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Anderson: New hunt isn't a war versus wolves

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON
  • Star Tribune
  • June 15, 2012 - 6:37 AM

Wolves and wolf management have been controversial worldwide for centuries, the latest dustup over renewed hunting of these animals in Minnesota being the most recent example.

The Department of Natural Resources can't even sponsor an online survey about the wolf hunt scheduled here this fall without various parties -- opponents of the hunt in particular -- trying to rig the results.

(Survey responses are taken online only, through June 20. To participate, go to www.dnr.state.mn.us/mammals/wolves/mgmt.html)

Some detractors of the hunt even advocate opponents spend $34 to purchase one of the limited number of resident wolf licenses the state will issue in a few months, thereby buying "a wolf a reprieve from [an] executioner."

A little context:

As much as the gray wolf -- the species inhabiting Minnesota -- lives to kill, arguably humans' DNA is configured to return the favor, and kill wolves. Or try to.

Because worldwide, from Europe to Mexico to North America, that's pretty much what's occurred the last couple of centuries, since humans stopped hunting and gathering, in favor of farming and raising livestock.

These modern lifestyles -- as well as the development of cities and the general inhabiting by people of the countryside -- are simply incompatible with unfettered populations of marauding wolves.

The result: Politicians and their wildlife managers have, over time, reduced wolf numbers, or eliminated them altogether -- regionally, nationally and in some cases continentally.

But the current hunting skirmish in Minnesota isn't rooted in the many "wolf wars" that have been conducted throughout history. Instead, it's an outgrowth of the nation's ecology movement, born in the first half of the last century.

Well chronicled, for instance, has been Aldo Leopold's conversion from a "game manager" who in the 1930s advocated killing wolves en masse to boost deer and elk populations, to an "ecologist" with a more generous view of the important role predators (and in fact all plants and animals) play on the landscape.

Central to the development of this then-novel mindset was an appreciation that the natural world is a thickly woven mosaic whose entirety depends on the continued existence of each of its parts.

Leopold put voice to this idea when he said, "The outstanding scientific discovery of the 20th century is not television, or radio, but rather the complexity of the land organism. Only those who know the most about it can appreciate how little we know about it. The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: 'What good is it?'"

The environmental movement of the 1960s and '70s gave further rise to the notion that wolves had value, and by the 1980s and 1990s, momentum that originated in Leopold's thinking and writings resulted in reintroduction of wolves in places where they had long since been eradicated, including Yellowstone National Park.

Thus the wildlife management pendulum had reversed directions.

Fast forward to today.

Having been removed from the endangered species list in Minnesota and elsewhere, and by all accounts flourishing, the gray wolf will again be hunted.

Not because -- a point hunt opponents sometimes willfully overlook -- the state or its people want these animals eradicated, as was common in previous "wars against wolves." But because a certain rebalancing of interests is necessary that will benefit both wolves and people, separately and together.

This new equilibrium might even be better than the one Leopold espoused. Or at least more attuned to the modern world, because it recognizes not only the importance of keeping wolves on the landscape, but recognizes as well that, left unchecked, wolves roaming the human-cluttered countryside are their own worst enemy.

And, probably, doomed.

So, yes, a wolf hunt will be held in Minnesota, with a relative few (400 maximum) of the state's 3,200-odd animals slated to be killed.

The irony is that killing some wolves will leave their surviving pack mates better off.

Newly wary of humans, fewer of these animals, over time, will amble into Ely and chomp on Chihuahuas. Fewer still will climb onto cabin decks, frightening vacationers. Perhaps even fewer deer will be run down on lake ice in winter and chewed to death.

If so, everyone wins. Perhaps most, wolves.

Dennis Anderson danderson@startribune.com

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