I just got an email from Al Cambronne, who has a new blog Deerland here, and book coming out at Lyons by the same name. He wrote an interesting post on how public attitudes toward three predators– muskies, wolves, and (Bald) eagles differ as exemplified in his home state of Wisconsin.
I found the discussion stimulating enough that I replied at blog length (edited after more reflection):
Analogies between muskies, wolves, and eagles are… BIOLOGICALLY difficult, because as you surmise culturally different. Muskies have always been prizes, but pike which are similar in every way not always so– persecuted in European trout and salmon water for one example.
I would say that both wolf and eagle are romanticized and revered by the same element of urban society. Some tribes do hold them sacred, which doesn’t mean they don’t kill them, sometimes cruelly. Wolves are serious stock predators, which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t let or encourage their return, but not by doing so on the backs and economy of rural residents. So-called reparations for lost stock, at least in NM, are held to such an absolute standard of proof as to be absurd– evidence of wolf tracks and eaten carcasses is NOT enough even if wolves were seen chasing stock.
I think the urbanites who so want them might find a way to help pay, perhaps as subsidies to predator- harassed ranchers who must share their land. (That they might then demand a say in ranching practices might open up a bigger can of worms– they know nothing whatsoever about pastoral life, and some ranchers know only a little more about wildlife, but some places both sides are polarized past compromise– government’s fault, another issue).I think confirmed stock killers should be removed, permanently– good evolutionary biology too. The surprisingly widespread wolves of Europe rarely bother humans. Ranchers should learn the use of stock protection dogs like my Wyoming friends the Urbigkits. Urbanites should not romanticize individual wolves at the cost of harming humans who must live with them, but take it as a necessary compromise– you get to hear wolves, problem wolves die, and the rancher is not driven off his land.
I think we should learn to live with a good amount of wolf- game predation– another divisive issue, but the wild is the wild, and co-evolved species must find their way. Prey populations seem to be wobbling into an interesting balance in big wild areas like Yellowstone. We have a hard time seeing that wild populations are often not stable, but run to boom and bust, and that this is natural. Read Where the Wild Things Were. We have little concept of how important apex predators are– which does not mean we cannot kill a few!
Eagles? Very controversial and even more complicated, but important to only a few. Legally both wind power companies and Indians can kill eagles, practically speaking almost at will. The first do it as a side effect but kill a lot. Some of the second do it even more crassly for money than the wind blades do, for powwow costumes which are no more religious than a prom dress, though their slaughter is defended by the likes of Leslie Silko as religious last I heard.
Complication number one: there are a LOT of Golden eagles– five figures worth in the continental US. NOT analogous to wolves! Number two: eagles are still sometimes a significant livestock predator. I know of no recent persecution, but until last year (?– not sure of the most recent decision), problem eagles were legally trapped and removed. Falconers used this population; in fact, trapped legally. Their take was reduced to SIX a year– remember, recent studies indicate this is a common bird with thousands of breeding pairs!– and may be ended for good. This does not sit well with eaglers, dedicated and fanatical even among falconers, who may bond with a bird for decades, while wind blades harvest ten and twenty times the annual number allowed to them, and natives– I am emphatically NOT talking about the reverent Pueblos, who have a real attitude of respect– shoot eagles for profit, brag about it, and are released by white judges.
I am, as a once- zoologist, inclined to manage populations biologically. If a harvest of sorts is the price to pay for having wolves back, fine with me. I would crack down on consumptive use of eagles by Indians, as opposed to sacrificial, and FIGHT for it– no other religion is allowed to decimate a species. And I would allow the same biologically reasonable take on Goldens as applies to any other master falconer’s raptor. (Balds are a less active predator, not as good for falconry, and protected for better or worse by the US civil “religion”, though I know a guy in Canada who flew a male on whitetail jacks).
I have no trouble with the idea of shooting a wolf– well, not a huge interest, but I have killed coyotes: Betsy Huntington is buried with the pelt of one. Hunted predators bother us less. Suburban coyotes are behaving in a scary manner in southern California and even Albuquerque, and “lions” can become even scarier when surrounded by gentle vegans (read the cougar book The Beast in the Garden) Specific population numbers are rather irrelevant, and stable is a different number for each species and region; there are always going to be low numbers of apex predators, and there soon could be a decent number of wolves; micromanaging by moving them in and out may actually be hindering them. Shooting persistent outlaws will like it or not “teach them manners”– they are intelligent– and keep them from eating our dogs & eventually our kids. And please spare me ideas of their harmlessness; the benign wolf of North America is a historical example of what scientists would call an “artifact”, based on rapid settlement and and a historically unusual plethora of guns. Run the figures for Siberia or India– or go to Native accounts, or Medieval ones (Lane?)…
Can’t neglect fish: big muskies (also pike; the large predatory catfish like blue and flathead; alligator gar; even carp in non- wilderness waters). The huge ones are old breeders– catch, photo & release! It is fine, contra “Throw Back the Little Ones*”, to keep small fish & eat them…
*Donald Fagen has a new album out!