09 February 2010


Yesterday's Missoulian featured a front page article that is bound to arouse violent controversy among hunters, ranchers, and others with a vested interest in the status quo. The gist is that researchers have determined that one approach to the decades-old problem of soaring populations of elk and deer in our national parks (not to mention in metropolitan suburbs and large urban parks) is to take a cue from nature, and introduce small packs of wolves to restore prey herds to more sustainable sizes.

My first response was "gee, ya think?" Wolves and other large predators were the perfect regulators of grazing species for millenia before European settlers "conquered" North America. Entire ecosystems weren't endangered (as they are under human mismanagement), because native predators culled the herds of those animals too old, too sick, or too young and unprotected by adults to escape. Predation not only kept the herds down to reasonable numbers, but also improved the overall health of prey species since only those best adapted to escape, survived to reproduce and pass on their genes to the next generation. Humans (both aboriginal and white colonial) upset that dynamic balance, first demonizing and then wiping out predators, removing any perceived competition for game animals.

Predator reintroduction has been successful where it has been attempted, in spite of the resistance (sometimes violent) of knee-jerk reactionaries who still believe the same tired old myths about wolves. There is no excuse for living in denial of the facts.

One aspect of this new proposal that I find disturbing is that the researchers want to appease livestock owners (many of whom pay a pittance for the privilege of running their stock on public lands, a form of welfare that they vehemently deny) by sterilizing the introduced wolves, so that they cannot reproduce beyond the ridiculously low numbers being suggested. Let them breed!! They'll already be shock-collared, fitted with radio tracking devices, and fenced in. Collaring and tracking I support. It is important to track the wolves' movements, and to minimize their impact on livestock. But if nature has shown us anything, repeatedly we've seen that predator and prey species will once again achieve that dynamic population balance without interference from humans.

Well, whatever my reservations, I have to admit that this proposal is a baby step in the right direction. The only thing that mystifies me is WHY IT HAS TAKEN SO FREAKIN' LONG FOR OTHERWISE INTELLIGENT PEOPLE TO FIGURE THIS OUT. It is a simple and elegant solution, and one I've been advocating for many years. Denial runs deep in the human psyche, as does the delusion that we are masters of the planet. Like the Hindu deity Shiva, we are capable of being either destroyer or benefactor. The choice is ours.

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