Meet: Wolf hunts

I wrote a post awhile ago called Everything’s a Circle. The thing that makes me saddest is when human beings as a whole don’t learn from the past and we just come round to where we were years ago, showing very little new knowledge.

Stated another way: My heart hurts when we fail to take our responsibilities seriously and that failure results in the destruction of life. Humans can be seen as masters of the planet, sure. But we must also be the caretakers.

gray wolf

gray wolf (Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Midwest Region)

Wolves have been important to me since high school, when I chose to write a report on their reintroduction to Yellowstone. As with bats, I loved this misunderstood species as soon as I began learning about them. In fact, they play a role in my novel. They are amazing creatures.

Instead of trying to summarize a Chicago Tribune editorial printed yesterday, I’m going to cut and paste it here. Please take a minute to read it. And please forward it to anyone you know who loves–or doesn’t love–animals. And remember, this isn’t just about hunting. It’s about protecting a species that is vital to our ecosystems.

Mostly, though, it’s about learning about the world around us so we can be better caretakers.

From the Trib:

The predator is canny, relentless and swarms in killer packs. It lives and loves to hunt whatever it desires, typically dropping prey animals in their tracks. The predator attacks without warning, preferably giving victims no chance to defend themselves. Unfortunately, it often pays little heed to whether it’s driving those it kills toward extinction.

The predator we’re discussing, of course, is homo sapiens, the species of human that for thousands of years has variously domesticated, admired and exterminated different types of wolves around much of planet Earth. This autumn that complex relationship, man and wolf, takes a lethal new turn in parts of the American Midwest: Wisconsin and Minnesota have scheduled wolf hunting seasons — even as animal welfare and wildlife groups seek legal interventions that would protect the vulnerable prey from the better-armed predator.

Four decades ago federal authorities rated gray wolves, this continent’s most numerous variety, as endangered — but not before hunters and livestock growers reduced their numbers to several hundred in the 48 contiguous states. Today that population is about 6,000, plus a larger number in Alaska. The Obama administration has declared the gray wolf fully recovered; next week, Wyoming becomes the fifth state with a sizable wolf census to legalize hunts.

How could the feds tolerate the hunting of an ecologically important creature that, by the mid-1900s, was hunted almost to oblivion? “… if you look at the Endangered Species Act,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe explained to The Washington Post, “it’s not an animal protection act. It’s a law designed to prevent the extinction of a species.”

That doesn’t mean the rest of us have to accept bare-minimum-survival as the maximum indulgence we’ll extend to a species that has been subject to so much irrational slaughter.

Step back and the pending hunts in Wisconsin and Minnesota come clearer into view: They’re part of an evident if undeclared war on wolves that is accelerating — and growing more controversial. Scan newspaper websites from across the American West and you’ll find frequent tussles as ranchers, farmers, lawmakers, judges and animal advocates debate the proper role of the wolf. Example:

On Thursday, federal appellate judges in Colorado heard arguments challenging a National Park Service decision to keep using human hunters — rather than simply introducing wolves — to limit the elk population in Rocky Mountain National Park; the elk can consume so much vegetation that other animals suffer. Before wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the mid-1990s, a surging elk census overbrowsed aspen trees and other vegetation at the expense of the park’s beaver and bison.

The notion of killing wolves that have rebounded from near extinction is far more provocative. Idaho last winter let hunters kill 252 wolves; trappers killed another 123. International attention focused on a trapper named Josh Bransford. This play-by-play comes from an Idaho Statesman editorial, “One trapper’s barbarism reflects badly on Idaho”:

When Bransford happened on a wolf in a leghold trap, standing in a circle of blood-tinged snow, he did not put his prey out of its misery. At least not before he posed for a photo — while he smiled in the foreground, the wounded wolf standing in the background. The photo, posted temporarily on a trapping website, went viral on the Internet. And when it did, Fish and Game went on the defensive. The agency said Bransford had a permit and permission from the landowners and had taken a required class in wolf trapping. Posing for the photo, instead of killing a suffering animal, is a breach of protocol, but not a violation of the law.

To many of the humans who have all but displaced wolves on the American landscape, the animals occupy an inconvenient spectrum ranging from costly to dangerous. Wolves do prey on livestock, although some cattlemen exaggerate the toll. And while wolves rarely attack humans, those animals tend to be rabid. The upshot: In parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan — a state that has not authorized hunts — the wolf has become a routine and accepted player in humanity’s interaction with nature.

That’s no reason to try to pet wolves. As it’s no reason to again risk losing them.

Worldwide, wolves have two principal enemies — tigers and … people. Strip away legislative and court efforts to diminish or protect gray wolves and you find a familiar collision of two forces: the desire of humans to control what they see as their environment, and potential extinction if wolf populations fall so low that disease could eradicate them.

The conflict pits people who would enjoy shooting wolves — think Sarah Palin, firing from an aircraft — against what a Montana wolf hunter interviewed on The Sportsman Channel called “a bunch of wingnut screwballs from wherever (telling) us how to manage wildlife.”

We aren’t anti-hunting. And we don’t always agree with Defenders of Wildlife and others working to protect an animal that plays such an outsized role in nature’s scheme. We do, though, wish Congress at least would lengthen the distance from endangered species to ready, aim, fire. Minnesota, where a hunt opens Nov. 3, plans to issue 6,000 licenses to enable the killing of 400 wolves.

We value those 400 wolves more than we do the personal enjoyment of those who want to kill the animals without even the saving grace of planning to eat them.

In the last century, Americans nearly exterminated one of its most ecologically valuable and majestic creatures. Ours will be a tamer, poorer nation if this century continues the slaughter.


17 thoughts on “Meet: Wolf hunts

  1. In a “Council of All Beings,” my daughter was a wolf. She told the group that she wasn’t mean, that her feeding herself helped the balance of the earth. It was all her idea and I was so proud. 🙂

  2. I’m a carnivore. I definitely understand the need & desire to protect home and livelihood, wolves do attack livestock and it is an issue for farmers. Calling an open hunting season on wolves, however, is *not* the answer. Hunters enjoy killing wolves for trophy reasons, only, there isn’t any consumption of the meat, it’s purely for sport, trophy & pelts. There needs to be a nationwide ban on the selling of wolf pelts, they are, and will continue to always be an endangered species as long as humans consume as much beef / poultry as we do. Wolves go where the food is, and with the increase in agricultural farmlands, subsequently the decrease in wolves natural habitats, that is where the food is. There are some very simple, non-lethal tricks farmers can use to keep wolves off their land, for example, keeping German Shepherds, or Great Pyrenees, or really any kind of large mountain dog can deter wolves from attacking livestock. Chicken coops need to be reinforced with heavy gauge wire, and brush needs to be kept to a minimum or cleared away.

    • You’re exactly right. Although I understand where ranchers and farmers are coming from, there are other options besides hunting wolves. They need to invest in those options. Plus, many farmers are subsidized for lost livestock. And, really, it should be seen as a cost of ranching–if you place a bunch of prey in the wolves’ home, you have to expect you’ll lose some to predation. It’s such a big issue and I could go on and on…

      • Right. Reinforce farms. And when the wolves or other predators are deprived of calves, sheep, and chickens–who are NOT armed, I might add–they will simply turn to eating pets and eventually children. BEEN THERE DONE THAT GOT THE SCARS.

        Stop tripping on rainbows and make friends with reality. Most of what you think you know about wolves–like that old saw, “no human has ever been attacked by a wolf”–is pure hippie-dippie bunkum.

        • “Mom” – I’m sorry you have scars from a wolf. That must have been horribly frightening. But I’m also sorry that your anger seems to be blinding you from what I and the Tribune editorial are saying. I hold no illusions about wolves–they’re wild animals. I have no desire to cuddle with one (nor slide down a rainbow–scared of heights). But wolves are also beneficial, an important link in a chain that, if broken, can have dire consequences–if you consider our ecosystems sacred, as I do.
          It is extremely rare that a wolf will attack a person, and even in those rare instances the wolf was usually rabid. Rabid dogs also attack people, but we don’t have open hunting season on them.
          There is a lot of info out there on both sides. Please read it with an open mind.

  3. Oh Jessica… This is so near and dear to my heart. And I’m so sad. I actually supported the Center For Biological Diversity’s campaign to stop the planned wolf slaughter. What humans fail to see is that the world spins on a delicate thread, one that can be set off balance with the eradication of a single species. You take one cog from the wheel, and you affect so much more — the trickle effect (the situation mentioned above, about Yellowstone’s imbalance without wolves is a primate example). I think there are responsible hunters out there, but I get really tired of comments like, “Oh- there are more (wolves, mountain lions, big horned sheep) out there than you know. There are plenty for us to hunt.” Really? Even wildlife management will agree it’s nearly impossible to keep accurate counts on the number of wild animals in a given population. Then you have the hunters who kill without permits or who don’t report their kill. Ugh. And, of course, there is the issue of killing for meat and killing for “fun.”

    And while I do feel for the ranchers, I’m with you. I often say to my hunting friends who side with the poor rancher whose cattle were attacked by a mountain lion (RARE at best), “Who brought cattle into the American southwest? They aren’t indigenous here. The mountain lion is. He’s simply surviving on something MAN forced into a foreign environment.” The same can be said of wolves (or insert other endangered animals). Sigh. Yes, I could go on and on and on ….

    • Yes, it reminds me of an article I read a couple years ago. A group of people who moved to a new subdivision built out in Wyoming were complaining to their local government that it wasn’t doing enough about the bear problem. Really.

  4. They really misunderstood animals. There is something so ethereal about wolves, it’s a shame that humans prey on them. Jodi Picoult’s latest book “Lone Wolf” really shows these animals in a new light, and I’ve a new appreciation of them since reading her novel.

    • I haven’t read that yet but I’ve been meaning to. I know it portrays them positively (I think) but the only review I read on it was the NRDC or the International Wolf Center or one of those orgs saying it wasn’t very accurate. I wonder which part…

  5. Jessica, this is such a strong issue in our community. I tend to agree with you but lots of people here in our woods feel differently. Wish we could learn to include the larger world in our viewpoint. (Loved your description of humans up above. Isn’t that true?)

    • Thanks, Kathy. I know there are a lot of people with the viewpoint that someone from Chicago should mind her own business. I don’t agree with that, since we’re all in the same country, and the same world, for that matter, and I don’t found my opinions solely with my heart. But for me the larger question is, why–many hunters and ranchers are also preservationists; why aren’t more? Why such an absolute hatred of wolves that seems to go beyond common sense?

      • Many people up here are afraid. They’ve had their little pets eaten by wolves (not a lot of people–only a handful). Perhaps when meeting wolves in the woods they are fearful about how quickly they could lose their lives. They perhaps feel helpless. I don’t know. I think what goes beyond common sense is deep insecurity.

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