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.

Take a Risk, Leave a Risk

When I started as a legislative assistant for a state senator in Minnesota, every day that I walked up the huge, stone steps and entered the Capitol, I looked around me in awe: the grand marble staircase, the painted dome ceiling, the pillars and statues. All beautiful representations of democracy. This is where I get to work, I thought. My coworker told me I’d get over it, but in three years, I never did.

Dave Wilson Photography

I had a similar awe for the senators around me–at first. I was nervous, I stuttered too often, my fingers felt like Jell-o. In meetings, I was quiet even when I wanted to speak. If the majority leader came in and chatted with me, my back started to sweat.

I seemed to hold the same reverence for the senators as I did the institution itself. Except, I learned, the senators weren’t works of art. They laughed until they cried, they cried until they laughed, they were intelligent and not so much. One popped into our office every day to grab the newspaper before heading to the john (we were right next door). Another was openly insecure about her authority. They worked hard, they lazed, they fought, and they made momentous strides in governance.

In short, they were human. (Not counting Michele Bachmann.)

My favorite lesson from that wonderful whirlwind of a job is this: No one is better than me. And I am not better than anyone. We’re all the same, in many ways. (Insert other obvious exceptions here.)

Of course, I was told similar things since I was little. But hearing a lesson is different from living one, isn’t it? That experience gave me the confidence to take risks–to direct communications for a statewide campaign having never even volunteered on a campaign before, to travel alone, attend a conference where I knew no one, write a novel, start a blog.

So — take one of my risks, if you’re partial. But leave one for me: tell me what risks you’ve taken.

“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”

 — Pablo Picasso


Edith Chandler Kinder was born on a small farm in the woods of northern Minnesota in 1923. At the age of eighty-three, Edith, my grandmother-in-law, politely allowed me to interview her, slightly flummoxed as to why I should care. For over an hour, she answered my questions in her lilting, singing voice, often resting fingers bent by age on her cheek as she reminisced. Following is an excerpt:

I was born in Minnesota. A township, but we always used Ballclub, Minnesota as our mailing address. Ballclub was kind of an Indian community. They had an Indian school there. And so I was the eighth child, and the first delivery my mother ever had a doctor attending her. And she got mad at him because all he did was sit in the living room and talk with the men. That’s what she said he did!

Anyway, all went well. And I was a momma’s girl all my life. My dad left us when I was three years old. He was, I think, a nice man. I never really knew him. But he would drink. Not all the time. He was more like a drunk on the weekend or when he got his paycheck for the logs. He was a logger. And he’d go to town and he’d get his money and then he’d pay his bills and then he’d drink the rest. So my mother had a hard time that way.

He hit her. I remember it. I was there. I was three and we had a bedroom, the boys’ bedroom. Was two double beds and then just an alleyway between the two and he had her down, hitting on her. And I remember jumping up and down on the bed, screaming. That’s all I remember about it. From then on, he could not come back. So I don’t know if that was the first abuse and she said once is enough, or if there was trouble. I don’t know why it was so cut and dried, right away. That’s all I know about it. But, you see, when I came along everybody was tired of talking about everything. I didn’t hear a lot of things.

[We had] maybe at a time ten milking cows and my older brothers would come home and help put up hay in the summer for these cows. And [my mother] sold the cream. A few dollars a week. And that’s what she supported us on.

My mother came from Norway when she was three years old. Had two sisters that lived in the neighborhood, they were always good friends. And that’s where my cousins come so important now in our life. Because we were brought up with them, out there on the farm. But they had dads, yet. I really didn’t know about having a dad and I sure never missed it. I think if you have one good parent, that’s about enough.

My mother had six boys in a row. And then she had two girls. And then somewhere long about the fourth boy, whose name was James Thomas, her little old log house caught fire. And some of the boys were in the house with her and she set them outside. You know, you only had a pail of water. You carried a pail of water from the well. That’s all she had. She threw it on the fire but it didn’t do anything. So by then she went outside and the little one was missing. Little James Thomas was just walking age. And she had to go back into the burning house to find him, and hunted for him, and she got burned, badly. And she found him hiding behind a door, to get away from the fire. But he was burned badly, and he died.

And they didn’t expect her to live. She said that when she was lying in this bed in this so-called hospital, she heard her two sisters talking about who was going to take her other boys.

Simple little things stick in my mind. One night, my youngest brother was pitching hay off the haystack, feeding the cows. And I was lying on top of this haystack, and it was the most beautiful night. I can still see it. In the middle of winter. Cold night. Sparkly stars. That has always stuck in my mind. Beautiful.