The Call of the Riled: on Wolves, Science, and Dunderheads With a Tiny Bit of Power
Comments from the 14 February 2011 legislative hearing on House Concurrent Memorial 2002, a measure that tells the U.S. Congress that the Arizona legislature supports removing endangered species protections from the beleagured Mexican grey wolf:
I'm here today in part because of words. “As the Lord keeps us and sustains us, so we must keep and sustain our Lord’s creation.” And these, “Let the earth bring forth wild animals of every kind.” (It might have been a while since I was in Sunday school, but the book of Genesis stuck with me.)
I've also been inspired by another book, one that is about "the law of club and fang."
Though it might at first sound like it, this is not a book about the Arizona legislature.
No, that quote is from Jack London's "Call of the Wild," one of America's great masterpieces about the Western landscape. In it, a mongrel dog survives a gauntlet of human cruelty to become a wild creature again with a wolf pack.
107 years after London published "The Call of the Wild," we're still talking about his compelling themes: what's our place in a changing wilderness, a diminishing frontier, a wounded Nature?
When Arizona was just becoming a state - and BTW, Happy Statehood Day - we were at the turn of the 20th century, within pebble-throwing distance of all that abundant wildness we think of as the Western frontier. London showed us the West of his own experience and hewed to description that might have been written for the land grant catalogs of the day - and in turn, his fiction influenced how we'd "construct" the West's showiest landscapes.
ASU professor Mark Klett recounts in his fascinating project, Third View , the photos of Maj. John Wesley Powell and others helped to sell the West as an uninhabited and wild place - which of course, was a romantic, anglocentric view. And which is an artful way of saying, it was a kind of lie. Yes it was wild, but there had been habitation here for many centuries, perhaps stretching back, in some pockets - certainly by rivers - into thousands of years.
But the idea of the wide open West, empty of everything except possibility, sold well, didn’t it? Lie or not.
There is incredible beauty and spiritual comfort in Nature and in the West that London describes. But modern readers also experience a sense of grief and urgency. In the 21st century, the Mexican grey wolf has been nearly extinguished.
We're fighting what I believe is one of the biggest moral battles of our generation, though it's definitely been pushed aside in this era of economic crisis and, it must be said, distraction politics. We're in a difficult fight against mass extinction and our Mexican grey wolves - like so many other fellow creatures - are struggling to survive. Wolves not only need endangered species protection (instead of Memorials), they need action to stop the lawless poaching that’s greatly affecting the success of this reintroduction program.
I can't imagine a world without the call of the wild left in it. A world of mere echoes. A sterile world of habitat without inhabitants. It's my hope that in one important sense, the writers and photographers who sold the idea of an empty western landscape are proven wrong, wrong, wrong. We should cheer for prairie dogs in Flagstaff, Sonoran desert pupfish at Fossil Creek and yes, for wolves in Arizona’s backcountry.
I didn’t come to this hearing today bearing scientific credentials.
But since when has the AZ Legislature actually cared about science? This body has a well-documented record of only listening to industry lobbyists. And Prop 109, which legislators referred to the ballot in 2010, would’ve prevented scientists from taking part in the larger conversation on wildlife conservation in Arizona and vested all power in the legislature for wildlife management. Thankfully, Prop 109 failed: Arizonans like our open, wild spaces, and we don’t trust the Arizona Legislature to make sound rules about wildlife.
The best science actually shows we should reintroduce wolves. There are volumes of data on this all housed on various websites so I’m not going to get into it here. I will, however, just mention one article in BioScience: new studies from Dr Julie Young (Utah State University), show that it may be some domestic stray dogs that are preying on livestock in the West. Which means it's possible that there have been some too-hasty decisions to cull the West's wolf packs and compensate livestock corporations with monies from nonprofits like Defenders of Wildlife.
Some people say that HCM 2002 is only words, it’s a measure that doesn’t change the law. True, but words matter. Symbolic actions like HCM 2002 are no less important than other actions, because they speak intent. HCM 2002 sides with lawbreakers, poachers, and others in Arizona who want to drive out the wolves at all costs. It shows contempt for science. It also shows contempt for the Arizona public.
To be clear, the legislature doesn’t speak for Arizona with HCM 2002. In stakeholder meetings throughout the 1970s and 80s, and in public meetings throughout 1990s, the public spoke loud and clear: we want wolf reintroduction.
Jack London once said that when we connect with wild Nature - and this goes for humans and dogs or wolves alike - we are "mastered by the sheer surging of life." HCM 2002 could further wound the magnificent legacy of a wilder West that still surges with life.
Members of the AZ State Legislature are still trying to push through destructive anti-wolf legislation. Please click here to learn how you can stop them.
The piece above was reprinted here with permission of the author, Renee Guillory. The original and more of Renee's writings and services are at Polemics: What Responsibility Looks Like.
Photos, top to bottom: Renee Guillory, Cover of Jack London's Call of the Wild