By Bob Ferris
I get philosophical when riding my bike. I got so philosophical the other night that I almost biked into an opening car door, but I digress. A lot of my pedal-powered thinking of late has been directed at wolves, science and our various governments’ intellectual and moral responsibilities—with the Huckleberry Pack and the proposed Wolf and Coyote Derby near Salmon, Idaho both heavy on my mind.
The Huckleberry Pack raises so many questions in these contexts. Are state wildlife agencies culturally suited to recover species or are they often too stuck in a management mindset that can only think in terms of reducing or setting acceptable losses? Moreover, how does an agency oriented towards maximizing revenue via the taking of wildlife and fish suddenly switch to being the champion of species recovery and increasing numbers? It strikes me that is a little like expecting someone skilled with a wrecking ball or sledgehammer to suddenly become of finish carpenter—certainly they are both valued members of the building trades but they tend to attack their professions in different manners and attitudes. And yes I know folks that are good at both in both arenas but exceptions should give us sensitivities rather than stop us from trying to deal with this core issue.
And in parallel to the above, what role does the very presence or existence of USDA Wildlife Services in this equation play in whether or not lethal control is chosen by the state as an approach? Is this “last resort” option too easy and available when Wildlife Services is just a phone call away and when the whine of ranchers and rural county commissioners becomes simply too shrill? And what is a program that focuses on lethal control and population reduction with a business model that is dependent upon the existence of wildlife conflicts doing anywhere near a recovery program?
Admittedly, my feelings about Wildlife Services are greatly influenced by that flat and bruised spot gained from beating my head against the program’s impenetrable wall that has protected it from science and scrutiny for more than 20 years. Although they no longer allow pilots to paste wolf paw prints on the side of their planes people should always remember that Wildlife Services—in a former incarnation—was actually the instrument that caused the endangerment of wolves in the first place.
This is all—the agency culture, Wildlife Services and the undue influence of ranching and extreme trophy hunting interests—really a house of cards built from a deck that is badly stacked against the wolf. This tenuous structure then sits on a table with shaky legs made of bad science, inappropriate expectations from livestock producers, agency opaqueness and myths about wolves and other predators that have lived for far too long.
Moving on to the predator derby, as we look at science and federal responsibility in the context of this proposed wolf and coyote derby in Salmon, Idaho it literally makes the head spin, particularly when we understand that the BLM thinks that the impacts of this proposal are not that bad. Really? Setting aside the fact that the analyses are far from complete and ignore much in the current literature—and we will deal with that—but what about the deeper and more fundamental impact and implications of the federal government helping to perpetuate the mindset that predators are somewhat disposable and are unwelcome elements on the landscape?
Regardless of how one feels about hunting and the consumption of meat, I think that most would agree that there is a fundamental difference between killing a deer or elk for food and shooting a wolf or coyote because you hate them. Isn’t the federal government tacitly endorsing and financially enabling the misinformation and myths promulgated by the anti-wolf group by granting permission to conduct this economic activity on public lands? Shouldn’t one of the roles of the federal government be to adhere to and promote science’s current understanding of the role of predators in any and all actions? Shouldn’t the federal government be a corrective and progressive force that leads us into a brighter future rather than anchoring us to ideas disproven early in the last century?
As we enter Wolf Awareness Week today, we should think about these questions and issues. We should also think about what we can all do to make others more wolf aware. We need to break these non-productive cultural barriers and cycles of myths and ignorance. For me this awareness-raising exercise begins again in earnest when I pick up friend and writer Todd Wilkinson tomorrow to do our Two Talking Wolves Tour at nearly 20 venues in the Pacific Northwest. Join us if you can and please think about what you will do during this important week and beyond to bring awareness and understanding for wolves and other predators. See some of you soon.