledge to the ignorant masses, Whitaker  explains that America’s mean spirited settlers exterminated wolves from the American west due to their short sighted ignorance of the invaluable role wolves play in the ecosystem.  Steeped in modern wolf myths, 60 Minutes producers simply have no frame of reference that would allow them to comprehend how such a noble beast could be considered anathema by the very people most familiar with their impacts.

“The Return of Wolves to Yellowstone” elevates YNP wolf apologist Doug Smith to the undeserved role as one of the nation’s foremost experts on wolves.   Contrary to what Smith and his wolf loving brethren would have us believe, wolves didn’t decimate the Yellowstone elk herd by nearly 85% over 20 years simply because all those elk needed killing.  Ironically, Smith tells viewers that wolves only kill “the sick, the injured, or the old” just before we are treated to dramatic footage of a pack of wolves taking down a very healthy and robust bull elk.  Smith’s own study on the dietary habits of wolves in Yellowstone reveals that healthy bull elk in their prime comprise about 52% of the wolves diet. [See end notes]

aac5dfc310ba60046a03544d27c87c1bLikewise, contrary to the lies we have all been told about climate change, Yellowstone’s moose population has not faded into oblivion due to the illusory effects of global warming.  The reality is that moose in Yellowstone have been driven to near extinction by the intentional creation of a predator pit within the park.  Yet Doug Smith tells us not to worry about precipitous declines in the moose and elk populations because brush and small trees are now growing along stream banks and providing habitat for “song birds and beavers”.   Smith’s biologically absurd celebration over the “return” of certain plant species to Yellowstone is designed to convince viewers that wolves are absolutely essential to a healthy ecosystem.  He never mentions any negative impacts,  such as the 150 diseases and parasites that wolves can spread to other wildlife, livestock, and humans.

During his 60 minute interview, Smith claims the average wolf in Yellowstone weighs in at around 100 pounds.  Smith then goes on to discuss how wolves that only weigh an average of “120 pounds” must act together as a team in order to take down a 750 pound elk.  Smith doesn’t tell us if his wolf weight estimations include sub-adults nor does he take the time to explain that males typically outweigh females by an additional 35-50%.  But Smith does increase his estimate of the “average” wolf weight by 20 pounds without explanation in just a matter of seconds.

To correct the record, the National Park Service has documented that the largest male wolves in Yellowstone can reach the 140 to 150 pound range.  Smith conveniently omits mentioning that 165 pound wolves having lengths of 6.5 ft. from head to tail and standing 3’ at the shoulder are not uncommon among the variety of wolves that were captured in northern British Columbia and transplanted into the Yellowstone ecosystem in 1995-96.  Smith purposefully downplays the size of Yellowstone wolves and their killing capabilities in order to promote the myth that wolves only harvest the sick, the old, the very young, or the injured.

“Many people both in the U.S. and Europe revere wolves, and that is the main value of wolves to society.”

  David Mech – “Where Can Wolves Live and How Can We Live with Them?” c. 2017

As Doug Smith knows all too well, Yellowstone’s wolf packs are capable of taking down any animal they choose.  To his credit, Smith does contradict his previous statement about the dietary habits of wolves by admitting that their favorite meal actually consists of “the young”,  meaning new born calves.  But Smith neglects to mention that “the young” also includes pre-born fetuses freshly torn from their mother’s womb.  Smith omits any mention of the fact that wolves begin consuming their prey while it is still alive.  Nor does he mention that when prey is abundant, wolves will only consume the choicest parts while leaving much of the carcass behind for scavengers and insects.  Smith also fails to mention that wolves don’t always kill on the first go around.  587517ea63c65.imageMany of Yellowstone’s bison have suffered leg injuries or have had their tails partially chewed off during their initial non-fatal encounters with wolves.  Doug Smith wants us to believe that wolves only eat “injured” or weak animals, as if they are performing a valuable clean-up function in the ecosystem.  However he neglects to tell us that wolves will often return to finish off animals that they themselves have injured or have caused to become weakened by infection as a result of a previous encounter.

Considering that the annual protein biomass consumption rate for a single wolf is measured in tonnage rather than pounds, (or the equivalent of 20 to 24 elk per wolf annually), it is no wonder that the ungulate population has plummeted in Yellowstone park.   But hey, as Smith and his cronies consistently like to point out, at least there are more shrubs growing along the stream banks.  And there are also more ravens and crows.  And a lot more black flies and carrion beetles. And don’t forget about the billions of hydatid eggs and cysts that are now scattered across the landscape thanks to wolves.  Yes, wolves do change things.  But to say that such changes are “good” or for the better, is a value judgment supported by the careful selection of certain “facts” while omitting other observable “facts” that may not be as favorable to the pro-wolf agenda.

Yes, we can all agree that wolves have considerable impacts on the natural ecosystem as well as on settled landscapes.  Unfortunately, wolf impacts typically discussed in these kinds of video documentaries are generally positive.  Little time is devoted to negative impacts because certain realities, such as the spread of disease, might lead to a decrease in public tolerance and/or derail the entire REWILDING agenda.

Famed wolf biologist  L. David Mech is considered to be the “father” of the wolf proliferation agenda.   Mech recently noted that wolves kill many prey species, which “can lower conflicts with humans by reducing vehicle collisions and crop damage”.    Yes, spin meister Mech really does believe that wolves can make our roads safer by reducing vehicle collisions.  Fewer animals crossing our highways equals fewer collisions, right?  But less crop damage and fewer vehicle collisions are likely nothing more than wishful thinking, as wolves typically pressure ungulates out of backcountry areas towards human settlements which would lead to increased crop damages as well as increased odds of a collision.

But perhaps the biggest whopper told by Doug Smith and CBS is that wolf tourism is drawing millions of extra dollars into local economies.  We are told that people from New York and even as far away as Germany are flocking to Yellowstone in order to see wolves.  Smith would have us believe that tourists simply wouldn’t come to Yellowstone if it were not for wolves.  Yet statistics from the National Park Service tell another story.  The fact is, Yellowstone actually ranks sixth in annual visitation behind Great Smokey Mountains, Grand Canyon, Zion, Rocky Mountain, and Yosemite.  While national park visitations are up across the board,  none of those other parks have wolves to attract throngs of visitors, at least not yet.

The truth is that Americans love vacationing in beautiful places, which explains why RV and camping gear sales are going through the roof.  As for those German tourists Doug Smith says came all the way to Yellowstone just to see wolves?   Well somebody needs to tell them (and Smith), that thanks to the REWILDING global agenda,  there are now four times more wolves roaming the German countryside than currently reside in Yellowstone Park.

Sources for this article:




“Foraging and Feeding Ecology of the Gray Wolf (Canis lupus): Lessons from Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA” – [Doug Smith, et. al] https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/136/7/1923S/4664711

Where can wolves live and how can we live with them? – L. David Mech  [https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1319&context=usgsnpwrc&fbclid=IwAR3tcnCWhycg00eSOaQkfXzbJULMYKwYZhkkr1Y3ZJe2yyFSzdoXCN6YTY4]


THE ROLE OF PREDATION IN WILDLIFE POPULATION DYNAMICS -Eric M. Gese, Utah State University [eric.gese@usu.eduhttp://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1538&context=icwdm_usdanwrc]




14 thoughts on “60 MINUTES OF SPIN:  “The Return of Wolves to Yellowstone Park”

  1. Anonymous

    I can agree that wolves and grizzlies need to have their numbers kept in check but I always get the same radical view as pro-wolf people have…the all-or-nothing position that both pro and anti wolf/grizzly espouse. I camped in Yellowstone last fall, right next to an older couple from Austria, and when I stated that I was surprised that they were there when their country had such beautiful mountains, they said there was no place in the world like Yellowstone because you could witness the wolves and grizzlies preying on other wildlife without man entering in and controlling or staging the scene. Now, they came from Austria and rented an RV for 6weeks. That’s money brought to the area from outside the country and wolves were a top consideration. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water any more than you would view the wolf world with ruby tinted glasses.

  2. Those Austrian tourists could have saved a lot of money by simply remaining in Europe and touring the Carpathian’s. Romania is actively promoting carnivore tourism and encouraging other nations to take some of their excess bears and wolves ever since the EU banned hunting of Romania’s largest carnivores. (Just FYI- The Carpathian region is home to some 5000 to 6000 brown (grizzly) bears and over 3000 wolves.)


    Austria also has wolves, but probably no more than a few dozen so far. However there are other options for carnivore tourists.

    Spain is doing their part by repopulating the Pyrenees with brown bears. Meanwhile thousands of wolves already roam across Spain and neighboring France. Germany has an estimated 2000 wolves roaming the countryside while Switzerland pays out compensation for 300 to 400 sheep killed by Swiss wolves every year.

    Unfortunately Europe’s wolves do most of their damage at night, so it’s hard for a tourist to actually witness a kill. Yellowstone wolves are bigger and bolder, and hunt around the clock. But you’re right. It’s not the same thrill seeing wolves kill a small red deer or some hapless sheep. It’s far more exciting to see them take down a bull elk in broad daylight. You have a point.

  3. somsai

    I’d urge you to take a good look at Mech’s “Is Science in danger of sanctifying” https://www.scribd.com/doc/104750776/333-is-Science-in-Danger-of-Sanctifying?secret_password=35hwawnibboc5yb6gjm It is a summation of most of the scientific study up to 2012 and is the currently accepted view of most wolf scientists.

    In it Mech draw serious reservations about just about all the claims made in How Wolves Change Rivers (which is actually a recording of a George Monbiot ted talk). In his paper Mech casts doubt on the veracity of most claims about re-watering, willow growth, etc. The data just isn’t there. About the only level of effect known is that yes, wolves kill lots of elk and can drive populations down.

    Post Sanctifying other studies primarily by Middleton have shown elk to value prime forage over danger from wolves. In other words elk stay in an area of good food, as the food is more important than the possibility of wolf predation. Wolves, at least in the instance Middleton studied, do not cause elk to change grazing habits. The wolf advocacy groups are stretching the truth in a lot more important places than simply the size of wolves.

    I think Doug Smith was preaching the party line and pushing back against the widely accepted view amongst scientists that the “willow growth, songbird enhancing” story was not backed up by the data. When Doug Smith tells whoppers look for the hand waving. I’ve seen his vids before and I always watch for his hands. With his radio collars and the guided tour groups raking in thousands per day per van they have a good thing going on, I can’t blame them for being protective of such a great little money maker.

    I don’t think money is what is important however. I don’t think attracting international tourists is worth lying. I’d rather tourists stay home and quit spewing carbon across the upper atmosphere in jet aircraft. And most importantly I don’t think wildlife should be managed via untruths. Large predators can have an outsized effect on their prey.

    Scientific wildlife management has been neglected at our National Parks for decades. In his initial paper on ecological ideas for managing our Parks Aldo Starker Leopold recommended hunting as the primary tool for population management. Almost the entire rest of his recommendations were accepted and are now part and parcel of NPS policy, it’s well past time to adopt modern wildlife management on a national level and especially within our Parks.

  4. virgil sweetwood


  5. Thanks for you comment somsai,

    I agree there are lots of additional ways the wolf advocacy groups are stretching the truth. I chose to limit the scope of this article to mainly addressing the comments by Doug Smith. I purposefully omitted other aspects, such as the livestock issue, due to length and also because I have covered that particular topic in several other posts.

    Just FYI- Back in 2013 I posted an article exposing “Trophic Cascade Theory” as a fraud. I included quotes and a review of Mech’s “Is Science in Danger of Sanctifying the Wolf?”

    See- https://oldmanoftheski.com/2013/02/20/trophic-cascade-theory-house-of-cards/

  6. Tavis Rogers

    Thank you for the great article, Steve. This is the first article of yours that I have read. I kind of fell down the rabbit hole and had to read up on your views on several other very important topics in the Western US. I am impressed with the common sense and level of effort that you put into your work researching and ensuring that the facts are clear with respect to this subject and the several other ones that I read. Obviously, I need to catch up to you on many subjects looking at the list of other articles that you have put together.

    Thank you!

  7. Thank you for commenting Tavis.

    FYI- I have somewhat of a unique perspective due to the fact that I was a radical environmentalist 40 years ago. I understand the dangers of the REWILDING agenda because I used to support it and have been watching with growing alarm at how it has become, not just national, but a global policy. I studied natural resources management in college and went on to work for the USFS in Wyoming.

    I used to be a member of the Wilderness Society and Friends of the Earth, and was very involved in wildlife issues and environmental causes. I sat in on a high level Sierra Club board meeting back in 1979 where they tried to spin an essay I wrote about Bridger-Teton National Forest Service practices. The Sierra Club wanted to use my article to launch a national campaign to end “multiple use” on public lands in order to institute a single use REWILDING agenda. I did not allow the Sierra Club to publish my article, which they had twisted beyond recognition. When I realized that the environmental organizations were okay with promoting lies to achieve their objectives, I got out.

    After I became a Christian I realized these folks worshiped the creation, and not the Creator. REWILDING advocates believe themselves to be the enlightened and elite of this world. Their agenda calls for using large carnivore proliferation as a means to change society and confine humanity to a subservient role. They have made great progress towards that goal.

  8. Stephen

    There should be a season on wolves just like big game you can’t have a predator that doesn’t have to worry about predators that will hurt wildlife more then anything

  9. Steve, Thank you for your effort to help the general masses to “read between the lines”. I truly hope this reaches vast numbers of people. I’ve often said ” They tell a better story then we do” in reference to these groups who set the real data and science aside to push wolf expansion onto the un-informed public… People who live with wolves in our backyards typically have a better grasp on the reality of wolf behaviors because our knowledge comes first hand rather than from false and misleading documentaries that portray human emotions and characteristics onto an animal in order capture their unknowing audiences attention and “sell” their agenda. I was once no different and my knowledge on wolves was once derived from National Geographic and I too was mislead into believing that wolves only kill the sick and the weak, that only the alpha male and female breed, that they were good for the ecosystem, etc etc… That was before seeing our local moose numbers plummet and witnessing vast numbers of them laying along our mountain roadways midwinter with their hamstrings torn off, and noses chewed up, suffering, and eventually dying and rotting away having never been fed on by the wolves that injured them. It was before we began seeing the majority of our backcountry elk pressured out of the mountains and down into the valleys and farmland around houses where they have learned to stay year-round to avoid wolf predation. It was before seeing first hand how fast they populate… We now have an up to $1000 per wolf reimbursement program in Idaho where your expenses for wolf harvest are reimbursed and you keep the wolf. This program is funded by concerned citizens, sportsmen, ranchers, the Idaho Fish and Game Dept., Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and is supported by the Idaho Farm Bureau, the Idaho Cattlemen Association, Etc. Our last Sandpoint fundraiser was even attended by Idahos new Governor Mr Brad Little, and over a dozen state and local representatives. Even with this program in place, and all of that support, Idaho’s wolves continue to expand every year. Our State’s total population no longer climbs due to dispersion in my opinion, which is the reason there are now wolves all across Washington, Oregon, and even down into California and Colorado. But our average pack size remains 6 to 7 wolves, yet our average litter size remains 6 to 7 pups per litter with some packs having more than one litter each year from multiple females being bred. All those pups have to go somewhere… Because all Idaho’s available habitat already has established packs, the number one killer of wolves in Idaho is now other wolves… Anyhow- Thank you for your efforts, I enjoyed your article. With your permission I’d like to share it as a blog post on our Foundation For Wildlife Management website. ( F4WM.ORG ) Ill await your response. Thank you.
    F4WM Executive Director
    Justin Webb
    Sandpoint Idaho

  10. Comment Policy

    I welcome dissenting opinions in the comments section as long as they are not insulting, derogatory, or irrelevant. All comments are screened before posting and sometimes this takes a day or two. If your comment does not get posted, it’s because it added nothing of substance to the conversation.

  11. Just in…

    The following is from the Stevens County Commissioner’s Office:


    Recent citizen reports of wolf activity indicate that several packs have come very close to homes in several areas of Stevens County. These reports have been confirmed by our Sheriff Wildlife Specialist. While there are no reports of any dangerous activity or threatening behavior to persons an abundance of caution makes it prudent to raise the awareness for those people especially in the Orin Rice, Seigel Hill Road, Mingo Mountain, Valley Westside and Crystal Falls areas.

    To all of our residents, please be aware and be cautious regarding outside pets, livestock and feed that may be a predator attractant.


    Stevens County Board of County Commissioners

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