The only descriptors that come to mind right now are “backward” and “barbarian.” I’m so disheartened, time and again, that gratuitous violence toward our wildlife is not only tolerated but sanctioned by many wildlife agencies and politicians. And, as much as I’ve tried over the years to be “reasonable” and “balanced” (I have), it’s often a futile endeavor to find equivalency on both sides. It sometimes involves giving moral or ethical consideration to acts that simply aren’t deserving of that privilege.
Here’s the story: Yellowstone’s alpha female wolf 832F from the Lamar Canyon pack, was killed just outside Yellowstone on Thursday. The New York Times reported today that Yellowstone’s most visible “rock star” wolf was taken outside the park’s boundaries in Wyoming.
I simply cannot see the anti-wolf side on this issue. The way the wolves were delisted — and then so quickly put on the hit list — is so transparently, politically motivated that arguments for the ‘science’ behind the cull fall flat on my ears. I would have to reach into my chest cavity and crush my beating heart with a waffle iron in order to stop feeling as I do about this. As you can see, I just don’t have the equanimity today to grant validity to wolf hunters and their various rationalizations.
Here in Washington State, we just saw the annihilation of the Wedge Pack, all at the behest of a rancher who then took his personal outrage to the wildlife department which, in turn, agreed to kill off the entire wolf pack — at a cost of $77,000 to taxpayers, I might add … for slaying seven wolves. Idaho lost 50 percent of its wolves in a year to hunters and trappers. In the past few weeks seven collared wolves from Yellowstone were killed outside the park boundaries, including 832F. There are countless more stories as more states expand hunting opportunities against these magnificent apex predators.
I know I am in the minority with my views on hunting in general, because hunting/trapping as wildlife management is the accepted norm in our country and, frankly, just about every country. I know many people, wildlife advocates included, who are uncomfortable taking a stance that doesn’t support, at least in part, the killing of hundreds of millions of wild animals that occurs every year by a minority of our population — 13.7 million hunters in a population of 314 million plus.
But the more I see, the more injury and suffering I encounter, and the more obstinance I witness in the entrenched system that allows this to happen — the rampant slaughter of wolves — the more I believe that as long as we sanction and reward violent acts toward select wild animals, we will always be in this atrocious predicament of blurred ethical lines between what is “right” and “wrong” — which species are deserving of our protection and mercy, and which are not.
It’s been “right,” by our current model, to kill coyotes, ongoing, with very little restriction, so it’s not really that great a leap to wolves, psychologically speaking. It’s been “right” to kill Sandhill Cranes according to some states which, apparently, is not that much of a difference for the people who shoot Whooping Cranes, accidentally or not. It’s been “right” to not even have a bag limit on crows in some states, to destroy Starlings without a thought, so I shouldn’t be surprised by the videos I see on You Tube, of young kids taking air rifles to the “black birds” they see in their gardens, irrespective of species. I can’t even get You Tube to flag or remove illegal shooting of songbirds, let alone expect that over-taxed, under-staffed and under-funded enforcement departments could take action.
I know what the counter arguments are here, one being that I’m generalizing from select events to characterize our system as flawed. Well, I do see the system as flawed, based on the fact that when issues of human-wildlife conflict come into play, the default position is often slaughter, which is what’s happening with these wolves. And, because we so easily kill many species under the auspices of a pretty liberal legality, it’s barely a step across an ambiguous line to decree the death sentence for any species that becomes an inconvenience. The fact that the Endangered Species listing for wolves was overridden with a budget rider speaks volumes to what is wrong here both culturally and systemically.
In the same way that I’ve been reluctant to demonize, without question, non-native species in my blog here and even in my volunteer wildlife work, I’m also reluctant to grant a free pass to a wildlife conservation model that often ignores the sound voices calling for more humane and compassionate choices toward individual animals within the species parameters. I don’t deny that we have one of the best in the world. But policies like the new wolf-kill plans defy the new understandings we have about wild animals, and fall way behind what a progressive model would look like.
In an earlier post, I mentioned a book by Marti Kheel, Nature Ethics. She is but one voice — now sadly departed from this earth — arguing to dismantle our long-held paradigm of ecology. This paradigm holds that wildlife is a mere resource while ignoring individual wild animals and their inherent value, their couplings, their families, their emotional experiences, and their critical contributions to their own ecosystems. Our species adds insult to injury by continuously turning a critical, scapegoating eye toward other animals, while keeping well alive the [endangered] elephant in our own living rooms … that is, that our consumption patterns and our ever-expanding population are culpable in almost every extinction event, every habitat loss, every wildlife displacement, and even every human-wildlife encounter that comes to harm. There are times I think about leaving my blog space for a while because every time I research wildlife issues for my photography, I encounter Google hits that document the corresponding exploitation. It gets difficult to bear.
If it sounds like I’m over the status quo, honestly, I am. I don’t see how we humans will ever coexist in more caring and intelligent ways without first deconstructing the mythology we’ve created about our nobility in this endeavor. We certainly have the capacity and ingenuity for revolutionary “dominion,” in the most ethical and enlightened sense of that word. If we started now, we could construct a stunning, new model of global sustainability and conservation that took the needs of all species into account. Instead, I see humans squandering our self-appointed mandate, as it were, for short-sighted, self-serving gain.
I continue to hope that there are shifts in events and consciousness that make these choices into imperatives, both moral and ecological, before it’s too late for us to manifest what could be a more symbiotic world. I do keep hoping — despite my pessimism today, on this fog-choked day in Seattle. It is possible, theoretically speaking. But is it probable? Changing the planetary outcome for us and for them (nonhumans) would require a significant and cooperative change in a national and global mindset toward animals. I’m grappling with the impossibility of that notion, all the while trying to find ways to see the light, when the landscape looks too bleak. What I wouldn’t give to have exposure compensation and aperture settings for my dim view on the world this afternoon.
By the way, if you go to wolf hunting websites or Facebook pages (I wouldn’t recommend it), this is a pretty typical level of intelligent exchange. The Wild West lives on …
If you can donate even a little, support organizations like Defenders of Wildlife that are at least trying to bring some sanity back into the anti-wolf mania: Lawsuit filed against Wyoming’s wolf-kill policy.
I found this slightly-shaky and windy video, showing the whole pack (including 832F) in Lamar Canyon:
Another video, Generation W … about the Yellowstone wolf reintroduction, and discussing how researchers determine that wolves tend to target weaker members of elk herds.