Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Going wild

Trapping fur-bearers destroys wilderness


"If we destroy the outer wilderness, our inner wilderness will really go wild."

—C.A. Meier

Between 250 and 300 wolverines are estimated to live in the lower 48 states, most of them in Montana and Idaho, though a small number survive in Washington, Oregon, California, Wyoming and Colorado.

Alaska has some larger populations and Canada supports around 20,000 wolverines. There are a few in the Sun Valley area. The wolverine, both a predator and a scavenger, exemplifies what we mean when using words like "wild," "wilderness," 'backcountry" and "nature. "

It is called, among other things, "gulo gulo" (Latin for glutton) and for many years has been reputed to be the rarest mammal in North America. Smaller than the average black Lab or golden retriever domestic dog, the wolverine is the largest in the terrestrial weasel family and is among the toughest, strongest, most solitary, self-sufficient and wide-roaming mammals on earth.

Mountain lions, wolves and bears are predators of the wolverine, though a healthy wolverine will cause more damage to its predator than the meal will be worth, and it is usually only the young, the infirm and the injured that are killed.

Except, of course, with the wolverine's primary predator, man, who has the technological advantage of traps, high-powered rifles, poison and other tools of predation. As it has done with the wolverine's canine cousin of the wilderness, the wolf, man has exterminated the rarest mammal in North America from most of its natural habitat, which once ranged from Maine across the northern states, from Montana to New Mexico in the Rocky Mountains and from Washington to California's Sierra Nevada.

In addition to man's superior firepower and steel traps, human-caused global warming and the resulting climate change is reducing the snowpack wolverines rely on for habitat and denning. This, too, is contributing to their extermination.

It is estimated that the receding snows of global warming will reduce the wolverine's habitat in North America by 23 percent by 2045 and 63 percent by 2099. Since there are fewer than 300 alive today and they have one of the lowest reproductive rates among mammals, the long-term prospects for gulo gulo's survival in the lower 48 do not look very good.

But one would never know that from the actions and statements of the commissioners of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, who recently voted to continue trapping wolverines. There are, perhaps, as many as 100 wolverines in Montana, though there may be fewer, but the commissioners' position is that trapping a few each year is not a threat to their long-term survival.


They ignored a petition from eight environmental groups and one individual, the environmental writer and activist George Wuerthner, who argued that trapping is a threat to the long-term survival of the species. One need not have the training of a wildlife biologist to know that the premise of this petition is accurate and that the Montana department has its head up, or, rather, down in the pockets of the fishing, hunting, ranching and real estate industries of Montana, where the official state motto is "Oro y plata (gold and silver)."

Montana is the only state that allows trapping wolverines. That the survival of the wolverine as a species is not a priority (or even of concern) is self-evident. It is entirely consistent with the priorities of the wildlife departments of the other Western states, all of which consistently express outrage, antipathy and obstruction whenever a species is federally listed as endangered or even threatened.

Montana—if its fish and wildlife department and policies reflect its citizens' thoughts and philosophy—appears to be just a bit more extreme in its anti-wolf, anti-wolverine, anti-wildlife, anti-wilderness ethics than its neighbors.

Those of us who value the natural world, the environment, the wilderness and all the flora and fauna existing there, including the endangered and threatened, believe, to paraphrase the platform of Deep Ecology, that every form of life has value in itself independent of its usefulness for humans. We believe that humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs.

Trapping wolverines, wolves, beaver, muskrat, river otter, mink, marten, red fox, bobcat, coyote, weasel, skunk, badger and raccoon does not satisfy any vital need of mankind. It damages the web of life of the forests and mountains and rivers and lakes and deserts of America. And it creates unimaginable, unnecessary suffering for wildlife and those domestic animals unfortunate enough to get caught in a steel-jaw trap, and every year thousands of them do.

It only destroys the outer wilderness and, as Meier points out, the inner wilderness goes wild.

The American Veterinary Medical Association condemns and has classified as 'inhumane" the steel-jaw trap used for trapping wolverines and wolves, among other animals. These traps are inherently cruel and have been banned in 88 countries. The European Union has banned the use of these traps as well as the importation of pelts from countries that use them. Trapping destroys the outer wilderness, and, as Gandhi said, "What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another."

The larger social implications of what trapping does to both outer and inner wilderness are obvious.

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