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Second Look: A Grandfather's Wisdom

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Second Look: A Grandfather's Wisdom

By John Thomson, Animals and Society Institute (ASI)
September 2012

Note: From time to time ASI will be republishing Diary entries from the past when they are particularly relevant. John Thompson's Diary entry was first posted on this site in April 2011. It is timely now when several states are considering hunting wolves.

This Cherokee legend is again circulating around the blogosphere:

An elder is teaching his grandchild about life. "There are two wolves inside me who are fighting," he says. "One is greedy, arrogant, angry, and deceitful. The other is full of hope, kindness, peace, truth and love. You have that same fight within you also, as does every other person."

The grandchild was silent as she thought about this, then she asked, "Which wolf will win, Grandfather?"

"The one you feed," her grandfather replied.

Of course, the wolf in the story is a metaphor for powerful capabilities, but a few days ago the "bad wolf" that is well fed by political influence dealt a terrible blow to real wolves in the western states.

For years, ever since the reintroduction of wolf populations in areas of the Northern Rockies where humans exterminated them, wolves have been protected by the Endangered Species Act. The governments of Idaho and Montana in particular have consistently fought that protection. They claim that wolves prey on domestic livestock and decimate large herds of moose and elk. These are allegations straight from the ranching and hunting lobby playbook.

Numerous valid studies have shown that both claims are fallaciously exaggerated. Actually, the reintroduction of a natural predator has restored order to both abnormally burgeoning wildlife populations and the deleterious effect they have had on the environment.

And, yes, wolves have eaten some livestock, especially when they are grazed on public lands. The losses are low and not in proportion to the allegations and fears of ranchers. Those grazing rights, incidentally, are leased to ranchers at a pittance of their actual value as one of many subsidies enjoyed by the food industry.

wolf wolves hunt endangeredRecently Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar reintroduced Bush mandates, which removed federal protection for wolves. A federal court, however, ruled that Salazar's actions were unconstitutional and restored Endangered Species List protection.

Now Congress enters the fray. Two legislators quietly attached a tiny 118 word rider inside the recent 459 page emergency budget legislation. Without ever mentioning wolves by name, it overruled the court and restored the Bush-Salazar rules. It also states that this provision "shall not be subject to judicial review."

This is a very dangerous precedent. Without discussion, and without any review of the abundance of good research, Congress has secretively put itself in the business of managing a science-based Endangered Species Act.

National Resource Defense Council president, Frances Beinecke, wrote: "It is a shameful day for this nation when both parties unite behind the slaughter of an endangered species -- without public hearing or debate."

Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife said, "Congress is selling out America's wolves, and in the process is also undermining not only one of our greatest wildlife conservation successes, but also the Endangered Species Act, one of the world's most far-sighted conservation laws"

Idaho Gov "Butch" Otter once promised to be the first in line for a hunting license when it became legal to shoot wolves. Montana's Governor Brian Schweitzer simply advocates shooting wolves and asking questions later. Both governors have promised to allow the slaughter of a major portion of the existing packs, and they will probably do it quickly.

This issue could be about any protected animal and I would feel the same repugnance and sadness. Wolves, however, have a special place in my heart. I have never been face-to-face with one, but I have been roused from sleep while camping in The Rockies by their eerie, lonely, heart-piercing howls. That sound penetrates to a deep primal consciousness, and it stays there. (It's not really the same, but play the sound on this link, close your eyes and imagine you are in the wilderness on a cold, dark.)

I hope that there will be enough media exposure and public pushback on this issue to force Congress into reversing its unintended action. Sunlight is all it takes to persuade legislators to feed the right wolf.