Editor's note: Earlier this summer the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to remove Endangered Species Act protection from the gray wolf. In this guest column, ecologist Barbara Moritsch, author of The Soul of Yosemite: Finding, Defending, and Saving the Valley's Sacred Wild Nature, questions that decision.
This morning as I washed the breakfast dishes, I pondered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list. I considered arguments I had read that contested this proposal: wolves had not yet fully recovered in the lower 48 states; after spending so many millions of dollars to re-introduce wolves, it is stupid to de-list them prematurely and allow people to hunt them; wolves play an important role in natural ecosystems, and are proving to be an asset to ecosystem processes; and wolves have a right to life, just as humans and all other species have such a right.
I agree with all of these points, and I am strongly opposed to the proposal to de-list wolves. But as I considered how I wanted to frame my comments to the agency, something kept nagging at me. My heart told me that the wolf controversy, of which this recent proposal is only one element, goes much deeper than ecological principles and species recovery. The wolf controversy, particularly the strident and very ugly anti-wolf campaign, is a pure reflection of a very dark side of human nature—a side that does not bode well for the future of any living thing on the planet.
To wolf advocates, wolves symbolize wildness, freedom, and big, open country. To wolf haters, the animal may symbolize everything that is wrong, evil, or vicious in their lives—a scapegoat. To trophy hunters, the killing of a wolf may symbolize strength and manhood. Note my use of the word “may” on these latter two—I am speculating because I neither hate nor hunt wolves.
It suddenly struck me with great force that the wolf symbolizes something much greater, something much more important than these fairly superficial human emotions. The wolf symbolizes, as perhaps no other species does, the inability of many humans to co-exist with anything that competes with or threatens them in any way—even if that competition or threat is largely imaginary. The wolf symbolizes the mistaken opinion that, when push comes to shove and either a human gets to hunt the elk or the wolf gets to hunt the elk, the human has the greater God-given right to that elk.
This opinion holds true for cows and sheep, as well as elk. The attitude of too many humans toward wolves epitomizes selfish human nature, at the expense of all other species, as well as their habitats.
Anyone who is paying attention knows that the human tendency to take whatever he or she wants from the Earth with little consideration for the long-term consequences is quickly catching up with us, and the consequences of our inattention may be dire. The truth is, unless we change our ways rapidly or there is a massive die off of humans, we will experience shortages of clean water and food, probably in the not-too-distant future.
Given how poorly we are coping with wolves, I can’t help but wonder how we will react when we are faced with these shortages, and there is not enough to go around, when instead of wolves, we are “competing” with other humans. A lot of people think things will get ugly, and they are stockpiling weapons and ammunition, so they can fight for “their share.” Do you really want to live in a world like that? I don’t.
It’s time to change our collective ways. It’s time to view the Earth and all of its inhabitants as important and precious. It’s time to learn to share, instead of compete. Learning how to make peace with and co-exist with wolves and other species is the first step in this shift.
Some Native Americans believe the wolf symbolizes the teacher. I believe we have much to learn from our brother the wolf, and these are lessons we need to learn quickly. Transmute the anger, transcend the fear, and embrace all other life with compassion and reverence—this is how we will survive and thrive as conditions on Earth change