Killing of the Toklat Wolves Is All about Human Ethics

Killing of the Toklat Wolves Is All about Human Ethics

By Susan Russell, Friends of Animals
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (Published: May 1, 2005)

Sunday, May 01, 2005 — The male and female pair of the most visible and scientifically important wolf family group in the world is now dead. Since February, the tragic and gratuitous destruction of the Toklat wolves has played out on a global stage, to the mounting horror of scientists, nongovernmental organizations and U.S. senators who repeatedly urged emergency trapping/hunting closure and a necessary long-term extension of the northeastern buffer. U.S. senators called the wolves “a national treasure.”

The Daily News-Miner’s anemic response: It’s legal. (Whether the killing was in fact legal seems a topic for debate. Either way, it was depraved.) In a burst of high principles, the paper urges the Board of Game to “resist” national groups and Alaskans clamoring for a permanent buffer: “(it) seems that romance and postcard images have been given as much credibility as the judgment of wildlife managers,” (“Beware the Howling,” April 21, 2005).

We fear The News-Miner confuses “romance” with ethics. But first, a primer on U.S. wildlife policy and the objectivity of wildlife managers.

In the mid-1930s, firearms dealers (now, the euphemistic “Wildlife Management Institute,” or WMI) designed state and federal wildlife laws to sustain gun sales and animal supply. Manufacturers remain the dominant players in national and state wildlife policy, working through a network of government and private agencies.

WMI, whose board consists entirely of firearms, equipment and ammo manufacturers, operates under “partnership agreements” with the Department of Interior and state agencies: “No other organization,” the institute boasts, “has a greater hand in molding state, federal and provincial resource agencies, typically working away from the limelight to catalyze and facilitate strategies, actions and decisions.”

Alaskans will be interested to learn that industry public perception management “units” poll-tested how best to market “predator control” for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game: “Public (Alaska) acceptance of predator control has to be described as conditional. In only one of six situations did a majority of statewide respondents indicate support for lethal predator control — when predation reduces prey populations to the point that some local residents who rely on game for food are unable to find moose or caribou to hunt.” That is, precisely, how wolf and bear killing is marketed.

The key to firearms dominance is government and industry control of excise funds distributed annually for wildlife-related research, surveys and land management.

The federal Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937 dedicated revenues from excise taxes on arms and ammunition, later expanded to handguns, to “game” restoration, shooting ranges and hunter recruitment. Gross receipts for fiscal 2000 totaled $215 million.

The bill’s backers (see WMI) included a proviso: Only states that dedicated hunting license fees strictly to hunting purposes were eligible for federal funds.

Consequently, regulatory state wildlife divisions are salaried by hunting and trapping license revenues, or a hunter-client base. State game or wildlife councils, quasi-legislative boards created to set hunting seasons and bag limits, are controlled by hunters. Industry control was, and remains, impenetrable.

The gun and fur trades profit from the violent deaths of millions of North American animals each year. In the 1930s, the trades defined an ethically impoverished “conservation” lexicon with an all-important aim to desensitize: “populations” versus individuals; “harvesting” versus killing; “crops” versus free-living animals. The American public can no longer allow these trades, or their surrogates, to define the terms and lurk behind a self-serving pretense of “conservation.”

For some humans, fear, phobias, displaced aggression, domination, even hate, can all be focused on animals. The garden-variety bully —from playground to office to racist advocate— arises from a basic insecurity or impotency, a need to feel superior, a requisite for targeting someone perceived as not able to fight back. A wolf’s ability to survive in the wild, and to defend itself, is superior to an unarmed human’s.

The alpha breeding female, the black alpha wolf frantically searching for his lost mate, the pup dragging a trap by its leg, were a wildlife manager’s worst nightmare: They were, before the world and above all else, individuals. The Toklat family group earned and had the world’s respect. The Pennsylvania hunter who killed the beleaguered alpha wolf, with the aid of a guide, refuses to release his own name.

On a moral basis, Friends of Animals opposes the killing of any wolf. A sound, holistic environmental ethic embraces, and respects, all beings who share this planet.

Susan Russell is information director for Friends of Animals, based in Darien, Conn

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