The year is 2040. The predators were the first to go, and the wolves the first amongst them. Mankind wanted to eliminate all the competition connected to food sources, and these carnivorous beasts did little to better society. As a result, the grazing animals began to overrun what meager amounts remained of the green matter. An ever-increasing population forced people to turn towards the only remaining fertile lands across the globe: National Parks.

Once protected, these sacred lands became a highly-sought commodity that caused riots. Prey continued to encroach on the lands and began to perish; people had scarcely enough land for themselves, let alone their livestock. Had more research been poured into innovative food greenhouse technologies like hydro-gardens, they may have stood a chance. But that, like the wolves and climate change, had been tossed aside for luxurious lives. As the remaining animals grew bolder and cities stretched their cement claws into the woods, an unhealthy chemistry sprouted and disease struck both man and beast alike. Scientists had long ago discovered the impact of predators on the trophic cascade—amongst other environmental dangers like deforestation and chemical emissions—and the deviations that would impact soil bacteria, water availability, biodiversity, and countless other ecosystem structures that stimulated food growth while keeping the environment habitable and healthy.[1]

Malnutrition spread and real food became scarce, so the processed food industry began to cash in on chemical dinners while simultaneously emitting more toxins into the air through their factories. People were born into sickness now; it was a potent mixture of ingesting chemicals through diet and breathing them in through the atmosphere. The world begged for foliage growth to feed livestock and cleanse the air, but there was no way to sustain such life. Scientists released new studies showing the benefit of predators. Perhaps, albeit risky, predators could have prevented part of the environmental destruction. Research groups scanned countless horizons for the tracks of a mountain lion or wolf. It was too late, however, for none remained, long-driven out by hatred and selfish ambition.

Years passed and scientists had yet to find a way to recreate the magnificent beasts. The complete extinction of a species, unlike other environmental impactors, was irreversible.[2] The air grew denser and filled peoples’ lungs with dark matter that splattered when they coughed it up on the sidewalk, parched from the water shortage and weakened from malnourishment. The few nations in power hoarded their remaining sources while their brothers died. There was no relief or pleasure for them, however, for luxury had ended. No one had the time or energy to read books or watch films. Many had lost loved ones. Work became survival. Sleepless nights plagued the masses. And art found no inspiration in an unnatural world, for the brooks ran dry, forests became deserts, and the wolf no longer serenaded the night.

***

Although there is evidence to support this fictionalized prophesy, there is no guarantee that the eradication of wolves and other predators will spiral downwards into an inescapable doom. There are those who argue that the impact may be minor, or even non-existent. People could come up with innovative technologies to combat the domino effect and, perhaps, those technologies will fare better than current attempts to popularize green living. Perchance, the whole concept of environmental conservation is nothing more than a Nation Inquirer façade, or as conservative host Glenn Beck puts it, a “reminder that humanity must be controlled, manipulated and even destroyed for the good of the planet.”[3] But what if it is not? An unchanged path could chart a worse future. Even an outcome half as detrimental as the mock scenario would be a devastating blow to humanity and life as we know it. Is that a chance we are willing to take? Is our future, our children’s future, something to haphazardly gamble with? The Earth’s ultimate demise should not be carried out willingly by the hands that call it home. Alas, the destruction of nature is not a new fad, and the wolf has long been the poster child of this targeted annihilation.

The destruction of the wolves was a global phenomenon, but North America arguably championed the raping of natural resources, species, and people. Long before settlers staked their claims in 1607, wolves, like the indigenous American people, flourished in the land. Although some remind fearful of man, many lived in harmony and were even domesticated. Between 250,000 and 500,000 ran free in packs, cohabitating easily with the native people and wildlife.[4] Wolves were an important symbol in Native American culture, signifying strength and beauty. Some stories told of the brotherhood between wolves and men and the power they could draw from one another. One Cheyenne story spoke of a valiant wolf who came to the aid of two women and two children who barely escaped the Sand Creek Massacre. The wolf had been tracking them for hours, and the woman believed he saw them as prey. When they surrendered themselves to him, though, the wolf took pity on them and brought them meat that nourished them so they could make the journey to safety.[5]

Colonial mindsets did not view wolves with such grace and it was not long before conflicts would start a battle between men and wolves that would last centuries. The New World, regarded as property that needed to be claimed and exploited, needed to be cleansed of anything that would prohibit prosperity and endanger the newcomers or their livelihood. The wolves and their predator brethren alike became easy targets, but Euro-American settlers had a special interest in wolves. For one, wolf killing was the culmination of two colonial conquering methods: legends and assets. A wolf pelt was both a bragging right and a trade item. Rumors spread quickly about the alleged atrocities committed by wolves; it was a new kind of folklore, but one far different from the stories the Indigenous Americans told. Wolves were painted as corrupt creatures that attacked the livestock of struggling farmers and stole babes away from their mothers’ breasts in the wee hours of the morning. It was not long before they became symbols of evil. While the deer were “stand-ins for ‘God’s persecuted…’, wolves symbolize[d] the ‘fierce blood-sucking persecutor.’”[6] Euro-Americans continued to mercilessly slaughter the creatures for years, driving them back as the colonial process took hold of the country.

Even after extensive settlement—establishment of cities, the Industrial Revolution, the massacre of native peoples—wolves still found sanctuary by retreating further into the forests. Flash-forward to the beginning of the twentieth century: Americans were unrelenting in the conquest of the New World, or what remained of it. Forests were felled at alarming speeds, food sources began to deplete, and pollution started contaminating the atmosphere. All of this encroached increasingly on the natural habitat that sustained America’s vibrant ecosystem, but predators like the wolves suffered at the hands of direct attacks, too. Continuing in the settler propaganda that depicted the natural world as something that needed to be tamed or eradicated, the United States government created a campaign for the War on Wolves.[7]

Wolves were depicted as nuisances at best and terrorists at worst—never mind that the land was their home and that settler society perpetrated acts of terror on the native peoples and wildlife. Few people stood up for the wolves, and assumed environmental leaders like Theodore Roosevelt deemed them “the beast[s] of waste and destruction.”[8] Countless photographs documented the extermination of the species, showing pelts piled high for victory and profit. Americans considered the acts as a betterment to society and themselves; they were, after all, only protecting their families and livestock. To this day, the wolves are the only species to be purposefully forced into near extinction by man.[9] By means of systematic annihilation, the US government won its war with the wolves. The most common American wolf breed, the gray wolf, was all but eradicated while the others trailed closely behind. Once roaming the lower 48 states, they were confined to sparse parts of Michigan and Minnesota. By 1960, the wolf population was scarcely 300.[10]

Although the war had ended, many hunters still sought out the remaining few packs huddled in the northern extremities of the country. Aldo Leopold was one of the last government wolf hunters. In 1944, as the last of the wolves died out, he noticed the havoc man had wrought on the natural world. His essay, “Thinking Like a Mountain,” included many themes that would soon be proven by science. He stated, “I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer.”[11] Leopold noted, like many researchers today, that the removal of wolves from nature was far more dangerous than their predator instincts. Rachel Carson, a scientist and nature-lover, would carry similar thoughts to a broader audience through her book Silent Spring in the 1960s. It resonated with thousands and spurred Americans on towards an environmental awakening. The environment finally became a political concern shortly after, and the remainder of the decade saw two major acts passed: The Endangered Species Preservation Act in 1966 and the Endangered Species Conservation Act in 1969. Although these acts were a step in the right direction, they were found “to lack the necessary teeth for effective enforcement,” and so congress passed (with nearly unanimous support) the Endangered Species Act in 1973.[12]

Specific species of wolves were given protection under the ESA in 1974, allowing recovery to begin in new territories once populated by wolves. The public realized, albeit too late, the damage they had done and the uphill battle they now faced. Rehabilitation of any species is a trying process, and the Mexican gray was not saved in time. The gray wolf subspecies was declared extinct in 1980.[13] Four males and one female were captured prior to the demise in hopes of a successful captive-breeding program. The ESA was instrumental in assigning biologists to preserve the genetic stability and diversity of the wolves, and the captive-raised generations were first reintroduced into North Carolina in 1990. Free of human interference, a handful of gray wolf packs multiplied up North. Outdoors enthusiasts and wildlife researchers started noticing trends in wolf sightings in the Cascade Mountains of Washington, confirming the successful growth rates and migration trends.[14] By the mid-nineties, a total of seven states including Alaska confirmed active wolf populations. Yellowstone received its first “wolf transplant” in 1995, and the Nez Perce Nation was a crucial aspect of reestablishment efforts.[15] The government continued to evolve the acclimation programs to ensure successful transitions between captivity and the wilderness.

Wolf numbers today stand around 3,500 in the lower 48 states and 60,000 in the untouched wilds of Alaska and Canada, but a combination of conquering lust and general apathy towards the environment has once again put them in a treacherous place.[16] One driving factor is that the reintroduced wolves began picking off small bits of livestock which allegedly posed a direct threat to farmers. In 2011, the state of Idaho declared a state of emergency due to the small influx in wolf hunts, stating they were a threat to the local citizens, even though the two plus decades that have spanned since reintroduction efforts in the 90s have not witnessed so much as one wild wolf-related injury in the lower 48 states.[17] Hunters, farmers, and unwitting citizens fear wolves will eat all the livestock and grow so prolifically that they will eventually threaten the lives of people. There is something bigger stake below the surface, though, and it threatens financial interest and grabs the attention of politicians: “the protections wolves require in the West can run counter to the interests of industrial agriculture businesses and the oil and gas industry, both of which want to operate on land that is currently subject to protection because it’s wolf habitat.”[18] Plain and simple, wolves are one of the many creatures in the way of the great manifest destiny. If they are protected, so is the environment. Their fates are poetically intertwined.

The wolves, and nature in its entirety, are just one of many creatures that are negatively impacted by the current administration. Even now, “a witch hunt is already underway for federal employees who support the science of climate change…protections for the 640 million acres of public land…are already being stripped away.”[19] Recent events include dangerous law proposals such as on January 17, 2017, when Republican Senators introduced a bill nicknamed, “The War on Wolves Act.” It shares eerie similarities with the campaign used against wolves over 100 years ago. If passed, S.164 will not only remove ESA protections from wolves in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, it will also strip citizens of the right to challenge it in court.

While many people are not directly against the wolves and their resurgence, they have done little to aid their plight. Even though the average liberal believes in global warming, few take the actions necessary to prevent it or care about it when going about their digitally and consumer-driven lives. Concern for wolves, and many other endangered species, is limited to brief moments of empathy combatted by months of apathy. People are too detached from nature right now to give much daily thought to the well-being of other creatures. It is also easy to forget how much the politicians one votes for impact the environment, especially on local and state levels. It comes naturally to most to vote for what benefits them—what gives them the best tax break, the most control, the cheapest products, etc.—and in doing so, mankind casts the needs of other people, species, and nature to the wayside.

People in today’s world, at least in America, often succumb to selfish desires which debilitate their ability to give a second thought to the dilemmas of others. It is made evident through their voting and consumer choices. As far as solutions go, a huge part of it is getting the right people in office. However, that starts with the citizens themselves. The decision to protect wolves seems logical. According to Wes Siler, journalist for Outside, “If killing wolves results in increased wolf conflict for farmers, if wolves pose virtually no risk to human life, and if they’re essential to ecosystem rehabilitation in the West while bringing in tens of millions in tourist dollars, then remind me why we’re going to spend a bunch of taxpayer money killing them?”[20] It is highly illogical, regardless of one’s political preferences.

But what can be done to sway those who disagree, whether out of spite or indifference? For one, there must be more options to convince people who stand in the way of conservation efforts that the wolves and the environment are worth protecting. The ESA originally got passed because certain species became a face of the movement[21]; they were a symbol, much like the wolves need to be now. The ESA presently has many flaws, though, and a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year “found that the vast majority of endangered species are getting just a fraction – around 20 percent – of the funding needed to recover their populations.”[22] Unless something happens drastically with citizens’ mindsets, the wolves are once again facing probable extinction—not to mention the rest of the environment.

Perhaps, hope for the wolves can be found in a new political science theory sweeping the environmental and welfare-centered organizations: Integral ecology, or the idea of seeing everything as interconnected parts of the large machine known as life. Environmentalism and conservation will have greater odds of being accepted by all when people see an underlying benefit and understand that their actions impact the environment, which, when it completes its full circle, ultimately ends up coming back to impact the people. It is a sort of physical karma that cannot be undone mid-cycle. Unfortunately, America’s selfish and occasionally dogmatic culture has lead people to focus on their consumerism and to toss hard science and data out the window in favor of a view that fits their wants.

Since people cannot always be reasoned with by facts, two things must transpire for the wolves to stand a fighting chance. One, people need to truly understand the benefit of wolves on society and nature. Not only do wolves stimulate the economy and cause little to no threat to mankind’s food and well-being, they also directly impact almost every aspect of the environment. For example, a recent Ted Talk by George Joshua Richard Monbiot, an author and rewilding activist, detailed exactly how wolves can impact massive organisms like America’s rivers[23]. Second, social media and other technological platforms should integrate more pro-nature marketing and easier access to green living. How can people help make a difference if they do not know? Nearly every person in America knows everything about fast-food and department sales, but how many people are truly educated on the current status of endangered species and the effects of fossil fuels? One may be only an internet click away from unlimited knowledge, but something must drive a person to that point of research. Green living and conservation advertising should be dropped in during television show breaks and plastered across city billboards, not ads for diabetes-inducing pastries masked with artificially colored frosting and wrapped in excessive amounts of harmful plastic.

A forecaster of the future, Albert Einstein summed it up best when he said the following: “the goal of all theory is to make the…basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of…experience.”[24] In light of the wolves’ dire circumstances, Einstein’s words of wisdom can be interpreted as follows: for any change or theory to be effective, it comes down to understanding the present time and presenting information in a way that most people can easily digest, all while maintaining an understanding of the multiple viewpoints people have. The key is discovering successful, non-abrasive ways to combat these varying viewpoints. Change for the wolves will not happen overnight, but people cannot idly stand by and let them or the environment continue to suffer without a fight. And to win this fight, activists must create more allies, not more enemies. We must once again become protectors of the wolves and our world, or we will all face the same fate.

Bibliography

Beck, Glenn. “Environmentalism Part IV: The Biggest Hoax of All Time.” Glenn Beck. April      22, 2016. Accessed April 26, 2017.        <http://www.glennbeck.com/2016/04/22/environmentalism-part-iv-the-biggest-hoax-of-          all-time/>.

Casey, Denise, and Susan G. Clark. Tales of the Wolf: Fifty-One Stories of Wolf Encounters in     the Wild. Moose, WY: Homestead Pub., 1996.

Coleman, Jon T. Vicious: Wolves and Men in America. Yale University Press, 2008.

“Did We Only Bring Wolves Back So We Can Kill Them Again?” Predator Defense. Accessed   April 22, 2017. <http://www.predatordefense.org/wolves.htm&gt;.

Dutcher, Jim, Jamie Dutcher, and James Manfull. The Hidden Life of Wolves. Washington, D.      National Geographic, 2013.

Kaufman, Mark D. “Wolves are targets in the Endangered Species Act.” Scienceline. May 03,      2017. Accessed May 06, 2017. <http://scienceline.org/2017/05/wolves-targets-     endangered-species-act-modernization/>.

McIntyre, Rick. A Society of Wolves: National Parks and the Battle Over the Wolf. Stillwater,      MN: Voyageur Press, 1996.

Meadows, Donella H., and Diana Wright. Thinking in systems: a primer. White River Junction,   VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2015.

Monbiot, George. July 2013. George Monbiot: For more wonder, rewild the world [Video file].   Accessed May 01, 2017. <https://www.ted.com/talks/george_monbiot_for_more_wonder     _rewild_the_world>.

Moskowitz, David. Wolves in the Land of Salmon. Portland, OR: Timber Press, 2013.

Shivik, John A. The Predator Paradox: Ending the War with Wolves, Bears, Cougars, and           Coyotes. Boston: Beacon Press, 2014.

Siler, Wes. “Trump’s Presidency Means the End of Wolves in the American West.” Outside         Online. January 19, 2017. Accessed April 22, 2017. <https://www.outsideonline.com         /2151411/trumps-presidency-means-end-wolves-american-west>.

Smith, Douglas W., and Gary Ferguson. Decade of the Wolf: Returning the Wild to Yellowstone.  Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, 2012.

Thayer, Helen. Three Among the Wolves: A Couple and Their Dog Live a Year with Wolves in    the Wild. Canada: Sasquatch Books, 2006.

White, Annie B. GrayWolfConservation.com – Wolf History in U.S. Accessed April 22, 2017.             <http://www.graywolfconservation.com/Wild_Wolves/history.htm&gt;.

Zielinski, Sarah. “What Happens When Predators Disappear.” Smithsonian.com. July 18, 2011.   Accessed April 26, 2017. <http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/what-     happens-when-predators-disappear-32079553/>.

[1] Zielinski, Sarah. “What Happens When Predators Disappear.” Smithsonian.com. July 18, 2011.

 

[2] “Did We Only Bring Wolves Back So We Can Kill Them Again?” Predator Defense.

[3] Beck, Glenn. “Environmentalism Part IV: The Biggest Hoax of All Time.” Glenn Beck. April 22, 2016.

[4] White, Annie B. GrayWolfConservation.com – Wolf History in U.S.

[5] Casey, Denise, and Susan G. Clark. Tales of the Wolf: Fifty-One Stories of Wolf Encounters in the Wild. Moose, WY: Homestead Pub., 1996, 20.

[6] Coleman, Jon T. Vicious: Wolves and Men in America. Yale University Press, 2008, 46.

[7] “Did We Only Bring Wolves Back So We Can Kill Them Again?” Predator Defense.

[8] White, Annie B. GrayWolfConservation.com – Wolf History in U.S.

[9] McIntyre, Rick. A Society of Wolves: National Parks and the Battle Over the Wolf. Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press, 1996, 58.

[10] Moskowitz, David. Wolves in the Land of Salmon. Portland, OR: Timber Press, 2013, 178.

[11] Dutcher, Jim, Jamie Dutcher, and James Manfull. The Hidden Life of Wolves. Washington, D. National Geographic, 2013, 123.

[12] Smith, Douglas W., and Gary Ferguson. Decade of the Wolf: Returning the Wild to Yellowstone. Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, 2012, 24.

[13] White, Annie B. GrayWolfConservation.com – Wolf History in U.S.

[14] McIntyre, Rick. A Society of Wolves: National Parks and the Battle Over the Wolf. Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press, 1996, 92.

[15] Smith, Douglas W., and Gary Ferguson. Decade of the Wolf: Returning the Wild to Yellowstone. Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, 2012, 28.

[16] Siler, Wes. “Trump’s Presidency Means the End of Wolves in the American West.” Outside Online. January 19, 2017.

[17] Dutcher, Jim, Jamie Dutcher, and James Manfull. The Hidden Life of Wolves. Washington, D. National Geographic, 2013, 125.

[18] Siler, Wes. “Trump’s Presidency Means the End of Wolves in the American West.” Outside Online. January 19, 2017.

[19] Siler, Wes. “Trump’s Presidency Means the End of Wolves in the American West.” Outside Online. January 19, 2017.

[20] Siler, Wes. “Trump’s Presidency Means the End of Wolves in the American West.” Outside Online. January 19, 2017.

[21] McIntyre, Rick. A Society of Wolves: National Parks and the Battle Over the Wolf. Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press, 1996, 27.

[22] Kaufman, Mark D. “Wolves are targets in the Endangered Species Act.” Scienceline. May 03, 2017.

[23] Monbiot, George. July 2013. George Monbiot: For more wonder, rewild the world [Video file].

[24] Meadows, Donella H., and Diana Wright. Thinking in systems: a primer. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2015, 5.

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