Monday, November 2, 2015

City Kids, Country Kids, and the Wisconsin Wolf

It is a common city kid fantasy: that a problem can be solved by the passing of a law or the writing of a regulation.  Human problems can only be solved by changing human behavior.

In the end, people do what they think is right or, more cynically, "they do what is most convenient and then they repent."  Either way, laws only work when they operate with the consent of the governed.  There are plenty of laws in every nation which are ignored for this very reason.

If wolves are to find a permanent place in our wild areas it will come through a variety of regulations and laws which through a variety of sticks and carrots, convince the humans who must live beside the wolf to do so grudgingly if not happily.

  • There are plenty of laws protecting African lions, but when the people who bear the cost of living next to lions do not share the benefit of having them around, lions are poisoned.
  • Preserving the den sites of Illinois rattlesnakes, a necessary part of their preservation, looks very differently if you live nearby, have children, and want to feel safe allowing them to play in the yard.
  • The allure of a resident wolf pack is experienced very differently by the downstate resident who travels north to hear them howl once every summer or two and the sportsmen who looses a dog, the livestockman who fears for his animals, or a father and son forced to fire off a warning shot when stalked. 

When it comes to wildlife policy and the health of our wild areas the urban/rural divide shows itself clearly.  It is the difference between those who want to project their vision of what rural areas ought to be onto people who have to live with the consequences.

When passing laws aimed at rural areas, city kids need to gain the consent of the governed.

Take for example a study recently published concerning the attitude of rural Wisconsinites to wolves, the Wisconsin DNR, and their state government.

Christine Browne-Nunez, a post-doctoral research associate working for the University of Wisconsin-Madison during the study, said that the focus groups revealed that the participants’ dislike for wolves is complex. Most of the participants were angry because of their perception that the state Department of Natural Resources failed to manage high wolf populations and the dangers they caused.Among the responses recorded by the study:
  • A northeastern bear hunter: “They talk wolf policy and deer policy and everything and managing our predators up north here and they have all these meetings down in Madison where all these anti-hunters don’t know jack about what’s going on up here, and they’re controlling what happens up here. We know what’s going on because we live here, and yet they’re telling us down there what we have to do up here.”
  • Another: “I’m going to tell you straight out, plain and simple, the DNR is not honest in what they say. They lie, they lie, they lie.”
Residents who share their world with wolves do not have so much a problem with the presence of wolves as they do with the perception that their ideas and concerns are not heard in state government.  They need to be given the power to live successfully with wolves and that power will only come when their concerns are heard and addressed.

There is the experience that hearings held in Madison, are mostly attended by activists who live in Madison.

Even in the internet age it is hard enough to figure out when a hearing is going to be held but even if you do know when and where a hearing is to be held, you still need to be able to take time off of work to drive down, find parking, and participate in the hearing.

A coyote eats a cat and city kids act like it is the end of the world, but that does not keep them from thinking that they are expert enough to prescribe how northern citizens should live with wolves.  
Twenty-one hunting dogs have been confirmed as killed by Wisconsin wolves so far this year.  In that set of circumstances, people who hunt with hounds have been treated as stakeholders and are compensated for their loss.  While the program is controversial, it is responsible for much of the success we've seen with wolf re-introduction into Wisconsin.

Within my personal circle, I know people who hunt the northwoods with dogs and when they see a wolf they pray for its death.  I do not know anyone who is actually going out to do them harm.  Their hate of the wolf is a result of their love for their dogs.  The knowledge of generous compensation will be forthcoming if they do loose a hound to wolf predation, however, keeps them in the fold. When we had a season, it gave northwoods hunters an outlet for that animosity.

Wolves were hunted to the edge of extinction for a reason, we must eliminate, or at least mitigate, that reason if we would have them return to those places where wild and domestic exist side by side.

Over a couple of springs a resident pack raised litters a few miles away from my house.  That resident pack disappeared.  Maybe it moved.  Probably someone made use of the three S's: shoot, shovel, shut up.  The closer wolf packs expand into more densely populated wooded areas, the more effort will be necessary to win the cooperation of citizens who live in the area.It means winning people over.  It means listening to and accounting for their concerns.  It requires education but an education that exists in the form of two-way communication.  City kids need to be educated about rural realities.  City kids need to account for rather than discount the rural experience.  Country kids need to educated about how to avoid wolf conflicts.  We're going to need to make compromises about where wolves will and will not be tolerated.

Some people live or travel up north to be amongst the wild.  Lots of people moved to West Wisconsin to be a dairyman, hunt whitetail, or to have the benefits living near the Twin Cities without urban or suburban problems.  They're going to need to be convinced to share their space with wolves.  If they can't be convinced, then there will not be wolves in the area, no matter how many laws are passed in Madison.

Mutual respect is the root of the commonwealth.

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