DEAR READERS: Wolves lived in nature for many generations before us. When the indigenous Anishinaabe peoples arrived in North America, they came to regard the wolf as a kindred spirit -- one that shared many human traits of kinship, cooperation and survival skills.
Now, the descendants of these wolves are being killed for sport, prized as trophies, trapped for their fur and poisoned for killing livestock. Their hunting ranges are depleted and fragmented, always shrinking with human encroachment -- especially under the impetus of the timber and commodity crop industries. The recent open season on wolf-killing in Wisconsin, Montana and Idaho -- as a purported "management" policy -- is reminiscent of the genocide of Indigenous peoples in America's recent past.
The Star Tribune's Outdoors reporter Dennis Anderson so downplayed the wolf hunt in Wisconsin ("Wolves weren't butchered after all," Star Tribune, Oct. 13) that one must wonder: What is at the root of his borderline-rabid antipathy toward this species? Anthropologically, one does not need to dig deeper than the European occupation of these wildlands, once rich in biodiversity, and the concerted extermination of wolves and other perceived threats to settlement and expansion. Anderson's outdated, though still widely shared, view of wolf management through the setting of annual kill-quotas is not science-based. Rather, it is born of cultish tradition and economy-driven support of the recreational hunting, commercial trapping and livestock industries.
Without human interference, wolf numbers are self-regulating through pack structure and prey availability in their territories. Wolves may well prey on livestock when their main food source, white-tailed deer, is reduced by some 15% annually by Minnesota hunters.
Those who call for an end to all forms of animal exploitation, and for wolf protection in particular, are variously ridiculed by those who deny justice for all. In 1920, Aldo Leopold, called the "father of wildlife management," called for the extermination of wolves and mountain lions throughout the West. He later wrote in his 1949 book, "A Sand County Almanac," about how wrong he had been: "We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then and have known ever since that there was something new to me in those eyes, something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean a hunter's paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view."
Leopold helped establish what today is called the Land Ethic, asserting, "We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. ... All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants and animals -- or collectively, the land."
In sharp contrast, Anderson of the Star Tribune writes, "Knowledgeable wolf researchers weren't surprised by the Wisconsin wolves' resiliency, especially in the light of what occurred last year with wolves in Montana and Idaho." He elaborates, reporting that wolf-kills in these states were liberalized in the extended 2020-2021 season to reduce livestock depredation. Montana gave multiple permits to hunters and trappers and allowed baiting, night hunting and snaring, noting the wolf-kill total was "generally unchanged" in 2021-2022.
Clearly, from his perspective and others of like mind, wolves are a natural resource to be sustainably managed by killing/harvesting. There is no risk in reducing their numbers, the thinking goes, because the wolves will eventually "recover." But their "recovery" is all but impossible due to hunting quotas, illegal poaching, pack disruption, dispersal, starvation and injury, especially gut-shots.
But perhaps times are changing and Leopold's legacy of establishing a Land Ethic and respect for wildlife is becoming part of the democratic spirit of a more advanced and empathic U.S. civilization. Six endangered gray wolves found dead in northwest Washington were poisoned, according to the state Fish and Wildlife Department, and advocacy groups are offering a $51,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the parties responsible. (Full story: Associated Press, Oct. 10)
Compensating livestock owners who use nonlethal methods of predator control, as with guard dogs, for veterinary-verified wolf-kills would be preferable to wolf extermination, and a welcome step toward coexistence.
An amendment to the U.S. Constitution incorporating the essence of a bill of rights for animals, as codified in my 2011 book "Animals and Nature First," could establish the U.S. as a leader in this area. Ideally, we would then see the formation of a United Environmental Nations, working together to achieve the One Health imperatives of planetary conservation, protection and restoration.
We are surely not powerless to stop the wanton destruction, needless killing and endless suffering. In a restored ecological democracy, there would be justice for all.
(Send all mail to email@example.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 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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