Eulogy for the Wolf who Walked at Grand Canyon
She treaded alone. No other wolf returned her cries. She walked from Wyoming to Grand Canyon, along an ancient pathway traveled before her by thousands of large mammals, seeking others of their kind, seeking new landscapes, seeking food and water and shelter.
We can imagine her seeking love, companionship, partnership, friendship… adventure. Many of us are hikers and understand that feeling of walking, one foot in front of the other, covering ground, exploring.
Regardless of how we interpret her travels, recent sightings of a female grey wolf at Grand Canyon’s north rim, where no wolves have walked in 70 years, brought us elation, inspiration, and hope.
Unfortunately, the shooting of this same wolf in southern Utah, confirmed by genetic testing, has reminded us that much still needs to be done to protect wolves and all predators. The shooter was hunting coyotes when he killed the endangered wolf. Utah rewards the killing of coyotes in an effort to bolster deer herds, even though studies indicate that habitat restoration is what is really needed to improve deer populations.
A common rule of hunting is “Be sure of your target and what is beyond your target.” The International Hunter Education Association describes this as, “Make absolutely certain you can positively identify your target and what is beyond it.” It is Remington’s “4th Comandment of Firearm Safety”. Hunters who shoot animals without following the most basic ethics of their sport should be held responsible.
We are told that an investigation is ongoing into the circumstances of this wolf’s murder. Even if the hunter didn’t suspect that a wolf was in his area, this animal was quite a bit larger than a coyote and wore a bulky collar (see the picture above). How did he not even consider that he might have been shooting at a domestic dog with a collar on? Here’s a page about how to tell the difference between coyotes and Mexican wolves, the gray wolf’s smaller cousin: http://www.azgfd.gov/w_c/es/wolf_difference.shtml.
Predator killing “games” and bounties do not achieve their desired results and the consequences can be severe. We must call them out for what they are: a continuation of outdated, failed, and expensive policy, with long-term negative effects on the landscape. Doesn’t anyone remember what happened to the North Rim deer herd after predators like wolves and mountain lions were destroyed prior to the 1920’s? No? Look about halfway down the page at the text and graph on http://grandcanyonhistory.clas.asu.edu/history_science_wildlife.html.
More recently, ranchers have started to realize that, without enough coyotes, rabbit populations are exploding on the Utah range, with unforeseen ecological and economic consequences.
Recent efforts to reduce or eliminate firearm education requirements for gun owners and hunters exacerbates the problem. It is more education, not less, that will reduce unfortunate incidents like this wolf killing.
This case also demonstrates that we must maintain Endangered Species Protection for wolves. We need more wolves, and we must let wolves establish viable populations in more places.
Have you ever asked a classroom of kids if they would like to hear a wolf howl in the wild? It is an amazing thing – a resounding yes! I have done this, followed by allowing the entire classroom to howl at once. The hyper kids become focused and the quiet kids cry out with joy. A primal connection, a basic and instinctual compassion for nature, an unfettered love for other living things, emerges.
We are ready to rebuild our American legacy. It is time for healthy, complete, functioning ecosystems. We are being deprived of hearing wolves howl at Grand Canyon, and we shouldn’t have to wait anymore.
We owe it to the memory of a wandering wolf, calling out with a lone howl, at the edge of Grand Canyon for the first time in 70 years. It’s time.
The killing is a tragedy. We will continue to work for wolf protection and to return these beautiful creatures to Grand Canyon.