Wolves and all Wildlife Belong in Our Democracy: And Their Protectors

Wolves and All Wildlife Belong in Our Democracy: And Their Protectors.

                                 By Dr. Michael W. Fox

Wolves lived for generations long before us in Nature’s economic democracy as a family, pack and clan-centered and supported species, much like the indigenous Anishinaabe peoples who came into North America millennia later. They came to know and regarded the wolf as a kindred spirit sharing many valued human traits of kinship, cooperation and survival skills worthy of reverential respect.

Now the descendants of these wolves are being killed for sport, prized as trophies by some perverted sense of manhood, trapped for their fur and poisoned for killing livestock. Their hunting ranges are depleted, fragmented and shrink with human encroachment especially under the impetus of the timber and commodity crop agribusinesses.

The recent open season on wolf killing of this indigenous species 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 February 2021 wolf hunt in Wisconsin (“Wolves weren’t butchered after all”, Star Tribune, Oct 13th 2022) 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 their concerted extermination of wolves and other perceived threats to settlement and expansion. Anderson’s outdated and still widely shared view of wolf management (and bears) through setting annual kill-quotas is not science-based from an ecological perspective of protecting and restoring biodiversity, but rather, of a cultish tradition and economy-based support of the recreational hunting, commercial trapping and livestock industries.

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 and respect for indigenous species and their domains as they once did to the first human settlers of this great continent, the Anishinaabe. They were gatherer-hunters before some tribes were engaged by the European fur trade to exploit wildlife for profit rather than living traditionally in sustainable harmony with all, because that was enlightened self-interest.

As Aldo Leopold, the “father of wildlife management,” and who, as a U.S. Forest Service employee in 1920 had called for the extermination of wolves and mountain lions throughout the West, wrote in his book A Sand County Almanac, “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 hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.”

Aldo Leopold helped establish what today is called the Land Ethic, asserting in this seminal book “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, Mr. Anderson, in this long Star Tribune article, under the subtitle “Lessons found in 2021 wolf hunt” notes that hunting wolves (and bears) with running dogs is not allowed in Minnesota but is in Wisconsin, “as was the case in Wisconsin in 2021, when they were in prime condition following a long winter of coyote hunting.” He then goes on to assert, after providing quasi documentation of the Wisconsin wolf population being “still far above its ‘recovered’ status” after this 2021 hunt, that “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 giving multiple permits to hunters and trappers and allowing baiting, night hunting and snaring, noting the wolf kill “was generally unchanged” in 2021-2022.

Clearly, from his perspective and of many others of like mind, wolves are a natural resource to be sustainably managed by killing/harvesting and there is no risk to their numbers when reduced in order to lower livestock predation because they will eventually “recover.” Wolves may well prey on livestock when their main food-source, White tail deer, is reduced annually by some 15% by Minnesota hunters. Their “recovery” when hunting quotas are set, illegal poaching also a factor, involves pack disruption, dispersal, starvation and suffering from injuries. especially gut-shots. Wolf numbers without human interference are self-regulating through pack structure and prey availability in their territories.

But perhaps times are changing and Aldo 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 state 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. Members of the Wedge Pack have been killed before for allegedly preying on cattle, but the area is prime habitat for the endangered species, and new packs have formed. Full Story: The Associated Press (10/10/22).

The World Wildlife Fund for Nature’s report of a 69% average decline in wildlife populations around the world between 1970 and 2018 is in part due to intensive and extensive (“rangeland”) livestock production, the timber and commodity crop agribusiness industries which also contribute significantly to climate change. (https://www.worldwildlife.org › press-releases › 69-ave..)

Compensating livestock owners who practice non-lethal methods of predator control, as with guard dogs, for veterinary-verified wolf-kills would be preferable to wolf extermination and a step toward coexistence analogous to the human-bear conflict reducing diversionary feeding which is also a humane initiative with ever more forest fires, droughts and lack of wild foods ( Rogers, L. L. 2011. Does diversionary feeding create nuisance bears and jeopardize public safety? Human-Wildlife Interactions. 5(2): 287-295.) I recall a cattle herder whom I interviewed while studying predators in the Indian jungle in the 1970s who told me he accepted some losses as “paying his rent” to the tiger and other predators whose habitat he was exploiting.

It is, perhaps, poetic irony, if not Nature’s retribution, that we are suffering the catastrophic and escalating consequences of climate change and of potentially pandemic diseases (zoonoses) that natural biodiversity once helped contain, as the science of One Health affirms. An amendment to the U.S. Constitution incorporating the essence of a Universal Bill of Rights for Animals and Nature codified in 2011 in my book Animals and Nature First could establish the U.S. as the leader for the formation of a United Environmental Nations to collaboratively achieve the One Health imperatives of planetary CPR-conservation, protection and restoration. We are surely not powerless to stop the wanton destruction, the needless killing and endless suffering. In a democracy restored there would be justice for all.