Environmental Group Tries To Sabotage Wolf Hunting Season

In Montana and Idaho, wolf hunting season is underway, and an environmental organization known for acts of civil disobedience is trying to disrupt the hunts. Earth First is circulating a manual that details among other things how to dismantle traps. Authorities say some of the tactics are illegal.

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Wolf-hunting season is underway in Montana and Idaho, with looser restrictions than in the past. License fees are cheaper. Hunters are allowed to kill more wolves, and the season is longer. It's all part of an effort by state officials to reduce the wolf population, but an environmental group is trying to disrupt the hunts.

Earth First! is now circulating what they call a sabotage manual. Montana Public Radio's Dan Boyce has the story.

DAN BOYCE, BYLINE: Kim Bean is hiking on the outskirts of Helena Montana with her dog.

KIM BEAN: This is Radley. Radley is just a year old.

BOYCE: She hikes with Radley and her other dogs a lot, and the idea of wolf traps out in the woods makes her nervous.

BEAN: Trapping is not specific. They use bait. My dogs, they're animals. They don't know.

BOYCE: The gray wolf was removed from the endangered species list a couple of years ago, and since then, states in the Great Lakes region and northern Rockies have started hunting seasons to bring down wolf numbers they say far exceed minimum population goals.

BEAN: It's overkill, literally.

BOYCE: Kim Bean is also vice president of the group Wolves of the Rockies. She's against wolf hunting in general, and regularly speaks out. But the environmental group Earth First! argues that does not go far enough.

PANAGIOTI TSOLKAS: Sabotaging hunting has been going on for a long time, pretty much as far back as the Endangered Species Act goes.

BOYCE: Earth First!'s Panagioti Tsolkas is not convinced by reports of healthy wolf populations.

TSOLKAS: Lobbying interests have an effect that contradicts science or basic ethics.

BOYCE: So the group's 12-page sabotage manual suggests people work to stop wolf hunts physically: following hunters into the field, blowing whistles. Mostly, the manual details how to destroy wolf traps. And if an advocate finds a wolf already trapped, the manual lays out strategies for releasing that wolf back into the wild. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Ron Aasheim says that's not only illegal, it's dangerous.

RON AASHEIM: You bet it's dangerous. And some of their techniques, you're talking about a wild animal, a predator, and, you know, they're hundred-pound animals.

BOYCE: Aasheim says trapping is a key part of the state's wolf management plan. Montana Trappers Association President Toby Walrath pulls out what he says are some industry standard wolf traps.

TOBY WALRATH: This is the exact setup that is used to live-trap wolves for relocation efforts.

BOYCE: He argues modern equipment is far more humane than the shark-tooth traps of decades ago. He uses a metal bar to trip one with rubber-lined jaws. When Walrath sees a manual giving instructions on how to ruin traps, suggesting people leave nails on roads frequented by trappers - when he reads that, he does not have a whole lot of patience.

WALRATH: The wording in that manual reminds me of an angry adolescent.

BOYCE: He says such an aggressive approach does not contribute to the debate. The Montana Wildlife Department says those caught following the suggestions of the wolf hunt sabotage manual will face consequences, including fines and, in some cases, jail time.

TSOLKAS: When you say it's illegal to interfere with wolf hunting, in my opinion, it's the right thing to do.

BOYCE: Earth First!'s Panagioti Tsolkas even suggests such acts would be a heroic defense of the Endangered Species Act. Kim Bean of Wolves of the Rockies does not believe wolves are being managed in a sustainable way, but she also does not think the civil disobedience promoted by the sabotage manual is the way to fix it.

BEAN: As much as I can see where they're coming from, it's just not right. Breaking laws does not help the cause.

BOYCE: Montana's wolf hunting season lasts until mid-March. For NPR News, I'm Dan Boyce, in Helena.

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