Monday, April 6, 2009

The Wolf Issue, Part II

So, I've now introduced you to the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone. I think I want to talk a bit about wolves, their biology, their behavior, and, especially, their social behavior. I want to give you some bits of information, and let you judge, for yourself, whether or not wolves should have a place on the land.

Aldo Leopold did many things during his lifetime but was more notable known as a naturalist/conservationist. (He wasn't always; Do a bit of research and find out what changed his life and his attitude). But I wanted to throw a couple of his quotes in here, quotes with which I think you might agree.

"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." -Aldo Leopold

"A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise." -Aldo Leopold

Now, here are two questions I'd like you to ask yourself and see if you can answer at this point in your life: 1) Are wolves, as a part of nature, helping preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community (the community of all life in the Northern Rockies Recovery Area)? 2) Would allowing or supporting ranchers and hunters to kill off the wolf population in the biotic community, in which they live, help to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty?

What do we know about wolves and this recovery program?
*Since 1996, the wolf numbers have gone up every year, except this year, when it went down. (So, we began with 66; we now have about 1600).
*In 2008, livestock predation cases numbered 523 for all of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. About 245 wolves were LEGALLY killed in those states. (These are the reported numbers. It's expected that there are more killed illegally, which aren't reported).
*The Federal Government, in conjunction with the original reintroduction agreement, and along with other non-profit organizations, compensates ranchers for livestock lost to wolf predation.

So there are conflicts, between wolves and people who don't like wolves, or who do not want them around. That was pretty much a known going into the program. But there have always been efforts to lessen these conflicts, through lethal and non-lethal means. The point is, while there will always be some conflict, we can deal with it, and we can try and make it as fair as possible to all sides. While I want the rancher to be protected as he makes his living, I want tolerance and patience for the existence of wolves.

OK, I'm getting a little fuzzy with where to go from here. (I have a tendency to get off on tangents, regardless of the subject).

Why do ranchers hate wolves? Because wolves eat their livestock. That's the simple answer to it. The complex answer is that they're afraid that wolves will eat all their livestock, even if they've not had any wolf problems yet. And that would be bad for their business. I realize ranching is hard work. I realize that squeezing a buck out of all that work is really hard. But I also think there can be middle ground. I donate to a charity every year that pays into the compensation fund. That's right Mr. Rancher; I want to protect you too. But you have to take some responsibility. You have to assume some risk; That's just part of owning a business. Also, if you summer your animals up in the mountains or on "Free range," you've definitely got to assume some risk. (That's when most predation occurs). You can do things to protect your herds/flocks. Use guard dogs. This is extremely effective. Ride through your herds as often as possible to portray a human presence. (Wolves will avoid humans at almost all costs). OK, here's one of the most innovative things I've heard, but it was done in Europe, not here. Because wolves are fiercely territorial, and are usually pretty staunch about not crossing another pack's boundaries, a sheep rancher put a few loud speakers around his property and played recordings of a pack of wolves' defensive howls, several times a day. It worked like a charm. Zero wolf run-ins. I realize this isn't going to feasible in every case. But put your cowboy hats together. Surely you can come up with something.

Hunters. Oh the hunters. They should call most of you opportunistic killers of lazy convenience. Why do the hunters hate wolves? (Not all hunters do, I realize.) Because wolves are predators and hunters don't like competing with natural predators for game. Hunters like elk. Wolves like elk. The problem for hunters is that a pack of wolves is the supreme killing machine, and wolves don't have to wait until hunting season, or to see if they "drew a tag." I would dare say, and I'm not very naive on the subject, that MOST hunters do their hunting these days, primarily for a nice trophy to hang on a wall, with which to impress themselves and their peers. The meat is secondary, if used and eaten at all. (How about those trophy hunters going on "Safari" in Africa? Talk about a canned hunt. And they don't get to bring the meat home. What a blood-letting waste.) Wolves kill because they have to. If they don't they die. Face it Mr. Hunter; if a 90lb. wild dog can bring an elk down, it deserves that meal. And driving on the dirt roads in your huge truck or on your ATV, sporting your expensive gear, not the least of which is your high-powered rifle and scope, which you'll use to make that 500 yard shot, IS NOT HUNTING. How do I know? Because I grew up hunting. Anyway, while I can get behind the ranchers a bit, I just cannot conjure up anything sympathy for your plight. Sorry.

I think the hostility toward wolves is rooted in the traditions of hunting and ranching in the West. But I also think a lack of understanding and education is a big factor as well. Most of these anti-wolf people have never seen a wolf in the wild. Many of them cannot tell the difference between wolves and coyotes. Really, I think education about wolves and wolf biology would go a long way in quelling the madness. You many want to pick up another book, or visit some good websites, especially if the last pieces of literature you read were "Little Red Riding Hood," or "The Three Little Pigs."

Hunters will argue that their side should trump mine because of all the money they spend on licenses, permits, tags, and such, some of which ends up in conservation efforts. I think that's great. I too spend money on conservation efforts. I think it's a worthy cause. I'm glad you like to hunt. I just wish more of you did it for meat only. (I think you'd be a little less competitive and angry if you weren't so preoccupied with getting a bigger trophy than your buddies.) I'll add this as well: In Utah, according to the USFWS Survey, for every $1 spent on hunting and fishing, $2 are spent on wildlife watching. So, maybe my side trumps yours? No, remember I believe that we can reach middle ground and have everyone win in some way.

OK. I'll end there. There will be a Part III very soon, which will talk about all of the positives of having wolves back in the Wild West.

***Oh yeah, why did I post a picture of my two dogs? I'll touch more on that next time but, it's because our domesticated pet dogs are the same species as wolves. That's right, if it weren't for wolves, the rancher wouldn't have his heelers, the hunter wouldn't have his hounds, and Paris Hilton wouldn't have her tea cup poodle accessories. OH BROTHER!!!


Kari said...

I just spent some time researching Aldo Leopold. I found some very interesting things about him but nothing that related to your referrence about his attitude changing. Do you have a link to somewhere that does talk about, because I am very interested in reading more about him.

Wade The Rascal said...

I'll see if I can find a link. But basically, he was a hired bounty hunter for a a bit. After shooting a wolf, he walked up to it to see it die. He talked about looking into that beautiful wolf's eyes and seeing the fire dying inside. He then had sort of an epiphany and thought, "What have I done?" It was then that he had that change in attitude. I had a similar experience happen to me, the last time I hunted big game. (I was 17). It's why I don't hunt any more. Anyway, that's the gist. I'll see if I can find a better reference though.

Bombowly said...

Again nice post Wade. Not quite as moderate as your last one, but lots of good points. I agree with a lot of it. There was an episode in my ethics class talking about Aldo Leopold and his book The Sand County Almanac which most people agree inspired today's environmental movement. Interesting stuff.

You know that I am very moderate when it comes to environmentalism, heck, I created the anti-environmentalist club as a joke to counter act all the extreme environmentalism at the time. If I ever make those "earth first we'll strip mine the other planets later" bumper stickers I am totally putting one on your van in the middle of the night right next to the Obama '08 sticker. That would be pure comedy right there.

Anyway, the truth is I am probably a lot more environmentally minded that most people. I do think there should be a balance though, and that is why I am moderate. I think Man is the steward of the earth and we should be good stewards, and if that means we can find a way to get some oil out of central Utah responsibly and in a way that would benefit our local and state economy with minimal environmental damage I say go for it. I do realize that the people in charge of getting that oil do not have the environments best interest in mind. That is why I am moderate. In situations like that I don't side with either camp.

Anyway back to wolves. I would love to hear more about the family relationships of wolves (ala Never Cry Wolf) in your next installment if you have time. I will look forward to the next one. Peace out.

Kari said...

I grew up in a hunting family, one of my grandpas owned a gun store, so that side was very much involved in the hunting realm. I never once saw an antler or other trophy displayed in any family members home. I know they definitely enjoyed the “sport” of hunting but they did hunt for the meat, not the trophy. Even growing up in that environment, I’m still not a fan. I remember helping my dad clean a deer one year and he had me stand behind the hanging carcass to steady it as he opened up the rib cage. I started crying because all I could think was how much it felt like I had my arms wrapped around a human’s chest.

On the other side I also grew up with a mom that made sure to take the back roads when ever possible, just so we could look at animals in the dwindling fields. Both of my parents would stop on the freeway to just to get a better look at some bird or plant on the side of the road. I have many childhood memories of doing things like helping my dad climb a very tall tree to put back a young red tailed hawk that had fallen out of its nest.

It makes me very sad that I can’t drive through a lot of those same fields with my son, because they are now housing developments. I feel like the more we “develop” our land, the more we take away its value. I think you just have to find the balance in life between living “in” nature and living “with” nature. I think that thought applies to respecting all animals and plants and realizing that they are vital to our environment as a whole and we are just one small piece of the picture, not the artist.

And I LOVE Never Cry Wolf, great movie.

Wade The Rascal said...

Wow, thanks for your posts. I really like reading them and finding out how others see the world. (Although I could have guessed your views, since we're all pretty familiar by now.)

Yes, I'll try and cover all of the aspects I can think of, including the pack dynamics and familial relationships.