Friday, October 23, 2015

The problem with... Predators?

The Problem with… Predators?

I don't have a problem with predators. In fact, most of the time I thank my lucky stars when I even see one, as I do when I catch a glimpse of most wildlife. Not everyone feels this way.  
Image result for black pantherI don't think my perspective is particularly noble, or unique. Historically, every culture that has lived closely with the natural world has looked to predators as inspiration. They were feared, admired, and revered. Sometimes deified.  The evidence of this remains in our language to this day. A woman who is ferocious in defense of her children is called a "Mama Bear." A "Lone Wolf" is a self-sufficient and rugged individualist.  Our sporting teams are named for various species of predator.  "Grizzlies," "Hawks" and "Panthers" come to mind. 
It wasn't until we began to separate ourselves from the life cycles and environmental influences that the rest of nature's creatures are subject to, that our reverence and respect for predators was replaced by, at its worst, something approaching genocidal hostility. The more success we achieved in supplying for our own needs through technology and agriculture, the easier it was to narcissistically set ourselves above and apart from the rest of the natural world. Predators included.
Image result for grizzly bearI am aware that this is strong language, but I believe it to be justified. There's no arguing with the jarring contrast of the grizzly bear being the iconic symbol on California's state flag, and its total absence from the state. There's no denying that the wolf was nearly eradicated from the lower 48. We can't hide from the passion that erupts whenever Fish and Game has meetings about reintroducing wolves, or when the environmental organizations file a lawsuit in their defense.
Image result for wolf huntingOne of the privileges of being able to separate ourselves from the food chain is that we now have the freedom to reason our way through problems, rather than simply eliminating every threat. Thinking is a liability when facing a sabre-tooth tiger with a sharp stick, as our ancestors did. Reacting, either to run or fight, was critical to our survival. But… what if you are holding a high powered firearm? And the tiger is running away? What if it is one of the last tigers in existence? What if it has just eaten one of your cows? How does that influence your behavior? To many the answer is "not at all." Why not kill what might become a threat later on? Don't they eat the deer and elk that I hunt? While the emotional reaction is understandable, it is driven by a primal instinct that the human species has been attempting to evolve beyond for thousands of years. Now that our survival is not much of an issue, indulging it is causing new and unnecessary problems.  The problem with predators is…us.
There are enough people on both sides of the issue to understand that it is important enough to invest time and energy to resolve, and to compromise on, no matter your personal position. 
Image result for wolf
So what are the solutions? How do ranchers and wolves coexist? How do we develop rural areas without encroaching upon black bear habitat in the East, and mountain lion domain in the West? I wish I was smart enough to say "here's the answer. I know this will work." I'm not. However, I have absolute faith that if we put our minds to it, we can find a solution. Individually we may not know what is necessary to pull it off. (If you do, please speak up!) But as a country, we know enough. The most powerful Nation on earth, with the ability to reach the moon and explore the bottom of the ocean, surely has the wherewithal to adapt to this situation. We do need to stop arguing about whether compromise  and collaboration is possible, or even desirable, and begin together to explore the possibilities. I know that some of that work has begun already. If local talk radio and the dysfunctional bumbling of government agencies are any evidence, we can do better. 
JaguarAs a hunter I feel a kinship with predatory animals. They are my inspiration and my mentors. I want to trail like a wolf, stalk like a jaguar, and ambush like a puma. I want to learn to survive in extreme conditions like a polar bear. I want to hunt elk and deer whose instincts for survival are sharpened to a razor's edge by living amongst apex predators, not dulled into semi-domestication by eating soybean food plots, while becoming acclimated to ATV's and agricultural combines. If you want to improve your game, you practice against superior athletes. If you want to improve as a hunter, you compete against the experts. The challenge and enjoyment that many want is only enhanced by having wild and superior competition, yet there is more to it than that. It is exhilarating, (and frightening!), to know that forces greater than yourself are out there with you. It enriches the emotional impact of the hunting experience. Occasionally you might see an animal that is awesome and beautiful in its own right. Many believe that all of God's creations serve a purpose and have inherent worth. It's up to us to choose whether to see it. 
Image result for mountain lion
Our ability to survive in the world has advanced well beyond the capabilities of the wolf, the grizzly, and the other apex predators. To some degree they are dependent upon our tolerance, and victims of our small-mindedness. It is my belief that because they cannot evolve as quickly as we can adapt, it is up to us to decide whether to create room for them to return to our world (as well as theirs!)  Those of us who still value wilderness for its own sake know the loss we will suffer if we don't.

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I just today (after many months of the Blog being up) figured out how to allow comments on the things I post. That has always been my intention, but apparently I didn't know how. I will moderate the comments, but I welcome disagreement as long as it is civil. Strong language in the heat of passion is okay, abuse and personal attacks are not. Enjoy yourselves!