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

By Guest Columnist Steve Busch

December 27, 2018

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 mention that their favorite meal 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 perhaps just wishful thinking, as wolves typically pressure ungulates out of backcountry areas towards human settlements which would increase crop damages and the 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 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]




December 27, 2018