Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Delisting the Gray Wolf
Yesterday, January 29, 2007, the United States Federal Government delisted the gray wolf in the lower 48 states. Since 1974, the gray wolf has been protected as either “threatened” or “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. But today, that protection is gone.
As Americans populated the continent, they saw the gray wolf as a threat and competitor. Whether it was wolves preying on naive domestic animals, hunting prey humans wanted for themselves or because wolves would not relent to human domination, these top predators were exterminated from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In California, the last known wild wolf was trapped in Lassen county in 1924.
Since an experimental reestablishment of wolves began in Yellowstone National Park in 1995, there have been avid supporters and vitriolic opponents. While the humans debated, the wolves multiplied and reestablished balance in the ecosystem. In short, they did what humans could not. They controlled the elk population by eliminating the sick and weak. They resurrected damaged plant communities by reducing an overabundance of browsers. And they helped a growing list of species recover in the Park–song birds, beaver, fox and others–because of the improvement to the habitat.
But while the Park was returning to a wild balance, wolves were leaving to colonize beyond its boarders. In Minnesota and Wisconsin, Canadian wolves were crossing the boarder to colonize the areas, long devoid of top predators, that offered prime habitat. While the movement of these wolves is good for the natural environment, human fear of a top predator has again taken over rationality.
Now that the gray wolf is no longer designated as an “endangered species,” states will be able to “manage” wolf populations as they see fit. Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin will decide if wolves will be protected, shot on sight, poisoned, trapped or shot with a license as trophy game. Residents of Alaska have been trying to express their desires to their public officials for years regarding rational treatment of their wolves, yet despite votes to stop it, gray wolves are still shot from planes because of the power of the hunting lobby.
What will be the fate of the gray wolf in the 21st century. Will 21st-century humans use their intellect to learn to live with a top predator for the betterment of the land and ecosystems or will we react with primal fear and greedy short-term gain to once again drive the wolf to near extinction?
Is living with a large predator difficult? Yes. But we conservation-minded Americans expect Africans to share space with the African lion and Indian villagers to find ways to live with the Bengal tiger. We haven’t pressed as hard to save gray wolves in Europe or Mexico. Maybe it is because we secretly know it would be hypocritical.
All of our eyes should be watching these states where wild wolves are now in the cross hairs. The Great Lake states have been allowing their wolves to recover naturally, the Rocky Mountain states seem poised to stop wolf recovery.
Will we repeat the bloody past or will we find ways to live beside America’s top animal predator? We should all be ready to speak up.