by Stephen Capra
For the second time in four years, one rancher, Len McIrvin, is dictating policy on our public land. In this case, despite the clear knowledge that he released his cows in a wild, forested and rugged land that had an existing wolf den.
The Washington Department of Fish And Wildlife, with the agreement of conservation groups that include Defenders of Wildlife, Humane Society of the United States, Conservation Northwest and Wolf Haven International, the Profanity Peak Pack is being destroyed so that we can maintain the status quo: Ranchers controlling our public lands.
Think for a moment what life is like being a wolf in the West. Every day is running a gauntlet of traps, hunting seasons, ranchers and state game departments that take pride in your destruction; the pure hell of a helicopter hovering above with scope and a sharp-shooter taking aim at your family and with crushing accuracy destroying your very life force. All the while the health of our lands, the value of biodiversity, and the reality that we are losing species to climate change and mans ignorance is lost to the mantra that livestock comes before wildlife. The parochial concept is that public lands are to be exploited for profit, rather than protected for life.
So this wild and beautiful pack of wolves must die, so a rancher-one with a clear vendetta against wolves- a man who has learned well in his family’s 73 years of enjoying the subsidies and special treatment afforded ranchers on our public lands and how to “game the system.”
The press release from the various conservation groups speaks to this being a “tough but necessary step.” Jamie Rapport Clark, the head of Defenders of Wildlife, hearing the outrage loud and clear from her membership went to Huffington Post to state: “I want you to know how gut-wrenching as this loss is, the work we do every day is creating a safer landscape for wolves.”
If that were actually true, I think most of us could agree. But the reality is quite different: wolves are being slaughtered as they struggle to gain a foothold. The fantasy that we can have wolves and happy rural communities, is just that, a fantasy. In such a cultural battle, we cannot continue to believe that conservation voices will breakdown generations of thinking. That is the definition of arrogance. Another major flaw is the creation of these so-called “working groups” that bring ranchers, conservationists, and State Game and Fish agencies together to work on wolf issues. We are losing every time we allow a killing, every time we give voice to a ranching community that does not seek fairness, but simply to maintain their power over agencies, politicians and the press. By participating we give away our power, not gain it, and the victim in this travesty, is the wolf.
We are fighting to shift a paradigm in need of change. Supporting ranchers and giving them a larger voice is destroying all we hold precious. The “profanity” in all of this remains the reluctance of the conservation community to unify and fight this senseless killing. There are no easy answers, yet it seems clear after more than 25 years of effort, of trying to find common ground with the ranching community, that wolves and other large carnivores are paying the price in a trail of blood that stretches from Alaska to New Mexico. It has helped to inspire the takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge and the continued harassment of government agencies that manage our public lands. It continues to inspire legislation designed to open lands to exploitation and undermine generations of conservation effort.
The appeasement of the ranching community must end. It’s time to put focused and determined effort into removing cows from our public lands. The value of these lands as a reservoir for biodiversity far outweighs the reckless subsidies of our future that continues to be degraded and disrespected in the hands of ignorance. We are fighting now for justice, for true equality for all life, not just that of humans. We are asking for sanity in a situation that has frankly become insane.
Like any real social movement, education alone does not evoke change. From civil rights to gay rights to environmental protections, it has usually taken the hammer of our courts to force the changes in social norms. Likewise, ranchers and rural communities are going to have to face similar stark realities in order to force an evolution. Some will thrive with change and some will not. We have witnessed this when logging moved away or mining packed up and left.
The government can help support a transition as it should and the retirement of allotments continues to create an economic incentive for a dying industry.
The future of rural communities is not livestock grazing, but wolves, recreation and the restoration of our lands and waters that have been so degraded by the cow.
History is always a guide to the present. For many it is hard to look at our past, to read of the slaughter of Native Americans, to the destruction of bison on the Great Plains, to remember an America where the color of your skin was a barrier to a future. So too will we be remembered as a generation that brought back a magnificent animal from the brink, but only if we truly give it freedom, life, and the liberty to live and thrive in a place we call wildness. For this to happen we must demand more of ourselves and be strong enough to challenge a Western culture soiled in blood.
Only then can the Profanity Peak Pack truly rest in peace.