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Wolves and Bears and Lions, Oh My!

Stephen Capra, Bold Visions Conservation

"We stood by and allowed what happened to the Great Plains a century ago, the destruction of one of the ecological wonders of the world. In modern America, we need to see this with clear eyes, and soberly, so that we understand well that the flyover country of our own time derives much of its forgettability from being a slate wiped almost clean of its original figures."

― Dan Flores, American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains

There is a brick wall of stupidity that lands at the offices of the governors of Idaho and Montana. They and those that control their respected Republican-controlled legislatures seem to hate any animal that is beautiful, smart, and vital to the health of the lands and waters of these two states. That is unless they are deer or elk.

In Idaho, Governor Brad Little is suing the government to get grizzlies delisted so they can be killed. In Montana, the gutting of the Fish, Wildlife and Parks at the direction of the Governor continues, with key personnel running from the agency as they see their life's work undermined by a fool.

Without even consulting with the average sportsman or conservationist, they now have their sights on killing grizzlies and mountain lions following their slaughter of wolves. Bison are being shot at the entrance to Yellowstone, and we again see a river of blood that cascades across the mountains and valleys of the West that less than 200 years ago destroyed native species and people.

Ignorance is hard to stop. Within the ranching community, it is time that maturity and coexistence become the mantra of those that seek to control our public lands rather than share them.

There is a clear path; we must make clear that ranching, like any other business, understands the risk, and part of getting a lease makes clear they can kill no predators-period. These are federal lands, not cow pastures, and less than ½ of 1 percent of cattle die from predation.

Second, we must make Game and Fish agencies enter the 21st century. The Governor should not pick who is on the commission, and no one should ever be allowed to profit from such an appointment. It should be an independent agency that has its members picked based on science, their education, and understanding of wildlife. It should not be to please trophy hunting interests, trappers, or ranching interests. Its focus must be on the long-term sustainability of wildlife.

It is also time our elected officials and wildlife agencies stop and take seriously the fact that they laugh off and try to deny; that wildlife has feelings; they can and do feel pain and suffer the loss of a mate and packmate.

My good friend Norm Bishop, a wolf extraordinaire, who spent many years in Yellowstone, shared this with me. It sums this up with observation, science, and heart.

Dr. Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, interviewed wolf biologist John Vucetich about his book for Psychology Today and comments: John's wide-ranging book goes beyond the lives of the wolves, and he is right on the mark in his unyielding claim that wolves are excellent for forcing us to think about how "compassion-soaked reasoning…may be essential, for favoring fair coexistence with biodiversity."

Vucetich's response included this: "The most important lesson that I've ever learned is difficult to tell in the August pages of scientific journals. But I am free to tell it here in his book Restoring the Balance. It's a lesson that I've known for some time now. Very simply: these animals-the wolves of Isle Royale-they have lives, individual lives like you and I. They know what happened yesterday, they have plans for what comes next, and they have interests. To see that unfold in all its particulars really changes a person's view of nature, all nature. Because if wolves have lives, then it is only a small step to realize that squirrels and robins have lives. All living things creatures we share the planet with—they all have lives. They are not the resources for us to conserve, so much as they are the brothers and sisters with whom to share."

We can move forward, but we must defeat ignorance, greed, and ego. We must do so with compassion but without hesitation, for wildlife needs us now like never before. We must fight the powers that be who see wildlife as a trophy or as a crop in need of harvesting. They should look in the mirror and ask what gave me the power to be God over other species? If religion truly guides them, hopefully they can evolve to show love, respect, and compassion. But that will require an intervention, one we must force. We need not be enemies but work together while understanding the mistakes of the past, to do what is suitable for the species that remain, while ensuring generations to come are as awed as we have been by the presence of wolves, grizzlies, beaver, and fox, all the species, that make life on earth so extraordinary.

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