When you think about it…where we live affects how we view wildlife.

Photo by Piotr Podbielski

There is much controversy today over whether grey wolves should remain on the Endangered Species List or be removed so they may be hunted again.

Grey wolves were hunted to extinction in the West and by the turn of the 20th century, none remained. Toward the end of that century, however, wolves had been introduced into a couple locations, to the dismay of some and the joy of others.

Why do some people want to see wolves hunted, possibly to extinction again, and others not? What does where you live have to do with what you believe about wolves? Is it just the wolf people are concerned with or are there factors affecting people’s reaction to a wolf at their door that may have little to do with the wolf himself?

According to an essay by Rik Scarce, More than Mere Wolves at the Door: Reconstructing Community amidst a Wildlife Controversy (found in the book Mad about Wildlife: Looking at social conflict over wildlife), “wildlife managers and policy makers would do well to understand the constructions of both nature and community before embarking on new environmental initiatives in rural areas.” In other words, when viewing long-term solutions to wildlife issues, wildlife managers need to take into account the entire community, the changes that are going on in that community, the views of all residents (new ones and those who have lived on the land for years).

Manipulating nature does not just involve the issue of hunting wildlife; it involves a community’s sense of place and time in the greater scheme of the instant ecosystem. The wildlife, in this case in the form of wolves, are not merely hated because they kill livestock, they are hated because they represent a change in the way of life of many ranchers. Ranches have been sold and divided into parcels on which wealthy city people build vacation homes. These newcomers are not part of the community except for a couple weeks out of the year. They are often not concerned about what happens during calving season when there is no one on the land to search out wolves and run them off. The newcomers to these areas are in love with wildlife. They left the city, if only for a short time, to view nature in her most rugged form—predator vs. prey. To them, wolves are a romantic flashback to the great Western past.

When you think about it, shouldn’t community be as much a part of the discussion when managing the human-wildlife issue as any other aspect of wildlife management? Shouldn’t we think about the community as part of the living, breathing ecosystem when decisions to restrict or conversely open up places and species for hunting? Deciding to hunt wolves to possible extinction once again is no more a sound management decision than letting wolves overrun hearth and home. How we view our community affects wildlife decisions and may determine if where we live can support all creatures—human and nonhuman alike.

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