Put simply, wolves are killed because of fear driven by ignorance and hatred. It is irrational and the illogical nature of this surprised many—particularly wildlife biologists—who felt that the killing of wolves post-delisting would be minimal and inconsequential. I heard more than a few times in my circle the feeling that once someone—so inclined—took a wolf or two that the novelty would wear off and wolf recovery could continue like a car going over an annoying but foreseen speed bump. But what we are seeing is more like a Jihad.
We should think about this as we continue to consider and comment on the federal delisting proposal. Why? Because federal delisting is and should be about numbers, but it is also about the removal of the reasons for endangerment. On this latter front the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has failed miserably as witnessed by the recent killing of the wolf known as Echo near the Grand Canyon.
Now there are those who will argue that the hunter mistook this important, pioneer wolf for a coyote, but here again we are dealing with an activity enabled by the same fear, ignorance and hatred that is being applied to wolves. This mistaken identity approach may be a legal defense but it is hardly an intellectual or ethical one as the legal and illegal pursuits are simply one side of the same worthless coin.
The societal penetration and perpetuation of this ignorance and hatred—and therefore its impact on wolves—is likely deeper and longer because there are those actively throwing gasoline on the flames. Here again it may be less important to look at the actions and players than it is to dig a layer deeper and investigate the background instigators and their motivations. Certainly we should be angry, frustrated and disappointed in the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Safari Club International and others for pushing wolf hatred and spreading myths about predator impacts, but they are truly children of their income streams and governance (please see here). We do not have to scratch too deeply below the surface to find concrete connections to the fossil fuel, timber and livestock industries.
The above relationships are problematic from an influence perspective but they are often also ironic. One good example of the latter is the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Big Bull Tour. Here we have an event that glorifies an industry that frequently wants elk controlled and whose livestock compete directly with elk (and deer) for habitat in the West. Further, this event is sponsored by, Lucas Oil, a member of an industry that builds roads and develops oil wells that directly displace elk and other game species. (This nonsense gains stilts when we realize that Interior Secretary Jewell and USFWS Director Dan Ashe treat RMEF as a privileged and legitimate stakeholder. But I digress.)
So am I saying that people should not oppose wolf hunts and find the wearing of fur problematic? The answer to that is: No. But if that is all we do we should not think it sufficient to solve this complex problem. We as wolf restoration advocates need to broaden our actions and enlist allies rather than becoming shriller, louder and more alienating in protest. Moreover, we need to make the USFWS understand that their job with wolves is not complete until they make material progress in addressing this irrational and scientifically unsupported mindset. And we need to educate more broadly, engage more inclusively and enunciate more articulately—remembering all the time that wolf recovery, like anything important involving deep-seated fear and illogic, takes time and persistence.