As a nation, America used to be more reasonable and civil. We could work with people with whom we disagreed and still aim towards something resembling a common goal. Not everyone came away fully satisfied but, through compromise and negotiation, we could usually move the ball in the right direction.
This new America has a different, nastier feel to it. People on the other side of an issue – virtually any issue – aren’t fellow Americans.
They are the enemy, so compromise is out. And if all else fails, you can always threaten violence.
The threat of violence has become a steady drumbeat in modern America. The latest thump occurred last week when, facing threats, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife canceled a planned series of 14 meetings related to management of wolves; one of those meetings would have been tonight, in Clarkston.
So instead of talking with one another about wolf management, we are now confined to submitting comments on-line. Three “virtual open house” meetings will replace the 14 in-person meetings that were canceled. When you add it all up, it’s clear something has been lost and nothing has been gained.
Listening to the public is important because state officials must prepare for the day when wolf numbers swell to the point they no longer qualify as an endangered species. When that day dawns, WDFW needs to have a workable, post-recovery plan for conservation and management of wolves.
Now, thanks to threats on Facebook and other forums, WDFW can’t even talk face-to-face with people about future management of wolves.
The threat of violence rears up everywhere in America these days – at softball games, or birthday parties in the park, or even at a lollipop parade. But violence and wolf management go together like pizza and beer.
There’s a lot at stake, in terms of livelihood and traditions, so passions run high.
Most ranchers are leery of wolves because they don’t like losing sheep and cattle to predators. And many elk hunters hate wolves because they have dramatically altered the predator/prey relationships in many hunting areas.
And lately, wolf advocates have begun to show a darker, more menacing side, as well.
It’s the Old West – of open range and abundant wildlife – colliding with the New West, with all its fences and endangered species.
At this point, a couple of footnotes deserve mention.
Starting in 1987, an organization called Defenders of Wildlife began giving ranchers money to compensate for livestock losses to wolves. Over the years, Defenders paid ranchers in the Northern Rockies more than $1.36 million in compensation. The program ended in 2010, but several western states subsequently developed their own compensation programs for livestock losses.
It’s also worth noting that wolves, not surprisingly, are re-establishing themselves as king-of-the-hill consumers of elk. They kill elk when and where they want, unburdened by the rules by that human hunters must obey.
The irony is that human hunters have, for generations, been reaping the benefits of a predator/prey dynamic that was badly out of balance. Without wolves to keep elk numbers down, the herds were unnaturally large – which meant elk weren’t terribly difficult to kill. (Truth be told, I even managed to shoot a few myself.)
As wolf numbers have rebounded in the Northern Rockies, elk have become scarcer, warier, and harder to hunt in many areas.
Also keep in mind that wolves typically bring down old, weak, and sick animals – thereby concentrating superior genetics in the remaining herd. Human hunters, on the other hand, typically aim for trophy animals in the prime of life – thereby culling superior genetics from the herd.
So maybe God created wolves for a reason. Maybe they have a role to play on our green earth. Maybe we should allow the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department to host a civil discussion about wolves.
Is that too much to ask?
William Brock lives in Pullman.