For crying out loud, the latest craze of the Rocky Mountains has come to the Great Lakes. Hunters, on your marks, get set, go to hell!
Contrary to the whitewashed folklore of the Brothers Grimm and Walt Disney — hell, even Michael J. Fox — the wolf is not superstitiously vilified or associated with the same primitive vitriol the world over. For the Ojibwa (or Anishinaabe) of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota, the wolf — Ma’iingan — is revered as the brother to the original man. They have provenance here, this was their home well before Europeans colonized the land and imposed their assignations — places now called St Croix, Lac du Flambeau, Rhinelander. So too the wolves. Along with their ancestral relationship comes a much simpler one: the commonwealth of the entire community. In other words — or worlds — as wolves go, so go the Anishinaabe.
Alas, though blood be thicker than water, kinship is inferior to capitalist profit; for the blood of wolf is far less profitable than that of livestock. At least according to the worldview of Republicans. And though the fate of the wolf is directly linked to the health of the Ojibwa people themselves, the cost of one Sconnie’s beef cow to be ground into burger patties sold for three bucks at a Piggly Wiggly that is lost to a wolf outweighs, as it always does, the rich heritage not just of a culture, but an ecosystem. True to form, just as we have seen in the mining bill, the Ojibwa were not informed of the proposal to kill wolves before such a measure was debated in the Capitol; though they should have, under treaty rights long established by courts. Again, this sleight-of-hand and absentminded slight is not only culturally callous, but is shamelessly steeped in a stupefying superiority complex of arrogance, the sheer obliviousness of which presumed elitism, whose allegiance is greed, takes one’s breath away.
The Ojibwa were not alone in being left out. Adrian Wydeven, Mammalian Ecologist with the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), was responsible for a media release as late as January 24 of this year that stated there were “currently no plans for a hunting season on wolves.” Three days later the DNR took over the management of wolves, after being removed from the endangered species list by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. No later than March 6 did the Republican-controlled state Senate approve to kill wolves. What had been the understanding of Wydeven — a recognized leader in the field of wolf recovery and management who for years now has urged caution — as “no plans” turned out actually to be quite the opposite. Because in just six weeks a bill was written, a public hearing had, a debate given, and a vote taken. Only the lifespan of a fruit fly is so swift. Not (or no longer) Wydeven, but the DNR’s agency spokesperson to parlay larger policy implications was to be Kurt Thiede, the Division of Land Administrator (which encompasses endangered resources and wildlife management), who was appointed by Secretary Cathy Stepp, herself handpicked by Gov. Walker, for what it’s worth.
But so what, right? Experts only tell us what we don’t want to hear in the first place. Lord knows there’s enough bad news as it is, without competent, accredited professionals just making us more depressed…
The wolf is at the door — and she’s hungry. By which I mean this bill, along with its Romulus-like twin from the Senate, is impoverished. One of the prevailing rationales for the hunt was the “concern” over so-called sportsmen that wolves were depriving them of deer to shoot. Boo fucking hoo. Besides, in the nine-day gun deer hunting season for 2011 over a quarter of a million deer were “harvested.” And that itself marked a 3.6 percent increase in total deer killed from the 2010 season. (While we’re at it, the 2010 season saw an additional 7.9 percent increase from the 2009 season. Et cetera.) How many more deer is it really necessary to shoot? The wolves are truly culling the herd so demonstrably? Also, if you want to call taking your rifle out for a walk in the woods or drinking beer in a blind with your buds to escape the wives a “sport,” then Nintendo Wii should be an Olympic gold medal competition. What honor there is in baiting a leg trap, or worse, sicking a pack of dogs after a lone wolf, is beyond my understanding. (No word yet on sniping from helicopters, as Sarah Palin has promoted.) But all this is suspect, as the claims of farmers and landowners may be little more than subterfuge for the druthers of hunters. UW-Madison wildlife researcher Adrian Treves has pointed out that the bill allows a statewide hunt, “whereas we know that depredations by wolves occur in less than one-third of wolf range, let alone the whole state.” And that range is in northern Wisconsin, where also the Ojibwa primarily live.
About hunting wolves, let us remember the words of Aldo Leopold:
“In those days we had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf. In a second we were pumping lead into the pack, but with more excitement than accuracy; how to aim a steep downhill shot is always confusing. When our rifles were empty, the old wolf was down, and a pup was dragging a leg into impassable side-rocks.
“We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes—something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.
“Since then I have lived to see state after state extirpate its wolves. I have watched the face of many a newly wolfless mountain, and seen the south-facing slopes wrinkle with a maze of new deer trails. I have seen every edible bush and seedling browsed, first to anaemic desuetude, and then to death. I have seen every edible tree defoliated to the height of a saddlehorn. Such a mountain looks as if someone had given God a new pruning shears, and forbidden Him all other exercise. In the end the starved bones of the hoped-for deer herd, dead of its own too-much, bleach with the bones of the dead sage, or molder under the high-lined junipers.”
Speaking on behalf of the Ojibwa before both the state Senate and Assembly, James Zorn, the executive administrator of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Game Commission, testifiedthat hunting wolves is a religious issue, that killing wolves is inherently against their faith. Pardon me, but where are all the Republicans who went hoarse and hortatory only weeks ago about government infringing on religion — or Catholics and condoms? A wolf-howl in sheepskin clothing, the difference between conservative and conservation. Most touching of all Mr Zorn’s passionate testimony to me is when he said “[t]he health and survival of the Anishinaabe people is tied to that of Ma’iingan [the wolf],” which statement was hauntingly refined by Joe Rose Sr., a professor emeritus of Native American studies at Northland College and an elder of the Bad River Band: “We see the wolf as a predictor of our future. And what happens to wolf happens to Anishinaabe.” He added gravely, “whether other people see it or not, the same will happen to them.”
When Europeans “settled” the Wisconsin Territory there were some 3,000 to 5,000 wolves in the state. Efforts to kill wolves came as quickly as the Caucasians; from 1865 to as late as 1957 the state had a bounty for wolves. By 1960 the wolf was considered extinct in Wisconsin. Today there are around 800, thanks to federal protection and natural migration. Who knows how many there will be this time next year, since all that awaits a wolf hunt is Walker’s signature and October 15, the first day of the hunt. (Here is how the State Assembly and Senate voted. The Assembly in particular did so long after midnight — and only days after a full moon. It brings a line to mind from the play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, “I’m tired, I’ve been drinking since nine o’clock, my wife is vomiting, there’s been a lot of screaming going on around here!” This can be said for so much of politics.)
How do you define a cynic? He who knows the cost of everything, but the value of nothing. Wisconsin has become a cynic. A wolf hunting license will cost $100 for residents and $500 for nonresidents, plus a $10 application fee. Vainer and more venal still, the money raised from this will be funneled to the people who lobbied so hard for this in the first place: folks whose livestock, pets, or hunting dogs have been killed ostensibly by wolves. Bloody brilliant!
Maybe there is something in all of this that belies the bovine obvious. The wolf ensouls the wild, a free spirit that is as pure as it is ancient. Her eyes are that of fierce fire, her presence nearly wind-invisible. Her howl invokes the deepest instincts in us all, her lungs into our ears sends a sound a shuddering rush down our spine that climbs a ladder up to the skull of our earlier days. What other animal has inspired such deep-seated fear and loathing to people — yet is essentially harmless to people — than the wolf? Much as we smite the primitive for the sake of civility, it just might be that the paw-print of a wolf is rendered as a threatening message, its calling card of a butchered carcass a warning: neither you nor your way of life belongs here. So we exterminate — it’s what we do, how we handle all situations. Besides, where does the wild fit in when we all want that slice of heaven that is a lake cabin up north? Or at least a room at the Great Wolf Lodge.
PS: it’s worth noting that the Republicans took up this wolf hunt bill the same day they changed the rules on abortion and passed abstinence-only education in public schools. Republicans, it would seem, are afraid not only of the big bad wolf, but Miss Riding’s little red hood, too.