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Opinion Column
For the week of May 17 through May 23, 2000

Idaho images: wolf killers, skulking arsonists, Aryans

Personally, I think that…I’d rather my carcass serve as fuel for some other creature’s life than as a trophy on some ego-maniac’s wall.

Express Staff Writer

I recently spent three weeks in Alaska and Canada. Most of that time was spent climbing in inhospitable, wild, remote and indescribably lovely mountain terrain. Despite its difficulties, inconveniences, dangers, and harsh physical and mental demands, such experience is worth the price of admission.

Such times rejuvenate the soul, cleanse the mind, strip the inessential from personal perspective while illuminating the pretense, chicanery and brutality that move the wheels of commerce and which have somehow given greed a shiny, if fraudulent, veneer of virtue in our society.

To be in the backcountry, doing the essential labor of being self-sufficient while climbing a mountain or moving from point A to point B through glacial terrain, is a reminder of how simple and difficult it is to maintain the basics of life—food, drink, shelter, clothing, warmth, community. It is a reminder to be very careful, very wary and very, very aware of those members of the great expedition of life who, to paraphrase the fine American writer Walter Van Tilberg Clark, "…want to be all, instead of wanting all to be."

Just before I left Idaho for Alaska, some skulking thug or two or three, the gears in their heads undoubtedly stripped from lack of shifting skills, burned down a local back country yurt. The arson was a personal/political statement. Idaho terrorism. Street gang activity, Idaho style.

While living in a tent on glaciers on the side of a mountain in the Yukon, I thought about that yurt and about the unknown (to me) people who had torched it. Many years ago the good Jerry Edwards, longtime Sun Valley ski instructor who lived in Alaska when he wasn’t skiing, told me that the reason he liked Alaska so much was that life was so stark in the back country there that people depended on each other, friend and foe alike. A man’s word is the difference between life and death in the bush.

If a man said he would be somewhere on a certain day, he was there. A man couldn’t afford to burn down another man’s shelter as a personal/political statement because he might need that shelter one day. He might even need that other man. Who knows, he might just need all to be when he figures out that he cannot be all.

Edwards’ observation about civilized bush behavior in Alaska has always struck me as a practical guide to sanity, whether or not it is in operation in Alaska, Idaho or anywhere else. A man’s word is the difference between life and death. It’s as basic as food and shelter and clothing that if a man can’t talk about what he is doing (say, burning down another man’s yurt), he probably shouldn’t be doing it.

While in Alaska I met some outfitters, people who make part of their living walking trophy hunters through the process of finding and killing sheep, goats, bear, caribou and moose with high powered rifles so that the heads of these unlucky beasts can be mounted and hung on the den walls of the great (mostly white) hunters of the world. The going rate for a successful week of the hunt resulting in four glassy-eyed trophies to hang on the wall is around $11,000, not including taxidermy.

With a straight face and no trace of irony that I could detect, one outfitter assured me that wolves were "killing machines’ that killed for the sake of killing, not for food. The same outfitter told a story about a pack of wolves that killed 29 moose in one day in one valley and then just left the carcasses to rot. I do not believe that story, though I am undecided about the outfitter’s next assertion that any creature would rather die from a hunter’s bullet than from a pack of wolves. Personally, I think that either way I’d rather my carcass serve as fuel for some other creature’s life than as a trophy on some ego-maniac’s wall.

That wolves and men are fellow predators in the web of life is nothing more, or less, than the nature of things. The wolf is a superbly evolved predator, an integral part of the ecology of any environment in which he exists. The predator wolf competes with the predator man for food only in a very narrow band of circumstances. Predator wolf, however, does compete with modern merchant man for the bait that brings in hunter dudes willing to pay $11,000 a week for the experience of the joy of killing and a few cocktail conversation trophies. Trophy hunting is big business, having nothing to do with food, and it is not the wolf that stands revealed as a killing machine.

And then there are cattle, the most worthless, destructive, misplaced, dumb creatures to ever be introduced into the American West, a place for which they are completely unsuited and where they cannot survive on their own. The cow has caused almost as much destruction to the environment of the American West as has open-pit mining, clear-cut logging practices and the nuclear industry. The cow in the West, like the mining and logging industries, is largely subsidized by the American taxpayer, profiting a very few ranchers. Some call them "welfare ranchers."

It was disturbing to return from Alaska to the news that a couple of these ranchers had lost a couple of cows to wolves and had used this as an excuse to kill the entire White Cloud Wolf Pack. How sad. How murderous. How inexcusably stupid. How dishonorable for Idaho.

Idaho, poor Idaho, previously known in the world for the Aryan Nations, skulking yurt arsonists, salmon extinction, nuclear waste, militias and the compassionate conservatism exemplified by Helen Chenoweth, will now add wolf pack killers to its list of shame.


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