Sticks & Stones
Sticks & Stone may break my bones, but words (and bullets) hurt too.
This billboard will greet drivers heading towards the territory of Oregon's wolves and inlcudes the message "whatever you think of wolves, poaching is wrong"
If you’ve been paying any attention to political discourse in this country – especially when it comes to wildlife issues – you may find truth in the saying “ignorance is bliss”.
Upsetting rhetoric coming from fearful anti-wildlife interests is pretty common and to be expected from blog posts, anonymous forums, and radical websites. However, as I compiled the latest wolf-related news for fellow conservationists, there seemed to be a common theme. Angry rhetoric is starting to show up in disturbing places.
In Idaho, a county Sheriff - you know, the guy who's supposed to enforce the law - is offering up a gun in a SSS contest – a not so veiled hint at the poacher’s mantra – Shoot, Shovel, Shut up. It’s not an isolated incident. Wallowa County Sheriff Fred Steen recently called wolves “efficient 4-legged piranhas”, and the State of Idaho is considering making the enforcement of poaching laws illegal (here in Oregon, some, like the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association are simply trying to make them unenforceable).
In a recent speech, Montana Congressmen and noted anti-wolfer Denny Rehberg threatened to “take action immediately” and put a federal judge on the Endangered Species list. Such folksy humor probably never was funny, but with the recent specter of Federal judges being killed at public appearances, it especially isn’t now. The speech prompted a response from his children.
Last week, the Director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources compared wolves to T. rex and claimed conservationists were using wolves as a biological weapon to end grazing and hunting.
Regardless of the level of truth in the argument, conservationists are pretty used to being called anti-hunter, but wolf rhetoric has gotten to be such a litmus test for some that even the anti-wolf crowd is arguing amongst itself.
Since taking the helm, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation CEO David Allen has taken the once broadly respected organization in a radical new direction and made attacking wolves a primary mission. Last week he involved the organization in another ugly public spat and accused another hunting group of not being on the side of “true sportsmen” because they dared mention that undermining the Endangered Species Act could spur a backlash from non-hunters.
Oregon takes the cake?
A little closer to home, Oregon’s Republican Senate Leader Ted Ferrioli isn’t eating elk or deer, but a little crow. Senator Ferrioli responded to some international wildlife activists who had followed up on one of our alerts by calling them morons, insulting their country, and mocking the idea of a global community. The e-mails were brought to light in the Oregonian, picked up, and mocked around the world. Ferrioli eventually apologized to the Greek community, but hasn’t apologized to his constituents as his local paper seemed to suggest would be appropriate.
That’s right. With unemployment over 20% in some parts of his district, what is Senator Ferrioli prioritizing? Killing wolves, naming the Border collie the official state dog, and sending insulting e-mails to Europeans.
Sometimes you’ve just got to laugh.
But sometimes, it’s not a joking matter. Whether or not you think the violent, radical, and hateful rhetoric coming from some parts of the political spectrum are to blame for the shooting of Gabriel Giffords, the event was a reminder that rhetoric can have consequences.
Here in Oregon, we were saddened, but not surprised when a male wolf of the Wenaha Pack was killed by a poacher last fall. Though the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association’s press folks issued a public condemnation a few weeks late, just days before the incident, their wolf spokesman was quoted in a local paper saying he’d like to buy a cup of coffee for anyone who’d like to see wolves eliminated from the West.
In kindler, gentler terms, anti-wildlife interest continue arguing in Salem for the freedom to make it easier to kill wolves, make poaching laws unenforceable, and reduce recovery numbers (Oregon is currently home to 2 confirmed breeding pairs of wolves).
It’s rare that a single action can be attributed to a single statement, but things don’t happen in a vacuum, and words do have consequences.
If the leaders of the anti-wolf, anti-wildlife community can’t fix their public behavior, why should we trust them with the power to kill an endangered species that was once wiped out by the same interests?
A different way
Appreciating native wildlife isn’t limited to latte drinking liberal elites from Portland. Lots of folks living in Oregon’s wolf country – hunters, ranchers, outfitters, retirees, bartenders, and photographers – appreciate wolves. That’s why they’re putting their money where there mouth is.
Tomorrow, funded primarily by local citizens (with help from a trio of conservation groups), a billboard will go up on Highway 82 with the simple message “whatever you think of wolves, poaching is wrong”.
Some characterize pro-wolf interests as equally radical as their counterparts, but the statement of the local folks funding the billboard is anything but – “There is room in the West for both wildlife and people. Old attitudes of intolerance and fear don’t get us anywhere…rhetoric that results in the killing of endangered species give our community a black eye”.