The paradoxical call of the wild

  • Jonathan Thompson


Dogs Vamped by She Wolves Are Leaving Homes. This was a headline that ran -- not on the cover of Cosmo, describing some new coupling trend between more-than-foxy older women and ugly younger guys -- but in Western newspapers in 1924. It was meant literally, and it gives insight into the battle against wolves that was raging at the time.

The Europeans who came to the New World brought with them an ingrained hatred of wolves. When the settlers headed West, and the wolves showed an inclination for eating livestock, that hatred manifested itself in a campaign of killing. In 1915, the U.S. Biological Survey was officially tasked with systematically executing all predators, by whatever means necessary.

By 1924, the government's poisoning campaigns had so reduced the number of adult male wolves that the remaining females had to go slumming in peoples' yards for mates. One Colorado rancher held "a private grudge" against "Old Three Toes," a particularly seductive older gray wolf that went so far as to dig the rancher's collie out of his pen in order to frolic with it. That didn't exactly ease the bad feelings towards predators. In 1943, the last wolf in Colorado was killed in the remote south San Juan Mountains.

In this issue's cover story, Michelle Nijhuis reports that wolves may have finally returned to Colorado on their own, in hopes of sticking around. They're coming from the North, perhaps looking for more prey in a new place where there's less competition. Maybe they're following some genetic urge to re-inhabit their ancestral homeland. Whatever the impetus, that homeland has been drastically altered -- for better and worse.

Today, there is a lot less habitat, and a lot more people. Subdivisions, gas fields and deadly highways slice up what was once free range. At the same time, there are also fewer ranchers, meaning fewer people whose livelihood is directly threatened by wolves. It's telling that, as Nijhuis reports, one of the wolves' best hopes in Colorado is not federal protection or public land, but a huge ranch with an owner who has an innovative way of managing his property. Instead of an atmosphere of universal disdain, the wolves will be welcomed by a cacophony of emotion, ranging from the traditional fear and hatred to Dances With Wolves-style adoration. For the most part, however, the hatred is no longer institutionalized: Today, the U.S. Biological Survey is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, its mission ostensibly to protect, not exterminate, the wolves.

That's not to say Colorado wolves don't face a tough road ahead. Human beings who loathe predators will inevitably do their best to wipe them out. Just witness the case of the reintroduced Canada lynx in Colorado: Poachers have killed at least four of them, two in the last several months. Others will try to systematize -- and exploit -- anti-predator hostility. In Utah, where wolves have been sighted but have not yet settled, state Sen. Allen Christensen proposed a bill that would order state officials to kill any wolves that venture into Utah, because wolves are "simply not compatible with humans." The bill was watered down to demand that the feds take wolves off the endangered species list, which still protects the canines in Utah and Colorado. 

As the wolves return, the story will become increasingly tangled, full of contentious politics, complicated wildlife management schemes, and the incredible vulnerability -- and unexpected toughness -- of the animals themselves. Unfortunately, people like the senator in Utah have a large constituency ripe for anti-wolf hysteria. That's why those who care about wolves, habitat and a more balanced natural world need to stand up and make themselves heard. They can change this story from just another tragedy to a triumph of the indomitable spirit of the wild.

Anonymous says:
Feb 17, 2010 05:41 PM
Disdain for wolves, and ignorance. Since when have you actually contributed to the ecosystem. You were probably educated in a college that did'nt educate but indoctrinated you. You're not alone though! 99 percent of colleges in america do nothing but brain wash people, in an effort to control them politically. Yes turn them into easy to control ecofriendly liberals, to of course make the world a better place "not". Mindkompf as they use to say in the blissful 1930's of Germany. European people did'nt like wolves because they actually had experience with wolves prior to settleing in america. You see Jonathon back when they exterminated wolves they actually had to make living off the land. They were'nt trial lawyer's making a living being very dihonest. They were good decent folk's that actually built this country, and believed in freedom unlike you. They had the freedom to kill wolves in an effort to make ranching a more doable thing. While they were helping feed your ancestors they were getting rid of wolves. Unfortunately you just don't get that. You probably live in some ski town or big city, and have no practical experience living off the land or doing anything really productive. You again are not alone. Of course your doctrine is selfdestructive and quite ignorant.
Anonymous says:
Mar 11, 2010 03:44 PM
Did the poster above suck this immeasurable stupidity out of his thumb or is there some type of method to his madness?

Jonathan Thompson's article quite correctly points out that there are people out there filled with hatred and malice towards everything that they don't understand. It follows that those with little intellect do a lot of hating - case proven by the poster above.

It always boils down to the same thing, there are those willing to live meaningful and informed lives showing respect for one another and our fellow creatures, and then there are those trapped by their own selfish ignorance who would like to have it either their way or spoil it for everyone else.

We can make a difference by making ourselves heard - lets show them that everyday there are more of us and less of them.

Go Wolves!
Anonymous says:
Mar 17, 2010 08:28 PM
Robin, I don't hate wolves. That's an assumption you made. The reason that much smarter more enlightened country folks don't like wolves is quite obvious. You see the main reason is that liberals like you use the excuse that their are indangered species around. In doing so the government uses this to manipulate what property owners can and can not do with their property's. That is of course a perversion of our constitutional rights. You see you are the hateful person that wants to butt in and tell everyone else how to live their lives. You are also being manipulated by the elite, that are trying to do away with our constitution. Joseph Stalin once said that people like you were usefull idiots. oh, so true! I guess we'll see how many more of you there are in the next election, oh hateful one!
Anonymous says:
Mar 18, 2010 10:07 AM
could examine their rants from an objective viewpoint. I know, I know, they think they *are* being objective but the arguments put forth exhibit only 2 things: fear and a lack of real understanding (whether from a school or self-taught) of how the world functions.

The adoption of a purely short-term, utilitarian outlook towards everything non-human reflects a poor understanding of how complex ecosystems function. In the long run Colorado's ecosystems will be healthier with an intact trophic structure, which includes wolves. People who really understand this will actually do a better job of making a living off the land (which we all do whether directly or indirectly).

I realize it would be all too easy to accuse folks like Will of the indoctrination (by the Limbaughs of the world) that they like to accuse everyone who disagrees with them who happened to graduate from college (or high school for that matter). The truth is more complicated though because in many cases it's a willful ignorance based on fear, either directly or of competition with nature.

All I can suggest is for them to read a book or 3 on the subject with an open mind. David Mech has a classic one based on decades of study of the wolves on Isle Royale. It might just open their eyes.

By the way, before Will accuses me of it, I'm not some urban-liberal-anarchist-anti-hunting person. I have worked and taught (and hiked, hunted, photographed, etc..) in the outdoors for 40 years understanding and managing forests and natural resources for actual use (including logging) by people while retaining functioning ecosystems for everything else.
Anonymous says:
Apr 12, 2010 10:54 PM
Guy's like DOC really believe that because they are so objective, that they are just more right. Wait a minute do colleges teach people that there is a difference between right and wrong anymore. I doubt it since they are mostly state funded, and just want people to get along. Really they just want people to be easier to control. You see the elite's have all the power & money they need so they have slowly been introducing comunism into our state funded schools. Communism is the easiest way of "total mind control". It eliminates competition, and makes people utterly worthless. How could a guy like the president we have gotten elected if people had'nt been feeling the affects of mind control for a very long time. If you seriously don't believe me there is'nt that much hope for you. The problem with wolf reintroduction is not the wolves, but the wolf like people behind it. The useful idiots are the ones that get really passionate about it. While the Communists behind it love it. The endangered species act is truly unconstitutional, because it prohibits what people can do with "their" private land "not the governments". What's really happening is a land grab. The elites want us dead, and they want our land. They've been printing our money keeping us in debt and manipulating our people and politicians.
Anonymous says:
Apr 13, 2010 12:28 PM
The commies are coming the commies are coming! BOO!

Will, how do you define communism? What is a communist? Can you provide us with a list of their names? I really am interested in learning about the "enemy". How do I know that you're not one of them who's simply acting like a true patriot to throw us off track?

I'd love to hear your answer. I imagine that many of the other readers would be interested as well.
Anonymous says:
Nov 30, 2010 08:43 AM
Well, for what it's worth, my definition of "communist" (actually, I prefer Socialist) is someone who want to use someone elses resources to further their agenda. This would seem to include those so-called environmentalists who expect Fish and Game departments in the west to come up with funds from an ever diminishing source (i.e. hunting license fees and federal taxes on hunting equipment and firearms) to pay for enforcement of game laws and pay out monies for wildlife damage. Will these folks team with the hunters and Fish and Game departments to pay for the damage to domestic livestock, hunting dogs, as well as dogs used to protect sheep herds? If they cannot produce funding to pay for the damage wolves produce, then according to my definition, they are Socialists, or as Will prefers, "Communists".