On January 26, 2014 we visited a Colorado (privately owned and operated) facility called the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center, located in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains — almost in the shadow of Pikes Peak — at an elevation just above 9000 ft, near the small town of Divide. The Center’s stated mission is to:
Educate the public through tours and programs about the importance of Wolves, Coyotes, and Foxes to our eco-system.
Educate the public about the importance of Preservation and Conservation of the forests, land, and water that supports wildlife, flora, and fauna for future generations to enjoy.
Provide natural habitats and exceptional lives for the animals entrusted to our care since they cannot live in the wild.
Inhabitants at the Center include foxes, coyotes, and wolves, each and all of which have been rescued from one or another type of captivity, some brutal. At the Center the animals are confined, but still are able to run free within large fenced areas, each an acre or more on the floor of a mixed conifer forest. They’re fed appropriately to suit their natural diet. Local road kill (in winter) is routinely delivered to the Center. If it’s not sufficient, flesh, bones, hides, and intestinal tract contents from any available source are either purchased or donated, and serve to maintain a healthy critter population.
The personnel at the Center work diligently to educate people about wolves and other wild canine predators. There are typically at least five (2 hour) guided tours per day, led mostly by volunteers who are both knowledgeable and passionate about the work they do; they speak with authority, are able to accurately answer questions, and clearly enjoy immensely their work, their contribution to both education (of people) AND to the well-being of the Center’s on-site critter population. School visits by youngsters are also quite common, and numerous handwritten responses by the children to questions concerning what they learned are on proud display, and are fascinating to read, to explore.
Following are a handful of snapshots that I was lucky enough to capture. Each of the critters is a wolf — Canis lupus (the foxes and coyotes weren’t at all patient with me when I asked them to pose). At least two are subspecies arctos, or Arctic (tundra, white) wolves; the others are the somewhat more common and wide-spread Gray (timber) wolves. Note their faces, how fierce, contorted, savage and hateful they clearly are (trying to sound stupid here; it ain’t always easy).
Scary scary, right? “Cuz them wolves is KILLERS!” (Words spoken by an unidentified New Mexico Wingnut when the Mexican Gray was about to be reintroduced in the Southwest some 15-20 years ago). Actually, as our guide at the Center pointed out, there have been only two recorded wolf “attacks” on humans in North America in the last 100 YEARS, and both are suspect, may never have happened at all. But in this world, no matter, because FEAR rules. By demand.
Demand. It worked. By 1930 nearly every wolf in the lower 48 had been killed, all for no reason other than the irrational hatred, by humans, of a natural and valuable predator. Wherefrom the hatred? Why? Barry Holstun Lopez, in his 1978 masterwork Of Wolves and Men reflects on what he refers to as an “idea born in Europe” which “bears on the propriety of wolf killing, and that is to be found in the work of René Descartes. Descartes articulated the belief that not only were animals put on earth for man’s use but they were distinctly lowborn; they were without souls and therefore man incurred no mortal guilt in killing them.” Descartes’ premise found immediate favor because, as Lopez notes, “the Church” had long ‘known’ that the very “idea” that animals — other than human — were at all important in any way was “abhorrent to the Roman Church at the time . . .”, and that the Church maintained the premise “that man could kill without moral restraint, without responsibility . . .”
Sadly, not much has changed over the course of the last few centuries. Today widespread assassination/murder/wanton killing of even recently reintroduced wolf populations continues, unabated, with more than 2000 wolves in the northern Rockies dead — shot, trapped, poisoned, killed by any possible means — in less than three years. Why? Because, as we all ‘know,’ wolves kill cows — bad for ranchers — and greatly reduce elk and deer populations — bad for hunters . . . a pair of premises which are demonstrably and patently untrue. The facts are that the estimated wolf depredation impact on cattle occurs at an annual rate of about two-tenths of one percent. Stated another way, if 10,000 cattle were to die each year out on the range from ‘natural’ causes, only 20 of those deaths would be attributable to wolves. And in most cases, ranchers are fully compensated when death is clearly/conclusively caused by wolves. Further, it’s a scientifically proven fact that natural herbivore (elk and deer, e.g..) populations are STRENGTHENED when wolf predation is part of the equation. Wolves do NOT kill the ‘trophy’ animals; rather they prey on the old, the sickly, the weak, and in the process both wolf and herbivore populations become stronger. Still, the oft-spoken epithet persists: “If all the wolves is dead there’ll be more elk for us hunters.”
What an amazingly non-salient (read: stupid) argument, one reiterated in late August of 2012, in Montana, when a reality TV show broadcast an episode on the killing of a wolf in Montana. “It’s the funnest thing I’ve done in years,” the gleeful host [crowed] after shooting the wolf with a high-powered rifle. “The funnest thing” pretty much describes the mentality implicit in those who . . . never mind.
Lopez also speaks, at some length, of the ‘other’ side of that cultural coin. He writes, “One of the problems that comes with trying to take a wider view of animals is that most of us have cut ourselves off from them conceptually. We do not think of ourselves as part of the animal kingdom. Indians did. They thought of themselves as The People (that is the translation from the native tongue of most tribal names) and of animals as The Wolves. The Bears. The Mice, and so forth. . . . the line between Indians and wolves may fade, not because Indians did not perceive the differences but because they were preoccupied with the similarities.”
And so it is with each and all of The People at the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center. They, too, take that “wider view of animals,” and do all they can do to advance the cause. For that, and for everything else they do and have done, I applaud them.
Meanwhile, an encouraging PostScript, courtesy of the Center for Biological Diversity, dated January 30 2014. It reads as follows:
Idaho Wolf Hunt Ends, Hired Gunman Halted
Faced with a looming court deadline to defend its actions against a suit by the Center for Biological Diversity and our allies, Idaho’s Department of Fish and Game on Monday halted its wolf-extermination program in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. Nine wolves had already fallen to a hired hunter-trapper who began killing wolves in December; it’s unknown how many animals remain alive in the two targeted packs.
We’ve sued the department — and the U.S. Forest Service, which was assisting it — arguing that the wolf-killing program prioritized elk numbers for human hunters over wilderness values. After a federal judge rejected our request to stop the program on Jan. 17, we took our fight to the court of appeals, filing an emergency request for an injunction Jan. 23.
“It’s a tragedy that nine wolves had to die before the state of Idaho finally pulled the plug on its needless effort to eradicate two whole wolf packs from one of America’s largest wilderness areas,” said Noah Greenwald, the Center’s endangered species director. “The wolves were only playing the role they play in nature and should never have been killed. It shouldn’t take court action to stop such cruel, unnecessary and wasteful killing — but I’m glad it has stopped.”
I expect the ‘stop’ is temporary; there has never been a sustainable letup in the “human” urge to exterminate wolves. Still, every respite is at least useful, and maybe one day the principles implicit in those expressed and applied by the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center will prevail.
Dare WE hope?