Saturday, May 31, 2008

Beloved, Numbered Wolf Killed!

Salondotcom, which I understand to be relatively widely read, is a fairly sloppy place, or at least seems that way, given the high production values of its web design, which contrasts quite a bit with the writing therein.

That's not here or there, but they do have a theoretically interesting article about the removal of "wolves" (there's only one kind, apparently) from the protected species list.
The animals are very much so anthropomorphized in the article, one limpy one in particular:

"Born to the Druid Peak pack, Limpy was wounded in a fierce fight with a neighboring pack, the Nez Perce, before he was a year old. After the injury, he could hardly use his back left leg for the rest of his life."

Nevermind the very odd fact that a pack of wolves is called the "Nez Perce," the point is, Limpy, aka 253M, is the hero of the story, and has recently been shot dead by a rancher (apparently the impetus for the piece). I'm sure lots of readers have opinions on this measure that go beyond considering wolves to be people (Native American people in particular, it would seem), and since I have the privilege of writing from complete ignorance, I'm anxious to hear: Should wolves be endangered? Protected? Killed? What the dilly, yo?

The Salon piece is here:


Mike Spies said...

I am not a fan of killing animals that I don't eat. That said, I would want to know some actual facts and hear from people with both oars in the water on the subject.

Poking around on revealed that Katharine Mieszkowski is a Senior Writer listed under Technology and Business. OK, guess that qualifies her to write on gray wolves in the Northern Rockies. Whaddya think?

Looking at the list of stories that popped up on a search of the site reveals a lot of political coverage written by her that, well, exhibits a certain point of view. Possibly she is also qualified to write on political subjects as well. Her superficial treatment of the Wolves article was revealed when she quoted an 'author of children's books' in a context that might have better been summed up by a naturalist. Or maybe interview a rancher? A game biologist about the states plans for wolves? I dunno, to much work or too many facts, maybe.

As for the wolves getting 'gunned down' , in no state that I know of does delisting a species from the ESA mean open season. Even when classed as game animals or vermin, wildlife is managed under the laws of the state.

If you think that Ms. Mieszkowski is out of her depth on this subject matter pop her an e-mail and say so...

Steve Bodio said...

I'd like to hear from Cat Urbigkit; and see if I can get comment from Valerius Geist.

I'll have some thoughts too later. But wolves can be ANYTHING to different "ideologies"-- the hard thing is to see wolves as wolves.

margory said...

Even the New York Times this week ran an editorial about the delisting of the wolf -- noting that in Idaho for $10.50 tags can be bought to kill 428 wolves.

Animals are so wildly misunderstood and the wolf exemplies I think this misunderstanding in ways I can't even begin to articulate.

I've not read the Salon piece and frankly don't read there much. My take, based on my own biases and stubborness, is that this delisting has more to do with real estate and somebody's monetary gain than it does for conservation and wolf welfare.

EmilyS said...

1)In Wyoming, wolves outside of their designated (limited) area MAY be shot on sight, for any, or no, reason. Yes. That's the issue that help up federal approval of the state management plan.
2) There is also a trophy hunting season (not yet implemented).
3)And of course, as always, wolves known to be killing livestock may be killed.

No one I know of, even the most hardcore wolf advocate, objects to #3, and most grudgingly accept #2.

It's #1 that's a fiasco.. killing wolves just "because".

That's one of the things that drove them to extinction in the western USA. And the public outcry could very well doom the other, more reasonable, parts of the management plan, eliminating all but depradation killing.

PBurns said...

The story of the wolf in North America is interesting, and it is a shifting story.

Here in the U.S. we killed wolves wholesale, using poison, traps, clubs, rifles, and even laying out mackerel hooks inside lumps of meat and fat. Nothing was too brutal in the quest to exterminate the wolf, and by 1880 a large part of America was wolf-free.

The wolf hung on into the 20th Century, however, in large part because the bounty system did not pay enough for people to spend months tracking down the last western wolves which were smarter and more trap-shy than most. When the Government began paying a professional cadre of wolfers to exterminate the last of their kind, however, the fate of the wolf was sealed.

Ironically, one of the last Government wolfers was Aldo Leopold, then a young man working for the U.S. Forest Service in New Mexico. Leopold went on to write the first book on Game Management in the U.S., and became, posthumously, an icon of the modern environmental movement with his memoir, A Sand County Almanac.

Buried in that little book is an essay called "Thinking Like a Mountain," and within it a section in which Leopold observes the dying of a "fierce green light" within a wolf as it bleeds out on on rock after being shot.

Up until that hunt, Leopold had thought what he had been doing was good for deer and the mountain, but after seeing the wolf die he suspected neither the deer nor the mountain agreed with that view.

In time, as deer overgrazed sections of the West and East, Leopold began to fully understand the importance of keeping top predators in the eco-system. "A thing is right," he wrote "when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of a biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."

But Leopold came to this conclusion may decades after shooting out the last wolves of New Mexico, and in his youth he was among the cadres of Government wolfers who told stories about wolf hunts in order to help raise cash to support the public extermination effort.

Government-sponsored wolfers created traveling displays of wolf pelts and wolf skulls. These displays and stories memorialized the last of the western wolves and gave them names: The Custer Wolf, Old Three Toes, Old Lefty, and Old Rags the Digger, among them.

By giving individual wolves names and personalies, Government trappers helped break down the wall between wolf myth and wolf reality. The wolf, which had once seemed threatening, dangerous and mysterious, now became the outlaw hero of the story, and an emblem of the last days of the romantic (and dying) American frontier.

The entire story is told in Jon T. Coleman's book "Vicious: Wolves and Men in America." The book is not a text on wolf biology, but a history book that analyzes the gaps and nexus between wolf myth and wolf reality. Though well-written, it is more than a little burdened by the weight of being overly-academic and spending perhaps too much time on folklore and not enough on basic wolf biology. No matter - if you have ever wondered how the wolf went from pariaha to paragon in the space of 50 years, this book tells the tale.

Coleman suggests that the wolf reintroduction efforts of the 1990s (which have been quite successful) occurred because America is now mostly urban and has little contact with farm animals which now come from protected feed lots rather than the free-range forests and fields where wolf, ranchers, farmers and livestock once battled.

"Human predation has become so technical and abstract [in the late 20th Century] that the consumers of animal protein no longer feel emotionally connected to the beasts they ingest...
Reintroduced wolves have thrived in a cultural environment that accepts the scientific extermination of millions of domestic animals but rejects violence towards a handful of wild creatures."

Without a doubt, some troublesome wolves will always have to be shot, trapped or poisoned, but most wolves are harmning no one, and if they are taking stock on National Forest land, that tough tits to the rancher. Now I think Steve B. and I disagree on this last point (which is OK with both of us, I suspect), but I do not think there is a RIGHT to private gain off of public domain, and there is certainly no right to kill wolves off of land owned by the American people, not the rancher. If ranchers do not like the economics of grazing animals on National Forest land, they can go elsewhere. Ditto for the timber folks. That said, if a wolf comes on to private property OWNED OUTRIGHT by a rancher, and takes his or her stock, a bullet to the brain is what will always be expected. The National Forest land is enough; wolves do not need any more. But they DO need that.


Mike Spies said...

Patrick wrote:
"Human predation has become so technical and abstract [in the late 20th Century] that the consumers of animal protein no longer feel emotionally connected to the beasts they ingest... Reintroduced wolves have thrived in a cultural environment that accepts the scientific extermination of millions of domestic animals but rejects violence towards a handful of wild creatures."

There are millions of urban and suburban Americans that, through their emotional response to wild things, reveal a cultural nostalgia - and perhaps guilt - for the peopling of wild places and its effect on wildlife and the land. But the idealization of pure wilderness and the 'balance of nature' myth has not been accompanied by real world knowledge. As a result we see an emotional response in the form of 'sound bite' thinking, exemplified by Ms. Mieszkowski's treatment of this subject.

Collectively we can afford this remove because of the insulation our current culture has provided. With the exception of the small minority who still live on and in the land and struggle to maintain an older culture, we no longer depend on the natural world in ways that are self evident - barring the occasional mega-disaster.

Across the divide between the dominant culture and the older culture lies the Gulf of Misunderstanding. There be dragons.

Anonymous said...

when did the "balance of nature" become a myth? was it the scientists who are in charge of creating that myth then? Not that nature is in balance now, but that is primarily because man has been messing with it for so long.
We have changed the landscape completely by planting non native species, by releasing non native fish, and other wildlife purposefully, or accidentally (for instance most of the native avian population in Hawaii have been decimated by snakes that flew in on planes from India). Or by killing off top predators, or trying to use a non native species to get rid of a native one and finding out that the ones that were introduced have no predators in the new environments..on and nauseam! Read 'the sixth extinction' by Richard E. Leakey and Roger Lewin. It is an amazing and shocking book.
I love my pets, and I will do whatever I can to protect them from the wild, but..I still wouldn't put their life ahead of that wildlife. Because of us the wildlife is so disadvantaged that they can afford precious little more. They have lost their breeding habitat, they have lost their food sources, they can barely make their annual migrations..It is commonly believed by scientists that by the year 2050 we will loose half of all biological species on the planet. Half! Though global warming is feared to take a big toll, that is not the primary reason feared for the loss. The biggest reason is loss of habitat.
Patrick is very eloquent and well spoken. Thanks for that! nature needs all the eloquence and intelligence it can squeeze out of us...

Mike Spies said...

The "balance of nature" does not exist. You can look back in the 10 thousand or 10 million years fossil record to understand why... the environment is dynamic and constantly changing. Thus the stasis that would allow a balance of natural forces does not exist. Change trumps all, as you point out in your post.

Heather said...

Can we agree on "a dynamic and ever-responsive impetus towards equilibrium in natural systems?"

Bit more of a mouthful, I'll admit.

And can we agree that deliberately and with malice aforethought driving an apex predator to extinction over a large and diverse natural system has an effect, to whit, that natural system is now thoroughly F-ed up?

As Patrick points out, it was not New Agers with dream catchers hanging from their rear-views who first personified wolves as (a) embodiments of certain human moral traits; or (b) surrogates for certain human groups who are "other." That goes back a long way, and it came to a crescendo in this country whilst Europeans were "taming" it.

The people who demonize the wolf -- the shoot-on-sight yahoos -- are no more objective than those who think of them as "little Boy Scouts in fur suits." (I cannot remember the writer who turned that phrase. Anyone?)

Or to put it bluntly, crazed anti-wolf ideologues started it. And they've had their way for over a century. Enough.

Barry Lopez' Of Wolves and Men about covers it, culturally speaking.

Steve Bodio said...

More coming. But I love the old Canadian trapper who supplied wolves for the Yellowstone restoration and who is alleged to have said: "the ranchers think wolves live on cows and the environmentalists think they live on mice. They're both full of shit."