REWILDING WASHINGTON: The Very Real Consequences of Predator Proliferation

[Revised 12/30/22]

The timing for the publication of Andrew McKean’s excellent article, “In Washington State, Hunters May No Longer Be Necessary to Manage Wildlife” was unfortunate. The piece was published by Outdoor Life magazine on November 7th, just one day before the headline grabbing midterm elections. Not to diminish the importance of the elections, but McKean’s article deserves our attention as it provides an outstanding assessment of the divergent factions struggling for control of wildlife policy here in Washington state.

In the article, which was subtitled, “An emerging wildlife war has its first skirmish this week in Spokane, where a reformist group is looking to deprioritize hunting and hunters”, author McKean accurately sums up the concerns of a growing number of rural Washingtonians who feel that their voices no longer matter. While these folks are essentially correct in their assessment of the issue, they are woefully late in coming to the realization that the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and Management, which has insured sustainable populations of game species for over a generation, is no longer the basis for making wildlife management decisions here in the evergreen state.

For what it’s worth, I’ve been warning folks since 2002 about how the radical ideology known as REWILDING was becoming the de facto wildlife management philosophy, not just here in Washington, but across the United States and the entire world. I’ve watched with great dismay as people seemed ambivalent about the very real consequences that would result from policies which increasingly promoted the proliferation of large apex predators at the expense of other wildlife and human prosperity.

Predictably, frustrated hunters who recently gathered at a Washington Wildlife Commission meeting held in Colville, Washington, blamed their lack of success in the field on the growing numbers of wolves, bears, and mountain lions. The increased frequency of large predator sightings in towns and rural areas across Washington, including a recent attack by a mountain lion on a nine year old girl, have raised concerns about public safety. Meanwhile, ranchers across the region continue to face unsustainable livestock losses due to predation by multiple large carnivore species. All this frustration is a direct result of our state’s wildlife management philosophy, which has undergone a sea change in recent years.

The quasi-religious philosophy known as REWILDING is defined as a comprehensive landscape scale conservation strategy that is focused on restoring biodiversity and ecosystem health by protecting core wild/wilderness areas, providing increased connectivity between core protected areas, and promoting large apex predators. REWILDING focuses on establishing enormous swaths of fully protected interconnected lands in order to enhance the proliferation of large carnivore species, which advocates claim are the rightful “managers” of the ecosystem.

In reality, predator proliferation policies, like those enacted in Washington state, will inevitably result in reductions in ungulate populations to the extent that entire regions could become utterly devoid of game. Wildlife managers, (including Ed Bangs, the former chief of the USFWS responsible for implementing wolf reintroduction in the U.S.), warned us decades ago that eventually the number of human hunters would have to be reduced as prey species declined due to increased depredation by growing numbers of wolves and other protected predators.

Photo credit: Daniel Stahler, NPS

To say that REWILDING differs radically from how our wildlife populations have been managed for over a century would be an understatement. For generations of Americans, the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation supported the notion that wildlife is a public trust, that hunting was an American birthright, and that wildlife species, especially game species, should be managed in a way that insured healthy populations into perpetuity for the benefit of the American people.

REWILDING replaces these long established “stewardship tenets” with woke ideals of “wildlife equity” by granting preference to large carnivores, such as grizzly bears and wolves, and raising their status above that of human beings. True believers claim that “game species” primarily exist to feed these “apex predators” and should no longer be considered a food source for humans. Additionally, our public lands should not be used to raise food or provide materials for human consumption. Public land should primarily remain unused, totally protected in order to enhance wildlife. That means an end to livestock grazing on public land. That means an end to logging, hunting, mineral extraction, and dam building. Large carnivore species must be allowed to manage the rewilded landscape unimpeded by competition from private interests.

At this point the reader may be wondering if the REWILDING advocates can be defeated and sound common sense wildlife management policies re-established here in Washington state. The simple answer is no, at least not in the foreseeable future. Wildlife policy in Washington state is largely determined by the make-up of a nine member board of commissioners who oversee the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). Staunch REWILDING advocates appointed by the governor now constitute a majority on the commission. Without a change in the governor’s office, the shift towards REWILDING is intractable. As noted by McKean, Groups aligned with these freshman commissioners held an invitation-only retreat last month to discuss strategies to “reform” the agency. Their agenda, since removed from their website, calls for the same “conservation over consumption” orientation championed by Washington Wildlife First [and other REWILDING organizations].”

Perhaps the most revealing indicator of the mindset of those gathered for this “by invitation only retreat”, was the menu. Conference sponsors included a coalition of REWILDING advocacy groups including the Wild Fish Conservancy, the Conservation Angler, the Center For Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States, Washington Wildlife First, and other far left animal rights groups. Not surprisingly, the menu was completely devoid of animal products. According to the conference website, “We will be offering attendees vegan meals, lodging in a rustic camp environment, and the opportunity to spend time in a beautiful setting with other dedicated advocates – including individual activists and representatives from local, state, and national groups.”

The citizens of Washington state need to realize that we are in danger of losing our right to hunt, fish, and/or raise livestock. It is much more serious than merely protecting our ability to put locally harvested food on our tables. When it comes to wildlife management, the focus of those now holding the reigns of power is to insure that an adequate food supply exists for the growing number of large apex predators that surround our communities. People simply don’t matter.

Sources for this article include:

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