For some time now, many of us--me included--have bitterly complained about the current state of wolves in the West. There is plenty of blame to go around, but recently the focus has turned to the conservation community itself and the actions of groups like Defenders of Wildlife. Yet, it's small conservation organizations like Bold Visions, which have yet to fully prove their merit in the debate over wolves.
Smaller organizations contribute to helping wolves via updates, commenting, video, rallies and determined writing on the subject. This is not meant in any way to diminish the hard work that these groups have made. But to date, the only groups that seem to control efforts and the funding around the wolves are major groups that have wantonly compromised away wolves, in order to proceed with what they term 'incremental change,' which ultimately means their actions are nothing more than fundraising schemes.
It also permits endless blame to be directed at US Fish and Wildlife, which is simply responding to the level of concern voiced, which is 'let’s find a way to work together.' If we are to change that message, it’s up to smaller subset of us in the conservation community to become the voice of a new direction, with the goal of impacting what the agencies and the American public are hearing from the passionate voices speaking for wolves.
The issue is how to impact the decisions in a meaningful and perdurable way. Small organizations that represent the point of view--that wolves do not need to be slaughtered to maintain public lands grazing, must band together much like a Union, and use the power of many small groups to become a large and crucial voice in the debate over wolves. Otherwise, we can complain and watch the slaughter continue.
So here is my challenge and pitch to any and all that are listening: We need to unite seven small conservation groups operating in the West. These would include only groups that oppose livestock grazing on public lands and want wolves protected-not shot or trapped. My proposal would be to have a three day, two night meeting in Boise, ID (a somewhat centralized location).
The purpose of the meeting would be to create a strategic plan, foundation plan and media plan for saving wolves across the West, both Northern Gray and Mexican. It would be the genesis of a unified coalition who will work together to support a single strategy we agree upon; one that will impact the protection of wolves and stop the compromising that working with opposition ranchers and politician at the expense of wolves.
We might call ourselves "The Wild Wolf-Healthy Lands Coalition."
The purpose of that coalition requires a lot of participant input, but clearly our basic goal would be to form a working group that can share a vision; one working to end public lands grazing, and expands instead of shrinks the wolves' range.
A Coalition that challenges state Game and Fish Departments, Governors and other elected officials who appear to be beyond both reason and the law. By bringing groups from several states, we can create a consistent messaging and develop an informational network that spans the entire West.
Such a meeting would be the start, not an endpoint. Future meetings would morph to include other stake holders: Tribes, additional conservation groups, scientists, wilderness philosophers, foundations and volunteers, who are already giving so much to help wolves.
But a first meeting must be small and willing to dig deep; to argue, celebrate, build trust, and find common ground that benefits wolves, not a group's or individual's ego.
Large national groups have millions of dollars to operate with and drive a stale, tired message of cooperation and partnerships with the livestock industry. Many of us with experience know far too well that the 'feel good' approach is doomed to failure.
By forging a new alliance, we can create a stronger voice that demands that large, corporate conservation groups begin to compromise, not with ranchers, but with a strong constituency within their own ranks that wants to re-frame the debate on wolves.
The basic thought is this: we are killing wolves to appease ranchers and their powerful allies. In so doing we show no respect for ourselves (as conservationists), or the fate of wolves. We are constantly told that we must stop being so “extreme” and learn to work with our opposition for the sake of the wolf.
This mealy-mouthed rhetoric sounds great in a corporate board room, and sounds weak and aimless outside the borders of Yellowstone and high up in the Gila. We need to become galvanized, intelligent and begin to shift the paradigm of wolf recovery.
United, we have a chance for change; standing alone, we remain a feeble voice in wilderness of rhetoric. Millions of dollars have been spent compromising on the wolf. We can bring some groups together to change that status quo. For three days and two nights we can work towards an enlightened vision and the cost would be no more than $7000-$9000 to cover participants' expenses and travel. It's feasible that a single donor, or a handful could make this proactive plan a reality. Will we be successful? It’s far too soon to know. We represent a segment of the conservation movement that to date has largely been ignored, to be heard we must show success or better prove ourselves. Our chances are better if we are a coalition- a group of people with guts and determination.
This coming week, we will be contacting the various groups to access their interest in a meeting, and to determine what each group requires to be part of this effort. We feel we can hold this crucial first meeting in the first week of December, and begin the New Year with hope and a vision that wolves are more important than the livestock industry, and gives notice that their days of control are coming to an end.
That is the challenge if wolves are to be truly free to reclaim the wildness that is our public lands and for justice to prevail.
Bold Visions Conservation