Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A western war heading east?

In the wolf war between western states and the federal government, it looks like the feds won the latest battle.
A brief in today’s Oakland Press stated U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland decided in favor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to uphold a ban on killing wolves in Alaska.
States like Wyoming and Montana are more well known for their struggle against the wolves, hence why I chalk it up to be a western states war. Either way, it is a war.
It is one of few instances where hunters have united against the protection of a wild, native species. Of course, they’re not the only ones or the loudest ones in the room. Ranchers lose money to wolves and have long put up the strongest opposition to the reintroduction and protection of wild wolf populations.
In the Alaska case, the state has argued that without emergency intervention (killing the wolves), the Unimak Island caribou herd in the United States will continue to decline and die out.
National Geographic did a cover story about the wolf war earlier this year. It was a fascinating look at the battle taking place right now.
What I found really interesting is that while native populations of elk and deer are plummeting — angering hunters and the state governments’ whose coffers depend heavily on hunting commerce — the native ecosystem is thriving.
It turns out the wolves are restoring a natural balance to environment via the food chain. As elk and deer numbers drop, more saplings are surviving and this affects a whole chain of other plants, insects, birds and animals. New growth around the riverbeds has also had a large impact on the health of streams and the aquatic life forms they support.
Why should we care? Because, unbeknownst to many Michiganders, wolves are here with us. (Neat fact reported in the natgeo story: in the 70s, wolves were completely eradicated from everywhere in the lower 48 except two places, one of them being our own Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior) Maybe the wolves are not in the lower peninsula yet — though of course, many northerners believe otherwise — but they probably will be.
The wolf issue doesn’t seem to be much of an issue at all here in Michigan, and that may be because the populations are in our state’s most remote areas. But I wonder what will happen if the wolves do start creeping in on Michigan’s more populated areas.
I’d like to think, with a much smaller livestock industry than out west, we’d be OK with sharing our land with wolves. I am biased, of course.
As far as Michigan’s hunting industry goes, though, I’m sure our hunters would be outraged and the state would be hurting for money as deer populations drop, creating a decline in revenue from hunting.
But is there a more ethereal sound in this world than a wolves’ howl? For me, it’s a reminder of who we are, where we came and where our dogs came from, a reminder of how grand and beautiful nature in its natural state — with wolves and other predators that we’ve driven out — can be.
What will we do when the wolf populations reach our backyard?

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