Friday, June 7, 2013

Fascination with wolves summons both love and the desire to kill them

Image from Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources.

Because I am in the midst of writing a werewolf novel, I have naturally been doing a lot of research about wolves, their lore, and the lore of their supernatural spawn: the werewolf. Unexpectedly a real world controversy about wolves in my home state of Michigan has impressed upon me the continued relevance of humanity's relationship with wolves. Our ancient love and hate affair with them remains unresolved and is pitting voters against the legislature that ignores them.

Wolves have only recently been removed from the Endangered Species list in my state. According to the organization Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, the wild population is at about 700. In late 2012 during a lame duck session and over the holidays when politicians do things people don't want, the legislature authorized a sport hunt for wolves. By March 2013 Michigan voters had submitted over 255,000 signatures to put the new law to a referendum vote with the hopes of overturning it. Immediately after the petition was submitted, my state government use a regulatory procedure to list wolves as a game species for hunting. This regulatory move is supposed to be beyond the ballot initiative and is therefore a direct assault on democracy. In summary: Many people don't want wolves hunted for sport and government blocks this desire at every turn.

Of course this dodgy democracy-gutting stuff happens across all issues, but this one about the wolves is fascinating on so many levels. Why are hundreds of thousands of people opposed to sport wolf hunting? Why are politicians so dedicated to making a sport hunt happen?

Historically wolves have been feared and demonized in literature. The Big Bad Wolf must die! And yet people have a relationship with wolves that goes far into the past when we co-evolved as hunters. Our dogs came from original wolf stock in prehistoric times. The similarities in social behavior between the species builds a kinship. The beauty of wolves entrances many people. But mostly in this modern day and age when so much of Nature has been beaten down and destroyed, the wolf embodies freedom. Wolves live life. They follow their instincts and their hearts.

Biologists have also learned that wolves function as an important part of their ecosystems. By keeping larger animals in check, like deer and elk, trees and shrubs are able to mature instead of being over-browsed. Studies within Yellowstone National Park where wolves have been reintroduced showed substantial improvement in the woody growth along streams once the elk were thinned by natural predators. Shadier streams were better for fish. The ecosystem was improved from top to bottom because a top level predatory was once again in its natural position in the ecosystem.

Let me tell you that Michigan has lots of extra deer. A viable population of predators, especially in Wilderness areas, is badly needed. I'm not suggesting that people let wolves kill their livestock or threaten their families. Landowners with nuisance wildlife have the right to shoot them. I imagine this unfortunate activity would even train some wolves to shy away from human areas.

But why all this political action for the sake of a sport wolf hunt? It's not to eliminate threatening animals. People in the communities that include wolves can already do this if and when they feel the need. In my judgment only very wealthy and influential people can cause this level of political action. Think of all the important things millions of people want but are told are politically impossible? But magically the Michigan State government will do anything to make a wolf hunt happen even when hundreds of thousands of voters actively oppose it.

I have not heard anything in the news explaining why this wolf hunt is such a priority for the government. The unnamed people behind this unnecessary sport hunt for wolf trophies are making an expression of dominance over the land and people. If wolves are running free, then perhaps the land is too free. If the land is at liberty, then perhaps the people upon it might start to feel free too. Better to squash the freedom, especially its furry symbol. Land populated by a revered species might be harder to log and mine and frack and destroy in all the nasty ways so precious to our hidden rulers. If people can control if and when wolves are hunted, then they might also be able to exert control over their water and minerals and timber and soil.

Always the theme in our young country has been to tame the land. Lay it bare. Mount the heads on the wall. The greed of the few outweighs the spirits of the many. The wolf hunt delivers the message that freedom and self reliance are not to be tolerated. Such wildness must be hunted down and put down.

For centuries as civilizations advanced, the wolf was put forth as a symbol of the dangerous wilderness. The land would not be safe until all the wolves were shot, poisoned, and trapped. If the top level predator of a place is destroyed, then the spirit of the place is broken.