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Front Page » April 3, 2007 » Opinion » Different shades of gray
Published 2,789 days ago

Different shades of gray


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By TERRY WILLIS
Sun Advocate reporter


Each month the Sun Advocate presents two views of the same subject as columnists Terry Willis and Tom McCourt see it.

All God's creatures

No animal seems to invoke more fear than the wolf. Oh sure we have more B grade movies involving snakes and spiders, but the truth is that throughout history, the wolf has symbolized everything fearful in the wild.

There was Peter and the Wolf, Little Red Riding Hood and the whole werewolf thing. We grew up terrified of the evil wolf. As our forefathers spread their wings westward, they encountered wolves and other predators that attacked their vulnerable livestock. Before we brought herds of domesticated animals into the area, there was a coexistence of humans and animals.

As our population came west and grew, we needed to bring the infrastructure required to feed the masses. Cattlemen and small farmers and ranchers needed to protect their investments. Thus began the predator eradication program. We had no idea at the time how the absence of one species can forever alter an ecosystem.

As the years have passed we have seen the impact of removing habitat and species out of an area. Our population is growing fast enough that we will have to have vast urban areas to exist in. We also need to preserve the remaining areas with some semblance of a wild area to allow our native species to exist. We love to see deer, elk and moose in the wild. We don't particularly like it when they are in our gardens eating.

Wolves, cougars and coyotes have a place in our wild habitat too. They were here before man settled and were part of the balance that allowed the area to flourish. The right balance of animals also helps to maintain the right balance of native plant species. The right balance of native plant species help the water ecosystem function as it should. All this helps the human race as well. It is not a question of putting one species before another. We need each other.

Wolves were hunted to the brink of extinction. They had been completely driven out of most of the United States until reintroduction in the last decade. You can say that in the course of our world many animals have gone extinct and the world has not suffered catastrophic loss. That also may be the case with wolves, but consider that most of the preceding animals that went extinct did so because they were unable to adapt to slow global changes. Wolves were unable to adapt to the rapid slaughter of their species by a weapon they had no defenses for. We have tried for years to eradicate the wily coyote, but they just keep hanging around. I see evidence of them on my walks on Wood Hill.

In an ideal habitat, wolves prey on the weak and vulnerable. Unfortunately, their habitat is shared by cattle leases and the slow moving bovine make great targets for hungry wolves. If you want to talk about a species that has not adapted, you can look at cattle. We want juicy tender cuts of meat, not tough grisly pieces. So we don't want cattle that can use the fight or flight reflex that helps most animals resist attack. The sheep that are pastured on the mountains are also at risk.

I don't advocate the reintroduction of wolves because of some romantic, elitist dream. I know that when they come back, and they will, that there will be some ranchers who will suffer very real monetary losses.

A healthy ecosystem is the sum of all its parts. Even for a rancher, the healthier the overall ecosystem is, the better the land is for them to use. It may take a better defense system for the cattle to coexist with the wolves. I certainly do not have all the answers but I hope we have grown since the days of Peter and the Wolf.

Enough rivets on our spaceship earth have popped out already. We need to learn to keep the ones we have and learn to deal with them. Even if we don't like them they are still crucial to our survival.

A wolf on the doorstep

Once upon a time, the world was filled with wolves. The world was also filled with vast herds of free ranging herbivores, you know, those large animals who eat grass and cause harmful greenhouse gasses and global warming with their flatulence. There were vast herds of buffalo, elk, antelope, and deer. The whole country was covered with grass and the herbivores waxed fat and happy. There were millions and millions of them. America was like the interior of Africa.

There were no fences to restrict the migrations of those grazing animals. There were no towns, super highways, power lines, or railroad tracks. There was no asphalt, cement, or Astroturf. Buffalo were the dominant species in that environment, and the world was filled with buffalo tracks, buffalo wallows, and buffalo chips.

In such an environment, the Great Spirit created wolves and gave them a job to do. Wolves were sanitation workers who followed the great herds. They cleaned up the stragglers and those who were lost. They weeded out the sick, old, injured, and dimwitted. And like buzzards, they helped to clean up the carrion. They also helped to keep the herds together. The buffalo developed strategies to defend against the wolves, and the conflict made the buffalo smarter and healthier. Wolves and buffalo were made for each other.

And then the world changed. Suddenly there were cities and towns, airfields, automobiles, and Astrodomes. The world was fenced. Wild grass was plowed over to become amber fields of grain. The buffalo went the way of the dinosaurs, and so did the wolves. Their time was over. A new reality had taken over the world.

The whole thing was predictable. The world is constantly changing. Climate changes, geography changes, the course of rivers, mountains, and oceans change. Species adapt and species die. That's the way nature is. Nothing lives or lasts forever. And so it is with wolves and buffalo. When the buffalo were gone, there was no place for the wolves. Their job was done.

Coyotes, the little cousins of the wolves, adapted to the new reality and began to eat garbage and stray cats in places like downtown Los Angeles. But wolves would not, could not, did not, follow that evolutionary path to survival. They insisted on being the alpha predators they had always been. With the buffalo gone, they turned to domestic cattle and sheep. This proved to be a wrong turn on the path to survival of the species. Their new choice of cuisine put them in direct conflict with the dominant species of the planet, you and me, and the wolves lost - end of story.

But now, some want to reintroduce wolves into our modern world. They say wolves restore a "natural balance" to nature and they are "critical" to our own survival.

Wrong. In the past 120 years, nature has found a new balance without wolves. The world does fine without them now. With no large herds of wild animals to prey upon, wolves only get into trouble today and they can be dangerous to humans too. Old Lobo still thinks he's an alpha predator, and I'll change his mind when I find him in my livestock or anywhere near where my grandchildren play. The survival of my species trumps anything he brings to the table. It's called Darwinism - survival of the fittest. His ancestors developed teeth while mine developed gunpowder.

It's sad, but we can't trust wolves to stick to a diet of deer and elk, and they won't stay within the "wilderness" boundaries we set for them. Like sharks, they are killers of opportunity with no conscience or accountability. They run in packs and it takes a lot of red meat to keep them fed. And predictably, the people willing to donate domestic livestock to the cause of wolf repatriation are city people who don't own domestic livestock. Get real.

Without buffalo, there's no place for wolves today. Grandpa did good when he wiped them out.


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April 3, 2007
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