Prior to European settlement in the U.S., it is estimated that there were between 3,000 to 5,000 grey wolves roaming Wisconsin. Like most ecosystems free from modern civilization, it was a land balanced by the natural order of biology.
Long before that, there were also other human species. Neanderthals wandered the French Riviera, Denisovans frolicked in Asian forests and a group of miniature primates —sometimes referred to as hobbits — navigated the dense jungle of the Indonesian island of Flores. All were, by anthropological standards, human. Modern humans just happened to get lucky. As the black cloud of extinction swallowed our cousins, we managed to sprint just out of reach of disaster.
Our evolutionary victory soon led to farming, and instead of existing in a dynamic state of competition between other animals on Earth, we began to eliminate them. Wolves eating livestock? Raze their population. Deer trampling lawns? Bring out the rifle.
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We will likely never revert back to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle that ensured our existence as well as those of the species around us. While in many ways this isn’t inherently dangerous, our current path isn’t a sustainable one. The organisms dwindling around us could indicate our own fate — just look at the 900 or so wolves left in Wisconsin. We cannot pretend to live unaffected by biological order for much longer, as more species become endangered or even extinct as a result of human activity.
The Trump Administration has recently removed wolves from the U.S. Endangered Species list, reinstating a wolf-hunting season of which the consequences will likely be severe. Farmers have a duty to protect the livelihood of their families, and they will undoubtedly do so. This is not the fault of the individual farmer. This is the result of a commonly-held belief that people are justified in killing animals that threaten their property, regardless of the greater environmental impact this could have on other species.
But, there are some upsides. If a farmer feels he must kill a wolf to protect his cows, he can do so legally, meaning the kill will be reported and processed as people may be more inclined to follow regulations regarding wolf hunting. Still, wolf numbers as a whole will still decline, as legality implies justification, and we can assume that the lack of disciplinary action will cause an increase in wolf deaths at the hands of humans.
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One way to mitigate this is conservation, which is a rare case where fighting fire with fire is all too necessary. We have to make conservation economically viable, not just poignant and emotional. Trophy hunting is a surprising way to do this, and though there are some forms of it in the U.S., it’s not utilized nearly as much as it could be.
In Zimbabwe, people pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to acquire a tag, or permit, to kill an individual wild animal. The population of whichever species is being hunted is closely monitored, and often the old and sick are chosen as targets. Money from the tag goes towards extensive habitat maintenance, anti-poaching regiments and conservation as a whole.
“In Tanzania, all of the expenses related to the government’s anti-poaching activities are funded by trophy hunting revenues,” conservation researcher Catherine Semcer wrote in a pro-trophy hunting open letter. “These anti-poaching activities help limit poaching, which, along with habitat loss, have been identified as one of the most significant threats to the world’s biodiversity […] Trophy hunting operations in Sub-Saharan Africa have provided incentives to conserve an area of wildlife habitat more than six times the size of the U.S. National Park System.”
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Though Wisconsin is not similar to sub-Saharan African in ecology, geology or culture, both are grappling with the consequences of human hubris and searching for mediation methods.
I know that the image of an innocent wild animal hanging limp in a smiling hunter’s arms is a grotesque sight. But that hunter, no matter what he’s motivated by, has contributed to the conservation of the very thing he’s killed. It’s an unsettling solution, but as other African countries, including Zimbabwe, have proved, it’s effective. If Trump wants to open hunting season again, why not do it on conservationist terms?
What we often forget is that our own demise continues to nip at our heels. We invent, we progress and we build, leading us to think that we’re flying too fast to ever be caught by nature. But extinction doesn’t succumb to fatigue. We have to shatter our preconceptions about our grip on this world and look for ways to keep ourselves and everything around us alive. If we’re going to continue this dream of playing God, it’s time to start doing so in an environmentally sound way.
Luke Carmosino (lc[email protected]) is a junior majoring in history and economics.