Wolf Recovery Madness (Personal Diary)
In the early fall of 1998, as an ambitious young man then living in San Diego, I set off to the Idaho wilderness with visions of becoming a famous wildlife photographer, the first to document the return of the majestic wolf to the western wilderness, one of the first species offered protections by the Endangered Species Act, signed into law in 1973 by President Richard Nixon. 25 years later, wolves had finally returned, with man's help, to a small portion of its original range, which spanned nearly every state in America.
Admittedly, I had delusions of grandeur. But passion is an oft-misunderstood trait, even by those under its spell. And while I longed to see the wild wolf, merely finding an elk carcass that had been put there by wolves was an unforgettable moment in my life.
Photo by Kevin Bidwell
But I was ignorant not only in the ways of the wildlife tracker and photographer but also in the ways of man. On the second evening of my adventure, I stopped into a Stanley, Idaho restaurant to enjoy a wonderful trout dinner. After talking with the waitress about my exciting days, she cautioned me to keep my voice down and not tell "another living soul in the area" about my doings. Oddly enough, it seemed, people there hated wolves with a passion.
My immediate thoughts were of how irrational such hatred could be. An animal was missing from the wilderness from the entirety of the lives of nearly all of the people here, yet an animal they had never seen deserved their greatest ire. My second thought was that wolves needed a champion.
For thirteen years now, I have learned everything I could about wolves, ecology, their behavior, and more importantly, about the people who hate wolves and the reasons why they expend so much energy hating something that deserves only respect and admiration. Here is an animal upon which we humans almost certainly modeled our own social and family lives. We learned to hunt with wolves, and adopted them into our own families as our faithful companions, pets, and helpers. Yet the hatred for them is so intense that people willfully and intentionally violated state and federal laws to express their disgust, taking it out on wolves when they can, and far more often upon those they perceive as wolf lovers.
I don't think anyone could have foreseen the level of hatred that people could have for wolves developing into the rage that exists today, a passionate, ignorant feeling, so ferocious that it was the sole reason for the first act of Congress I'm aware of, which without a doubt is the stuff of dictatorships.
But far worse than the presentation of Nazi-esque legislation by Idaho and Montana congressmen was the approval of such by a majority of Congress, including the Democratic majority in the Senate. The rift between political factions in America has become so intense that democracy itself was put on the negotiating table and traded in for political favor and sheer drama. That's right, settling with Republicans on the recent budget bill was so important that Democrats actually voted away our rights!
Why then is wolf recovery such an intense issue as to create an absolutely unprecedented attack on the Constitution by those sworn to uphold it? Why do wolves drive people to such levels of passion on both ends of the issue to drive people to risk human life itself?
For me and for a few others, the passion is really about giving voice to those who cannot have it themselves. Wolves do need champions. Wolves can't exactly go down and hire an attorney to represent their rights. And out there are people with so much interest in wolves as to dedicate the better portion of their lives to fighting for their cause. I can certainly understand this motivation. But what about those who hate wolves so passionately?
I deliberately chose the University of Idaho for my education in pursuit of my goal of starting a research facility because it was as close to the center of controversy about wolves as I could get (Bozeman was too much because a professor there had vowed to destroy my reputation, and he was the veterinarian in charge of the wolves in Yellowstone when they were first released!) My lessons were often difficult, including finding out that a wolf had been shot from the road not a quarter of a mile from my home (and three months before, a neighbor shot and killed one of my dogs.)
I genuinely sought to understand the hatred these people have for wolves. I even went so far as to live on a grazing allotment shared by a pack of wolves. I let myself succumb to the hatred of wolves for brief moments when pondering the fate of my dogs should we happen along with the pack in our hiking. I even let myself feel genuine fear of wolves, easy as I was suffering from the most intense symptoms of my anxiety disorder at the time.
Working with the rancher gave me an important clue to understanding the mind of the wolf hater, for after a cow was killed by a wolf, she turned her hatred on me. Why? Simply because I didn't share her hatred for wolves.
Over the years that followed, my research into discovering the key to wolf hatred produced more and more evidence of what I eventually came to understand: that those who hate wolves do so because it's what everyone else around them does. This phenomenon has its roots in the very essence of the conservative mindset. Wolves have been feared and disparaged since the dark ages, when ergot-infested rye drove vast numbers of people to imagine the unimaginable at a time when famine drove wolf-dog hybrids, a human creation, to attack human settlements. And, of course, conservative philosophy dictates that tradition knows best.
But modern conservatism is a different breed. In fact, in my research of conservative philosophy, I discovered that today's conservatives are anything but. This is based on the writings of Gilbert K. Chesterton, who wrote that while tradition ruled ("democracy of the dead" as he called it"), the musings of a single mind should be largely ignored. Put another way, pundits shouldn't dictate a conservative political platform. Fox News. Sean Hannity. Rush Limbaugh. Glenn Beck. These are the "village idiot[s]" which Chesterton spoke of in his treatise, yet they, rather than tradition, dictate the direction of conservative thinking.
And it is precisely this same phenomenon that creates the level of passionate hatred towards wolves. Simply because conservative politicians and other figures in the "cowboy" mindset hate wolves, conservative followers hate wolves also. There simply is no logical basis for their hatred. Every single "reason" they give to hate wolves can quite easily be dismissed as illogical, ignorant, or just plain stupid.
But there is a far more sinister element to the equation. Disturbingly, conservative politicians and other figures use hatred of wolves to drive political agendas. In other words, conservative politicians are exploiting their followers using wolves as a propaganda piece, as a distraction from the real issues the people should be concerned about. This is quite easily understood when you look at the true impact that wolves have. No research anywhere demonstrates that wolves have any more than isolated negative impacts, typically manifest in the cost of livelihood of a small cattle ranch operation here and there. In fact, the benefits wolves provide both to ranchers, and sports hunters alike, far, far outweighs any adverse impacts.
Clearly, the only reason an irrational mindset can continue to exist is if it is being driven and fed. And in their struggle for power, conservative figures in states like Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and even neighboring states use irrational hatred for wolves to achieve their political aspirations. Not only have they resorted to threatening democracy itself, but despite the lessons that were supposed to have been learned in the shooting of Representative Catherine Giffords were completely lost on Montana's representative to US Congress, Denny Rehberg, who recently put the crosshairs on a federal judge, generating numerous death threats for a man who does nothing more than represent the interests of the citizens of this nation. (Read more here in an article from the New York Times).
In keeping with my goal of offering more than just information, I will present what I feel are solutions to this problem. First and foremost is, and I simply cannot stress this enough: think for yourself. It is quite easy to demonstrate that pundits cannot be trusted. They are pundits because they are popular. They are popular because they tell people what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear. So they almost never speak the truth. And no matter what they say, their words should never become your own. It is perfectly fine to agree with a pundit but do so only because the pundit is correct, which would almost certainly be by sheer coincidence. Thinking for yourself means never trusting what anyone says but instead, trusting your own research. And if you don't have time to research an issue, you should consider simply not having an opinion on the issue. I don't really have an opinion on abortion, for example, because I haven't researched the issue. I have feelings, but I share those feelings carefully and as feelings rather than opinion.
Being open-minded is paramount to think for yourself. And thinking for yourself means you won't become a pawn to politicians who seek nothing but power. Wolves are an animal we should admire and respect, or otherwise ignore. They are a natural part of the landscape. They are nothing more than the natural state of the dogs we keep now as pets. They do not wage wars; they do not wipe out species, nor can they save humanity or provide answers to our questions about the universe. They are just wolves. There is no reason that wolves should drive politicians to turn America into a dictatorship.
That's what we each can do, but what about those who refuse, who continue to hate wolves because they are told to? On that, my feeling has always been that wolf haters will only go away when they pass on. So we must then strive to educate their children, teach them not to like wolves, but rather, to think for themselves, and to come by their own opinions. When faced with the reality of what wolves are, they will surely find that at best, wolves are to be admired, and at worst, they are just another animal in the wilderness.
And what about these politicians who use wolves to further their agendas? Honestly, they should really all be removed from office. Their affirmative vote for a law that clearly violated the Constitution was also a violation of their oaths, and as such, subjects them to impeachment proceedings. But, since a majority of Congress violated their oaths, we can hardly expect them to punish themselves. I suggest then that each and every single congressman, both Representatives, and Senators, be subject to recall, or at the very least, be voted out in the next election. And it can't hurt to write to them and demand that they explain themselves. Each and every Senator and Representative who affirmed that budget with the offending rider attached must explain why they voted to deprive us of our constitutional rights and why they think making political deals is more important than democracy itself.
But we must not stop there. We must ensure that this never happens again and never can. Look at what's going on with the issue currently. Pay attention to the lawsuit in Montana, which was argued yesterday and the decision for which will come soon, and surely inspire further death threats to the judge. This issue is about more than just wolves; it is about freedom itself.