Save America’s Wolves – and Wild Mustangs

Here are a couple of stories that concern endangered wildlife in North America, with one detailing the extermination of wolves, which is due to begin in earnest, and the other about the round-up of thousands of wild mustang, a situation that seems to bemustangs-600 emily murdoch threatening their continued existence, or at the very least, their well-being  and right to a normal life.

The first story is an appeal posted on behalf of Frances Beinecke, President Natural Resources Defense Council over at Blogosophia, which opens with this:

The hunting and mass killing of wolves will begin soon in Idaho and Montana — and not even wolf pups and their mothers will be spared.  We cannot stand by while this slaughter unfolds. On May 4, the Interior Department stripped wolves of their federal protection, and government agents are now free to open fire.

Even worse: Idaho and Montana will soon launch public hunts targeting wolves. Hundreds of wolves could be gunned down.  When wolves lost their federal protection in 2008, 110 of them were killed in just 120 days!  NRDC is fighting in federal court to save the wolves, but it’s critically important the Obama Administration hear directly from outraged Americans like you.

I don’t really know the background to this story, or why the Interior Department has decided on this course of action – is this a much debated issue in the US ? – perhaps readers of this blog will be able to offer further insight. But I can’t imagine that wolves pose much of a serious threat to humans, unless there’s a risk of widespread rabies infection, but I do know that it has been reported from the US and elsewhere over hundreds of years at least, that there have often been hysterical and unfounded fears and purges of wolves, who for the most part, almost never attack humans. And unless they’re posing a serious threat to other mammal or faunal species, there doesn’t seem to be a logical reason for inviting a trigger-happy, gun-toting public to go on a wild shooting spree in the wilds.

The linked article goes on to add:

NRDC is fighting in federal court to save the wolves, but it’s critically important the Obama Administration hear directly from outraged Americans like you.

That’s why NRDC is expanding “The Big Howl” campaign to mobilize Americans everywhere to save wolves in the Northern Rockies from the crossfire.

Please tell the Obama Administration to call off the guns.

Call on Interior Secretary Salazar to reverse his decision to kick wolves off the endangered species list.

This is absolutely the wrong time to rip away federal protections from these struggling wolves. Over the past year, the wolf population in Yellowstone National Park has declined by 27 percent, with more than 70 percent of wolf pups succumbing to disease.

One pack alone lost all 24 of its pups!

With federal protections lifted, wolf pups and their mothers traveling outside national parks will be in the line of fire.

Because you have always stood up for wildlife, I’m contacting you now to take part in “The Big Howl” campaign.

On now to the equally mysterious news that has gradually filtered through to me over recent months, whereby tens of thousands of wild mustangs in the US have been rounded up by government officials and held in makeshift reservations, with somewhat darker revelations that many are losing their lives as a direct result.

Back in 2006, the Boston Globe ran a story, ‘Last Roundup for Wild Horses’, which begins thus:

PEOPLE KEEP comparing George W. Bush to Richard Nixon. But that’s wrong.

In 2005, President Bush signed legislation that will destroy our greatest icon — the wild horse. In 1971, President Nixon signed legislation protecting it. This was the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burro Act, a hard-fought bill brought to lawmakers by ”Wild Horse Annie,” a Nevada character who saw blood spilling from a truck hauling mustangs to the slaughterhouse, then dropped everything and spent the rest of her life trying to save them.

Now those trucks are revving their engines again. Starting on March 10, 7,200 wild horses in government pipelines will begin to make their way to the three horse slaughterhouses in this country — which are owned by France and Belgium.

In 1900, about 2 million wild horses roamed the West. By 1950, there were 50,000. Today, there are about 25,000 — perhaps spelling doom for the mustang. What happened? World War I, the pet food industry, and cattle ranchers, who contend that the remaining wild horses steal food from 3 million cows on the range. In the old days, they hired contractors to gun down mustangs and bring them the ears. Today, Big Beef still hires guns — politicians who set policy for the Bureau of Land Management, the agency that presided over a recent fixed grazing study yet is supposed to protect the wild horse. Now, the animal America rode in on is facing its meanest battle…

…”Wild horses and burros merit man’s protection historically,” Nixon said, ”for they are a living link with the days of the conquistadors, through the heroic times of the western Indians and pioneers, to our own day when the tonic of wilderness seems all too scarce. More than that, they merit it as a matter of ecological right — as anyone knows who has ever stood awed at the indomitable spirit and sheer energy of a mustang running free.”

Two fairly obvious thoughts occur; the first is that although larger mammals might need a broad landscape on which to survive, it’s not as if the US is short of open space, and there should be ample room for wildlife and agriculture to exist together. Furthermore, I wonder exactly how it has come to be that federal government has the final say as to which wild animal species should be exterminated at their behest, and worse, that there is apparently no organisation at a national or international level that can effectively contest or veto such excesses.

As far as I can tell, there is no prospect of an improvement for the harassed wild mustang population, and as with the wolves, I can’t imagine what possible harm they could be causing to human or beast that would warrant this bizarre persecution. It could be thought of as ironic that the horse is a creature that unwittingly played a key role in the extermination of countless thousands of indigenous Americans at the hands of invading Europeans, only to find itself under threat from the very descendants of those who overran the entire continent.

On a slightly/greatly less relevant note, I’d even suggest that in a situation where nations are guzzling untold amounts of fossil fuels that will inevitably run out, and motorised transport might one day be a thing of the past, keeping aside a plentiful supply of horses might be a prudent way of ensuring that humans won’t have to walk everywhere in a future world when no other means of transport are available. A similar thought crossed my mind when watching a recent Archaeology Channel video, in which the demise of the sailing ship as an instrument of trade was detailed – it might have disappeared for now, in the face of competition from iron ships running errands on fossil fuels – but give it a hundred, maybe two hundred years, and who knows, people might then be riding their horses down to the docks to greet the sailing ships ferrying in goods from afar – with not a remaining drop of oil, puff of gas or lump of coal to be had for love nor money.

These linked stories of wolves and wild mustangs might not have an immediately anthropological perspective, but where humankind embarks on the wanton destruction of any aspect of the environment, that once gone, can never be replaced, it’s worth asking what, if anything, the field of anthropology can do to draw on its knowledge of extinction events in the past to persuade modern-day policy makers and corporations that it’s actually in our own interests to ensure that where possible, our wildlife is allowed to thrive rather than merely survive piecemeal in parcels of land lacking adequate resources or protection.

8 thoughts on “Save America’s Wolves – and Wild Mustangs

  1. The wolves are getting to be so numerous that they are breeding with domestic dogs and killing livestock. The wolves that haven’t died from disease, or getting hit by cars, are regulated to keep them from killing the ranchers cattle and sheep. Wolves are are a pest which need to be controlled. Also, in regards to the mustangs, they are not “wild” horses, they are feral horses. Domesticated animals which have gotten loose and cause serious erosion to the countryside. They need to be controlled also. We were selling them to the French for whom horsemeat is as legitimate as beef. Through dishonest appeals to emotion, that program was stopped. Now they just make dogfood out of them.

    1. no free animals should be slaughtered because we took away their environment and destroyed their live…high way speeds should be set slower in highly populated places[both animals and humans overpopulate]and the only thing that needs to be controlled is the fact that we chop down trees for paper and wood[for homes,dressers,ect.]which is a necessity but we should not do it as much as we do to try and help conserve all the wildlife we can and before we cut down or destroy anything we should do a thorough search of the area for animals that can be harmed by the specific destruction….
      i have to go b/c i am at the end of my tec class
      -kayla b…
      born 5/10/96
      yes i am only 13 but care very much about the environment

  2. The U.S. heavily subsidizes ranching on public lands. These ranchers are further subsidized by mass extermination of wolves. The wild mustangs started from feral horses over 100 years ago. Environmentalists join animal rights activists and horse enthusiasts in calling for their protection. The only people I’ve ever heard calling for their extermination is ranchers.

  3. Thanks for the replies, and I guess I’m not too surprised that the interests of the agricultural community have been cited as a possible cause of antipathy towards wolves in the US.

    On a brighter note, this newly published article at Science, ‘Wolves to the Rescue in Scotland’…

    http://sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2009/722/2?rss=1

    …gives a good idea of how good management and clear thinking can often be a better response than the rather bloodthirsty alternative reported above. They wanted to reduce the deer population to more manageable numbers, as well as creating a ‘climate of fear’ across the landscape – presumably just to the deer.

    A note in the article shows that the researchers in Scotland based their response on having seen what is described as a very successful experiment in Yellowstone NationalPark back in the 1990s, to reduce the elk population by reintroducing wolves.

    This is the very place where those same wolves, or at least their immediate descendants, are now facing death and injury from humans who now perceive the wolves to be the problem- all very odd, in my opinion.

  4. As an Oregonian I am very familiar with the story of the re-introduction of wolves and of the species that have returned in response. Another contributing factor to excess deer population in the United States is the wide use of clear cutting which provides habitat for the deer at the expense of endangered species, etc.

    I was wondering what the Scottish approach to sustainable subsistence hunting is. A google search reveals a group called “Hunting for Sustainability” which notes, “In Scotland hunting is predominantly carried out on large, privately owned estates, where professional hunters (gamekeepers) are employed to manage wildlife harvests. The principal game species are red deer and red grouse in the uplands, and pheasants and roe deer in the lowlands. Deer and grouse are managed wild game, whilst pheasants are generally reared and released prior to shooting.” It appears that hunting is unfortunately limited to an elite population. This is unfortunately becoming a gradual trend in the United States where hunting permits are becoming overwhelmingly expensive. Anecdotal evidence indicates that the working poor rely on poaching in response.

  5. Oct 25th PBS/Nature will air ‘Cloud- Challenge of the Stallions’, third in the Emmy award winning documentary on the famous Cloud wild horse herd.
    As we see the program and learn of the incredible complexities of wild horse relationships and society, those very horses are being decimated.
    Make no mistake, our wild horses, are being wiped out as we speak for no good reason, under the guise of ‘management’. Our wolves too. It seems there is an unprecedented attack on our wild animals. Why?
    I suggest we need them, that our relationship with the wild is crucial for our own existence, never mind the moral pits that lead us to treat these complex , family bonded animals with such cruelty as is evident in these round ups (6 dead horses from the Challis roundup, 6 foals orphaned). These awful actions make us less human.
    See the CBS Special report here to get you up to speed http://www.lasvegasnow.com/global/story.asp?s=11285225
    What we need is action. If this is abhorrent, which it is, please do something. Ask your most senior scholars and celebrated academicians to tell your representatives loud and clear to stop these actions against horses and wolves on our public lands. MAKE them listen to the people finally before it really is too late. This horse and wolf holocaust is real and happening now. All the information you need is on http://www.thecloudfoundation.org, check the blog for action points now.
    THank you so much,
    Jane Schwartz
    Los Angeles

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