“Little Red Riding Hood” is a fairy tale. Get it?
All it took was the first paragraph in a front page article in my local newspaper Sunday to make my blood boil. I am getting so angry over the rising tide of willful ignorance in this country. I am referring to the growing tendency to believe what works politically, not what is correct or responsible or constructive in a time of desperate need for all three.
The article that set me off originated in the Los Angeles Times. It was titled “Plan to Extend Protection of Wolves in N.M. Raises Hackles” by Julie Cart. It addresses the furor caused by the proposal of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to extend Endangered Species Act protections for about 75 Mexican gray wolves in New Mexico and Arizona. That’s 75 wolves over 235,566 square miles. Pretty scary, all right.
It seems that Americans for Prosperity, an organization funded by the conservative Koch brothers, is sponsoring anti-wolf activities. Afoot is the idea that protection of the wolf is evidence of an out-of-control government. In fact, the wolf is now being demonized as a symbol of Big Government.
This is just the latest chapter in the history of irrational, wolf-hatred by human beings. I use the term irrational because the hatred is fomented both by ignorance about the wolf’s true nature and by persistent fantasy, as in the big bad wolf in “Little Red Riding Hood.”
We have chosen for one thing to believe that wolves are born killers of humans when the evidence is entirely to the contrary. Attacks have, in fact, occurred in Alaska and Canada where there are thousands of wolves. However, according to the Klamath Center for Conservation Research in California, there have been no more than three over the last decade.
By comparison there are, according to the Centers for Disease Control, about 4.5 million dog bites per year. A web site (DogsBite.org) devoted to keeping bite statistics reports that there were 38 fatal dog attacks in the United States in 2012. All dogs are descended from wolves, but some breeds seem to be more dangerous to us than there progenitors ever were. Ponder that.
We have also chosen to believe that wolves are a primary danger to livestock. Some ranchers insist that wolves are destroying their ability to raise cattle and sheep for a living. Forget that, according to the article, National Agricultural Statistics show that only 0.4 percent of sheep attacks are due to wolves, and the statistics on cattle attacks are similar. The big killers are coyotes, cougars, vultures–and domestic dogs.
But never mind the truth. In the small, rural community of Reserve in New Mexico, wooden and mesh cages to protect children from wolf attacks have been provided at bus stops. That bad idea to thwart preservation could have been contained to this area, but Americans for Prosperity has been spreading it by circulating photos and videos of the cages. By all means, let’s use children for political propaganda, engendering a baseless fear that they will afflict them their entire lives.
Fortunately, we live in a time when the work of field biologists could correct our misguided ideas. In his book, Of Wolves and Men, which was published in 1978, Barry Lopez shares years of research on the lore and habits of wolves to develop a more well-rounded picture of this magnificent animal. Devoted to their pack, they are amazingly tough and canny survivors. I doubt that any intelligent person who hates and fears wolves could read this book without experiencing shame and regret about what we have done to them.
In this regard, there is one story in the Lopez book I would like to share. It was related by a hunter, and it took place in 1976. The man was an aerial hunter, not very sporting, but oh well. He discovered ten gray wolves traveling a ridge on the Alaska Range and began to pursue them. There was nowhere for them to escape, and he quickly gunned down nine. The tenth broke for a spur that ended in a 300-foot vertical drop. The hunter followed to see what the wolf would do. Without hesitating, it flew off the spur and landed in the snowbank below, “and came up running in an explosion of power.”
Ah, to have that kind of spirit.
Now let’s return to this latest chapter in the history of our troubled relationship with wolves. The anti-wolf political pack is positioning itself as advocates of ranchers. The latter do have legitimate concerns about survival, but these are primarily due to drought. The entire country would probably like to see the ranching way of life preserved, but it needs to be modified, starting yesterday.
In fact, many ranchers have heard the message seeming to descend from on high: “Earth, you’ve got a problem.” Around here in particular, many have decided that the science behind climate change is not a matter of opinion, and they are beginning to incorporate brilliant and successful ways of maintaining a livelihood in spite of it. (See the upcoming Quivira Conference, “Inspiring Adaptation.”) Wolves are not a problem for them.
The fact is that there are always individuals who not only survive rapid change but also prosper from it, but they keep learning in order to do that. This is a moment in American history when it will be disastrous to ignore the tremendous volume of knowledge available about the natural world and the science of climate change, simply to promote a political ideology. The truth does not need permission to manifest catastrophically, but it will befriend the inquiring mind.
In closing, I would like to share a story Barry Lopez included in his introduction. He wrote that the Bella Coola Indians of British Columbia believed that there was a moment in time when someone tried to turn all animals into humans. They succeeded, however, in making only the eyes of the wolf human. Those eyes are very unsettling to the people who hate wolves. Perhaps this is because they can read a message there: “I will be here long after you are gone.”
(Defenders of Wildlife at http://www.defenders.org/ is very involved in preserving protections for the wolf.)