Saturday, January 4, 2014

Sacramento Wolf Hearing

On November 22nd, 2013, I flew to Sacramento, California to attend a hearing concerning the nationwide delisting of gray wolves. Hundreds of people showed up to voice their opinions. A rally was held before the official hearing,Displaying photo 1.JPG and several people spoke about wolves, including myself. Partway through the speeches, some anti-wolf folks starting showing up. They held up signs like "Farmers, NOT Wolves" and "Save the endangered species: homo sapiens." Displaying photo 5.JPG
       They eventually left. They seemed discouraged after predator-friendly rancher K. Hendricks stood in front of them holding a sign that read "Ranchers for Wolves." Read an amazing article by her about coexisting with predators:
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       The rally ended, and the hearing was going to start soon. We all lined up outside the hotel where the hearing was to be held. In the parking lot of the hotel, we saw things like this; a van with a photo of children in a cage - a reference to a school bus stop in Catron County, New Mexico, where people felt it necessary for kids to have to wait for the school bus in a cage because they were afraid that the critically endangered Mexican Gray Wolf was going to eat their children (though there has never been a case of a Mexican gray wolf attacking a human). The back of the van read "DELIST KILLER WOLVES." 

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       I would like to point out again that a Mexican wolf has never attacked a human, and there have been just 2 people killed by their larger relatives, gray wolves, in North America in the past 100 years. By comparison, cows kill more than 20 people every year. Another way you could say it is that cows kill 1,000 times more people than wolves do. Anyway, back to the hearing.
       Many people signed up to speak, some just came to listen. I kept a tally of how many people were pro-delisting vs. anti-delisting. Out of the 71 people who had time to testify, 16 of them were pro-delisting (in favor of removing protection for wolves across the US) and 55 were anti-delisting (in favor of keeping wolves on the federal Endangered Species List, keeping them protected). 23% were pro-delisting, 77% were anti-delisting. This is about consistent with the nationwide wolf statistics.
       Of those who testified in support of wolves, there were scientists, professors, and wildlife enthusiasts, as well as several hunters and ranchers, some of whom live in wolf country and support the presence of wolves in the ecosystem. Several ranchers shared their non-lethal methods of coexisting with wolves and other predators. Several politicians sent spokesmen to speak in support of wolves on their behalf. 
       Many of those who testified against wolves were ranchers or hunters from California. Many expressed concerns about the welfare of their livestock should wolves return to the state. Hunters were concerned about game animal populations should the wolf, an apex predator, be restored to California. Both parties said that they were worried that their children wouldn't be safe going outside. These are the usual concerns of folks in wolf country and potential wolf country. While I don't agree with some of these concerns, namely that there is a supposed danger that wolves pose to humans, I respect that people have these concerns and some of them are valid. Wolves may occasionally attack livestock, and they may impact game herds on a local level. Sadly, many people at the hearing seemed to have no respect whatsoever for the people that disagreed with them. I found that very disappointing. It was actually the wolf supporters who were unbelievably rude and disrespectful toward the ranchers, hunters, and anyone else who disagreed with them. Whenever someone said anything at all against wolves, much of the pro-wolf crowd jeered and laughed. At one point, when a rancher said that "we should be able to shoot wolves on our ranch" someone from the crowd said "we should be able to shoot you." 
       No matter how much you may disagree with someone, behavior like that is completely out of line. The people who disagree with you are still people. Just because their opinions are different from yours DOES NOT mean they matter any less or deserve less respect. Even if you disagree with that, I think it will be harder disagree with this: being laughed at and ridiculed will not make someone more willing to change their views. The ranchers themselves were quiet, attentive, mostly respectful when the wolf supporters spoke. I appreciated this and it made me all the more receptive to their point of view. If the anti-wolf crowd sees the wolf supporters as rude and close-minded, will they really want to take us seriously? To see things from our point of view?  I cannot express how sad and ineffective that is. Personal attacks and bullying will not make people more open-minded and tolerant of wolves. That is the goal, after all. Please try not to resort to elementary school level name-calling and laughing.  Calmly and respectfully use facts, statistics, and SCIENCE to prove your point in any argument instead of emotion. Keep an open mind, and maybe they will too.  It will leave them with the impression that we are reasonable people. Thank you!
All in all, despite the disappointing behavior of some participants, we heard from some very inspiring people studying and learning to live with wolves who understood the importance of their presence across the American landscape for generations to come. 

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