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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Endangering Ourselves

As a (somewhat) established blogger, I am approached by all sorts of people looking for a mention of their chosen cause. I've been asked to review books, join "Healthy Lifestyle" clubs, fitness programs, crowd sourcing projects and political causes. It seems there is a never ending line of people interested in a little free publicity.(I've been propositioned in a few other ways as well, but those go directly to the trash: Sorry, I'm not sure if I've mentioned this, but Mark is my husband which means I'm married and not available for those, uh, activities...) 

I was contacted by Amanda Milster with the Endangered Species Coalition recently regarding the de-listing of the North American gray wolf from the Endangered Species category. Coincidentally I had just read an article about OR-7, the gray wolf that lives in Oregon but occasionally wanders over the border to visit California. He slipped over the state line on December 7th, then ran back into Oregon a short while later (perhaps he caught wind of our higher taxes?) all of which was tracked through his electronic monitoring collar. California legislators are being urged to pass laws protecting wolves in the state, using him as proof that wolves will be coming our way, even if they haven't moved in quite yet. This story, coupled with the article I had just read about the US Fish and Wildlife Services proposal to take wolves off the endangered list and the reasons hunters have been pushing for it made Amanda's email all the more intriguing.


Balancing the needs of wild animals and the general human population has never been a simple matter. Habitat destruction, human fear, protection of livestock, and trophy hunting all interfere with the predator's ability to roam freely. In the old days, anything that interfered with commerce or was perceived to be a threat was eliminated, no questions asked. People moved in, claimed a spot of land, put up fences and shot anything that crossed over them. In California, grizzly bears were killed wherever they were discovered until the last one was finished off in 1922. I remember seeing poison openly laid out in the sheep pastures to kill coyotes here when I was little. They politely put up signs (spray painted on old car tires hung on fence posts) warning you not to let your dog loose or he might end up dead from the poison (or the rancher's gun I suppose.)

Coyote in Bodie State Park.
This guy will have some competition if wolves move back to the state.

Nowadays we've got regulation, litigation and political agendas to tell us what will happen to the wolves. And, no surprise, it seems like it all amounts to which side has the most money. Hunters are claiming the wolves are eating up all the deer, leaving nothing to shoot for dinner. At least one survey has found that it's really the poaching, loss of habitat and over abundance of deer licenses that should be blamed for the missing fauna. The ranchers are concerned that the wolves will slowly pick off all the young cattle, then start working on the adult animals, severely cutting into their profits. Of course, there will always be trophy hunters who just want to go out and shoot a wolf for the sake of bragging rights.

Interestingly enough, there are some businesses that are now standing up for the wolves. Patagonia, Dansko and Fishpond LLC have all thrown their support toward keeping the wolves on the endangered list. Although they no doubt have noble motives, there are monetary reasons behind it as well: the recovery effort relocating wolves to Yellowstone National Park has resulted in an uptick in tourism from all over the world, all vying for the chance to see a wolf in the wild (and perhaps sporting some new Patagonia wear while doing so.)

I've been googling issues surrounding wolves for a few weeks trying to get a feel for all sides of the argument. It's a tough issue for me. I tend to automatically side with animals when it comes down to it, so I have a hard time seeing the trophy hunter's point of view. But I do feel for the ranchers; I realize it's a hard way to make a living and seeing your profit literally being eaten up must be infuriating. As for the deer hunters...come on down to Sonoma and Marin counties! The deer here are so numerous and hungry they are coming into the city and eating all our rose bushes.

A field of deer is a common sight in our neck of the woods.

So I'll leave you with this final point of view, one that I was unable to find anywhere else:

Let's say you're tired of the rat race that is southern Canada. It's crowded, all the good mates are taken, and you just want a change of pace. You move south and find a nice spot along the river in a new area. You get to know your neighbors, maybe find a good looking single lady that came south around the same time. You settle down together and a few months later you've had quadruplets and boy are they hungry. So you run down the hill to stock up on groceries. This place called the Lazy R moved in a few years after you did--at first you were annoyed because they took down a lot of trees and kind of ruined it for the game that was living there--but it's turned out to be a nice place; neat, well maintained, a pretty good selection. You find some nice veal you know the missus would really enjoy so you pick it up and take it home. The family really likes it, but hey, it was much easier to pick up a rabbit or squirrel here and there so you stick with those for a while. A few months later you remember just how good that veal tasted, and haven't you been working hard? Don't you deserve a nice dinner once in a while? So you go back down to the Lazy R but this time they shoot at you. So you run back to the house to tell the family about your crazy day but you don't realize some guy on a horse has followed you. Within a few months your whole family is dead.

So I have to ask: Should we, as humans, always come first? Why?

(Here's a link to the Endangered Species Coalition in case you'd like to read more about their campaign.)