Guest Column: Pondering The Proposal To Remove ESA Protection From Gray Wolves

How should the gray wolf be viewed by humans? US Fish and Wildlife Service photo by Gary Kramer.

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

Comments

I'd just like to thank everyone here, and thank Kurt for letting the conversation continue even though some of the comments are a bit sharp. It's interesting how much wolf discussions rest on these different religious/philosophical/secular world views. I don't think an article on black-footed ferrets in the Badlands would spark similar reactions.

It's not yet represented in the conversation above, but I'd like to remind everyone that the Nez Perce tribe's participation in Idaho wolf reintroduction stemmed in part from their spiritual beliefs.

It seems that when we talk about religion we are indeed talking about wolves.


And who annoints the person able to declare others 'inhuman'?


Hmmm - perhaps the same people that do it today - our Justice system.

Why is it no one willing answer the question. It comes down to a person or an animal (to get by Justinh's absurd objection and to the point, we will assume they are both angelic) if you had to save one, would you save the animal, the person, or let nature take its course. Even if you don't admit it, I believe the vast majority would save the human. Why would that be if the human were not deemed superior?

And I also note that none of those claiming equality have answered the question about whether they actually live based on that belief. I doubt it.

"And who annoints the person able to declare others 'inhuman'?

Hmmm - perhaps the same people that do it today - our Justice system."

This clearly isn't what the Justice system does. When has it ever decalred a person to be inhuman?

ec, you still haven't explained how exactly my point is "absurd."


I don't think an article on black-footed ferrets in the Badlands would spark similar reactions.


Good point. As sanctimonious as some one to be about "respecting all life", conservationist are frequently making decisions that some form of life is more deserving in an area than another and killing the "lesser" species.

And no the superiority of man is not a religious position, it is the common belief reached by billions of people on this planet of no or many different religions.

This whole thread is really funny. Here are couple of thoughts about who can declare animals to be "animals" and humans to be "humans."

First, none other than our Supreme Court declared corporations to be "humans." (Okay, I know corporations aren't animals, either. Than again, some of them certainly seem to be serpents . . . )

Second, for many years our health insurance companies have been deciding which humans were worth spending money to care for and which should be left to die. And now a very loud element of a certain elephantine political party is trying to return to that practice.

ec, while you keep demanding that others respond to your claims, there sure is a whole lot of dodging going on when others ask you to do the same. I'm looking forward to your proof that justin's point was "absurd."

In the meantime, this is all good for a hearty laugh every morning.

And now a very loud element of a certain elephantine political party is trying to return to that practice.


Oh, Lee, I think you have it backwards. Its the donkey party that is looking to establish the death panels.


As to Justin's move to the "absurd", it is the typical practice of one losing an argument to bring the "extreme" examples. That is, to move to the absurd. The question is human vs animal as a species not one particular animal vs one particular man. This is the question that others try to dodge. You don't seem to have taken a position. Just heckling?

Not heckling. Just observing with great amusement. Another good dodge, there, though. I bet all that dodging, ducking and avoiding is really good exercise.

"As to Justin's move to the "absurd", it is the typical practice of one losing an argument to bring the "extreme" examples. That is, to move to the absurd. The question is human vs animal as a species not one particular animal vs one particular man."

I'll let that one speak for itself.


Another good dodge,


Dodge? What did I dodge?

Okay, I can't resist.

"'As to Justin's move to the "absurd", it is the typical practice of one losing an argument to bring the "extreme" examples. That is, to move to the absurd. The question is human vs animal as a species not one particular animal vs one particular man.'"--ecbuck

And yet, this is what ec has done throughout the thread!:

"Ted - If my dog goes into my neighbors yard and gets in trouble - its my fault. If my dog (or sheep) is in my yard its the intruders fault and I feel no obligation to move because Barbara likes wolves.

So Barbara - you are face to face with a wolf. You lay down and die

So dahkota - a wolf is attacking your child. Does or does not your child have "the greater God given right" to live or do you let the wolf kill him?

Would you kill a wolf to save your child?" --ecbuck

Hilarious.

OK folks, we're shutting this one down. The substantive contents have obviously passed...