Wednesday, September 2, 2009

More Bad News in a Sea of Bad News

Can nothing go right in this country? Today I read that Idaho has officially announced a wolf-hunting season. There are thought to be 850 wolves in the gigantic state, and there will be tags for taking about a quarter of them. Wolves are less than six months off the endangered species list, and in my opinion, the population is not yet, nor will become, as out of control as the article suggests. There is in my mind no sound argument for taking so many wolves so soon.

Here in the west, the topic of the long-finished wolf reintroduction (and the endangered species act in general) is a very popular one. The western predator-management ethic is incredibly old-fashioned and not at all based on modern science. Rather it is based on irrational fear and an archaic man vs. wilderness paradigm that fell out of fashion starting with Aldo Leopold's "Land Ethic", which I beseech all of you to at least read about. Here in Wyoming, for example, there are species classified as "varmints" that may be legally shot on sight without a hunting permit. These popularly include coyotes (I have seen several dead in Rawlins itself) and prairie dogs (the destruction of entire towns is a popular pastime for people with automatic weapons) and the list goes on.

To many subscribers to this belief system, wolves fall squarely in the varmint category. The primary talking point for anti-wolf westerners is that the predators take a disproportionately large share of valuable game species. Those who are anti-wolf would like to believe that if wolves did not exist, elk and deer would be so abundant that hunters could take as many as they pleased. This understanding of ecology lies dead at the feet of one hundred years of well-documented scientific experience proving exactly the opposite.

Varmint killing was long ago a government policy, and wolf hides demanded a bounty. They were enthusiastically killed until they were effectively extirpated from the lower 48. In the early 20th century, Aldo Leopold himself killed wolves for the Forest Service in Arizona, until he saw how ecologically detrimental removing top predators from an ecosystem is. What he saw, and what was soon to become the inspiration for modern ecological thought, was that when top predators were removed, deer soon became so abundant that their herbivory quickly limited food availability in the ecosystem. This caused massive outbreaks of deer starvation and disease which would amount to die-offs and a loss of hunting revenue for state game agencies as well as many tears for those deprived hunters. In some cases, an absence of wolves works, as in Massachusetts, but only because of rampant suburban development limiting habitat, and with the case of the Quabbin Reservoir, a highly organized culling. In the boundless-by-comparison open space of the west, this does not work. Hence the reason why wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone, where the elk population had skyrocketed to the point of near-collapse.

I would say that I am less mad about the wildlife management decision-making in Idaho as I am about the ignorance of people like Edmund Zeigler which drives this decision-making. This quote from the article is probably one of most paleolithic understandings of nature I have ever heard:
"They'll kill them and let 'em lay," Ziegler says. "They're a pack of dogs and they'll chase stuff down for the fun of it. They might only take a couple of chunks out of it and let it go for a while because they're already so full from all the other animals they've been eating."
I do not think that wolves hunt for fun. The same understanding of "savagery" and joyful slaying of innocents was a popular impetus for the genocide of Native Americans. It is sad to see this example idiotry persist into our time. Appropriately, it takes its rightful seat next to the fallacious and insane reasoning that has been undermining so much progress in our country recently. I can hardly take any more.

However, chances are good that few wolves will be killed by hunters this upcoming season. I do not think they are as stupid as elk and mule deer. Needless to say, there are plenty of stupid people who are bizarrely good at killing things, so who knows.


Pete said...

A well-composed piece. Not enough about the reintroduction of megafaunae though. And magnaflorums.

Timothy "T-Bone" Barwise said...

Sorry Pete, but I think I take megafaunae for granted. I do not know what magnaflorums be. Thanks for you comment - my thirst for comments went unquenched until you bravely spoke.

rb said...

I agree with Pete - a well-composed piece about a very sad turn. Since you have besought, I will read "Land Ethic." On the matter of belief systems, I in turn ask you to listen to a recent interview of almost 90y.o. Farley Mowat on CBC (, but you'll have to do it before Sunday, Sept. 6, when the online file will likely be updated. Fast forward to 1:18. Farley is a fierce defender of "the others", among which belong the wolf and every other varmint and life form, other than man.

Cheryl said...

I think you disprove Darwin when he says, "A naturalist's life would be a happy one if he had only to observe and never to write." I'm glad you write too!