When the Wolf Comes to Town


Collared Gray Wolf, Oregon

Few topics in wildlife conservation are as fundamentally polarizing and explosive as the topic of wolves. And like most subjects in our “Breaking News” zeitgeist, the hyperbole shills on all sides of the wolf issue seem to work in feverish piques, pandering to our baser emotional responses, and often ignoring outright any evidence contrary to their own cherished narrative.

In other words, we hear mostly from the mostly unreasonable.

Which makes the conversation very difficult to have at all. But columnists are frequently meant to paddle against the current, and since wolves will eventually reestablish themselves along the eastern Cascades, now seems a good time to offer up a few thoughts on how we might have a more profitable discussion.

First: if you are one of those so strident in your love for wolves, or the idea of wolves, that you do not believe they occasionally kill for mere sport, or that they can, overnight, decimate a livestock herd, you are living in a fantasy world of extraordinary proportions. It might be far more effective, and a convincing overture, for those interested in wolf preservation to finally accept the destruction wolves can cause as an evidence-backed reality.


A Horse Killed by Wolves

And if the closest you’ve ever been to a wolf pack in the wild is your flat screen television, perhaps let the late Timothy Treadwell, who was eaten alive by a brown bear–one among many he claimed to have befriended in the wild–serve as a cautionary tale in the milk and cookies approach to apex predators.

And maybe, somehow, try to muster some empathy for livestock producers whose livelihoods can be severely impacted by wolf predation. If you truly desire to sponsor reasonable dialogue that may ultimately benefit wolves, save your energy for disputing the extent to which those claims are true.

Conversely, if you believe the only good wolf is a dead wolf, recognize that to others you may sound intellectually impaired, and possibly incapable of adult conversation–which is a nice way of saying hair-trigger dumb. Joining the Shoot, Shovel, and Shut-up crowd makes one sound more like a honky-tonk nitwit than a visionary problem solver.

Perhaps, if you hate wolves, or the idea of wolves, try to accept that “The absence of top predators appears to lead inexorably to ecosystem simplification accompanied by a rush of extinctions.” This is known, scientifically, as The Paine Effect, and it is worth studying because it suggests that having wolves around will eventually prove beneficial to a parallel goal, which is a healthier ecosystem from which deer, elk, and humans alike will all benefit.

And ranchers, who typically live much closer to wolves than the average urban wolf advocate, probably deserve something more generous than didactic lectures about grazing fees when they ride up on a pasture of defenseless heifers or ewes ripped apart in the night by wolves.


A Great Pyrenees, Guarding the Flock

Finally, maybe everyone can avoid taking easy potshots at those people tasked with both the execution and enforcement of wolf management—which is like nurturing a mindless hatred for cops because you don’t like traffic laws. Far better, it would seem, to spend that energy becoming an effective member of one of the numerous working groups who hammer out wolf management policy in the first place.

Often left out of the discussion altogether is this notable bit: there is evidence, from top-down predator studies around the world, that encouraging controlled hunts of apex predators may ultimately help sustain populations of the animal in question. It works, in part, by bringing vital economic benefits to communities—so that, turning the usual dynamic on its head—the animal is endowed with intrinsic value, and so communities that once carried out eradication campaigns evolve into stakeholders in preserving manageable populations of the species.

In that scenario, every reasonable voice in the discussion gets something of what they want, and a model that has proven to work for bears in Romania, and tigers in Russia, and the people who live and work amongst them, might prove workable for wolves in America.


Known Oregon Wolf Distribution

Wherever one might stand on the topic, one thing seems relatively certain: there remains opportunity for all sides to move off of positions often dominated less by reason and research, and more by emotional embellishment and historical prejudice. Like it or not, we know that wolves are coming this way, and so it might be timely to redouble our efforts at understanding what wolves are, and perhaps more importantly, what they aren’t.

And while we are better informing our opinions, maybe we can also keep in mind, as author David Quammen wrote in his excellent study of apex predators, Monster of God, that “The universe is a very big place, but as far as we know it’s mainly empty, boring, and cold. If we exterminate the last magnificently scary beasts on planet Earth, as we seem bent upon doing, then no matter where we go for the rest of our history as a species—for the rest of time—we may never encounter any others.”



The Monkey’s Fist


The Agony of Defeat

If there was ever a time to examine the wisdom and efficacy of attempting to govern 320 million people as a single entity, maybe now is it.

The GOP’s tax bill came in at 479 pages. It’s a safe bet that not one single professional representative—on either side of the aisle–has read the bill in its entirety; not even Al Franken or John Conyers, who clearly have the time after tossing grenades into their own offices. It’s an even safer bet that no one, and I really mean no single person on earth, can have any idea whatsoever of its ultimate downstream effects.

This column is aware that various think-tanks and agencies of government have predicted this result or that, but if you believe any of them, or the pundits who cite them, or have been conned into plugging your numbers into a BookFace algorithm to see how the proposals are going to change your life, I’ve got a banana ranch in New Guinea I’d love to sell you.

Depending on who you believe—and I recommend believing none of them–the Affordable Health Care Act and its attendant rules and regulations resulted in somewhere between 9,000 and 33,000 pages. If there is, and it is highly doubtful, a person on earth who has read all of those tea leaves they should probably be put on display in the Smithsonian, next to the only person to have read Finnegan’s Wake.


The Political Class Wants You to Enjoy Your Cake

In the AHCA case, apologists for that mumbling and hydratic demi-goddess known as Nancy Pelosi, worked overtime to contextualize and explain away her revealing suggestion to us mere citizens that: “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”

What chafes isn’t that she said that—to a comedic mind it’s infinitely pliable material–it’s that her statement was actually a window into exactly the kind of governance we can expect from both of the compromised, spavined, and arthritic major political parties in Congress. It reveals an elitist mentality that is perfectly willing to reduce the sacred trust of legislating—made for tv rotunda panderings aside–to throwing dice against a brick wall.

That should probably raise your hackles.

And it isn’t helpful when a national press corps, which should find political hand-holding of any kind anathema, is repeatedly caught prostituting integrity for political ideology. As when, last week, ABC’s Brian Ross, known colloquially as “America’s Wrongest Reporter,” leaned too far into the General Flynn story and crashed like Vinko Bogataj during his epic ski-jumping wreck on the Wide World of Sports.

The Agony of Defeat, indeed.


When Everybody’s Talking, Nobody’s Listening

And the spectacles grow even more pot and kettle: feature the now disgraced Matt Lauer—without even a hint of pause—feeling confident enough in his own powdered wig to brace Bill O’Reilly in primetime about sexual harassment. Or when Charlie Rose—who has spent the better part of four decades parading his credentials in the elitist clubs of liberal aristocracy–demands his secretaries watch him take a shower.

Alas, the conundrum is total. Erik Sevareid, one of the few correspondents on earth who could claim, without Brian Williams like irony, to have been shot at by fascists, communists, and Burmese headhunters alike, long ago warned that “Ignorant and biased reporting has its counterpart in ignorant and biased reading and listening.”

For that ignorance and bias, which is our inherited monkey’s fist, we have mostly ourselves to blame. That’s true because we, the unwashed masses, seem to have lost, or simply discarded out of intellectual laziness and material abundance, the once inveterate American fear of being ripped-off by politicians and pamphleteers of any stripe.

And because we’ve lost that essential trait—which is useful for avoiding charlatans and shills, and especially for keeping them out of public office, we elected a president who reportedly delights in berating menials, is a Howard Hughes-like germaphobe, and whose diet of Big Mac’s and chocolate malts on Air Force One is second only to his utter lack of decorum and disqualifying behaviors toward women.


A Cracker, On His Gaited Horse

To paraphrase: he is bigly wrong for the job.

Not that we had a stellar alternative in Mrs. Clinton, a woman most certainly tainted by the same variety of crimes and misdemeanors as anyone now standing on the platform of Mueller’s grand jury guillotine.

You might rightly ask yourself, and probably some still cry themselves to sleep each night wondering, if we would have been better off with Mrs. Clinton in the White House. Die-hard believers in Clinton as a divine savior will remain beyond persuasion, but intellectual honesty seems to demand at least some level of acknowledgement that she was, and the evidence is overwhelming, just mendacity dressed up in a different wrapper.

Three Survivors of Plane Crash Posing Together

Erik Sevareid (in hat), With John Paton Davies (far left) and William Stanton, After Being Rescued From Burmese Headhunters

Worse, now that we seek to satisfy our political aspirations in the mud, it seems likely that we will wait a very long time, maybe forever, before a truly worthy and profound candidate, with any realistic chance of winning, is ever seen again.

Which is almost beside the point. A better question might be to ask, given all of the presenting symptoms of a now obvious and metastatic cultural disease—exactly how it is we propose to treat the patient.

Mostly, this column wonders at the probability, or even possibility, of ever-again wisely, and effectively, governing a nation so geographically large, so profoundly angry, so diversely needy, and so rapidly travelling in so many contrary directions at once.