By Brian O’Keefe
Recent news reports and letters supporting the restoration of the lobo to our wildlands have resonated with me. I have been a proponent of reintroduction for a long time and am an ardent supporter today.
Yet, one New Mexico member of Congress — Rep. Steve Pearce — has supported legislation to remove protections for the wolves, thus condemning the lobo to probable eradication.
Historical parallels may provide some understanding. Most Americans acknowledge that slavery was wrong, and in many ways, the Confederate flag symbolizes that blight. It was a “mistake,” and the correction for that cost 600,000 lives in our Civil War. The emotions around it are still volatile, and those who believe in “Southern honor” (or whatever euphemism is used) are tied to beliefs that most Americans once held — the superiority of whites. It will take many generations to finally erase those long-held beliefs.
Pope Francis has recognized horrible injustices done to Native peoples in the name of Jesus. President Barack Obama has acknowledged that the conditions to which we, the conquerors, have left Natives in are deplorable. This may signal sea changes. But those very conditions are the ones that the majority of Americans at one time supported, including the eradication of those people. Hundreds of thousands of Natives were erased in the name of settlement and the taming of the wilderness. Restitution for those past acts is long past due, and most Americans recognize this (though do little about it). The same applies to descendants of slaves.
The attempts to successfully reintroduce the lobo to its rightful place in the wild are affected by the similar influences from the past.
Manifest Destiny ruled our policies, claiming that the “new” lands rightfully belonged to Americans, and any other peoples (Native or otherwise) as well as frightful beasts had no claims. It was completely fine to kill anything that might eat or steal a cow or sheep. That concept became official policy supported by the government and led to bounties and the establishment of such things as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a federal agency that still kills hundreds of thousands of “varmints,” merely at ranchers’ requests.
The lands that eventually became public wildlands were such in name alone. They would be made safe for ranchers while wolves, grizzlies and other magnificent creatures were eradicated or controlled. Those policies were considered normal and ranchers were given carte blanche over federal lands and so, for generations, have held those “rights” firmly in their minds. Now it is widely acknowledged that the policies that eliminated predators and turned over the use of wildlands to the hands of a few were wrong and need to be corrected. Science supports reintroducing wolves, but that does not impact the sentiments of the anti-lobo group. They are still living in the days of Ben Lily, and prior to their enlightenment, Thomas Seton and Aldo Leopold. Change around this issue will be very difficult.
Supporters of lobo reintroduction should not relent, but perhaps different tactics should be considered. Control of our wildlands must be wrested from the special interests and returned to the public. I for one, want the lobo and eventually all the original fauna in New Mexico to be rightfully restored. A dream?
Brian O’Keefe is an ardent supporter of wildlands and wildlife.
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