It is a bright, sunny morning on a plateau in Alaska. An alpha female Gray Wolf steps out from the tree line. She has six eight-month old young wolves at home, some not fully independent. A dull drone can be heard as an object emerges out of the sunlight. Suddenly, something digs up the snow in front of her, climbs up her side, and ends her life within seconds. The volunteer pilot and shooter will celebrate what they call a "clean kill." Her "crime" was standing on a piece of ground off limits to her.
The issue of the shooting of wolves, even without the aerial aspect, has always been a contentious one. In some Western states, such as Minnesota, the reasons for such activity have been a little more understandable-reasons such as protecting livestock. But those reasons have not extended to any circumstances other than an immediate threat. In Alaska though, the waters are cloudier. There, state officials say, the issue is about protecting game and a certain lifestyle for indigenous people.
However, if you examine Alaska's own Dept. of Fish and Game web site carefully, you will find an extensive article on non-resident hunters causing ruination of indigenous people's lifestyles in the North. In the 10 percent of other Alaskan territory where aerial shooting is allowed, the wolf is blamed for taking too much Caribou and threatening that same lifestyle. So wolves and tourists threaten the same thing. Yet tourists aren't even asked to leave, let alone to give up their lives for the indigenous cause. Could it be that the difference is that they spend money and wolves do not? Not to mention that the idea that shooting some wolves will automatically bolster prey population is apparently specious. Eminent wildlife biologists L. David Mech and Rolf O. Peterson point out in Wolves, Behavior, Ecology & Conservation that, "As the complexity and unique features of real-world ecosystems have become more evident, it has also become clear that simple platitudes about whether or not wolves control prey population are na've.
Therefore, even with this information alone, one could make a powerful argument that the killing of wolves is at best arbitrary, in the middle ground a mistaken solution, and at worst a deliberate government attempt to say it is doing something about an uncontrollable problem. But then, another compelling argument against killing Gray Wolves in particular emerges from the same scholarly treatise in the form of this blockbuster: "A comprehensive survey of mitochondrion control region sequences in 140 dogs and 162 wolves showed that Gray Wolves are the exclusive ancestor of dogs."
The study findings were confirmed by another team in 2002. So for seven years, we have known: Gray Wolves are more than just a distant relative of our pets; they are the very animals that we domesticated, and invited to share our homes some 15,000 years ago. Put another way, they are the original dog. Not a century has gone by until relatively recently (when we created 400 separate breeds of dogs from the Gray Wolf) that these animals did not alert us to danger, took on larger animals to protect us and yes, gave their lives for us, just as our dogs do today.
However, we treat our pet dogs royally while we torture and kill their great-great grandparents, so to speak. Kill one of our dogs and you will likely go to jail; kill a wolf from an airplane and you can expect an "Atta Boy." Real hunters have refused to perform these government 'removals' of wolves by the way, a stand that brings them great honor.
The fact is, some states have put non-lethal methods in place to control the movement of families of wolves and it has worked. But in the meantime, we have the specter of aerial shooting, which looks a lot like bullying, cowardice and a kind of terrorism-because it is.
For many, the videos of the shootings are too horrible to watch. Suffice it to say that the volunteer shooters do not appear to be Army Ranger Snipers. Wolves are wounded in the back, the legs, and the hind quarters, all without a lethal hit. They writhe on the ground in agony, trying to understand who is attacking them.
Because these images are now on the Internet, they are part of American's image around the world, and that is why we are all going to be victims: because we all will be associated with a heinous practice seen as "American."
Alaska's Governor Sarah Palin continues to insist that aerial shooting is about states' rights. Perhaps she hasn't seen the shootings that take place with her blessing. I don't pretend to understand her reasoning, but it is curious to me that someone nearly defied for her stand on "the sanctity of life," cannot extend that concern to an animal considered sentient (conscious), and one that is without argument, innocent in this scenario.
But besides the general humanitarian reason for questioning the practice of aerial shooting, there is also the very new, compelling finding cited above: Without the Gray Wolf, there would be no Tammy or Ranger or Muffy. What would you do if someone shot your dog? In a very real sense, the wolf described above is your dog. Our Congress persons need to know these facts with regard to the huge loophole the 1972 Congress left in the otherwise right-minded anti-aerial shooting law.
The aerial shooting of wolves is an atrocity of our times. It is indefensible from any ethical standard imaginable. Furthermore, it is a clear violation of Natural Law. Finally, when it is over, we will owe so large an apology to our friends and loyal protectors that it will be difficult ever to make it up to them.
Back near the female's den, the alpha male (who was committed to her for life), is becoming more and more agitated. Her 'children' are howling for her, waiting for her answer. Meanwhile, in living rooms all over America, human parents rock their children. But in a now cold den on an Alaskan mountainside, there is no sanctity of life. The pups' mother will not come home tonight; nor will she ever.
Bill Cannon is a Graduate Assistant in the English Department of West Chester University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org