This is a guest post from Anthony J. Giordano, M.S., Ph.D.. He is the Founder and Executive Director of SPECIES: Society for the Preservation of Endangered Carnivores & their International Ecological Study.

In the history of western civilization, no animal has been as systematically vilified as the wolf. Neither spider nor snake, bat nor rat, nor shark of any kind, can make this claim. For many, the wolf is still the thing that kept us close to the campfire, its restless shadow and eager panting holding sleep at bay, its howl the fingers of winter’s embrace. For them, it is why they remind their children to stay close.

Hate of the wolf is part of our politics. More than 60 times in the past few years, Conservatives and Republicans in Congress have sought to undermine the Endangered Species Act – mostly to get at the wolf. These representatives furtively introduce amendments to proposed legislation that would delist wolves, turning “management authority” over to the states and putting them back in the crosshairs. This includes shoot-on-site laws where they are still in recovery. Beholden to rural agricultural lobbyists with agendas contrary to most American’s values, they use mischaracterization and fear to drive the ranks of their propaganda machine, infecting government agencies with it.

[pullquote]As new generations of Americans rise to positions of influence and power, they will likely do so with less lupine vitriol, embracing a philosophy of coexistence with this remarkable predator, and removing the hate from decision-making.[/pullquote]

Take Oregon for example. Recently it very publicly failed the 83 wolves in 9 packs that reside within its borders. That’s all the wolves Oregon has at the moment, mind you, having returned in 1999 after a 60 year absence. Given how the state’s wildlife commission has behaved however, you wouldn’t know this. Rather, you’d believe wolves had never gone, instead staying behind red in tooth and claw to wage war on the commercial livestock industry. In April, despite an open hearing where teachers, veterans, and the department’s own former staff testified 33 – 5 in favor of wolf protection, the commission unanimously instructed its staff to provide recommendations for delisting . With state wolf recovery then hanging in the balance, the propaganda machine went to work, decrying the statewide havoc wolves would wreak.

This past summer, as the state rolled out their “management plan” in what can at best be considered a shameless disregard for science, two adult wolves raising 5-month old pups were found dead under suspicious circumstances within 50 feet of each other. One was the semi-famous OR-21, who struck out on her own in 2014. And in the climax, last month after more than 90% of 22,000 solicited public comments were in support of maintaining the wolf’s protected status, and letters from countless scientists underscoring the plan’s many flaws, the state stubbornly betrayed logic and its public, voting to delist. Shame on Oregon. They presented only an illusion of fairness, an illusion that sound science, expert opinion, and the public’s values might be relevant to policy decisions.

Why should this matter to Californians? In 2011, a single wolf from Oregon, the famous OR-7, arrived in California. In anticipation of the wolf’s more permanent establishment here, California did something prescient, a sign maybe things were changing: it offered the wolf protection before it was established. Earlier this year, and much earlier than many anticipated, the echo of the Shasta Pack’s arrival in Siskiyou County rang with the wolf’s full potential to recolonize the Sierra Nevadas. But it is Oregon that likely controls the fate of wolf recolonization to the Golden State in the near future. Moreover, there is speculation that California maybe hasn’t quite gone far enough. A new state conservation plan would consider removing protections after only nine packs become resident, potentially as few as 50-60 individuals. And if California were to do this, then shame on it as well.

There is a silver lining looming on the horizon. There are 83 wolves in Oregon now, six more than when it first proposed to delist. Today, wolves occupy more of their historic range (approximately 10%) in the continental U.S. than at any time since WW II. As new generations of Americans rise to positions of influence and power, they will likely do so with less lupine vitriol, embracing a philosophy of coexistence with this remarkable predator, and removing the hate from decision-making. As they do, I expect the wolf to continue its return, and we may finally transcend this foolish notion of the big bad wolf.

Stay Informed!

16 comments on “Transcending the Big Bad Wolf

  1. We need to respect the wolf for it is a value to the balance of all other creatures. Do you not see they keep the healthy and strong ones standing and take out diseased,old,sick and injured to keep the herds of everything else strong. They need to be protected from hunting. For are not the farmers to blame if they are on park land or fail to insure the safety of there animals . It is not the WOLVES that are to blame it is us. PROTECT AND SAVE these MAGNIFICENT animals for the future of a healthy ecosystem.

    1. I agree wit wat u said abt the wolves.. I just dont undesrstand why they keep takin them off the protection act.. It is so wrong.. The. Deserve to live.. I love wolves.. There are so important to us.. Why would anyone not want to protect them..

    1. Unfortunately, most young Americans rising to power and influence think of the wolf as a dinosaur, and are so committed to virtual reality than to actual reality and have so many other problems to deal with that they really don’t give a good god-damn. At least that’s been mt experience for the part. Hope I’m wrong, but that’s what I see. Vitriol, you say? They don’t care enough or know enough to have any? Furthermore, there’s not reason to expect that they’re not going to sell out to the same types of industrial anti-wolf folks their forbears have done so to – the frackers, the excavators of all kinds, lumberers, etc….for the sake of becoming powerful and influential in the first place. If they’re really serious (including being knowledgeable about wolves, which, for the most part they’re pointedly not) then they’ll work on legislated population control of humans – which is the only way animals like wolves and humans will ultimately be able to live together.

  2. While it is understandable that ranchers in the same geographic proximity of northern California/southern Oregon would have trepidation and concern about the competing objectives of raising livestock and wolves seeking to forage, it would seem easy enough for ranchers to either of their own volition, or via federally funded compensation to invest in several large, suitable dogs to reinforce securing the ranching grazing/herding territory. Similarly, there could (ideally) be verifiable percentile “sacrifices” offered for wolves sustenance that could be similarly compensated vis a vis governmental compensation. This would provide a potential win-win for ecologists to ensure the awe-inspiring return of this magnificent, regal apex predator, and as well sustain the vocational well-being of ranchers who justifiably seek to protect their investment and livelihood.

    The use of federal lands for grazing of privately owned livestock is altogether a separate conversation, inasmuch that these lands belong to us all, as a nation, and established wilderness areas are designated such specifically with the visionary objective of preserving for posterity the legacy of natural resources, that most definitely includes Canis lupus…

  3. Thanks for writing this piece.

    Your point about commissions and politicians vilifying wolves and working against their constituents wishes is well made.

    You gave a great example with Oregon’s delisting. There are many others, as well. For example, Washington’s killing of the Wedge Pack and the continuous insidious eroding of their originally fair plan. The state congressmen of Michigan, MN and WI working to delist wolves even when a referendum vote was taken and voters voted to end the hunt in MI. As an example of the dastardly deeds that some legislators do, Senator Caspersen (MI) lied about wolves circling a pubic school yard. Later, under duress, he had to recant his statements, Also in MI, The department head of the Michigan DNR also ordered his staff to trash comments against wolf hunting that were sent in from the public as part of the public comment process. In the final count, 13 people indicated they were supportive of wolf hunting while 7000+- indicated they did not want a wolf hunt. Who knows how many more anti wolf hating comments were trashed.On a national level, when the federal government proposed delisting wolves nationally more than 1.6 million people commented (more than on any other proposal to date).

    Ordinary citizens do not want to see wild wolves and other carnivores slaughtered by trophy hunters or to soothe irrational fears of the livestock industry. I used to fear the lobbies and their money but Congress is what I fear most now. They don’t listen to their constituents. Worse yet, they work against those who elected them and create laws that are willfully in opposition to their constituent’s voices and against the long term best interests of this country.

    One need look no further than the current version of the poisonous Sportsman Heritage Act. For those not familiar with it, the bill opens up wilderness and other federal lands to mandatory trapping and hunting, allows import of endangered polar bear parts, prohibits regulation of lead ammunition and thanks to Senator Barrasso now contains a delisting rider that would delist the Western Great Lakes and Wyoming wolves after court decisions last year returned these populations of wolves to federal protections. Additionally the sleazy rider would prevent judicial review of the USFWS rule that would hand authority to the states to “manage” wolves.

    In every state where wolves are “managed” under state plans, they are hunted. No hunting method is off the table, snares, traps, helicopter and aerial gunning, dogs or hounding, bow and arrow and guns with suppressors. There is no consideration given for their pack structure, for their ecological status as apex predator in their niche, for their sociality or intelligence or for the absolute waste and cruelty that is trophy hunting.

    Thank you, as a scientist for speaking up for wolves.
    We need a national carnivore protection act!

    1. I am entirely pro-conservation and pro-carnivore; I spent years as a Wilderness Guide in the Wind Rivers, Sangre de Cristo and Colorado Rockies in the early 70’s when wolves were (thought to be) extirpated from those areas – they were present as lone wolves or pairs if you spent enough time in wilderness areas – a fact that I have kept to myself all these years because a) people would think I was untruthful or crazy and b) I could see no reason to reveal the location of tracks, sightings and kills that would benefit the wolves. Be that as it may.
      Pro-carnivore advocates need to tread carefully and make sure they are correct and realistic in the policies they advocate. Wolves are large and very efficient killers – they will kill cattle and other stock, and, sooner or later, they will kill or injure a human unless proper precautions are put in place to prevent human safety issues in habitat. These are not difficult or expensive precautions. And the issue is real or at least a real possibility.
      The hatred of wolves is not based on imagination, or confined to ancient history. As Francis Braudel carefully documents in his landmark work “The Structure of Everyday Life”, Volume 1, pp. 66-67, wolves were a real threat to humans, even in cities, throughout Europe up until the 15th century; they breached the city walls of Paris in the winter of 1420-21 and killed people in the street; they reappeared at the city gates in 1438-9 and attacked travelrs between Montmarrte and the Saint-Antoine gate. They persisted in good numbers in more remote areas of France for the next 200 years; the Vercors were still “infested” with wolves in 1851. Humans do not easily forget real threats.
      Other carnivores were and are even more feared; Braudel documents tigers swimming out in the Ganges to take fishermen sleeping in their small boats. At the International Ornithology Congress in Vienna in 1994, I struck up acquaintance with an Indian colleague from the Chitwan region at the base of the Himalayas where large mammals remain common; I inquired if he had any experience with tigers in casual conversation – he replied, “Oh yes – they were eating my grandmother.” Seeing the appalled look on my face, he continued: “It is a very remote village; the tigers were eating many people, not just my grandmother”.
      I did not enquire as to the conservation status of tiger populations, as I had planned to, and retired to contemplate.
      My conclusion is that carnivores require human conservation action, but it is best to be sure that you don’t require action from people whose grandmothers have been eaten by them.

  4. I must take exception to the article’s assertion that “the wolf is still the thing that kept us close to the campfire…”
    It is highly doubtful that wolves have ever done this, as they evolved in th shadow of a carnivore guild containing far larger flesh-eaters.
    Since anthropological and hisotorical accounts of attitudes toward wolves as extensive, though scatterred about, we can gainn an understanding:
    1. Hun ter-gsatherer societies revered wolves, respecting them as teachers of how to live, including much knowledge of their impressive social structure; wolves are extremely cohesive and caring within their family/pack structure, more so than most human societies we know (I will not here go into the subject, leaving it for your exploration)
    Those cultures that regard wolves as undesirable are exclusive herding and domestic animal-keeping. From Kazakh herders who stole Golden Eagles from their nests to train them to hunt wolves – the first falconers, it is said.
    The people of the Himalayan foothills, who while losing insufficiently attended children (NO other species is so oblivious to nature’s danger for offspring, as are modern human cultures!), they perceive wolves and EVERY wild creature not directly visibly of value to their culture as “enemy.”

    The use of wolf as danger epithet appears to have begun in the herding cultures of southwest Asia – the Hebrew (this group is so called from “hebiru” – old Akkadian, meaning “dusty nomad”) bible contrasts the valued sheep they herded with the unknown ancient balancer of nature, the wolf, whose ecological job it was and is, is to prevent overpopulation and consequent ecosystem destruction by ungulates.
    In Medieval Europe, the heavy human population that intimately kept domestic and their fleas, etc. suffered from plagues so severe that often there were not enough people foolish enough to come close to the dead (it is quite clear that people understood de facto disease transmission). ALL carnivores are also carrion-eaters. The wolf throve in such circumstances, and of course, Euros also failed to protect their small childrens’ wandering, as did the Indus population centers.
    Thus the hebrew, Indus, and European perception of wolves as Teddy Roosevelt’s “beast of waste and desolation” were brought to the continent where the wolf was known as fellow, companion (learn the Ojibwe and other creation stories), Brother, savior (Dakota), teacher (most tribes).
    Since all humans are immigrants to this continent where the canids appear to have evolved (coyote, eastern wolf, the westward migration of gray wolf forebear too Asia, the dire wolf , thicker but about the same weight as Northern gray wolves, have for two million years we know of, known this continent as home. Explore the Oneida tale of “who speaks for wolf” for a traditional insight into our incursion into the land of the wolf.
    The European hatred for the wolf is still exorbitant in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Karelia, where wolves lived but are today crazily shot on sight. The gun is a technology for which humans are not suited. This technology must be forever banned to those who fail to respect the wolf in their rightful home.
    No one who travels and builds campfires fears the wolf per se. It is known through psychological study that gun owners carry greater fear of nature than those who travel without.

    Although I have researched these subjects, it is up to YOU to do your own research, as I cannot sift through years of study merely for internet comment. However, it IS incumbent upon essayists, professional writers, and reporters to substantiate their assertions – to do the research will lead you to the same scientific and cultural sources as will support this comment.

  5. Its time, now, that all animals, wild and domesticated live their lives without abuse, torture and being killed senselessly. Unless we all stop this, it will continue.

  6. Great article Anthony. It is unbelievable after many years of knowing that killing top predators has a cascade of negative effects o the whole ecosystems and other populations and species from hervibores to plants, we are still denying science and losing large predators at an alarming rate. For those who claim wolves to be a threat to humans and livestock, we have to consider that humans are destroying, reducing and deforesting the habitat of wildlife and thus causing the encroachment of these species and the unfortunate encounters with wild carnivores. Also we are the ones invading the habitats of wild animals and then complain about bear, pumas, coyotes and wolves in “our backyards”. Also, we are the ones introducing domestic animals, not only cattle but dogs, cats, pigs, in wildlands, so we are killing predators because they kill the animals we introduce in their territories and we also kill their natural prey, causing the predators to kill cattle. It is a big tabu to consider reducing our meat consumption, but it is not only for vegans and vegetarians, we should all reduce our meat consumption because large scale farming is taking up water, food sources of grains that are fed to animals instead of humans, soils and also are the leading cause for human predator conflict. Plus it is a massive scale cruelty and abuse industry. We really need to rethink our complex relationships with wildlife, we need to focus on a coexistence balance and it is possible to coexist with wild predators, but if we leave no food, no habitat and no resources for them, we will continue to see them as dangerous for our survival, and not the other way around.

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