The reintroduction of wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains has gotten caught up in a culture war, James William Gibson reports in Earth Island Journal—and the controversy is not even necessarily all about the wolves. It’s about the big, bad government keeping a good man down. Writes Gibson:
For decades, the Rocky Mountain states have been the center of an extreme right-wing culture that celebrates the image of man as “warrior,” recognizes only local and state governance as legitimate, and advocates resistance—even armed resistance—against the federal government. To members of this culture, wolf reintroduction became a galvanizing symbol of perceived assaults on their personal freedom. Resistance was imperative. But whereas attacking the federal government could lead to prison, killing wolves was a political goal within reach—something the individual warrior could do. So advocating for the killing of wolves became a proxy battle, an organizing tool to reach out to all those angry about environmental regulations, gun laws, and public land policies. Since the early 2000s, and with increasing virulence since 2009, anti-wolf activists have promoted the image of wolves as demons—disease-ridden, dangerous, and foreign.
Gibson describes how Western anti-wolf forces have operated through misinformation, threats, and intimidation, including anonymous acts such as mailing pictures of dead wolf pups to pro-wolf advocates. Such tactics, he says, have virtually silenced local wolf advocates, allowing wolf haters to portray the issue as a locals-versus-outsiders battle.
Though Gibson’s story focuses on the West, some Midwestern states are grappling with many of the same wolf-management issues, apparently in a less politically and personally charged atmosphere. Just last week, public hearings in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and Marquette, Michigan, attracted hundreds of people, nearly all of them in favor of removing federal endangered species protections for wolves—a move already made in five Northern Rockies states and now being considered in the Great Lakes region.
To judge from limited news accounts of these two wolf hearings, they were not especially contentious or charged: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Minnesota and Michigan departments of natural resources, and most of the attendees agreed that wolves have recovered to the point where they can be managed to avoid conflicts between wolves and humans. Absent the polarizing rhetoric and partisan posturing, it appears that perhaps reason can rule the day in some areas.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting public comments on the Great Lakes region wolf proposal through July 5.