April 16, 2022

The War on Wolves: Let’s Change the Story of Little Red Riding Hood—Once & For All.

What is it that you love in this world?

Is it the rescue dog on your living room couch, the child in her bedroom sleeping as you read, or the knowingness that wolves are being safely protected on the lands of the West?

Whatever it is that captures your heart, rest assured that you are not alone. We are a divided nation these days, to be certain, but without much of an effort, we can quickly find where hearts resonate.

My own heart resonates with wolves, knowing they are safely protected by the patriarchal system we call our democratic federal government, agencies that can oversee their well-being, and laws that protect them. We need such methods of protection because now, as two centuries before, the gray wolf in the West is calling for animal lovers to rise up and large in their defense.

The Way we Speak of Wolves

Last Sunday, my husband shared a New Yorker article on the war of wolves in Idaho. “Don’t read it,” he cautioned, “it’ll anger and disgust you. It also had no value, where speaking of wolves is concerned.”

He might as well have tossed into the recycling bin then shared about it with me later. I’d have fished it out—if only to see what he was speaking about.

I picked up the magazine, tore out the title page, and burned the rest in our wood stove. Who needs all that trauma, in knowing the details on the things men in Idaho were doing to wolves of late? Senate Bill 1211, which authorized the murder of 1,300 wolves, is still the subject of a lawsuit.

Walking into my barn loft office, I regretted my impetuous act. Curiosity got the best of me: What had gotten him so rattled?

Upon turning to the first page of the article, I found out. A photograph of the head of a dead wolf was as vivid as it was heart-sickening. A stark depiction of the gore and violence intrinsic to writings on wolves. I ground my teeth in resentment and disgust, for my husband had been right. Even worse, glorifying acts fueled by ignorance, vehement wolf hatred, and focusing on violence got me thinking.

Is the media helping to resuscitate anti-wolf sentiment?

Writings on wolves harken back to the days of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Little Red Riding Hood. Vilification of them can be heard in the background music played for chase scenes in “Planet Earth.” And today, the one-sided reporting on the results of their adept hunting prowess can be found in today’s headlines as they trot down here to Colorado. The language of wolves, the tones in which we speak, are fueling anti-wolf sentiment as much as well-meaning churchgoers in the late 1800s stoked fears of the wild creatures hiding in the forests in need of extermination.

Why affiliate the return of wolves to Colorado, or convey the stories in Idaho, with violence and fear? Why focus the majority of our energy on the questionable effects of any one particular wolf’s presence—a cattle’s death—when even the U.S.D.A. reports that only 4.9 percent of cattle deaths can be attributed to wolves? Why take up any one particular rancher’s side of a tired story (“wolves kill cattle”) instead of telling the entire story of wolves—that they restore wholeness to our broken ecosystems, are an apex predator deserving of federal protection, and are a symbol of cultural resurgence for the Nez Perce Tribe, which helped in their 1995 reintroduction to the Recovery States? Why not speak of the benefits of ecotourism in Yellowstone National Park and how wolves generate millions of tourist dollars annually?

Quite simply, wolves as wanted back on our landscape by those who voted for their reintroduction. I’d like to say to the ranchers complaining loudly against these well-educated, morally-conscious voters, that they are a large part of your customer base for your beef product. Lambasting them through popular articles running in the media isn’t helping generate sympathy for just how hard ranching is.

I digress. Back to the issue—the way we write of wolves. The point is, the media is as caught up in selling violence and despair as it is in selling subscriptions.

Violence sells.

And here, it is harming the wolf. The affiliation of death where wolves are concerned is not just a little bit transparent.

Cattle die of a variety of reasons. Not every death is due to wolves.

A rancher struggling to make a living is a hardworking man, indeed. And cattle are his bread-and-butter, to mix the metaphors. But cattle die from as varied of forces as any other living being—lightning strikes, dehydration, respiratory disease, weather-related, digestive problems, other predators. A set of paw prints around a carcass no more imbues responsibility for a cattle’s death as any other predator—unless eyewitness accounts may verify.

Presenting the return of the gray wolf to Colorado alongside stories of cattle allegedly attacked by wolves, fuels tiresome anti-wolf sentiment. We need to be cultivating social acceptance for the gray wolf, educating on why leashing up our dogs in wilderness will help keep them safe from apex predators, or discussing the ethics of our meat-based society in a time of threatening climate change is being worsened by cattle’s gastric emissions.

Let’s not presume that the wolves trotting down here to Colorado are devouring rancher’s cattle every chance they get, as though we shall all be cowering in fear of the day they show up in our own mountain valley or we encounter them on the trails.

Let’s change the narrative around wolves to update our consciousness and encourage others to get on board. Wolves need people to speak in their best voice possible—now more than ever.


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