The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has removed all references to its Olaus Murie conservation award after the researcher’s family objected to the group’s policy on wolves.
In a letter to RMEF President David Allen, Olaus Murie’s son, Donald Murie, said the organization’s “all-out war against wolves” is “anathema to the entire Murie family.”
“We must regretfully demand that unless you have a major change in policy regarding wolves that you cancel the Olaus Murie Award,” Donald Murie wrote. “The Murie name must never be associated with the unscientific and inhumane practices you are advancing.”
The Missoula-based RMEF has filed amicus briefs in federal lawsuits supporting the removal of Rocky Mountain gray wolves from Endangered Species Act protection. In March, it donated $50,000 to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to fund contracts with federal Wildlife Services for wolf-killing activity.
RMEF Chief Operating Officer Rod Triepke said the letter was the first time the family had been heard from in several years.
“What we’re going to do is honor the family’s request,” Triepke said on Wednesday. “We’ll immediately cease awarding Murie awards, and all references will be removed.”
“But we’re not going to change our position,” Triepke added. “We believe in science-based management and that hasn’t changed. We’re not sure what the entire letter’s based upon.”
Several other conservation groups have challenged RMEF’s wolf position, including Eugene, Ore.-based Cascadia Wildlands. Organization director Bob Ferris said he reached out to the Murie family to get the letter written.
“(Olaus) Murie, Aldo Leopold and a handful of other pioneers were the first proponents of biodiversity and preservation,” Ferris said on Wednesday. “For the family, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s position just drove them crazy. They’re sending a warning to the Elk Foundation that they have to return to science, or their only conservation award they’ll have left is the Dale Earnhardt award. Maybe they just don’t care anymore.”
Ferris said Allen’s background as a sports marketer for NASCAR and the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association didn’t provide him with the experience necessary to respect the complexity of wildlife ecology. He said comments such as those Allen made to the Idaho Statesman newspaper – that states should “shoot wolves from the air and gas their dens” to control their populations – showed his disregard for the species.
“It’s a demonstration of the problem where you have any technical group and the leader isn’t grounded in that field of endeavor,” Ferris said. He cited a March incident where RMEF initially supported congressional legislation to turn over control of federal inventoried roadless areas to state management before the group’s membership demanded a course reversal because of potential loss of elk habitat.
Triepke said Allen wasn’t available for comment on Wednesday. He added that while RMEF’s membership hadn’t offered much response to the Murie letter, its board members were resolute about retaining the current wolf policy.
“The comments back from our board of directors is we’re on the right path,” Triepke said. “We need to stay the course of sound, science-based wildlife management, and we don’t think we should change that direction.”
RMEF has supported extended wolf hunts and trapping in Montana and Idaho, with Allen advising the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission “to prepare for more aggressive wolf control methods, perhaps as early as summer 2012,” according to the organization’s website. He “reminded the agency that elk and other big-game herds in certain areas are being significantly impacted by burgeoning wolf populations, along with black bears, grizzlies and mountain lions.”
FWP commissioners last week approved adding trapping to the legal methods of taking wolves for the 2012 hunting season. Hunters killed 166 wolves in a 220-wolf quota in the 2011-12 Montana season. That left an estimated 653 wolves in the state.
Idaho hunters shot 255 wolves and trapped 124 more in their nearly yearlong season that ended June 30. The state estimates 746 wolves remain.
Montana and Idaho must each keep at least 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs within their borders to maintain state authority over the predator. Otherwise, the federal government may move to return gray wolves to threatened or endangered status under the Endangered Species Act.
Triepke said RMEF started giving the Olaus Murie Award in 1999 and has presented it five or six times since then. Murie, who died in 1963, "was a renowned biologist and one of the country’s great champions of wildlife and wilderness," according the website of the Wilderness Society, where he served as director.
Murie published pioneering research on the elk herd in Jackson Hole, Wyo., and became "an early, staunch defender of predators and their crucial role in ecosystems," the site says.
The organization’s leadership was discussing how to continue the award effort without Murie's association.
“It’s usually given to someone in the wildlife sciences field,” he said. “There’s a lot of folks in wildlife sciences who do great work that deserves recognition. We’ll find a way to recognize those folks.”