The wolf! Even its name inspired fear! It was once believed, in fact, to be the killer of newborn babies, the harborer of demons, the messenger of the devil, and the devourer of all lost and wandering souls. To some cultures the wolf was actually a god, to others, he was a menacing chained-up apocalyptic figure barely being restrained.
Eventually, the age of reason had arrived and with it came a new dawn of intellectual understanding. Stripped of its mythologies, the wolf came to represent beauty, intelligence, endurance and freedom. Over time, we would come to discover that the wolf preyed on the diseased and the weak, foraged for rodents, and covered vast territories previously believed impossible.
It was almost too late though. The wolf had already been pushed to extinction in countless countries. The last wolf of Ireland was killed around 1786. In Scotland it was 1743. In England it was during the reign of King Henry VII (1485-1509). In the new world, the wolf hardly faired any better, either. In the Atlantic provinces of Canada, the wolf was killed off between 1870 and 1921. From 1900 – 1930 the wolf was almost successfully eliminated from the western part of the United States. The wolf, as is now well known, was clearly marked for extinction.
Nowadays, due to the efforts of countless individuals, the wolf roams many parts of North America once more. Its range stretches across much of Canada, Alaska, and in areas of Washington, Montana, Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. In 2003, the wolf was finally removed from the “endangered” list in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin. It was classified as “threatened” instead. This year, in 2012, the American government announced to the world that it had now successfully saved the wolf and that it had been removed from its “threatened” category. Truly, it was a great day for wolf lovers everywhere. The ‘Save the Wolf’ campaign had been a success!
And why wouldn’t we be filled with pride? We all deserved a pat on the back. We were proud that states like Wisconsin had saved the wolf. In fact, it felt like we had all somehow saved the wolf. It certainly wasn’t some unknown insect from Asia! It was the wolf of all things! Dog lovers had come to admire the traces of wolf blood found in their pets. Others awoke to a new way of understanding as they too helped save the wolf. In fact, the wolf had begun to feel less like a beast and more like a friend. Photographers, authors, documentarians, and celebrities had been sharing the wolf’s journey with us all along. We had seen images of wolves giving birth, of grieving packs, of renewal, of hope, and of promise for a brighter future for the wolf for us, for our children, and for our children’s children! From Yellowstone National Park we had even learned that we needed the wolf for a healthy and sustainable wilderness. Yes, the wolf had become our friend and because of this new age of kinship we were happy that she’d finally been saved once and for all!
The wolf – I’m not afraid to admit – is also very special to me. So much so, in fact, that I too was filled with a teary-eyed joy when I learned the Wisconsin wolf had been taken off the “threatened” species list. I believe there may have even been a fist pump involved. In a time of so much negative media attention, such an announcement was a reprieve from the usual American political norm. It was one of those feel-good stories that actually seemed to matter. It wasn’t the cat saved from the tree story either, it was real! It truly felt like something great had happened. Like everyone else, I absorbed the news and felt all warm and fuzzy inside. I then went about my regular life with a still sense of satisfaction knowing that the wolf had now just been saved.
As I did so – went about my life that is – several states prepared to reintroduce, or continue, the wolf hunt once more. Once again, people of all walks of life began to see what was happening in their home states and across their country. There were petitions and speeches, courthouse dealings, and general discontentment expressed by people from all walks of life. Eventually, I too was shaken out of my bubble of Naiveté as well.
I first heard of the Wisconsin wolf hunt a few days ago on Twitter as someone cried out that we needed to save the wolf! Understandably, I was confused and upset. I thought that the news must be some sort of mistake, a rampant rumor, or an urban myth. What I discovered, however, was that the Wisconsin wolf hunt was all too real.
There were 3277 applicants for Wisconsin wolf hunting permits on the first two days. A week later, as of yesterday, that number had reached 7000. A more recent report has the number now at 10,000. It was easy to read the full story online. Out of a population of 800 wolves, 201 had been slated for extermination. The DNR was considering giving out roughly 2000 hunting permits (minus First Nation hunting needs). If the 201 wolves were killed during the hunting season, then the wolf hunt would officially be over for the year.
Resistance was fierce, but with so many hunters in support of the wolf hunt it began to look rather bleak. It was a courtroom decision that finally bought the wolf hunt’s opposition a little more time. In Wisconsin, it would seem, that besides using guns, bows, crossbows, bait, night hunting and traps, that “a pack of dogs” was one of the hunter’s preferred methods of killing the animal. The images are horrific. Understandably, the court is now viewing the animal cruelty allegations. In other states – where wolves have also been delisted – the wolf hunt will go ahead as planned.
Never mind that wolves are now known to be more intelligent than originally conceived, that they bring an ecological balance, that they are unbelievably intelligent, and that they are not posing the threats in which they are being accused of… the real mystery to me is why 10,000 educated intelligent people would suddenly feel the need to hunt wolves? The answer is simple. As usual it’s about politics, and being American politics these decisions will ultimately have an impact on all of us.
The two motives calling for the extermination of 201 wolves can easily be found. Both of these reasons claim that a resolution will be reached only if wolves can be killed. The first claims that the wolf is killing off all the deer; the second claims that the wolf is annihilating too many cattle.
It hardly seems fair to even address the first motive it’s so misinformed. The wolf can only catch the sick and the young. While wolf packs can pose a threat to certain herds, these are usually protected pockets of herbivores and not wild deer at all. If the deer of Wisconsin is truly being threatened then the call for stewardship to protect these animals has been surprisingly slow. In fact, I could not find a single statistical report to support this claim at all.
The reason given most often for the wolf hunt, however, is not the elimination of deer but the wholesale murder of Wisconsin’s cows. Apparently, as we’ve been sleeping soundly at night, wolves have been killing cows en masse. So many cows have been killed, in fact, that over 200 wolves must now pay for it with their lives. This campaign is not really a “kill the wolf” type of campaign, after all, but more of a “save the rancher” type of movement it would seem. It seems that cattle ranchers don’t like to think outside of the box. Even worse, it seems to be more of a perceived threat than an actual one.
Unfortunately, the image promoted by this group is also somewhat mythological in nature. It is hard not to imagine a lone cowboy. He looks surprisingly like the Marlboro man, you know, with the cigarette hanging out of his mouth. He leans over this poor, dead, innocent baby cow as its mother wails in agony nearby. His horse snorts anxiously as it smells the lingering culprit of the killing. The cowboy’s face shows lines of concern as he wonders if they’ll be able to survive the coming winter without the calf. He worries about his wife and three small children. He looks towards the heavens for an answer…
The reality is that in Wisconsin’s “beef cow numbers increased 10% between 2000 and 2005” and continued to do so. Small cattle farmers reported that beef was only a portion of their income and that they enjoyed a good lifestyle and quality of life (80%). Truthfully, from big business to small farmer, the cow industry is extremely influential in Wisconsin. There is, however, no Marlboro man. Not any more.
If the cattle industry has become so fragile, however, that we feel the need to kill ¼ of the wolf population in Wisconsin, then maybe it’s time for us – as a society – to look towards other food alternatives other than beef? I love a good steak as much as the next guy, but geez, not at the cost of 200 wolves’ lives! In fact, I would be happy to pay a little more for a burger if it meant protecting the wolf in the process. I would even stop eating beef all together if that’s what’s really being asked of me. If that truly is the only other alternative being offered by the State of Wisconsin then maybe it is time to give up the red meat? It’s basic economics really.
In the old day, they used to just hire a couple of guys on horses with rifles to watch over the herd. That was before the mass poisonings that led to the wolves near extinction in many states across North America in the first place. Back in those days, the herd was something to be watched over and protected. What happened, I wonder? The math is still easy. As of May 2012 Wisconsin is still reporting an unemployment rate of 6.8%. In Wisconsin, certainly some of these individuals can already ride a horse? Others could be taught. If a multi billion-dollar industry can’t afford to hire a few unemployed taxpayers then maybe the ride really is over. Like they say, however, all good things come to an end.
Outside of Wisconsin the wolf hunt also matters and it’s not just because we do like their beef. It’s not only because the United States sets a sort of legal precedent – even outside of its own country – but it’s because we’ve now entered a new age of understanding and awareness. A wolf is no longer just a wolf. The evidence has been overwhelming. They are social, intelligent, emotional, and quite possibly self-aware. There are other points that seem to make it wrong to kill them, as well. The wolf has been revered spiritually as far back as we know from records and art. They have also been historically persecuted for our inability to manage resources such as cows and sheep in the first place. At what point do we learn from the mistakes of our past? Looking in, from outside of Wisconsin, it seems even more overwhelmingly wrong. Would any of these 201 wolves even get eaten? Of course not. To me, this in itself is unjust on so many levels. If you kill something and you don’t eat it then you are at war with it. Plain and simple. Besides, ¼ of all wolves seems a little steep doesn’t it? In a human population that would be considered genocide.
When I think of Wisconsin, I think of rugged wilderness, dairy farms, football fields, fishing, old haunted pubs and friendly faces. I think of people of vision like Gary Gygax, Harry Houdini, Les Paul, and Oprah Winfrey. I certainly don’t think about a wolf hunt that truly seems to be nothing more than sport. Certainly, I am forced to ask myself, Wisconsin is more progressive than that?
With the Wisconsin wolf hunt temporarily paused now is the time to act! Please “Like” the Stop the Wisconsin Wolf Hunt 2012 facebook page. Sign the petition below as well. Even though it is already submitted (past date) this can still be presented to various levels of government and is what gets political involvement from influential people in the fight to save the wolf. The group Howling for Wolves, below, also accepts donations. Most importantly spread the word! Awareness is everything! More people applied for wolf hunting licenses than signed the petition. That’s a sad state of affairs, but one in which we can easily remedy.
Say no to Wisconsin Wolf Hunt petition:
Howling for Wolves & Donation:
News: Wolf hunting permit applications top 3,000 in 2 days:
News: Lawsuit against Wisconsin:
Also, unrelated but for the wolf lover just the same, the wolf as it’s been found in Celtic folklore and myth: the Celtic Werewolf