Monday, April 12, 2010
Wolves and Men
There are those who have made a career out of ‘demythologizing’ wolves. In its place they are attempting to produce another mythology in which man and wolf is some sort of brother. I think that the main thrust is the reaction to the image of trigger happy hunters conjured up in which these splendid animals are mercilessly hunted down. It is hard not to feel sympathetic.
I consider the reintroduction of wolves as unnecessary and potentially a large problem. The pioneers hunted them to extinction for one very good reason, and it was not for the stew pot or the hide. A wolf is a direct competitor of humanity. They will take down a cow every second day or so.
Yellowstone population is surely now maxed out and the packs will be producing twice as many animals or so every year who will look to leave the park and hunt cattle. Their presence throughout the region says that this has already happened.
Wolves will kill horses and cattle and unwary humans. They kill often.
The depredations of all other carnivores are easily controlled or they are small enough to not pose a significant threat. Bears in particular can be constrained to hunting ranges without too much fuss because of the limitations imposed by hibernation.
We cannot control wolves in quite the same manner. They can and will travel hundreds of miles in packs. Fortunately, we presently travel in safe vehicles.
Author, "Liz Claiborne: The Legend, The Woman"
Posted: April 7, 2010
It was of little concern to the aging Nunamiut Eskimo hunter and the research biologist the day they met in 1976 that events in the outer world were troublesome: Watergate, Vietnam, the emergence of the new lioness, Margaret Thatcher: all nothing to the hunter and the wolf. Caribou were their concern. "The wolf," the old man said, "is my fellow hunter. We speak the same language, have the same needs. We know the blizzard and how to step forward even though blinded by the whipping weather, being sure of each step. We follow our brother, the raven because he leads us to caribou. If we falter, we die. We learn from each other. We are both animals in need of life."
Barry Lopez was the research man in converse with the Eskimo. His monumental book "Of Wolves and Men" traced the brotherhood over time, of these two predacious species: the top predators of the world, the most widely dispersed species on this planet.
This essay is a reminder of how we learn about wildness and how the loss of wildness diminishes us all. The grey wolf, accused of being a savage killing machine, has much to teach us. As a social being we try to replicate the sense of family that is natural to the wolf. The rearing of the young and the unfailing attention to the development of the social group is imbedded in the nature of the wolf. In that sense we are brothers, embarked on the same journey through life. Thus when 31 grey wolves were reintroduced to
in 1995/6 it seemed we humans were reinserting a valuable piece to make whole the naturalness of the park. It was more than fifty years since all the pieces were back on the ground. Yellowstone National Park
From that beginning and the reintroduction of wolves into Idaho and Wyoming and the natural recovery of wolves in northwestern Montana that started in 1986, the northern Rocky Mountain wolf population steadily grew to its current level of at least 1706 wolves: 843 in Idaho, 524 in Montana, 320 in Wyoming, and a handful in Oregon and Washington.
The grey wolf's reputation is under severe pressure these days. It seems that each day brings negative headlines in wolf country: negative from the outfitters who feel that wolves deprive them of deer and elk, negative from academics who feel that presence of wolves can lead to infertility in deer and elk, negative from the public and negative for good reason from ranchers who lose livestock to wolves. There are state compensation programs in
Montana, Idaho and , as well as nonlethal preventive programs utilizing a host of measures including guard dogs, mounted sentries, electric fences, scare devices but depredations remain emotionally charged and controversial. Wyoming
The wolf was reintroduced into
Idaho and in 1995. Wolves, bear, bison and a variety of ungulates had been removed from the landscape in the early 1900's. By 1930 the wolf population in the northern Montana Rockies had been exterminated. But as land - use patterns stabilized, ungulates returned, as did their predators, and by the 1970's, bounties on their heads or not, predators remained. The healthy growth and renewal of vegetation depends on the movement of grazing and browsing animals. Predators keep them moving and thereby the food chain grew richer and more varied.
May 4 of this year marks the second anniversary of the states, except for
, and tribes taking over the management of wolves from the federal government. Wolves are back to stay despite their being gunned down from helicopters, snared and shot on the ground. We humans will either continue being enraged or learn what the wolf's presence teaches us. As the old Eskimo told Barry Lopez, "we are brothers in the hunt." The wolf's loyalty to his family, his disciplined hunting ability, his ferocious beauty and endurance are traits that human beings profess to admire. Wyoming
Aldo Leopold, conservationist, philosopher, author of "A
Almanac," published in 1948, through his magical writing introduced us to the concept of a "land ethic," and to our obligation to maintain the health of the land and to treasure the pieces of life that make the land fertile and beautiful. In that timeless book he wrote an essay titled "Thinking Like a Mountain." He was on a hunting trip and came upon a group of wolves "tumbled in the center of an open flat at the foot of our rimrock. In those days," he wrote, "we had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf. In a second we were pumping lead into the pack, but with more excitement than accuracy..... When our rifles were empty, the old wolf was down.... 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 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." Leopold closed his essay by quoting Thoreau: "In wildness is the salvation of the world. Perhaps this is the hidden meaning in the howl of the wolf, long known among mountains, but seldom perceived among men." Sand County
Years later, in 1993, Mollie Beattie was sworn in as the first woman director of the
Fish and Wildlife Service. She had been a forester and was the leading voice for conservation in the United States administration. She claimed that under the bible that she rested her hand on during the swearing-in ceremony, she had placed a copy of "A Clinton Almanac." She championed the Endangered Species Act, brought habitat and ecosystem protection to the forefront, and adored wolves. Her tenure was short; she was afflicted with a brain tumor and was forced to resign after only three years in her position. She died shortly afterward at the age of 49. She once said to a colleague as she was handling a wolf pup, "Any day I can touch a wild wolf is a good day." Sand County
Mollie was a close friend of another champion of wolves, Renee Askins. Our foundation supported her until she closed shop. Renee organized The Wolf Fund in 1986, mandated to reintroduce wolves into
Yellowstone. And when her mission was successful, she did indeed walk away. She had made a deal to reinstate wildness into Yellowstone, and to keep the wildness in her own spirit it was necessary to leave the wolves to their own management.
There are people who work with children to demythologize the fairy tales about wicked wolves: "The Three Little Pigs," for instance, and "Little Red Riding Hood." Our foundation worked for a number of years with two of these people, Pat Tucker and Bruce Weide, two Montanans living a few miles south of
. They founded a program called "Wild Sentry Missoula Northern Rockies Ambassador Wolf Program," which our foundation supported for five years. The purpose was to present information about wolves to schools and communities primarily in wolf recovery areas. Wild Sentry's program consisted of slide presentations accompanied by demonstrations with Koani, a captive-bred wolf. Children were often asked to draw wolves prior to the presentation and then after the presentation. The big, bad wolf, fangs dripping, happily morphed into the likes of a handsome, playful German shepherd. Bruce and Pat have long retired. The children they worked with have grown up - the 170,000 people who met Koani have all reverted, it seems, to fear and loathing of wolves. Nevertheless, to repeat, the wolf is back to stay. And we are wise to accept the music of his evening songs as an ode to life.
What have these poets of nature taught us - Aldo Leopold, Mollie Beattie, Renee Askins, Barry Lopez and others? That our children must care about the natural world, about the beauty of creation, about the life that is enriched through the knowing that we travel through time and space as a part of an evolving overall plan.