“We have doomed the wolf not for what it is, but for what we deliberately and mistakenly perceive it to be — the mythologized epitome of a savage ruthless killer — which is, in reality, no more than a reflected image of ourself.”
— Farley Mowat
Interesting isn’t it that some of us still think of the wolf as a natural resource, while the wolf goes on its merry way just trying to survive. Farley Mowat in the Canadian Arctic had his results rejected over and over again. His findings? It was not the wolves that caused the sudden drop in deer numbers, but the change in behavior in hunters who were trigger-happy. Their onslaught and greed caused the deer numbers to drop. Surprise. Surprise. Surprise.
It is part of a fringe group that believes that while the wolf has met delisting criteria, it is alright to massacre them. As Mary Midgley, the grand dame of moral philosophy, states in her 1978 masterpiece “Beast and Man,” it is man who demonstrates “excess of savagery.” In medieval France, the wolf was considered a “cruel beast.” I have in my possession two volumes of the Comte de Buffon’s work, a naturalist who was a major influence on Darwin. He characterized the wolf as “an enemy of all society.” We have projected our lack of grace, compassion and murderous instincts directly on this predator. The extermination campaigns from the past seems to have been reignited of late. One can only wonder where the prejudice stems from? In the Old Testament, Isaiah dreams of a messianic utopia which involves a future where beasts of prey no longer hunt “innocent, domestic beasts.” “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb” may sound like fiction, but especially so when wolves are now being gunned down at a rate not seen in years.
Let’s admit it. We need a scapegoat for humanity’s wickedness and cruelty. Who better to pick on than wolves?
Having been born in France I can attest to the fact that many Frenchmen are not in love with wolves, wolves that came from Italy or Switzerland in the early 1990s. And the Greeks, Norwegians and Spanish are not all enamored of the wolves either. Hundreds of years ago people thought demons and witches could take the shape of wolves. But they learned to live with them, changing the way they protect and rear their flocks and recognize the diseases the wolves regulate by taking out the weak and the sick. Natural selection. Today Europe has about 12,000 wolves, twice as many as in the contiguous United States, but the rabid, ideological hatred of wolves in the U.S. currently under the wolf resource “using” faction of the extreme right is annihilating wildlife left, front and center. The Unconscious Subjugation of Animals. USA. Except that it has become quite deliberate.
It is not the hunters who are to blame, it is the fringe groups who are removing agency from those conservation groups that should be making decisions about wildlife. It is the same groups that would like to eliminate hunting seasons in favor of year-round hunting, really murder of wolves. No one eats wolves. And their place in the ecology of the Northern Hemisphere is undisputed. The National Rifle Association is backing the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, which sounds great until one realizes that the pro-hunting groups support wolf extermination.
The extermination campaign has a nasty ring about it. The fuse was abetted but not begun by the last administration. The freedom to hunt down wolves as a “natural resource” is diametrically opposed to that of many peoples who honored the wolf, from Native American tribes to the Ainu who had a deep reverence for wolves. If the Ainu, who ate wolf and used their fur, did not ceremonially respect the wolf, the pack to which the wolf belonged would kill the hunter. Native Americans have honored the wolf as hunters for millennia. The English came to the New World and began the process of eradication. By contrast the Kwakiutl, Tlingit, Haida and Makah honored the stamina, bravery and endurance of the wolf as hunters, qualities which human warriors needed in order to survive. What did the pioneers do? They exterminated them. No honoring. No respect. No metaphysical alliance.
For some, according to sociologist James William Gibson, the wolf hunters are “self-appointed keepers of order waging a battle against an imaginary enemy. … A phony rebellion against a phantom menace.” Declaring the area around Yellowstone “a trophy zone” with wolf quotas would have been the icing on the cake. It’s not just about Montana, or Wisconsin or Michigan of late, it’s about the freedom to hate, McCarthyism piggybacking on wolf haters.
No honoring of the qualities of the other. Just massacre. The same with coyote and bear and mountain lion and of course the bison. But, of course, the Native Americans were the heathen, the barbarians.
Now we stand on the brink of executing the entire West, especially in the Rocky Mountains, where extreme right factions hold sway. We bicker over who has the right to make decisions over the world. Not conservation groups, they who want to save lives. That would be too easy. Not the government who has tried to make sure that the wolf and other endangered species do not go mercilessly into that not so good night of extinction. That would be too responsible. When the wolf was reintroduced in Yellowstone, a red flag seemed to have gone up in the hearts of those who proclaimed that their freedom was on the line. Really?
Is the wolf really a natural resource? Like gold, diamonds, oil, lumber, gas, steel, in fact anything that can be traded on the marketplace as wolf furs once were? Even if it has a heart, a spirit. If it is remotely like us and kills for food, it must be a monster. Nevermind that wolves don’t kill for fun. The Native peoples of the world would have been cursed if their relationship to the wolf or anything for that matter, had been blasphemed. Because that is what modern America has done. Blasphemed life.
As Gibson reminds us, killing wolves is a proxy for fighting the government. He states, “But whereas attacking the federal government can lead to prison, killing wolves was a political goal within reach — something the individual warrior could do. So advocating for the killing of wolves became a proxy battle, an organizing tool to reach out to all those angry about environmental regulations, gun laws and public land policies.” States’ rights rule. But what about the rights of wolves? The slaughter of almost all wolves of Wyoming’s 1,600 back in 2011 would have made them functionally extinct in the state. And now Montana. And then Wisconsin. And Michigan. Are we going to fly helicopter gunships over Alaska? Oh. Wait. They passed legislation in the “great” state of Alaska saying that was OK.
I suggest that the fringe groups that are on a killing spree, take a long vacation to Europe and actually see how farmers cope. How they have adapted with the wolf. Because things have gotten a little out of hand with these rites of spring that involve mutilation. Trying to highjack democracy. Letting states make their own decisions, when they are out for blood. Thinking that states know more than the federal government over matters of conservation would, of course, have allowed all the redwoods to have been ground into fine powder or planks; it would have allowed the elimination of the grizzly in the lower 48 states; it would have bestowed a death sentence on the gray whales; and permitted the poisoning and loss of the bald eagle, prairie dog, condor and countless other species.
Climate change threatens the future of the West and its forests. Wyoming has been branded by hunting outfitters as God’s Country. After delisting the wolf from the Endangered Species Act status, late last year, it will be time again to give wolves maximum protection. Persecution is not a policy. It is ideological warfare. Hunters think they can or should manage species. It feels that the only species that needs full management is man. Especially humanity’s population. Ecosystems are being turned upside down. Apart from rabid ideology, the simple detestation of the other, fragile forest systems will challenge many species this century, including our own. Our karma will come back to haunt us, big time, if we can’t stop projecting our self-loathing onto the other. Wolves and conservationists no more represent “liberal” America, than Republicans represent freedom. If we don’t turn the ship of bigotry around, we will all be crying wolf from the forces of nature unleashing themselves on humanity. Nature will manage herself quite well without us, whether it is in Alaska or Montana or Michigan where wolf populations may be healthy but nothing compared to hundreds of years ago. In the next 20, 40, 60 years forests will burn and jettison any “science” management out the window. Let nature manage the population of wolves. She is much wiser than we are.
One species we used to devour, shoot for fun and demonize for competing with farmers’ livelihoods was the passenger pigeon. There were hundreds of millions of them not that long ago. Covering the sun and the horizon in flocks as legion as Creation itself. Now they are gone forever. It would be too sad if the great predators of North America and the rest of the world succumbed to hate. Because in truth, the only thing we hate more than wolves, is ourselves. The red wolf in the East is almost gone. There may be no more than 30 left. The Mexican gray wolf hovers at less than 200. It is time we learned the lesson of compassion before a final howl fades from the voice of the American wild. What is left of it.
“And this is what happened, and this is why the caribou and the wolf are one; for the caribou feeds the wolf, but it is the wolf that keeps the caribou strong.”
— Farley Mowat
Learn more about Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson’s work at their website.