Fear and hatred of wolves goes back in European history for centuries. Such lupophobia is still evident today in purportedly advanced civilizations like the United States. Websites posted by "Sportsmen Against Wolves" are especially revealing, combining graphic photographs of slaughtered wolves with supportive comments by hunters. They see wolf protectors and wildlife conservationists as representing the kind of society they abhor: one of tree-hugging Bambi-lovers that threaten their way of life and right to shoot wolves.
But this phobia is certainly not shared by indigenous Native Americans or by a growing majority of non-Native American citizens who oppose wolf hunting and trapping. The wolf is a species symbolic of a bipolar society that has yet to find unity of vision and values, ethics and spirit.
Wolf hunting advocates disclose a disturbing degree of ignorance about the balance of nature, wolf-deer and predator-prey relationships. They perpetuate the erroneous belief that exterminating competing hunters such as the wolf is an act of conservation, a "management tool" to help preserve the balance of nature. They also view it as a sporting challenge to kill a "worthy adversary" as a trophy, a testament to one's own hunting skills. The notion of co-existence -- involving conciliation within and between cultures and with other species -- is anathema to this community.
Wolf hunters, feeling threatened by wolf protectors and conservationists, are now joining across wolf-inhabiting states to justify and protect their rights. But if they were to connect their imagined fate with the fate of the wolf and every tree in the forest, hen in the prairie and frog in the swamp, they might realize, as Henry David Thoreau advised over a century ago, "in wildness is the preservation of the world." That does not mean the preservation of their way of life, but their evolution into an effective, nongovernmental community of wildlife monitors and conservators.
Many deer hunters, for instance, having discovered the wisdom of biophilia, see themselves and wolves and other predators as essential components of healthy ecosystems. With such an ecological perspective, they can begin to articulate a hunting ethic, which begins by separating any desire to kill from morally justified need. It also involves acknowledging the vital importance of wolves, humans and other predators in helping prevent deer overpopulation and loss of biodiversity, and joining with other voices for habitat conservation and restoration.
This is especially germane considering that across much of the U.S., the white-tailed deer population has risen over the past century from some 300,000 to an estimated 25 to 30 million. Animal protectors must also evolve and not reflexively condemn all deer hunters as Bambi eaters. However, one Minnesota deer hunter and landowner told me that he used every part of the deer he shot, and that he and his neighbors plant corn and soybeans just for "their" deer. Not making any connection with his deer feeding, he went on to say he had "shot two wolves on (his) property this season because there are too many."
So long as lupophobia and the trophy mentality persist, wolves and other essential predators will continue to be killed by some hunters as well as by cattle and sheep ranchers whose subsidized grazing rights on public lands should come with a caveat prohibiting lethal methods of predator control. Without a unified sensibility, like those deer hunters who also abhor the killing of wolves as sporting trophies along with the majority of nonhunters, we will surely continue to fall short of becoming a truly civilized society.
Within every culture there are subcultures and cults defined by demographics, economics, religious beliefs, education and values. Good governance accommodates such diversity to maximize the good of the nation-state, including proper management of natural resources and public lands. But the record of the U.S. federal and most state governments is lamentable, pandering to vested minority interests. These include sanctioning and funding ranchers' war on wolves and other predators, and permitting hunters and trappers to kill wolves for sport and fur pelts. This amounts to a violation of public trust and calls for full accountability and a return to good governance.
The public conflict over the fate of the gray wolf has made this species an icon of opposing values and cultural discord. Resolution is called for through conciliation, legal protection of wolves and effective enforcement, as well as through education of the sanctity, rights and inherent value of all indigenous species. The fate of the wolf in North America will be a measure of the success or failure of civil society to put compassion, reason, justice and respect to bear on all our relationships.
(Send all mail to email@example.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
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