Friday, September 4, 2009

Wildlands or tamelands?

The successful re-establishment of wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming raises a question beyond whether their numbers should be reduced by hunting: Can wildlands remain wild?

Once an endangered species, wolves are predators. They hunt and kill other mammals, large and small. Their increasing numbers are highlighting human discomfort with the brutal eat-or-be-eaten facts of the food chain—discomfort that extends even to humans who hunt big game and raise domestic animals for slaughter.

Idaho hunters are howling about the threat of hungry wolves to the state's deer and elk populations, populations lovingly and expensively studied and cared for by professional wildlife managers paid with funds from hunting licenses.

Farmers and ranchers are yipping about wolves harassing and killing domestic sheep and cattle that graze on lands leased to them by the federal government. A recent attack by wolves near Dillon, Mont., that left some 120 sheep dead is new fodder for the argument that wolves should be eradicated from the landscape once again.

If wolf numbers remain high, it may be just a matter of time before wolves kill a pet dog, and the urban residents who decide to live next to the West's wild landscapes begin to complain.

Wolves, mountain lions, bears, bobcats, coyotes and foxes are the animals that with deer, elk, antelope, moose and small mammals are the "wild" in wildlands.

The question posed by wolves is not if they should be eradicated, but if wild lands can be wild without them. Or, perhaps wild lands should be renamed "tame lands," or more to the point, "feedlots."

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