AND WOLVES ARE NOT BAD
by Whit Gibbons
February 18, 2007
someone use the term "anticonservation" last week in reference
to two newspaper articles. One included the sentence "anything that
helps round up a few more rattlers is OK with me." The other was
an appeal for "hunters to kill" all but about 100 gray wolves
in Idaho, with the implication that the wolves were going to destroy the
hunting industry by killing elk and other game species.
statement was made by columnist Harris Blackwood in the Times (Gainesville,
Ga.). The remark about removing native wolves was voiced by Governor Otter
of Idaho, according to an Associated Press article by Jesse Harlan Alderman.
express an opinion about how we should treat our wildlife and other natural
resources. Other people, likewise, have license to criticize what they
consider wrongheaded opinions. Catching rattlesnakes and hunting wolves
are not, in my opinion, inherently bad activities, though they should
be managed with consideration for potential impacts on the natural environment
or on the species themselves. I am, however, opposed to comments that
promote fear and ignorance about groups of animals--particularly ones
like snakes and wolves that are already held in unreasonable contempt
by many people.
profiling does not help fill the ignorance vacuum already surrounding
these much-maligned animals. For example, referring to snakes as creatures
that "could either bite you and send a deadly poison venom running
through your body or could crush you and have you for dinner" is
overstatement bordering on the absurd. Most snakes are not venomous; most,
in fact, are completely harmless to humans; some are actually beneficial.
And the chances of your encountering a constrictor that eats you are about
as likely as your next trip to the sun. Let's not encourage people to
think that snakes are "bad" and need to be removed from the
with the wolf hype by the governor. Again, nothing wrong with hunting
or hunters, but portraying wolves as "bad," is just not twenty-first
century. Attitudes reminiscent of the Three Little Pigs and Little Red
Riding Hood are out of date. Wolves will never eat all of the elk. They
may reduce herd numbers so that we keep the "sport" in sports
hunting, but when elk populations decline, western wolves shift their
diet to buffalo or other prey.
on the federal endangered species list, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service plans to remove them from protection in Idaho. I spoke to a state
official with Idaho Fish and Game (IFG) who said the state has 650 wolves,
71 different wolf packs, and 41 breeding pairs. The governor was promoting
a plan to reduce them to 10 breeding pairs. The IFG spokesperson pointed
out that the governor can say what he wants, but IFG will maintain at
least 15 breeding pairs and keep the overall wolf populations at much
higher levels than the 100 the governor wants. The IFG almost certainly
knows a lot more about managing wildlife in Idaho than the governor does.
Being able to shoot a gun doesn't mean you know how to set up a hunting
management plan for wolves.
that the negative views expressed about snakes and wolves in the aforementioned
articles are counter to prudent conservation. But a glimmer of environmental
hope shines through. Despite perpetuating misinformation about an already
misunderstood group of animals, the snake column did include the following
comment: "I don't like snakes [but] I have a great appreciation of
their contribution to the ecosystem." That is at least a step toward
environmental sensibility. Meanwhile, the Idaho governor may shoot from
the hip when he portrays wolves as evildoers that need to be exterminated,
but the people who run the state game management programs understand the
larger picture. As the game official said, "Idaho has a mandate to
preserve all wildlife and to manage all big game properly."
can be offered by anyone. Indeed, that is a fundamental right in our society.
But as Thomas Jefferson once said, "Error of opinion may be tolerated
where reason is left free to combat it." Neither snakes nor wolves
nor any other group of animals are intrinsically "bad," and
no one should facilitate the foolish beliefs of some people that they
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