This fall marked the opening of wolf hunting season in five states: Wyoming, Idaho, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Montana. Listening to the controversy between ranchers and conservation groups over the species can leave a person enraged, numb or simply wondering why we can’t all live in harmony on this massive chunk of land.
The gray wolf, which was hunted to near extinction until the 1930s and 1940s, has mostly rebounded, thanks to Federal and state endangered species acts. Its numbers now run around 5,000 in the lower 48 and a little over 11,000 in Alaska (where, as Mother Jone’s reports, they’ve never been protected).
A recent NPR story about wolf hunting discusses how the wolf population in Montana has grown dramatically, even with hunting. This year, wildlife officials there have abandoned the statewide kill limit and almost doubled the length of the season.
Managers of wilderness and wildlife have a tough job. It used to be that all forest fires were suppressed, but society is now reeling from the long-term results of that approach: overgrown undergrowth that feeds giant, uncontrollable wildfires and beetle infestations that are killing the forests. Hindsight is, as they say, 20/20.
As a recent op-ed in The New York Times points out, “large predators are becoming extinct at faster rates than other species. And losing top predators has an outsize effect on the rate of loss of many other species below them on the food chain as well as on the plant life that is so important to the balance of our ecosystems.”
Clearly, ecosystems operate in a delicate balance, so is it possible for man to manage that balance? As philosopher and writer George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” If so, maybe someday we’ll try to extinguish every forest fire again, too.