Wolves are recolonizing Washington. This natural recolonization is the result of wolves migrating from British Columbia, Idaho and Oregon. The return of this native carnivore was occurring naturally under protections of the Endangered Species Act. In 1995-96 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hastened recovery by placing wolves, from the same population source naturally recolonizing Glacier National Park and other border adjacent regions, into Yellowstone National Park and the Frank Church Wilderness of Idaho.
There is a parable often attributed to a Cherokee elder so I will follow that attribution and paraphrase.
A Cherokee elder speaking to his grandson says, “There is a battle that goes on inside all people. The battle is between two ‘wolves.’ One is a good wolf that represents things like peace, love, hope, kindness and bravery. The other is a bad wolf, that represents things like envy, jealousy, greed, hatred, self pity and fear.” The grandson thinks about it, looks up at his grandfather and says, “Grandfather, which one wins?” The grandfather quietly replies, “The one you feed.”
Our attitude toward wolves in many ways depends on the wolf we feed. Living with wolves is a new experience for most of us. We can choose unwarranted fear or we can choose to find the courage to seek long-term solutions that allow us to coexist.
I recently read an article in The Spokesman titled “Raising livestock and livelihoods not bending to public perception.” I paraphrase one section, “Nothing creates bonds as quickly as a shared enemy … the greatest friction is … between people who love wolves and the people who live with them.” I counter with: Nothing creates lasting bonds like shared purpose. We don’t have to be at odds; we can work together toward solution.
I have worked on environmental issues in the Spokane area for a dozen plus years and actively followed and worked on issues outside of our area for over three decades. No one I know, or am acquainted with, has ever threatened anyone’s well-being. People who love wolves and the people who live with them are also not mutually exclusive. Many of the people I have spoken with living in areas with wolves support wolf recovery and welcome their return.
Through the lens of humanity, the manner wolves feed themselves and their young appears brutal. Many natural occurrences appear inhumane when we project human values and morality onto the natural world. By definition, inhumane means lacking in humanity, no human presence or influence. The natural world extends beyond humanity. It is in-human. Nature is not moral, morality is a human creation.
If we shine the light of morality in one direction, let’s make sure we do the full 360-degree sweep of the beam to illuminate our inhumane (lacking humanity, kindness or compassion) treatment of animals, both wild and domestic.
Large carnivore aggression toward livestock is inevitable when carnivores and livestock share the landscape. This aggression, and subsequent carnivore removal, has been a source of conflict between an agricultural community trying to sustain their livelihoods and the conservation community working to restore sustainable resilient ecosystems.
The Lands Council and its partners believe prosperous rural communities and healthy ecosystems can mutually exist. We all desire a safe home for our families and economic stability. Embracing our commonalities, we can work together toward both and find solutions that decrease the risk of wildlife/livestock conflict.
Many of the conflicts have taken place on public lands, permitted grazing allotments in the Colville National Forest. The Lands Council and its partners are working with WDFW and USFS to forward a concept that restores/recreates open meadows in the forest for safer livestock grazing. Forest management practices have allowed the forest to invade areas that were once open and sparsely treed, leading to dense, unnatural forest composition. Opening historic meadows creates space with a concentrated food source for livestock and native wildlife in areas that are open and defensible mitigating native carnivore risk.
To make this work, the agricultural community and conservationists must work together. It is time to bridge the divide and collaborate, supporting human interests and protecting wildlife. It is possible if we feed the good wolf.
Chris Bachman is wildlife program director with The Lands Council.
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