What Would Aldo Leopold Say?

A year ago this past May, wolves in the Northern Rockies lost their federal protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  The wolves in this region were delisted as an ESA success story and were claimed to no longer require Federal oversight.

Though this might have been true a year ago, the federal decision to shift the power of wolf management over to the states has begun to undo the success that has been achieved.

      • Wolves in this region are being hunted, trapped, and aerially gunned.
      • In the span of one year, the state of Idaho has reduced its wolf population by 40% (to approximately 600) and has permission from USFWS to reduce the population to less than 200.

And while I could go on about my opinions of this decision and the seemingly mismanagement of these wolf populations, it would not make a difference to those gunning down the wolves.  Why?  Because our value system is completely different.

Animals such as wolves are caught in the court of public opinion.  They are falsely portrayed as savage and ruthless monsters, varmint.  They are not easily anthropomorphized, and thus the public struggles to see them beyond what they have been told.

One of the first things I remember learning as a freshman Environmental Studies major was the role a person’s values play with respect to the environment and how this influences an animal’s portrayal.  Naturally, animals you can anthropomorphize are favored over those you believe to be savaged, flee-invested pests.  This only adds fuel to the fire in situations like wolf management, where the public may have a bias, feeling reducing populations is the key to their livestock and game dreams.

The court of public opinion, whether for better or worse, influences environmental issues.  We must begin addressing the value system in order to create real, transformational, environmental change.  The environment is a complex and delicately balanced, interrelated system.  When we fail to step back and look at it from a 30,000 ft view, failing to connect how everything relates, we begin to initiate a domino-effect of disruption.

Those working on environmental issues already find value in the environment.  It is those who do not naturally connect who could be enlightened by a value based approach.  Yelling at someone and telling them they are wrong will only go so far, but if you can dig deep and get to the root of a person’s values, it could generate transformational environmental change.

The only question now is, how do we successfully do that?

I suspect until we figure it out, Aldo Leopold will continue to roll over in his grave until those in the Northern Rockies begin to find value in the role wolves play in the delicate balance of the ecological system.

“We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes.  I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain.  I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise.  But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.”   – Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac