Billboard advertising may be old-school, but wolf advocacy groups hope that a few strategically placed signs will get tourists talking about the future of wolf management.
Last week, five billboards in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming were plastered with identical images of a large wolf that stared out at the tourists streaming into Yellowstone National Park. Sponsored by Predator Defense, a national wildlife advocacy organization, the wolf sign is captioned with “Coming soon: A World Without Wolves? Stop the killing.”
Predator Defense opposes the use of hunting and traps to control wolves and objects to the way Western states have set their wolf hunting seasons, said Predator Defense executive director Brooks Fahy.
The indiscriminate killing of wolves has ecological consequences because it fractures packs, Fahy said. Without group support, juvenile survivors are more likely to go after easily killed livestock.
As Montana prepares to set its 2014 wolf season and the Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission considers increasing the trapping limit, wolf advocates are trying to push back.
They are concerned about how states will manage wolves in the future, especially if wolves are fully delisted.
A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plan to delist the wolf, announced in April, is on hold after the resulting vocal opposition from conservationists, legislators and the public.
“This is a small effort to bring about awareness because nobody’s aware of this,” Fahy said. “This is a big contentious issue. We just want people to look at it; we want to drive them to our website.”
In a contentious issue, no effort by one side will ever go unanswered.
After the billboards went up, a hunters’ group, Big Game Forever, started fundraising to post their own message on billboards that they’ve reserved in Idaho and Montana.
According to its website, Big Game Forever wants wolves delisted so state wildlife agencies can be free to manage the wolf and “return wolf numbers to agreed upon levels to avoid irreversible damage to big game herd.”
Attempts to contact representatives of the Utah-based Big Game Forever and Sportsman of Fish and Wildlife were unsuccessful.
This isn’t the first time wolf advocacy groups have turned to billboard advertising.
At the beginning of May, a group called Project: WOLF paid for four grisly billboard signs in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana that showed four dead wolves lying in the snow. A bloodstain draped across the top of the sign, which said, “This is what’s happening to your Yellowstone wolves. Do you care?”
The people of Cody, Wyo., complained about that sign to Lamar Outdoor Advertising, which owns the billboards.
Lamar Montana general manager Paul Dennehy said he hadn’t received any calls about the Project: WOLF signs in Montana until the Cody complaints were publicized. So all the signs were taken down within days of going up.
Kristy Saul, who manages a Gallatin Gateway store, remembered that sign, which was also on a Gallatin Gateway billboard. That billboard now displays a new Project: WOLF sign that resembles the Predator Defense sign with a wolf and wording.
“(The first sign) was definitely more graphic,” Saul said. “But no one’s said anything about them, not even the locals.”
Other groups, such as anti-abortion groups, also use graphic images on billboards.
For that reason, Dennehy said, Louisiana-based Lamar has a group that assesses signs for controversy. It didn’t think the Project: WOLF sign went too far.
“I’m not sure what happened. But now anything else dealing with wolves will receive a little more scrutiny,” Dennehy said.
Fahy said his group worked with Lamar and compromised on some of the wording.
“I was fine with Project: WOLF’s sign and was sorry they were taken down,” Fahy said. “But we decided against disturbing images; we were told that would turn people off. And we didn’t want to put something up just to have it taken down.”
Fahy said the billboards are just the first step while he tries to raise more money. Next, he plans to put ads in travel magazines and airports.
But not all wildlife groups agree with the message.
Montana Wildlife Federation spokesman Nick Gevock said there was always an understanding that wolves would be hunted once they were recovered.
“Part of the problem is the anthropomorphization of wolves – I’ve never shot an animal that had a name and a fan club,” Gevock said. “But there’s ridiculous rhetoric on both sides of this issue with some groups claiming wolves have wiped out all the elk.”