Transcending the Big Bad Wolf

Post by Anthony Giordano, S.P.E.C.I.E.S founder and director.

In the history of western civilization, no animal has been as systematically vilified as the wolf. Neither spider nor snake, bat nor rat, nor shark of any kind, can make this claim. For many, the wolf is still the thing that kept us close to the campfire, its restless shadow and eager panting holding sleep at bay, its howl the fingers of winter’s embrace. For them, it is why they remind their children to stay close.

Hate of the wolf is part of our politics. More than 60 times in the past few years, Conservatives and Republicans in Congress have sought to undermine the Endangered Species Act – mostly to get at the wolf. These representatives furtively introduce amendments to proposed legislation that would delist wolves, turning “management authority” over to the states and putting them back in the crosshairs. This includes shoot-on-site laws where they are still in recovery. Beholden to rural agricultural lobbyists with agendas contrary to most American’s values, they use mischaracterization and fear to drive the ranks of their propaganda machine, infecting government agencies with it.

Take Oregon for example. Recently it very publicly failed the 83 wolves in 9 packs that reside within its borders. That’s all the wolves Oregon has at the moment, mind you, having returned in 1999 after a 60 year absence. Given how the state’s wildlife commission has behaved however, you wouldn’t know this. Rather, you’d believe wolves had never gone, instead staying behind red in tooth and claw to wage war on the commercial livestock industry. In April, despite an open hearing where teachers, veterans, and the department’s own former staff testified 33 – 5 in favor of wolf protection, the commission unanimously instructed its staff to provide recommendations for delisting . With state wolf recovery then hanging in the balance, the propaganda machine went to work, decrying the statewide havoc wolves would wreak.

This past summer, as the state rolled out their “management plan” in what can at best be considered a shameless disregard for science, two adult wolves raising 5-month old pups were found dead under suspicious circumstances within 50 feet of each other. One was the semi-famous OR-21, who struck out on her own in 2014. And in the climax, last month after more than 90% of 22,000 solicited public comments were in support of maintaining the wolf’s protected status, and letters from countless scientists underscoring the plan’s many flaws, the state stubbornly betrayed logic and its public, voting to delist. Shame on Oregon. They presented only an illusion of fairness, an illusion that sound science, expert opinion, and the public’s values might be relevant to policy decisions.

Why should this matter to Californians? In 2011, a single wolf from Oregon, the famous OR-7, arrived in California. In anticipation of the wolf’s more permanent establishment here, California did something prescient, a sign maybe things were changing: it offered the wolf protection before it was established. Earlier this year, and much earlier than many anticipated, the echo of the Shasta Pack’s arrival in Siskiyou County rang with the wolf’s full potential to recolonize the Sierra Nevadas. But it is Oregon that likely controls the fate of wolf recolonization to the Golden State in the near future. Moreover, there is speculation that California maybe hasn’t quite gone far enough. A new state conservation plan would consider removing protections after only nine packs become resident, potentially as few as 50-60 individuals. And if California were to do this, then shame on it as well.

There is a silver lining looming on the horizon. There are 83 wolves in Oregon now, six more than when it first proposed to delist. Today, wolves occupy more of their historic range (approximately 10%) in the continental U.S. than at any time since WW II. As new generations of Americans rise to positions of influence and power, they will likely do so with less lupine vitriol, embracing a philosophy of coexistence with this remarkable predator, and removing the hate from decision-making. As they do, I expect the wolf to continue its return, and we may finally transcend this foolish notion of the big bad wolf.

This was originally published as a guest post on