THE LAST WOLF DOWN: FINDING THE GOLDEN MEAN BETWEEN CONSERVATION AND CONSUMPTION
By Dr. Michael W. Fox
Efforts to protect the wolf in North America have now been thwarted yet again by the Trump administration’s Department of the Interior decision to remove the Gray wolf from protection under the Endangered Species Act. Yet there is only a fraction, some 15% left of the original population that once ranged across much of the continent because of human encroachment, trapping, poisoning, snaring and shooting. Ranchers, recreational “sports” hunters and outfitters and fur trappers are happy now.
These special interest groups are not representative of the democratic majority that has voted in favor of animal and environmental protective legislation, yet this immoral minority wins once again. I say immoral advisedly, sine there are many ranchers and hunters who respect and chose to protect the wolf, as well as the cougar and other predators. Some who protect their livestock with non-lethal methods of predator deterrence see it as the price they must pay for encroaching on the wolf’s’ domain when some stock are taken by this increasingly displaced, persecuted and starving indigenous species.
The immorality of conspicuous consumption and destruction is evident in Trump’s plan to strip protection from Alaska’s Tongass National Forest and open up all 16.7 million acres to logging and other forms of “development” in one of the world’s largest and last temperate rainforests. The legacy of America’s imperialistic invasion, genocide and violation of the rights of indigenous peoples and species lives on as we continue to wolf all down that contributes to the GNP: the gross national product. Efforts to protect the environment and threatened animal and plant species are seen as “Taking away our freedom and rights”, to quote President Donald J. Trump.
No less is happening in other countries striving to live high off the hog and wolf all down as grasslands, wetlands and forests are turned over to commodity crop monocultures and livestock and poultry-feed production, displacing and disenfranchising small family farm cooperatives and communities in the process and accelerating Climate Change and loss of biodiversity. It is no irony that of the seven billion and rising human populace, while more and more consume animal products millions of others are malnourished and face famine When I was a boy chicken and steaks were too expensive for my family to consume except on special occasions but are now affordable for the millions who regard poultry, pork, beef and dairy products as dietary staples rather than luxuries, unaware of the hidden costs, especially animals’ suffering in factory farms and feedlots, and the environmental and public health costs and consequences.
The chemicals and animal drugs used in this global agribusiness industry are making us sick and harming the environment and what is left of our wildlife. Consumers are told to trust agri-science, the food they eat and the drugs they take, while science-deniers of the Climate and Extinction Crises strive to maintain business as usual especially for the fossil fuel and allied industries. In our unbridled, conspicuous consumption of fossil fuels we are indeed burning the Earth’s past as well as future.
As one who has raised and studied wolves as an ethological scientist. wining their trust and devotion and crossing the boundary of scientific objectivity to have communion with one who sang in harmony, even chording two harmonic notes simultaneously like a chanting Tibetan Buddhist monk. when I sat beside her and played my shakuhachi flute, I am crying now for our loss of humanity and sense of kinship with all life. This, I believe, as a veterinarian, is a sensibility without which we will never be well. No one who knows wolves, as I shared in my book The Soul of the Wolf, would ever seek to kill one as a trophy or wear their fur as some fashionable adornment.
I challenge the bioethics of wolf and all wildlife management “science” that calibrates sustainable “harvesting” quotas and acceptable “recovery” counts. (For more discussion see my review article Wildlife Management and Ecological Dysbiosis posted on www .drfoxonehealth.com). From a bioethical perspective such management is purely anthropocentric. Like sustainable farming, wildlife management must be eco-centric; Natural systems work best when we step outside, and observe rather than intervene, control, exploit and kill, and see how much needs to be healed, healthful biodiversity restored, like encouraging wolf pack expansion in states like Minnesota and Wisconsin to help prevent the spread of Chronic wasting disease in deer and other cervids as well as Lyme and other tick borne diseases to humans and other animals.
The efforts of conservation and wildlife and biodiversity protection need support. Restraining order law suits and appeals are costly and take talent. Yet they are lambasted by pro-wolf hunting advocates and newspaper columnists like Dennis Anderson who sees the Gray wolf as a “cash cow for the Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental groups.” (Star Tribune, Oct 30⁄2020). Such disingenuous journalism is archaic and atavistic, if not anarchistic. The eco-tourist value of healthy wolf populations is coupled with the health of ecosystems to which wolves and other predators contribute. Predator “services” have been long documented as contributing to deer and other herbivore herd health and protection of forest habitat from over-grazing/browsing so fewer sapling trees are consumed, enabling forest regeneration, now additionally compromised by climate change.
Beyond anthropocentric religious belief, there is no science-based evidence that Nature was created for man’s exclusive use, becoming dysfunctional when so abused; or that other animals are our inferiors and are natural resources for our own use, best harvested “sustainably” (called wise stewardship) or to be exterminated as we chose. Indigenous peoples like the Ojibwe have a very different hunting ethic and regard for wolves, and decry this de-listing. For them, and others who share their worldview, the wolf is a totemic species, a sacred presence in the life-community worthy of equal and fair consideration.
Bridging and Healing the Great Divide
The 2020 U.S. Presidential election has highlighted how divided non-totalitarian states have become as they confront the reality of what best to do in the face of a global pandemic and a non-sustainable and harmful global economy based on polluting and climate-changing fossil fuels and petrochemicals. The conflict of jobs over pandemic-control closedowns and capitalism versus socialism, nationalism versus internationalism are microcosms of the macrocosm of our collective harming of person and planet from need and greed, ignorance and science-denial.
There can be no return to “business as usual.” The entire economic basis of our existence must be radically and quickly transformed and incentivized by the climate, environmental and public health benefits of closer to zero-carbon and carbon-sequestering industries especially in the energy, agricultural and transportation sectors. Collectively reducing pollution and restoring natural biodiversity are ethical imperatives for society since we, along with even more endangered species and the planet, are in crisis.
University of Connecticut Prof. of Biology Robin Chazdon, a contributor to the Campaign for Nature report (that calculates 55% of farmland, globally, could and should be returned to Nature without reducing current food-needs), asserts “The world is invested in its destruction.”. (Star Tribune, Can the world’s farming be a key to biodiversity? Oct 25, 2020) This report offers new evidence that the nature conservation sector drives economic growth, delivers key non-monetary benefits and is a net contributor to a resilient global economy and climate change reduction.(www.campaignfornature.org › cfn-reports) Several other reports offering solutions for governments and the public to embrace revolve around food production methods and consumer choices and the cessation of government subsidies to non-sustainable farming practices and inhumane animal factories. Major changes in how food is produced are needed if we want to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.( Science 06 Nov 2020:Clark et al. Global food system emissions could preclude achieving the 1.5° and 2°C climate change targets https://science.sciencemag.org/content/370/6517/705)
We do not all have to turn vegan overnight, but contribute to the greater good by consuming with conscience, certified organic and humanely produced plant and animal foods, linking with local farmer’s markets and community-supported agriculture as “locavores”—less food transportation, less fuel use, pollution and waste. But above all in changing how we live we must re-define what it means to be human and accept our responsibilities for planet Earth and all our relations, plant and animal, whose well-being is ultimately inseparable, from a One Health perspective, from our own. (https://onehealthinitiative.com).
Healing this great divide between us and the rest of the Earth community is ultimately enlightened self-interest and politically as well as ethically takes precedence over the short-term interests of the global industrial bio-technocracy with its continued harmful consequences as I documented in my book Brining Life to Ethics: Global Bioethics for a Humane Society. Science without ethics is potentially dangerous and ethics without science is limited.
Bioethics is the healing bridge, as the late Prof. Van Rensselaer Potter, MD who first proposed this unifying concept in his seminal 1971 book Bioethics: Bridge to the Future. It enables a cognitive shift from the egocentric and anthropocentric to the eco-centric, supported by creation-centered spirituality and by the Golden Rule evident in the teachings of all the world’s major religions. Between the Golden Rule and the Rule of Gold is the Delphic Golden Mean. Where, in a society of conspicuous consumption, destruction, obesity, cancer and other “diseases of civilization” do we chose to live within this mean? And respect the Golden Rule in finding that ethical point in our lives and politics where lies the fate of the wolf and all we embrace. The choice is ultimately ours and we can all surely rise above Nobel Prize laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer’s conclusion that “In relation to [animals], all people are Nazis; for the animals, it is an eternal Treblinka.”
Kiowa native American and Pulitzer prize winner N. Scott Momaday in his new book Earth Keeper (Harper Collins, NY, 2020) makes this very clear, stating “We humans must revere the earth, for it is our wellbeing.—If we treat the earth with kindness, it will treat us kindly.” Biologically, in our evolution, such love, including philopatry, our native attachment to place, familial bonds and biophilia, were essential to our survival.
In realizing our biological and ecological affinities and relationships with other species, plant, animal and microorganism (many of which nourish us and without which we would not survive) we discover the existential roots of our spiritual and ethical connections of interdependence, symbiosis, in the universal and universalizing links of empathy we experience in the power of love that some call God., Awe and wonder, joy and grief arise from that deep heart’s core of our humanity, the bulwark against our inhumanity and insanity. The continued slaughtering of wolves and other fellow creatures wild and domesticated is a moral injury to all who care which must end, otherwise we will bear witness to the extinction of ever more species and of our own humanity.